USS Astoria (CA-34)

Pre-War and Introduction

USS Astoria (CA-34) was a New Orleans class heavy cruiser that fought at the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, before becoming one of three members of the class to be lost at the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. Astoria (CA-34) earned three battle stars during World War II.

The Astoria was laid down in September 1930 as CL-34, but she was reclassified as heavy cruiser CA-34 on 1 July 1931. She wasn't launched until December 1933 and was commissioned on 28 April 1934. Her shakedown cruise took her into the Pacific and she visited Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia and Australia before reaching San Francisco in September 1934. She served with Cruiser Division 7 from then until February 1937 when she joined Cruiser Division 6, part of the Scouting Force. During her time with this division she visited Japan, returning the remains of Ambassador Saito Hirosi after his death in 1939. After Japan she went on to Shanghai, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Guam before reaching her new home port of Pearl Harbor in October 1939.

In April 1941 she left Pearl Harbor and returned to the Mare Island Navy Yard for a refit. This was completed in July and she was back at Pearl Harbor by the end of the month. In September she moved between Hawaii and Midway. In October she was used to escort the transport Henderson to Manila and Guam in response to a rumour of German raiders.

On 5 December the Astoria was part of Task Force 12 (USS Lexington), which left Pearl Harbor to carry Marine bombers to Midway Island.  

Wartime Service

The Astoria was thus at sea when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December. In the aftermath of the attack the task force searched the area south-west of Hawaii looking for the Japanese fleet, but without success. The task force returned to port on 13 December.

She put to sea three days later to join TF14, part of the relief effort for Wake Island. The island fell to the Japanese on 23 December, and the relief force was recalled. At the end of December she formed part of TF 11, based around the Saratoga. The carrier was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-6 on 11 January and the force had to retreat to Pearl Harbor, guarding the damaged carrier.

The second half of January was no more successful. She put to sea on 19 January with a task force that was meant to conduct a patrol north of Christmas Island. This was then changed to a raid on Wake Island, but a key oiler was sunk by a Japanese submarine and the raid was cancelled. 

In mid-February the Astoria put to sea with Task Force 17 (USS Yorktown), two cruisers and four destroyers, under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. This force was soon attached to Task Force 11 (Lexington) for a raid on Rabaul, but this was cancelled after the Japanese landed at Lae and Salamaua on New Guinea. The Americans responded by moving their carriers into the Gulf of Papua (west of Port Moresby on the south coast of New Guinea) and sending their aircraft across the island to hit the Japanese (10 March 1942). While this was going on the Astoria was part of a mixed force (with HMAS Australia) that operated in the Louisiade Archipelago (east of New Guinea), to protect the flanks of the carrier operation.

The Astoria operated with TF17 in the Coral Sea in March-April 1942, then took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942), still with TF17. She formed part of the screen for the Yorktown during the attack on the Shoho (7 May) then took part in the defence against the Japanese attack on the American carriers on 8 May. Although the US lost the Lexington, the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby was defeated.
  
On 30 May 1942 the Astoria set sail as part of the Yorktown task force, heading for Midway. She formed part of the carrier screen for the Yorktown during the battle of Midway. On 4 June the Yorktown came under attack. The screen shot down two aircraft, but six reached the Yorktown and three scored hits. The carrier survived this first attack, but later in the day was hit again. She was still afloat on the following day, but was hit by torpedoes from the submarine I-168, and sank on 7 June. The Astoria served as the flagship for Admiral Fletcher until the Saratoga arrived on 8 June.

In early August the Astoria became part of Task Group 62.3, Fire Support Group L, part of the fleet allocated to the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. On 7 August she supported the marines as they landed on both islands.

The Japanese responded in force during the night of 8-9 August, sending seven cruisers and a destroyer to attack the Americans (battle of Savo Island, 8-9 August 1942). The battle went badly for the Allies, and in particular for the New Orleans class ships, with three lost during the battle. The Astoria came under fire at about 1.50am on 9 August and was hit by accurate Japanese shell fire. She was set on fire, making her an easy target. She nearly rammed the badly damaged Quincy but became difficult to control from the bridge. At about 2.25am she began to steam south in an attempt to escape from the Japanese, but soon afterwards lost all power. At about the same time the Japanese withdrew, so the Astoria was still afloat at the end of the battle.

For some time it appeared that the Astoria might be saved. Fire fighting efforts had some impact; while the wounded and some trapped survivors were rescued by the destroyer USS Bagley (DD-386). After dawn on 9 August a salvage crew boarded the Astoria, and she was put under tow. The tow ships were called away at 10am, but there was still some hope of reaching safety. However below decks the fires were still raging and the ship began to list. This brought the shell holes below the water line, and soon after 11.30 Captain William Greenman was forced to give the order to abandon ship. The Astoria rolled over to port, settled at the stern, and had sunk by 12.15pm. The salvage crew was rescued safely.

Wartime Modification

All members of the New Orleans class received quad 1.1in gun mounts early in 1942, with two on the quarterdeck and two at the same level as the chart house. They also got search radar and had the foremast reduced in height. The Astoria was also given 12 single 20mm guns.

Displacement (standard)

10,136t

Displacement (loaded)

12,463t

Top Speed

32.7kts

Range

10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

5in to 3.25in over 0.75in STS

 - over machinery

2.25in

 - magazines

4in-3in side
2.25in above

 - barbettes

6in-5in

 - turrets

6in face
2.25in roof
1.5in side

Length

588ft oa

Armaments

Nine 8in/55 guns (three 3-gun turrets)
Eight 5in/25 guns (eight single positions)
Eight 0.5in guns (eight single positions)
Four aircraft

Crew complement

868

Laid Down

1 September 1930

Launched

16 December 1933

Completed

28 April 1934

Lost

9 August 1942

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 December 2014), USS Astoria (CA-34) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Astoria_CA34.html

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