USS Houston (CL-81)

USS Houston (CL-81) was a Cleveland class light cruiser that entered combat in June 1944 during the invasion of the Marianas. She had a short combat career which ended when she was hit by a torpedo on 14 October 1944. Although the ship survived she wasn't repaired in time to return to combat. During this short period she was awarded three Battle Stars.

Aerial picture of USS Houston (CL-81), 12 January 1944
Aerial picture of
USS Houston (CL-81),
12 January 1944

CL-81 was originally to be named USS Vicksburg, but she was renamed as USS Houston after the citizens of Houston purchased a large number of War Bonds to replace the heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), which had been sunk on 1 March 1942 during the battle of the Java Sea. The name Vicksburg was reused on CL-86.

The Houston began her shakedown and training period on 1 February 1944 and was ready to leave for the Pacific by mid-April. She joined the fast carrier task force on 31 May 1944, just in time to take part in the invasion of the Mariana Islands. She formed part of the carrier screen during pre-invasion raids on the Marianas on 12-13 June and the Bonins on 15-16 June. She took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, which was triggered by the Japanese reaction to the invasion of Saipan (15 June). The Houston formed part of the anti-aircraft screen that helped inflict fatal damage on Japanese naval air power. After the battle the fleet remained off the Mariana Islands until mid-August, supporting the invasion. During this period the Houston was able to fire her main guns in anger, destroying a radar station, an airfield and ten aircraft during shore bombardments of Guam and Rota on 26 June.

Next was the invasion of the Palau Islands. The Houston formed part of Task Group 38.2 and at the end of August sailed as part of the escort for the carriers that attacked the Palaus on 6 September. The Houston then carried out a shore bombardment of Peleliu and neighbouring islands. She then escorted the carriers as they raided the Philippines, before returning to Peleliu to support the troops.

On 6 October the carriers left for a raid on Formosa. Okinawa was hit in passing on 10 October, before on 12 October the carriers began three days of fierce attacks on Formosa. The Japanese responded with heavy air attacks and the resulting battles did much to destroy Japanese land-based naval air power. This victory didn't come without a cost for the Americans. On 13 October the heavy cruiser Canberra was damaged, and on 14 October it was the Houston's turn. She was hit by an aerial torpedo that struck under the hull amidships. All four of her machinery spaces were flooded and the armoured deck was distorted. She may have taken on as much as 6,000 tons of water.

Detail from Battle of Scheveningen by Willem van de Velde the Elder
USS Houston (CL-81), Norfolk Navy Yard, 11 January 1944

The Houston was towed away, in the company of the Canberra. The heavily escorted ships became known as Cripple Division 1, and their vulnerability was exaggerated in American reports in an attempt to draw the Japanese out for a major naval battle. The Japanese airmen on Formosa had greatly exaggerated their successes and their reports were believed in Japan, where a great victory was celebrated. The Japanese fleet did set out from Japan, but retired before it could be brought to battle. In the meantime the Houston was hit by a second torpedo on 16 October, which came close to sinking her. Intensive damage control work kept her afloat and she reached the US fleet base at Ulithi on 27 October 1944.

After temporary repairs at Ulithi she moved to Manus on 20 December, where she was patched up and made ready for the return trip to the US. She finally reached the New York Navy Yard on 24 March 1945 for full scale repairs.

By the time the repairs were completed, the war was over. The Houston left New York on 11 October 1945 and was based on the US East Coast. Between 16 April and 14 December 1946 she took part in a goodwill tour of European and North Africa ports which took her to Scandinavia, Portugal, Italy and Egypt. She was part of Cruiser Division 12 in the Mediterranean from May-August 1947, but was decommissioned on 15 December 1947. She entered the reserve, but was stricken from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and broken up in the following year.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



11,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt


 - armour deck


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turrets

6.5in face
3in top
3in side
1.5in rear

 - conning tower

2.25in roof


610ft 1in oa


Twelve 6in/47 guns (four triple turrets)
Twelve 5in/38 guns (six double positions)
Twenty four 40mm guns
Twenty one 20mm guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement



Newport News

Laid down

4 August 1941


19 June 1943


20 December 1943

Broken up


US Navy Light Cruisers 1941-45, Mark Stille. Covers the five classes of US Navy light cruisers that saw service during the Second World War, with sections on their design, weaponry, radar, combat experience. Nicely organised, with the wartime service records separated out from the main text, so that the design history of the light cruisers flows nicely. Interesting to see how new roles had to be found for them, after other technology replaced them as reconnaissance aircraft [read full review]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 November 2013), USS Houston (CL-81),

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