|Ship Class||Northampton-class Heavy Cruiser|
|Builder||Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, VA|
|Launched||7 Sep 1929|
|Commissioned||17 Jun 1930|
|Sunk||28 Feb 1942|
|Displacement||9050 tons standard|
|Armament||9x8-inch guns, 6x21-inch torpedo tubes|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Launched in 1930, USS Houston sailed acrossed the Pacific to become the flagship of the US Navy Asiatic Fleet bearing the nickname "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast", though not after her test trials in the Atlantic and a visit to her namesake city, Houston, Texas. She was originally commissioned as the light cruiser CL-30, though a reclassification on 1 Jul 1931 changed her designation to the heavy cruiser CA-30. After arrival in Manila on 22 Feb 1931, she spent a significant amount of time in Chinese waters to observe the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War, to protect US interests in Shanghai, and to conduct training operations. She remained in Shanghai until 17 Nov 1933 when USS Augusta relieved her duties there, though Houston did visit Philippines on a goodwill cruiser in March 1933 and another to Japan in May of the same year during her assignment in China. After which she joined the US Navy Scout Force and then became "the President's Yacht", carrying President Roosevelt on many occasions, including a 12,000-mile long trip from Annapolis, Maryland to Portland, Oregon (with a stop at Hawaii) and many vacation cruises. On 19 Sep 1938, Houston became the flagship of Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, and will remain so until 28 Dec of the same year, when she returned to the Scouting Force for training exercises and missions carrying important dignataries. By this time, famous political and military figures whom the Houston had carried include President Franklin Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Henry Roosevelt, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Leahy.
When war broke out in Europe, USS Houston was nearing the completion of a refitting. She returned to the Asiatic Fleet on 19 Nov 1940 and once again chosen as the flagship, deployed to disrupt Japanese advances across southern Pacific. She was the flagship of Admiral Thomas C. Hart. When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, Hart sailed her toward Darwin, Australia, where she would join the ABDA naval force (under the command of Dutch admiral Karel Doorman) to curb Japanese advances. Houston's rear gun turret was disabled by a bomb on 4 Feb 1942, though during the action she was credited with downing four Japanese planes. On 15 Feb she departed from Australia with a small convoy to reinforce the garrison at Timor, and was met with numerous air attacks, but she fought off the attacks valiantly without damage to the transports she was guarding.
Admiral Doorman received reports of a Japanese invasion force approaching Java, and was determined to stop the invasion. On 26 Feb 1942, Houston set sail along with HMAS Perth, HNLMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNLMS Java, and 10 destroyers. This force confronted the Japanese support force under the command of Admiral Takeo Takagi, on 28 Feb 1942; during the battle Houston was sunk by overwhelming Japanese forces, but not before hitting three enemy destroyers and sinking one minesweeper while fighting alone (Perth had already been sunk). The full story of the sinking of USS Houston was actually not known by the world for almost 9 months as her survivors were picked up by Japanese ships and sent to a prison camp. Captain Albert Rooks, the skipper of the Houston who was killed by a shell at 0030 on 28 Feb 1942, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after the war as tales of his bravery were learned. The Houston was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Lieutenant (JG) H. S. Hamlin of the US Navy remembered the sad day when his ship disappeared below the waves:
The crew of the cruiser Houston is honored at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Australia. The crew of HMAS Perth, which also perished at the same battle, is also honored there.
Sources: Naval Historical Center, The Pacific Campaign, Wikipedia.
USS Houston Operational Timeline
|17 Jun 1930||Houston was commissioned into service.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935