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.
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.
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.
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.
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.