Tuesday, November 15, 2011
USS Northampton (CL-26, CA-26)
Figure 1: Late 1930s photograph of USS Northampton (CA-26) while at anchor. Note that all four of her scout planes are on catapults. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Late 1930s photograph of USS Northampton (CA-26) while underway. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Northampton (CL-26) underway during builder's trials, circa spring 1930. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Northampton (CA-26) underway during the early 1930s, prior to the removal of her torpedo tubes. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Northampton (CA-26) photographed during the later 1930s, after her forward smokestack was raised. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: This appears to be the Pedro Miguel locks, Panama Canal Zone. If so, the Northampton (CA-26) is heading south toward the Pacific, December 1934. Courtesy Robert M. Cieri. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Starboard beam of Northampton (CA-26) while underway, 23 August 1935. Excellent detail image of the ship. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Northampton (CA-26) entering the river at Brisbane, Australia, 5 August 1941. Note her false bow wave camouflage. Courtesy of Perry M. Allard, 1983. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Northampton (CA-26) preparing to dock at Newcastle Wharf, Brisbane, Australia, on 5 August 1941. Note her false bow wave camouflage. Courtesy of James W. Fitch, 1984. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Northampton (CA-26) refueling from USS Cimarron (AO-22) during the Doolittle Raid operation. Photographed from USS Salt Lake City (CA-25). The original photo caption states that this view was taken on 18 April 1942, the day the Doolittle Raid aircraft were launched to attack targets in Japan. Note that Northampton's forward smokestack had been reduced in height by this time. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Northampton (CA-26) off Gonaives, Haiti, circa early 1939. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, collection of Rear Admiral Paul H. Bastedo. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: USS Northampton (CA-26) steams into Pearl Harbor on the morning of 8 December 1941, the day after the Japanese air attack. Photographed from Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard, with dredging pipe in the foreground. Northampton was at sea with Vice Admiral Halsey's task force on the day of the attack. Note her Measure One (dark) camouflage, with a Measure Five false bow wave, and manned anti-aircraft director positions. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: USS Northampton (CA-26) under attack by a Japanese seaplane during the US raid on Wake Island, 24 February 1942. Photographed from USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), one of whose 1.1-inch machine gun mounts is in the foreground. Note anti-aircraft shell bursts above Northampton and nearby bomb splash. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942. USS Northampton (CA-26), at right, attempting to tow USS Hornet (CV-8) after she had been disabled by Japanese air attacks on 26 October 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a city in Massachusetts, the 9,050-ton USS Northampton (CL-26) was built by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 17 May 1930. Northampton was the lead ship of a class of six similar ships and was approximately 600 feet long and 66 feet wide. The ship had a crew of 831 officers and men and a top speed of 32 knots. Northampton was armed with nine 8-inch guns, four 5-inch guns, several 8.50-calibre machine guns, six 21-inch torpedo tubes, and four aircraft.
After being commissioned, Northampton went on a shakedown cruise in the Mediterranean and then participated in the US Navy’s regular program of operations and exercises. The ship was re-classified a heavy cruiser in July 1931 and received a change in hull number from CL-26 to CA-26. Northampton served primarily in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceans until 1932, at which point she was transferred to the Pacific Ocean and served there for the rest of her career. In 1941, Northampton steamed across the Pacific for a good-will trip to Australia.
On 7 December 1941, Northampton was at sea with the carrier USS Enterprise’s (CV-6) task force. The following day, Northampton entered Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and saw firsthand the massive destruction caused by the Japanese the previous day. Northampton’s early wartime operations were primarily in the Hawaiian area, but in late January 1942 she steamed to the central Pacific, where on 1 February she bombarded Wotje in the Marshall Islands. The ship then bombarded Wake Island on 24 February. Northampton was attacked by Japanese aircraft during her assault on Wake Island, but the ship sustained no damage. In March 1942, Northampton was assigned to a carrier task force that struck Marcus Island and then the following month she participated in the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan. She then escorted USS Enterprise to the south Pacific in May 1942 and defended the carrier during the Battle of Midway in early June.
Northampton returned to the south Pacific in August 1942 to participate in the American amphibious assault on Guadalcanal. For the next two months she escorted carrier task forces and was present when the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) was sunk by a Japanese submarine on 15 September and was escorting USS Hornet (CV-8) during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. When the carrier was severely damaged by Japanese torpedoes and bombs, Northampton tried to tow Hornet to safety. But Northampton had to cut the tow line with Hornet after another Japanese air attack inflicted additional damage to the carrier, eventually forcing her to sink.
In November 1942, Northampton joined a cruiser-destroyer surface action group that was assigned to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their troops on Guadalcanal. Forty minutes before midnight, 30 November 1942, Northampton’s cruiser-destroyer surface action group ran right into a Japanese task force off Guadalcanal and the Battle of Tassafaronga began. The American destroyers started the action by firing torpedoes at the Japanese, after which all of the American warships opened fire. This stunned the Japanese task force for approximately seven minutes. But the Japanese soon recovered and fired torpedoes of their own at the American ships. Within the space of a minute, two American cruisers were hit by torpedoes and ten minutes later another cruiser was hit as well. All three of the damaged American cruisers had to leave the area, forcing the US cruisers Northampton and Honolulu, along with six destroyers, to continue the battle on their own. Shells were flying in every direction while Japanese searchlights scoured the water for American warships. Northampton was holding her own with Japanese ships until, towards the end of the battle, two torpedoes hit the cruiser, tearing a huge hole in the port side of the ship. The explosions tore away decks and bulkheads and flaming diesel oil was sprayed all over the ship. Northampton took on water rapidly and began listing sharply to port. The crew did their best to stop the flooding and put out the fires, but the damage was just too much for them. Three hours later, Northampton began to sink stern first. The crew abandoned ship and USS Northampton slipped under the waves. Fortunately, two American destroyers soon arrived on the scene and rescued the bulk of the crew from the water. The destroyers picked up 773 men, remarkable considering the damage that was done to the ship. Northampton lost 58 crewmembers during the battle, most of them when the two torpedoes hit the ship.
The Battle of Tassafaronga was a terrible defeat for the US Navy. At the start of the battle, the US Navy had five cruisers and four destroyers attacking a Japanese force of eight destroyers. The Americans should have overwhelmed the Japanese destroyers, but Japan’s better training at night fighting and their expert use of their “Long Lance” torpedoes, which were fired with deadly accuracy, made the difference. The US Navy lost one heavy cruiser sunk (Northampton) and three cruisers heavily damaged (USS Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Pensacola). The Japanese lost only one destroyer. The only good news was that the Japanese were prevented from reinforcing Guadalcanal that night. The US Navy was sustaining terrible losses to protect the Marines on that island and it would be another few months of intense fighting before the battle for Guadalcanal would end in an American victory.