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Des Moines class

USS Des Moines
USS Des Moines, Philadelphia, PA
(Photographer unknown, 1985)

Name:USS Des Moines (CA-134)
Location:Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Owner:Department of the Navy

Displacement:17,255 tons standard / 20,934 tons full load
Length:717 feet
Width:75 feet
Machinery:4-General Electric Turbines, 4-Babcock & Wilcox Boilers
Fuel Oil Capacity:3,006 tons
Maximum Speed:33 knots
Armament:9-8 inch/55 caliber guns (3 X 3), 12-5 inch/38 caliber guns (6 X 2), 24-3 inch/SO caliber guns (12 X 2), Various combinations of antiaircraft guns.

Builder:Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincy, Massachusetts
Launched:September 27, 1946
Commissioned:November 17, 1948


USS Des Moines (CA-134) is the first of four Des Moines class heavy cruisers laid down by the United States late in World War II. She was built by the Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. Her keel was laid on May 28, 1945, and she was launched on September 27, 1946. USS Des Moines was commissioned on November 17, 1948.

The design of the Des Moines class was influenced by the need to build a heavy cruiser with rapid firing 8" guns that could engage and successfully sink Japanese cruisers. In repeated actions, during the early part of the war, American cruisers had found it almost impossible to hit fast Japanese ships in night actions. The navy designed USS Des Moines to solve this problem by providing her with rapid firing 8" guns that would easily outrange Japanese cruisers that mounted 6" rapid fire guns. The Des Moines class was also provided with extensive batteries of antiaircraft guns to provide protection for Essex class aircraft carriers then roaming the Pacific. Des Moines class cruisers were the last class of heavy cruisers designed by the United States during World War II and represent the culmination of wartime cruiser design.

USS Des Moines is in good condition and retains her World War II design integrity. USS Des Moines was placed out of commission in 1961 and is now in reserve at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.

Role of the Cruiser in World War II

During World War II American cruisers were designed for two general purposes: fleet support in combination with destroyers, both for defense against hostile destroyers and for torpedo attack on an enemy battle line; and in a combination of independent operations including cruising in hostile waters, raiding, and protecting the long lines of communications across the Pacific. [1]

By early 1942 American cruisers screened the first fast carrier raids against Japanese held islands in the Pacific. The cruisers Houston, Marblehead, and Boise fought with the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) command under Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman in a vain attempt to stop the victorious Japanese advance into the Java Sea in February 1942. In the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942 three American cruisers Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes as well as the Australian cruiser Canberra were lost in a Japanese night attack.

By 1942 the cruiser had become the principal surface combat ship in the Pacific. In addition to screening the fast carrier attack forces, cruisers carried out gunnery raids on enemy held shores, provided fire support for amphibious operations, and were given many assignments in support of general fleet operations. From her original role as a scout and surface raider, the cruiser became an essential component of task force operations in the Pacific. [2] During the war the United States completed large numbers of cruisers to meet the demands of fleet operations in the Pacific. These ships continued to bear the brunt of the action in the Pacific until the end of the war. The last major combat ship lost by the United States in World War II was the cruiser USS Indianapolis, sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 29, 1945.

USS Des Moines represents American. cruisers that fought against Japan in World War II for the following reasons:

  1. USS Des Moines represents the culmination of wartime United States cruiser design. Des Moines class cruisers incorporated all the design knowledge gained from repeated actions fought against the Japanese during the war. Des Moines class cruisers were fast ships mounting rapid firing 8" guns that were ideally suited for the war against Japan. USS Des Moines, is the class leader for this new generation of cruisers USS Des Moines also represents the last generation of big gun warship designed by the United States prior to the advent of the guided missile for shipborne operations. USS Des Moines is the largest non-missile cruiser afloat today.

  2. Although USS Des Moines was not commissioned until after the end of World War II she was designed during the war to meet the requirements of fleet operations against the Japanese in the Pacific. Her equipment and design philosophy date from the war and as such she represents the many classes of American cruisers that fought in the Pacific. No American cruiser that fought in World War II has survived unaltered. USS Chicago, a Baltimore class cruiser, and USS Oklahoma City, a Cleveland class cruiser, were launched late in the war and still survive, but have been completely altered into guided missile cruisers and no longer retain their World War II integrity.

  3. USS Des Moines is in good condition and retains her World War II design integrity. USS Des Moines is in the best condition of the three extant Des Moines class cruisers now in the Philadelphia Naval Yard.


1. Roger Chesnau, Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1922-1946 (New York: Mayflower Books, 1980), p. 112.

2. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships Vol. IV (Washington, DC: Naval History Division, 1969). p. 647.


Chesnau, Roger ed. Conway's All the Worlds Fighting Ships 1922-1946. New York: Mayflower Books, 1980.

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships Vol. IV. Washington, DC: Naval History Division, 1969.

McMahon, William E. Dreadnought Battleships and Battle Cruisers. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1978.

Preston, Anthony. Cruisers--An Illustrated History 1880-1980. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1980.


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