The Alaska Class Battle Cruisers: The Last of the Line

Line drawing of Alaska in 1945

The three ships of the Alaska Class though classed as “Large Cruisers” by the US Navy were actually the last Battle Cruisers designed, built and put into operation by any Navy.  Designed as a counter to the German Scharnhorst and Gneisenau which in 1939 and 1940 had created havoc in the Atlantic raiding convoys and sinking the Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier Courageous, the ships were 809 feet long and 91 feet wide, displaced 27,000 tons, mounted 9 12” guns mounted in three turrets and were capable of 33 knots.  The ships mounted a large anti-aircraft battery of 12 5” 38 Dual Purpose guns, 56 40mm cannon and 34 20mm light anti-aircraft guns.

The Scharnhorst: She and the Gneisenau were the threat that the Alaska’s were designed to counter

Alaska was laid down in December 1941 shortly after Pearl Harbor, launched 15 August 1943 and commissioned on 17 June 1944. Her sister ship, Guam was launched on 12 November 1943 and commissioned 17 September 1944.  The final ship of the class to be built the Hawaii was launched after the war in November 1945 with her construction halted when she was 84% complete in 1947. Three planned ships, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Samoa were never laid down.

Aerial View of USS Alaska

While fast and large with more than adequate firepower the purpose that they created for no longer existed by the time that they were commissioned.  The German Scharnhorst had been sunk by a 12 ship British task force led by the HMS Duke of York on December 26th 1943 after mounting an attack on a Murmansk convoy at the Battle of North Cape.  Her sister Gneisenau had been heavily damaged in the “channel dash” and bombing in Kiel and while being refitted had the work discontinued after the sinking of the Scharnhorst.

The USS Guam in 1945

With their natural opponents no longer a factor in the war the Alaska and Guam were sent to the Pacific where they spent their time escorting fast carrier task forces, conducting naval gunfire support missions off Okinawa and conducting sweeps in Japanese waters as part of the initial blockade of Japan.  Following the war Alaska and Guam were active in Operation Magic Carpet the return of US servicemen from the Far East to the United States. Alaska and Guam decommissioned in February 1947 remaining in reserve until stricken from the Naval List and Alaska was scrapped in 1960 with Guam being scrapped in 1961 each having spent slightly over two years each in active service.   The fate of Hawaii would be debated including plans to complete her as the first guided missile cruiser (CG) and later Command Cruiser (CC).  Neither plan for Hawaii’s conversion and completion came to fruition and she was sold for scrap in 1959.

Incomplete and undervalued the Hawaii being towed to the breakers in 1959

The era of the Battle Cruiser which began with the launching of the HMS Invincible in 1907 and culminated in with launching of the HMS Hood ended with the Alaska Class. In a way it was an ignominious ending with practically unused ships being broken up when they would have been ideally suited for conversion to new missions.

In light of the need for a combination of substantial naval gunfire support on a platform large enough to support the latest air defense and, theater air defense and independent operations with substantial protection it seems to me that a new class of Battle Cruisers, in effect a new Alaska Class would be in order.  tried and true 8″, 12″ or 16″ guns Nuclear powered with the latest in Aegis missile defense systems and their own air group  they would be the most v versatile platform that the Navy has had in decades.

Peace

Steve+

Advertisements

26 Comments

Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

26 responses to “The Alaska Class Battle Cruisers: The Last of the Line

  1. Hi Padresteve. I hate to disagree with you because from your posts I can tell you are a nice guy in addition to being intelligent and a good writer. The original idea for the Alaska class called them battlecruisers, but the design that was finally built were not true battlecruisers. They were basically scaled up heavy cruisers. While their superstructure resembled contemporary battleship designs, they had cruiser lines and especially lacked underwater protection.

    The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on the other hand were considered battleships by the Germans and battlecruisers by the Allies. They were heavily armored for their size (battlecruisers usually had less armor than battleships) but had relatively small guns compared to other capital ships and were fast which is why the British considered them to be battlecruisers.

    • Mike sodson

      Steve + is actually correct. The Alaska class was the last of the true Battle Cruisers. What most “Fans” of naval warship design characteristics get caught up in are what we call Political classifications. Political classifications are when a design is classified to misdirect the attention a ships design may receive when it is formally classified by its designers. In this case we were in the heat of a desparate battle for the survival of the free world and the Navy did not want to provoke a response by rival forces when the ships were laid down. Yes these ships were a response but not a response to existing designs of Battle Cruisers. These ships were designed to hunt down the Japanese Mogami class heavy cruisers. There was great fear that the long convoy supply lines in the Pacific were vulnerable to ocean raiders similiar to what the Germans had accomplished in the early days of WWII with the Pocket Battleships. It was percieved that the Mogami units would be broken off from the fleet and operated between the west coast and Hawaii to intercept the supplies heading for the western Pacific. The design goal was for these units to hunt down these feared merchant raiders. This never materialized because the IJN never operated outside the battle fleet concept for surface warfare. The true definition of “Battle Cruiser” fits for more reasons than it does not fit, regardless of what was claimed politically by the US NAVY. Size, speed, armament and armor are the three basic methods for classifying capitol ships in this generation. Placing these ships in the cruiser category cannot be supported by any practical basis. After careful review of navy design documents, underwater protection on these ships would have increased standard displacement (over 32,000 tons) as well as cost increases over what would have been acceptable for mission requirements. If you were to study all the design requirements and the arguments associated with this design, one of the key reasons these were built can also be attributable to shipyard availability and armor plate availability. As far as the aircraft accomodation and similarity to preware US cruiser configuration goes, mission needs required this configuration to search and hunt down ocean raiders without the support of carrier aircraft. We should also note that these ships were not successful designs. The navy did not agree with designers when it came to the ships handling (steering) responsiveness, low freeboard and bridge CIC configuration as built. This is why they were quickly placed into reserve post war. In the end, the weight savings made this design unsuccessful, the single rudder, reduced bridge structure, conning tower operational requirements, low freeboard made for an unpopular ship once delivered and operated.

      Mike

    • GARY

      Nope. The true Battlecruiser was indeed a scaled up cruiser and was never intended to be a light battleship. It was to be used to overwhelm other inferior cruisers with Battleship caliber armament (although reduced in numbers) and with the speed to catch them. HMS Invincible had no common parts or armor to weight ratios common with any battleship. Even the 12″ turrets were of their own design. The Alaska’s, with their armament, dense compartmentation (in place of heavy armor), and single rudder qualifies on all counts as a battlecruiser.

  2. There is much disagreement about their proper classification, and I would be honored to agree to disagree with you on this matter. Many modern historians do consider them more properly called battlecruisers. I go with their contemporary designation of large cruiser and with the elements of their design being more like the cruisers of their day than the battleships of their day.

  3. padresteve

    Chris, This is a subject that has good arguments for both classifications and as you can tell I fall on the more modern side of the debate. I simply look at size, protection, speed and armament and the ships that they were designed to counter and I see Battlecruiser. As far as Battlecruisers go my favorites are the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau which I think were the penultimate examples of what the the type should have been, even more so if they had received the 15″ guns that were planned. They has speed, power, protection and range and were far tougher ships than earlier British designs.

  4. Yes, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau with 15″ guns would have been awesome ships. I am glad it didn’t happen though. It would have helped the Nazis and may have cost more lives than were already lost in that terrible war.

    Battlecruisers were a good idea but when they were used to fight battleships instead of cruisers disaster ensued. Witness the Battle of Jutland (“There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”) in 1916 and what happened to HMS Hood in 1941.

    The Japanese Kongo class began life as battlecruisers similar to the British Lion class, but between the wars they were rebuilt as fast battleships (still poorly armed and armored compared to other designs though).

    Yes, I also used to spend many hours poring over vintage editions of Jane’s Fighting Ships, and I too read Walter Lord’s Day of Infamy and Incredible Victory when I was a boy. It’s good to meet someone who appreciates the beauty of the warships of this era as I do. I hate what they were used for, but you gotta love how they looked!

  5. Jay

    The Scharnhorst Class was, like many other German military construction projects, heavily influenced by Hitler and his desire to expand the Kriegsmarine without blatantly violating the Treaty of Versailles: build an unsinkable commerce raider that would not start another war with Britain before germany was ready. The 11 inch guns fitted were a compromise to get the ships to sea quickly with the intention of later “up-gunning” them to the 380mm guns being designed for the Bismarck class. With 13 inch armor belts the Scharhorst Class was the “low end” of survivable battleship design hampered by a “large cruiser” caliber gun.

    The Alaska Class was designed to counter the intelligence reports of German and Japanese surface raiders that were generally termed battlecruisers. Were the Alaska Class ships Battlecruisers? If you use armament as the guide, then yes… 12 inch guns were in line with the armament of other fast surface raider designs used in World War 2. Were they designed as battlecruisers? No. The “tell” is the designation the US Navy chose for these ships: CB, or
    “large cruiser”.

    Yes, they look like US capital ships of the period with their tower foremasts, but they were basically what the US navy would have built instead of the Baltimore Class had the Washington treaty not been effect prior to World War 2. The 12 inch guns, which are known to have been the most expensive guns built by the USN in World War 2 because there were only nine turrets constructed, were not repeated in the class that US Naval historians consider to be the ultimate US Navy Heavy cruiser design: the Des Moines Class.

    The philosophy is always open to debate. The reality is not. When the war ended the US Navy had more than enough carriers and heavy cruisers to hunt down and kill anything operating like a surface raider. The only real large gun threats were from the Soviet Union and the Sverdlov class would not have survived an encounter with a Baltimore much less a Des Moines.

    Does the US Navy need a battlecruiser today? Probably not. Cruise missiles, submarines, and air power now demand a level of survivability that was not a concern in World War 2 until the Kamikazes arrived. Today every missile is a probable direct hit and small explosive filled boats can cripple a Burke Class destroyer. The US Navy needs large numbers of smaller multirole ships that can put up a wall of ECM, ASW, and air defense to protect the power projection that replaced the battlecruiser and battleship: the aircraft carrier. In fact, maybe a bunch of small and fast sea control carriers would be better than the large egg baskets we have now. Maybe.

    One small correction. The Alaska Class was not the last battlecruiser built by any navy. That dubious honor goes to the Soviet Kirov Class.

    • Ryan

      Actually a good way to look at the Alaska might be not to look at WWII, but to look back to the turn of the century. In particular the ‘armored cruisers’ of that period. Many of these ships were larger then later ‘heavy cruisers’ and with thicker plating and guns of over nine inches in the last examples, even the earlier ones tended to have at least eight inch guns at a time when most battleships had only 12 inch weapons.

      This was the natural course of things when freed of artificial limits, cruisers tended to grow to be only a bit lighter armed then battleships of the period normally sacrificing protection and size to gain that battery while remaining cheaper then a battleship. (though fewer cruisers also tended to be built in favor of more capital ships). In point of fact the difference between many pre-dreadnuaght battleships and large armored cruisers could be rather blurry.

      The ‘cruisers’ of the WWII era though were entirely political animals the 8 inch and 10,000 ton limit set almost as an afterthought in the Washington treaty based on a few of the ships then in production with little thought to how things might change in the future if that that limit was really workable. The answer was largely ‘no it wasn’t’, no one ever really liked the 10,000 ton limit as it did not really allow design of a balanced ship able to effectively support battleships as earlier cruisers had.

      Only with the treaties did the former somewhat amorphous curve from ‘cruiser’ to ‘battleship’ suddenly transform into a stark cliff. It’s rather telling I think that the one nation not really bound by it, Germany, was able to produce a design of roughly similiar displacement with decent barrel count, but with each gun being nearly 50% larger then other cruisers. (I also consider these vessels among the best ‘heavy cruisers’ ever built only their slow speed and lackluster protection dinging them down a bit)

      I suspect that lacking the artificial limits of the treaties by the 30s most cruiser designs would have started looking allot like the Deutschlands. Fairly small ships, but mounting guns in the 11-12 inch much closer in caliber to the capital weapons of then current battleships. At some point people would likely start trying to design their own cruisers to resist such weapons, and the ships would have to grow considerably to do so.

      The ‘cruisers’ would start looking allot like smaller battleships, just as they had at the turn of the century and just as the Alaska ultimately did. As it was though the treaties fell apart with too little lead time before war clamped down on most development in favor of mass production for much evolution to occur.

      In the event only the US had the spare capacity to experiment with post modern ‘armored cruisers’, and even then only late in the contest. With no one else having anything like the industrial means to experiment with truly post treaty designs the Alaska class ships ended up being a class unto themselves without any real peers or copycats.

      That doesn’t however mean we must jam them into another existing category that clearly means something different. By definition battlecruisers carried the guns of contemporary battleships of their nation and the Alaska most certainly did not do that. The Alaska is what it is: a large cruiser. The fact no one else was ever able to build a similiar ship doesn’t change that.

      • Mike

        Ryan
        Interesting perspective but inaccurate in two specific areas. The first being the “Scharnhorst” Class. It was actually the Gneisenau class, being the lead ship. These ships were actually planned to be armed with 6 11″ guns, same as the previous “pocket” battleships design but we’re hastily redesigned on the slipways as they were being constructed. A result of the French battle cruisers built in response to the original pocket battleships. Hitler had nothing to do with the actual design. He attended the launching for political reasons. Raider made the decisions to expand the design while being constructed. When being modified it was also designed to later be modified to replace the 11″ guns with twin turret 15″ guns. Other changes accommodated during the redesign phase was the substitution of steam turbine propulsion over diesels, since the large marine diesels were not yet ready. These decisions and changes were made very early as the keel was being laid.

        Two: Is the confusion and misdirection over the actual classification of the Alaska class Battle Cruisers. There are many theories as to why they were or were not Battle Cruisers. Arguments cover size, armament, design of compartmentation and even later design relationships, are all misleading and even the U.S. Navy Buships played into misdirection on classification for political reasons. To this day, ships are classified by mission. DE, DD, CL, FFG, CG, BB CVN and so on by the U.S. Navy’s Command and ship designers, historically and by other navy’s as well. The actual truth lays with the engineering and naval planning historical information on the design concepts for the Alaska Class. As well as the final design selected based on the intended mission. This information is available for public study since it has long been declassified and has been summarized in Norm Friedmans books on U.S. Cruiser Design and U.S. Battleship Design Historical publications. I reccommend you review the data presented in these two publications from the naval review boards and BuShips original design studies on the purpose for the design and mission capabilities that these Battle Cruisers were designed to fulfill. The data is clear in that BuShips was tasked to design a class of ship to hunt down Mogami class heavy cruisers that would be used by the Japanese to conduct commerce raiding of U.S. Supply routes from the continental west coast or Panama to the Pacific Theater. From this design intention and execution the only conclusion to draw is that these ships were not designed to be operated with the battle fleet or cruiser squadrons but to operate independently to hunt down enemy cruisers and commerce raiders. This is not the classic mission of a cruiser or of a battleship but is the classic mission of a Battle Cruiser. Enough speed to run down any fast raider and armament to be superior to any armored cruiser or cruiser operating as an independent agent behind the our lines to disrupt or destroy supply lines and communications. The mission set the design to be a Battle Cruiser with the new powerful high velocity 12″ gun. Enough armor protection protect against the 8″ gun. 33 knot speed to run down the Mogammies. While the threat never came to be and these ships were used as escorts for fast carrier task forces it does not change the purpose of why they were built. This is also the reason the Third unit was never completed, there was no longer a mission for the class. The remaining two were decommissioned shortly after WWII ended.

  6. Jay

    The Scharnhorst Class was, like many other German military construction projects, heavily influenced by Hitler and his desire to expand the Kriegsmarine without blatantly violating the Treaty of Versailles: build an unsinkable commerce raider that would not start another war with Britain before germany was ready. The 11 inch guns fitted were a compromise to get the ships to sea quickly with the intention of later “up-gunning” them to the 380mm guns being designed for the Bismarck class. With 13 inch armor belts the Scharhorst Class was the “low end” of survivable battleship design hampered by a “large cruiser” caliber gun.

    The Alaska Class was designed to counter the intelligence reports of German and Japanese surface raiders that were generally termed battlecruisers. Were the Alaska Class ships Battlecruisers? If you use armament as the guide, then yes… 12 inch guns were in line with the armament of other fast surface raider designs used in World War 2. Were they designed as battlecruisers? No. The “tell” is the designation the US Navy chose for these ships: CB, or
    “large cruiser”.

    Yes, they look like US capital ships of the period with their tower foremasts, but they were basically what the US navy would have built instead of the Baltimore Class had the Washington treaty not been effect prior to World War 2. The 12 inch guns, which are known to have been the most expensive guns built by the USN in World War 2 because there were only nine turrets constructed, were not repeated in the class that US Naval historians consider to be the ultimate US Navy Heavy cruiser design: the Des Moines Class.

    The philosophy is always open to debate. The reality is not. When the war ended the US Navy had more than enough carriers and heavy cruisers to hunt down and kill anything operating like a surface raider. The only real large gun threats were from the Soviet Union and the Sverdlov class would not have survived an encounter with a Baltimore much less a Des Moines.

    Does the US Navy need a battlecruiser today? Probably not. Cruise missiles, submarines, and air power now demand a level of survivability that was not a concern in World War 2 until the Kamikazes arrived. Today every missile is a probable direct hit and small explosive filled boats can cripple a Burke Class destroyer. The US Navy needs large numbers of small multirole ships that can put up a wall of ECM, ASW, and air defense to protect the power projection that replaced the battlecruiser and battleship: the aircraft carrier. In fact, maybe a bunch of small and fast sea control carriers might be better than the large egg baskets we have now. Maybe.

    One small correction. The last battlecruisers built by any navu were not the Alaska Class. That dubious honor goes to the Soviet Kirov Class missile cruisers.

  7. Interesting discussion. I would like to put forward a different view. A class of ship is not defined by its tonnage, speed, armour or armament, but the specific role it is intended to fulfil.
    Fisher’s original concept of the battlecruiser circa 1906 to 1918 was narrowly and precisely defined as a means of power projection. It was a ship with the speed and firepower to take the fight to the enemy and to respond rapidly to perceived threats. It was conceived neither as a commercial raider nor as a line-of-battle battleship in the traditional sense.
    From this point of view the Royal Navy was the only naval force that constructed battlecruisers. The so-called battlecruisers of the German Imperial navy were a response to Fisher’s innovative designs, but they were not built for the same role. The German designers 1906 to 1917 built ships with less speed but heavier armour because they conceived them as a fast wing to a battle fleet (a role that Fisher’s ships were forced to play at Jutland, with results that everyone knows about).
    Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were not called battlecruisers by the Reich navy, nor were they conceived for the role of battlecruiser: they were simply lightly armed battleships, and were in other respects examples of the new concept of ‘fast battleship’ that evolved in the 1930’s. The fast battleship was in part the consequence of technological developments (propulsion machinery had become both more powerful and faster) and partly a response to the perceived threat of the kind of ‘super battlecruiser’ that the Royal Navy (and the US) had begun building in the last months of WW1.
    The four ships of the Japanese Kongo class as built were comparable to the Royal Navy battlecruisers in terms of specifications, but were transformed into ‘fast battleships’ by reconstruction in the 1930s. But again, ‘fast battleships’ is a class of ships conceived for a role, and the role of the fast battleship for the Japanese was quite distinct from that of the earlier battlecruiser. The four ships of the rebuilt Kongo class were essentially conceived as escorts for carrier groups.
    The US Alkaska class were neither battlecruisers nor fast battleships: they were simply cruisers with unusually big guns. This is the case whether you define the class in terms of the role it was built for, or the specifications of the ships as constructed. They were an ill-conceived response to the fast battleships built by Germany and proposed by Japan, just as German ‘battlecruisers’ of WW1 were an ill-conceived response to the battlecruisers built by the Royal Navy.
    Instead of matching tonnage, knots, and firepower, it is illuminating to consider how ships were actually used. In this light, the RN was alone in using battlecruisers in the role for which they were designed (and they would have done better, of course, to have confined them to that role). The German navies used their ‘battlecruisers’ as fleet scouts or commerce raiders; the Japanese used theirs as carrier escorts, and the US (having been wise enough to scrap their earlier plans for battlecruisers as they did not have a role for them) didn’t really know what to do with the Alaska class – which is why those otherwise attractive ships had such a short active career.

  8. Doug Widney

    With regard to what the Alaska class WERE, the reference above to fast battleships is enlightening.

    After at least 4 RN BCs sank in battle with main magazine explosions during WWI, both the need for remedy and simple embarassment led to the type being both up-armored and renamed, often to “fast battleaship”. The role varied per country, whether Scharnhorst/Gneisenau, Dunkerque/Strasbourg, Repulse/Renown (Renown had her armor increased no fewer than 4 times during her life), or the Japanese ships. To say that the Alaska class protection was light? Well, certainly not compared to the original Invincible class, for example.

    I have heard at least three rumours other than the German threat, as the motive for the Alaska class & their naming. 1) Need for heavy gun ships capable of keeping up with a carrier task force, 2) Rumours of a new Japanese battlecruiser class, 3) Surplus budget in the cruiser program but not elsewhere. I can’t really confirm these rumours, tho.

    Curiously, a similar cruiser budget situation in Britain had led to the designation of Fisher’s 3 “Baltic” ships, Furious, Courageous, and Glorious, as “large light cruisers.” These ships are even harder to classify, being a hybrid of a battlecruiser and a bombardment monitor! In the end, all got converted to aircraft carriers. The shallow draught must have made for serious roll problems in the North Atlantic.

    Ultimately for the U.S., technology (welding, high steam pressures, dual-purpose secondary armament, and crew economies from fire control automation and elsewhere), plus the hull shape implied by Panamax, enabled the ship that had it (almost) all, ie the Iowa class.

    • Re: ‘After at least 4 RN BCs sank in battle with main magazine explosions during WWI…’

      Only three RN battlecruisers were lost in WW1, and they were all lost on the same day – at Jutland. They were Invincible, Indefagitable, and Queen Mary.

      Re: ‘Curiously, a similar cruiser budget situation in Britain had led to the designation of Fisher’s 3 “Baltic” ships, Furious, Courageous, and Glorious, as “large light cruisers.” These ships are even harder to classify, being a hybrid of a battlecruiser and a bombardment monitor! In the end, all got converted to aircraft carriers. The shallow draught must have made for serious roll problems in the North Atlantic.’

      Indeed, their shallow draught would have made them unsuitable for the North Atlantic. But it made good sense for the role for which they were conceived in the North Sea. The shallow waters of the North Sea produce high waves in windy conditions, and conventional light cruisers could not steam in such a sea at more than 12 to 15kts. Cruisers were unable to keep pace with the heavier ships of the fleet, and this made them unable to operate effectively as scouts.

      The Courageous class could steam at high speed in all sea conditions, could penetrate the cruiser screen of an enemy fleet, and had the speed to escape any heavy enemy units they encountered. Their shallow draughts also would enable them to pursue enemy vessels into the shallow waters of the Bight.

      Again, to liken the Courageous class to ‘bombardment monitors’ is to judge by visual appearance rather than by consideration of the role for which they were designed. They were not designed for shore bombardment, but for high speed rapid deployment. In the role for which they were designed they excelled.

      Discussion of battlecruisers frequently focuses on the qualities of ships from the point of view of how they would perform if pitted against each other in the style of WW1 ‘line of battle’. We can only understand them if we view them within the greater strategic context. The RN built battlecruisers under Fisher’s direction because he aimed to transform the fleet in response to current technological developments. The two technologies that were to transform naval warfare in the early decades of the 20th C were 1) wireless, 2) aircraft. Wireless communication made it possible to respond to threats at any point on the globe – but to do so the navy needed ships capable of exceptionally high speed. The battlecruiser was Fisher’s answer to this new strategic situation. But the battlecruiser itself was made redundant by the advent of seaborne aircraft – which is why the Courageous class were converted to carriers, and why no battlecruisers were built subsequently.

  9. JB Coldyron

    Battlecruisers are fun!

  10. Robert Miles

    You would need to know more about the deep water sea perfomance of the Alaska class in both the warm water Pacific and cold water north to really assess how useful they would have been postwar. On paper with the Iowa’s the CBG’s of the Alaska class would have been the only big gun ships capable of running fast with a 1960-80s USN carrier task force or indeed operating at the speed of modern carrier operations.
    The original problems with the Alaska’s 12 inch turrets seem to have been sorted and with each rifle having a speed of fire of 3rpm they might also have had advantages.
    It could be argued that the Des Moines was really a battlecruiser and in fact its shell weight with 9 8 inch was greater than the Iowas. The postwar battlecruiser design desired by the Soviet Navy would have been a 40,000 to ocean goer with three triple 9.8 inch.
    My own view is that the higher fire rate of smaller big guns made 16-14 inch guns obsolete post war and the 8-10 inch was the maximum power unit.

  11. George Schnyer

    The money, time, shipyard space, and manpower as well as the material spent, or, rather, overspent on the Alaska class would have been better utilized to complete the Iowa class Kentucky and Illinois. The time alone spent on Hawaii CB-3 would have completed Kentucky and much of Illinois. Of course, and this aside, the Alaska, Guam and Hawaii CB’s, and the Kentucky and Illinois BB’s, should have been cancelled prior to keel laying as were CB-4 thru 6. Yes, we all now have what those of our past didn’t have, hindsight. As for the main point of the writer, I would say the Alaska class is a battlecruiser by virtue of speed and main battery. The North Carolina class was not protected enough for its own size main battery of 16 in. guns, yet they were the first of the fast BB’s. CB (Large Cruiser) is relative to the time as was CVB (Large Carrier or Battle Carrier) for the Midway class carrier. Had the Alaska class had a service life compared to even the FDR which lasted to 1977 (about when most of the remaining gun cruisers were taken out of service) and with whatever modifications might have been made to them over those thirty years since they were decommissioned, would they then be considered battlecruisers by the USN? Would the Alaska class have been as effective in Korea as the Iowa’s were or as New Jersey was for the short time spent off Viet Nam? Again, we have some hindsight, but we’ll never really know and I guess we should be glad for that.

  12. Robert Miles

    I incline to the view that the Alaska class battlecruisers might have been very useful and if events had taken a different course, they might have been needed. Basically they were built 18 months too late. If both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been operational at the time of the Battle of North Cape and if the Germans had had a bit of luck, they could have been, and been commanded by more aggressive Captains and not had their radio traffic broken, they would not have been stopped by the RN fleet at the time, and powerful US capital ships or carrier groups would have needed to run them down in the rough Arctic and Nth Atlantic waters.
    Whether the Alaska’s would actually have been the right design in terms of speed in a North Atlantic seaway is debated, but in concept it is close to right. The long narrow shape confirms to the RN cruiser concept for its large cruisers to scout and flank with the battlefleet, using , long thin 8.5/1 9/1 in length – beam ratio. In WW2 it was the Southhampton’s, Belfast’s and County class that could tail and outflank the German battleships. The middle aged County class Norfolk, Suffolk and London were virtually unarmoured, beyond turret, magazine and splinter protection, but with four magnificent twin 8 inch guns could rapidly find the target and hit with real power and could match even the Bismark for speed thru the waters North of Iceland. In my view the Iowa’s could never have caught, outflanked and run down the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in a counterfactual Battle of North Cape. In Nato exercises the RNs Vanguard proved far superior in fast Atlantic exercises to the Iowas in seakeeping
    After WW2 the age of surface gun fighting had passed in the eyes of the US Admirals but before the emergence of closer to all weather carrier aircraft and satellite surveillance gun cruisers could still have posed a surface fleet in certain circumstances as the Cuban missile crisis proved USN global surveillance was still massively flawed, limited and lacking. The Soviet Navy came close to building battlecruisers similar to the Alaska’s in the early 1950s and regardless of whether they were armed with 9.2 inch triple mounts which both the RN and Soviet admirals regarded as the correct max size in the 1940s or the old Tsarist Triple 12 inch mounts they would still have been able to hit out to 50 kilometres beyond Exocet range.

    • Mike Dobson

      As a novice naval historian and a NAVSEA Engineer I enjoy conversing over the issues surrounding warship design characteristics. While the Us navy made claims denying that they were battle cruisers, the denial was politically based. The denial was not based on the fact that the mission requirement for the class was in fact for a battle cruiser design. Hull and machinery layout was 50% battleship and 50% us cruiser design configuration. The alternating of boiler and engine room placement made them unlike other us cruiser designs of the area. Based on the true design of a Battlecruiser configuration with no political agenda the major design and mission really quite meets are : High Speed for running down fast opponents, fire power to overwhelm “less powerful” opponents, and finally enough endurance to operate away from Port for extended durations. More specifically the actual design requirement for the Alaska class was to run down the Mogami class heavy cruisers if they were used in a commerce raiding fashion between the west coast and the Pacific basin areas. The Scharnhorst class had nothing to do with their design requirements. They did however confirm the need to have an answer to powerful commerce raiders operating against us commercial traffic, which is why there were so many units planned. They were battle cruisers in every way.

  13. R Manton

    The US navy always referred to the Alaska Class as large cruisers: from the USN website:
    http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/usnshtp/bb/bb.htm “Though the Alaska class large cruisers (CB-1 through CB-6) of 1941 are actually part of the cruiser design lineage, some sources persist in (mistakenly) referring to them as “battle cruisers”.

    Battle cruisers were as large or larger than contemporary battleships. The contemporary battleships for the Alaska Class are the Iowa and Montana class. The Alaska class were a lot smaller than either of these ships. The Alaska ships did not have any speed advantage over the battleships of the Iowa class so failed in that requirement for being a battlecruiser.

    The Alaska class represent the growth in the size of cruisers after all naval limitation treaties ended with the start of WW2. The Japanese B-64/65 designs were not classified as battlecruisers but as “Super A cruiser” ie bigger type A cruisers and the Soviet “battlecruisers” were called heavy cruiser by the Soviet Navy. The battlecruiser label has been attached to all these designs by post war publications not by the navies that responsible for them.

    By the same token the German Scharnhosrt class and French Dunkerque class were both rated by their navies as battleships but referred to elsewhere as battle cruisers. The naval treaties in play when they were built meant that they were smaller ships with smaller guns than some earlier and latter battleships.

    But back to the topic the Alaska class were cruisers, large ones yes, but definitely not battlecruisers.

    • Mike

      The Us Navy played politics when they stated that the Alaska class are not Battlecruiser designs. A Battlecruiser is a class of big gun ship that is designed to be fast, less armor that a battleship but just as much hitting power as a battleship. The real test is what is the ships purpose. Was it to be a part of he battle line or operate independent of the battle line, disrupt enemy cruiser concentrations and hunt down raiders. This is an international definition of Battlecruisers. So when you apply the operational description of these powerful ships, the answer is yes, they were designed to be Battlecruisers. The Us intended them to operate independently of the battle fleet, yes they were to hunt down enemy cruisers or enemy raiders, such as the graph spee or Mogami class cruisers. These ships were built for those purposes and if the shoe fits, wear it. This whole controversy would never have started had the US Navy not denied the designation of BC for this class. One more note, why we they not named after cities if they were cruisers? Just like all the pre-WWII and WWII cruisers were. Also they had armor and guns the size of other Battlecruisers in WWII, such as the French. Strasburg 13 inch Battlecruiser designs. Which were about the same size, speed and displacement. They were always considered Battlecruisers.

      • Mike

        There are several reasons the Alaska class were Decommissioned at the end of hostilities. They were not well liked by the fleet for the following reasons:
        1. They had a poor bridge configuration and arrangement.
        2. Their turning radius was very poor due to the single rudder design and their long length. This labeled them a danger when operating with fleet elements.
        3. They were one deck lower than typical cruiser or battleship design among US designs, making them even wetter than the Iowas.
        4. The mid-ship aircraft catapult and hanger was not well received by the ships captains. Additional anti-aircraft fire power was requested in lue of the hanger and catapult arrangements.

        Those design characteristics led to a short life, when no specified threat was available and no redeeming qualities remained.

  14. r Manton

    There were no political reasons for any subterfuge about what sort of ship the Alaska Class were, as all treaty limitations had lapse by the time they were designed and built, if the USN thought they were battlecruiser there was nothing stopping them using the term, but the USN new they were cruisers and not ships of capital rank.

    When comparing the Dunkerque, which was classed ad a battleship not a battlecruiser, to the Alaska you have to take into account that the Dunkerque was designed and built when it was expect that Treaty limitation would be substantially reduced from the 35,000 tons/16” guns, the Royal Navy was pushing for 25,000tons/12’ guns. The Dunkerque speed came not from being a battlecruiser but from improvements in ship propulsion. All capital units built from the mid 1930’s were much faster than most battleships in existence at that time. The same with the Schnarnhorst which was further restricted to look like it was only 26,000 tons when it was around 32,000 tons with much stronger armour again it was classed as a battleship by the Germans and its speed was to do with better engines etc.

    The roles you quote for the Alaska class “to be a part of he battle line or operate independent of the battle line, disrupt enemy cruiser concentrations and hunt down raiders” was basically the role of all cruiser especially the 8” gun ships in most large navy’s (the USN, IJN and RN all had similar roles for their cruisers. So in fact you are confirming that the Alaska class were actually cruisers.

    The uniqueness of these ships lead to them to be names after US territories rather than cities (Alaska and Hawaii did not become states until aWW2. Capital ship manes were state names for battleships and battles names for battlecruisers (latter aircraft carriers).

    By 1940 the 12” guns had be far superseded as a battleship gun, the fact that a few ancient relics were still around courtesy of the interwar treaties does not change this at all. The weapons being considered for capital ships were 15’ to 20” – compared to these weapons a 12” guns, no matter how good it is will still not be a weapon for a capital ship built after 1940.

    The USN did not deny the battlecruiser description, it was never really considered. All contemporary documents of the time describe the Alaska design studies* and latter design as heavy cruisers (CA) only at the end of the design process did the term large cruiser (CB) come to be used, there was no use of the term battlecruiser (CC). If the USN wanted to call these ship battlecruisers they could have but had designed them to be cruisers, large ones yes, but still just cruisers.

    When trying to understand these ships you need to forget all capital ship built before 1940 as they were built to different requirements and treaty limitations. With the start of WW2 the options for warship design was unrestricted other than cost and building resources which meant cruisers to grow to the size of the Alaska while capital unit design became huge 60,000 tons to over 100,000 tons. Compared to these capital ship designs the size of the Alaska was relative to pre-war cruiser to prewar battleships.

    * Please see http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/albums/s511-cr.htm . You will note the drawings are all labeled with the prefix CA which is to say it is a heavy cruiser design study. Despite a lot of research there does not appear to be any official naval documents relating to these ships as battlecruisers, though some naval newspapers used this term incorrectly.

    If you have not already got it I suggest you get a copy of Norman Friedman’s US Cruisers a Design History as it includes good coverage of the Alaska class cruisers.

    There’s a lot of people on the web you wish or want the Alaska class to be battlecruisers but when you look at the facts they were not battlecruisers and you can not go back and change history because its not the way you wish it to be. Also a huge percentage of naval enthusiasts recognize that the Alaska’s were not battlecruisers as does the US Navy.

    The Alaska class large cruisers were never considered to be battlecruisers by the USN, there is no historic records other than “popular press” that refers to the Alaska class ships as battlecruisers, even the fact that some sailors on these ships refer to them as battlecruisers, it doesn’t change the fact that they were designed, built, used, and scrapped as large cruisers. No matter how often people say they were battlecruisers they never were and never will be.

  15. George Schnyer

    Everyone has some very good points and counterpoints regarding the ships of Alaska class. I wrote my last comment here about two years ago and came across this once again without recalling my input in the past. I am doing further research on this class and happened upon this article again. I read thru this once again and realize this debate on whether the Alaska and Guam are Large Cruisers or Battlecruisers can go on and on especially from those of us born during or after WWII. As I mentioned in my posting above, we have the advantage of hindsight. What I did not have when I wrote my reply in February 2013 was copies of cruise books for both Alaska and Guam. On the first page of the USS Guam cruise book there are copies of newspaper clippings that describe wartime action. In those articles of July 30, 1945, (which were posted by Associated Press, United Press, and International News Service), all refer to these ships as a new giant battle cruiser, the American version of a Pocket Battleship, and Giant Cruiser. On the second page it reads ‘ ” Guam is the second of a class of large cruisers, sometimes called “battle cruisers ” .’ When the U S Navy released this information to the press, it neither promoted or denied the the terms large cruiser or battle cruiser one over the other. That was seventy years ago and so the USN, crew members, and the press used the term battlecruisers and large cruiser (along with CB); then “to each his own”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s