The USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) was a World War II-era U.S. Navy heavy cruiser that the Navy named for the city of Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County. During the war, the ship participated in the 1942 landings in North Africa; the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of France; the August 1944 invasion of southern France; and the 1945 invasions of the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. It was the only ship of the seven-member New Orleans class to survive the war without sinking or sustaining major damage. An LST-1187 amphibious landing ship launched in 1969 was also named the USS Tuscaloosa.
USS Tuscaloosa 1941 The New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, New Jersey, began construction of the Tuscaloosa on September 3, 1931. The cruiser displaced 9,975 tons of water, was just over 588 feet long, had a beam (width) of nearly 62 feet, and sat 19.5 feet deep in the water. Its top speed was nearly 33 knots per hour, or just over 37.5 miles per hour. The ship had a complement of 708 officers and enlisted men. The Tuscaloosa carried nine 8-inch 55-caliber guns in two armored turrets forward and one armored turret astern, and eight 5-inch 25-caliber guns for anti-aircraft defense. The ship originally was armed with eight 0.50-inch machine guns, but the Navy later replaced them with 16 40-mm and 19 20-mm cannon for additional anti-aircraft defense. The ship also had four floatplanes, used for reconnaissance, which were launched from two catapults, located amidships behind the ship’s smokestacks. The ship was launched on November 15, 1933, and commissioned on August 17, 1934, with Capt. John N. Ferguson in command.
The Tuscaloosa conducted a test run, known as a shakedown cruise, along the eastern coast of South America and completed post-shakedown repairs at the New York Navy Yard. In late March 1935, the ship sailed around South America, through the dangerous Straits of Magellan, to join Cruiser Division 6, based at San Pedro, California, and participated in the first of several naval exercises in the late 1930s off the coast of Alaska and in the waters around Hawaii and Midway Island. In early January 1939, the Tuscaloosa left San Diego for assignment to the Atlantic Fleet to participate in fleet exercises and operations in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. In April and May 1939, with two other warships, the Tuscaloosa sailed down the east coast and up the west coast of South America, and back to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal on a goodwill tour. In August, the ship carried Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt to his vacation home on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, and to several ports in Newfoundland.
After World War II began, the Tuscaloosa joined the Neutrality Patrol, monitoring German merchant ships and warships in the waters of the Western Hemisphere and later extended to include Iceland and Greenland. After gunnery training and exercises in the Caribbean during early autumn, the ship joined other U.S. warships in mid-December, searching for the North German Lloyd liner Columbus, which was attempting to reach German waters. A British destroyer, the HMS Hyperion, found the Columbus and radioed the Tuscaloosa to take aboard the 577 Germans who had abandoned the liner, following its scuttling by the ship’s captain. The Tuscaloosa disembarked the survivors at Ellis Island, New York, on December 20.
President Roosevelt Aboard the USS Tuscaloosa, 1940 During most of 1940 and 1941, the Tuscaloosa continued its patrols and exercises in the Atlantic and Caribbean. In February and December 1940, the cruiser again hosted Roosevelt on cruises to the west coast of South America and the West Indies during which he conferred with Latin American leaders about Pan-American defense and U.S. military leaders about the defense of the Panama Canal. During the December cruise, Roosevelt developed Lend-Lease federal policy to help Britain defend itself against Nazi Germany without actually committing the United States itself to war; Lend-Lease was later extended to other Allies. Later, in 1941, the Tuscaloosa transported retired Adm. William D. Leahy to France to take up his appointment as ambassador to the Vichy government there. In August 1941, the Tuscaloosa, carrying a number of senior U.S. military officials, joined the USS Augusta, carrying Pres. Roosevelt, to the town of Argentia, Newfoundland, for the Atlantic Charter Conference with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain. The ship continued to participate in active operations in the North Atlantic and ferried American troops to Iceland, a possession of then German-occupied Denmark, to relieve the British troops garrisoning the island who were badly needed in Britain. In November 1941, the Tuscaloosa joined other warships of the U.S. “White Patrol” fleet, north of Iceland, formed to intercept the German battleship Tirpitz and other German warships if they ventured into the Norwegian Sea.
The Tuscaloosa remained in the Atlantic after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and subsequent U.S. entry into the war. Between April and September 1942, the cruiser worked with the British Home Fleet, based at Scapa Flow, Scotland, in the waters between Iceland and the northern Soviet Union and helped protect convoys of American merchant ships to Britain and the Soviet Union. In November 1942, the ship joined the Allied fleet that provided fire support for American forces invading French Morocco during Operation Torch, the U.S. and British invasion of North Africa. During the Naval Battle of Casablanca, November 7-8, the Tuscaloosa shelled Vichy French shore batteries and warships, including the battleship Jean Bart and evaded several submarine torpedoes. The Tuscaloosa spent much of 1943 and the first part of 1944 on convoy, patrol, and training duties in the North Atlantic and supported naval operations along the Norwegian coast. From May through June 1943, it joined other American warships, including the battleship USS Alabama, and the British Home Fleet in attempt to draw out the Tirpitz, which the German Navy had relocated to the fjords of northern Norway. However, the Tirpitz remained in seclusion and only fired her guns at enemy targets during a September 1943 raid on British shore facilities at Spitzbergen.
USS Tuscaloosa, 1944 On June 6, 1944, the Tuscaloosa participated in Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings at Normandy, France, as the flagship of one of the naval bombardment groups and engaged coastal batteries and other targets in the area during the following weeks. In August, the ship took part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. In September 1944, the ship sailed west for refitting at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and in January joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet for operations in the Western Pacific. The ship bombarded Japanese installations during the February 1945 invasion of Iwo Jima and, along with the USS Alabama, the March-June invasion of Okinawa.
After Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Tuscaloosa participated in occupation operations along the coasts of China and Korea from late August until November 1945. The ship and crew earned seven battle stars for their service in World War II, never suffering any serious damage from enemy action. Between November 1945 and January 1946, the vessel transported servicemen from Pacific islands to Hawaii and the United States. In early February 1946, the veteran cruiser passed through the Panama Canal and sailed north to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where it was decommissioned by the Navy on February 13, 1946. The Tuscaloosa remained in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet until March 1, 1959, when the Navy struck the vessel from the Navy Register and sold it for scrap on June 25, 1959, to the Boston Metals Company, Baltimore, Maryland. The ship’s former mast is the centerpiece of the Tuscaloosa Veterans Memorial Park, which also features one of its five-inch guns.
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