Hull number CA-30
|Class & type:
||Northampton-class heavy cruiser
||570 ft (170 m) (waterline); 600 ft 3 in (182.96 m) (overall)
||66 ft 1 in (20.14 m)
||16 ft 6 in (5.03 m) (mean); 23 ft (7.0 m) (maximum)
||4 × Parsons geared turbines,
8 × White-Forster boilers,
4 × shafts,
107,000 ihp (80,000 kW)
||32.7 kn (37.6 mph; 60.6 km/h)
||13,000 nmi (15,000 mi; 24,000 km) @ 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
||Fuel oil: 1,500 tons
||9 × 8 in (200 mm)/55 cal guns (3x3), 8 × 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal AA guns, 4 x quad 1.1 inch AA guns, 8 x 0.5 inch AA guns (8 x 1).
- Belt: 3 in (76 mm)
- Deck: 2 in (51 mm) + 1 in (25 mm)
- Gunhouses: 1.5 in (38 mm)
||4 × SOC Seagull scout-observation seaplanes
||2 × catapults
Sunk by Japanese gunfire and torpedoes during the Battle of Sunda Strait, 01 MAR 1942
On the night of the Pearl Harbor attack, Houston got underway from Panay Island with fleet units bound for Darwin, Australia, where she arrived on 28 December 1941 by way of Balikpapan and Surabaya. After patrol duty, she joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) naval force at Surabaya.
Battle of Makassar Strait
Air raids were frequent in the area, and Houston's gunners shot down four Japanese planes in the Battle of Bali Sea (also known as the Battle of Makassar Strait) on 4 February 1942, as Admiral Karel Doorman of the Royal Netherlands Navy took his force to engage a Japanese invasion convoy reported to be at Balikpapan. Houston took one hit, disabling her No. 3 turret. Doorman was forced to abandon his advance following the damage to Houston, as well as damage that forced the cruiser USS Marblehead out of the battle area.
Houston arrived at Tjilatjap 5 February and stayed until 10 February, when she left for Darwin, Australia to escort a convoy carrying troops to reinforce forces already defendingTimor. Escorting USAT Meigs, SS Mauna Loa, Portmar and the Tulagi, Houston with the destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) and sloops HMAS Warrego (U73) andHMAS Swan (U74) departed Darwin before two in the morning of 15 February for Koepang. By eleven in the morning, the convoy was being shadowed by a Japanese flying boat that dropped some bombs without causing damage before departing. The next morning another shadowing aircraft had taken position, and before noon the convoy was attacked by bombers and flying boats in two waves. During the first attack only Mauna Loa suffered slight damage and two casualties, one killed and one wounded. Houston's fire showed no effects. During the second attack, Houston distinguished herself with a barrage which made her "like a sheet of flame" (Gill quoting Morrison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931-April 1942, p. 315) shooting down 7 of the 44 planes of the second wave. The convoy continued toward Timor for a few hours, with Houston launching a scout plane seeking the enemy position. ABDA suspected the presence of Japanese carriers, an imminent invasion of Timor, and a support fleet lying in wait and thus ordered the convoy back to Darwin, which it reached before noon on the 18th. Houston and Peary departed later that day to rejoin combat forces with Peary, and after being engaged in an anti-submarine operation off Darwin, returned for fuel. Houston thus escaped the Japanese attack on Darwin on 19 February, in which the Peary, Meigs and Mauna Loa were among the ships sunk and Portmar was forced to beach.
Battle of the Java Sea
Receiving word that the major Japanese invasion force was approaching Java protected by a formidable surface unit, Admiral Doorman decided to meet and seek to destroy the main convoy. Sailing on 26 February 1942 with the cruisers Houston, HMAS Perth, HNLMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNLMS Java and 10 destroyers, he met the Japanese support force under Admiral Takeo Takagi consisting of four cruisers and 13 destroyers.
In the battle on 27 February 1942, Doorman's forces met the Japanese fleet for the first time in the late afternoon. As Japanese destroyers laid smoke, the cruisers of both fleets opened fire. After one ineffective torpedo attack, the Japanese light cruisers and destroyers launched a second and sank the destroyer HNLMS Kortenaer. HMS Exeter and the destroyer HMS Electra were hit by gunfire, Electra sinking shortly after. At 17:30 Admiral Doorman turned south toward the Java coast, not wishing to be diverted from his main purpose: the destruction of the convoy itself.
The Allied fleet dodged another torpedo attack and followed the coastline, during which time the destroyer HMS Jupiter was sunk, either by mine or internal explosion. The destroyer HMS Encounter was detached to pick up survivors from Kortenaer, and the American destroyers, their torpedoes expended, were ordered back to Surabaya. With no destroyer protection, Doorman's four remaining ships turned north again in a last attempt to stop the invasion of Java.
At 23:00 the same night, the cruisers again encountered the Japanese surface group. On parallel courses the opposing units opened fire, and the Japanese launched a torpedo attack 30 minutes later. De Ruyter andJava, caught in a spread of 12 torpedoes, exploded and sank, carrying their captains and Admiral Doorman down with them.
This battle on 27 February 1942 was the largest surface engagement since the Battle of Jutland in World War I. By the end of the day, two cruisers and 3 destroyers of the ABDA naval force had been sunk, the remaining destroyers had been ordered back to Surabaya, the cruiser Exeter had been damaged and, before his own ship was sunk, Doorman had ordered the cruisers Perth and Houston to retire.
Battle of Sunda Strait
On 28 February 1942, the day after the Battle of the Java Sea, the ABDA cruisers Perth and Houston steamed into Banten Bay. It is believed that they had no knowledge of the Japanese battle fleet, their last intelligence report having stated that the only Japanese warships in the area were 50 miles (43 nmi) away and headed away. However, it is possible that they were hoping to damage the Japanese invasion forces there. The two cruisers were attacked as they approached the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyer
According to ABDA post-battle reports, the cruisers then reportedly sank one transport and forced three others to beach. It is also possible and viewed in some quarters as more likely, however, that the transports were damaged by "friendly fire" by some of the over 90 Long Lance torpedoes fired at the two ABDA cruisers by Japanese destroyers. A Japanese destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of retreat, and the Japanese heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma stood dangerously near. The Houston and Perth could not withdraw. Perthcame under fire at 23:36 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. On board the Houston, shells were in short supply in the forward turrets, so the crew manhandled shells from the disabled number three turret to the forward turrets. Houston then fought alone until soon after midnight, when she was struck by a torpedo and began to lose headway.
Houston's gunners had scored hits on three different destroyers and sunk a minesweeper, but then suffered three more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Albert Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 00:30 and as the ship came to a stop Japanese destroyers moved in, machine gunning the decks. A few minutes later, Houston rolled over and sank, her ensignstill flying. Of the original crew of 1,061 men, 368 survived, including 24 of the 74-man USMC detachment, only to be captured by the Japanese and interned in prison camps.
Houston's fate was not fully known by the world for almost nine months, and the full story of her last fight was not told until after the war was over and her survivors were liberated from the prison camps. Before then, on 30 May 1942, 1,000 new recruits for the Navy, known as the Houston Volunteers, were sworn in at a dedication ceremony in downtown Houston, to replace those believed lost on USS Houston. On 12 October 1942 the light cruiser Vicksburg (CL-81) then under construction was renamed Houston in honor of the old ship, President Roosevelt declaring:
Captain Rooks received posthumously the Medal of Honor for his actions. Chaplain George S. Rentz, who had surrendered his life jacket to a younger sailor after finding himself in the water, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. He was the only Navy Chaplain to be so honored during World War II.
The crew of USS Houston is honored alongside that of HMAS Perth at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Australia, and also in St John's Anglican Church, Fremantle, Western Australia.