Cleveland Class Light Cruisers

The Cleveland Class Light Cruisers were the most numerous class of cruisers ever built, with 52 ordered, 29 completed as cruisers and 9 as light aircraft carriers, with 22 of the cruisers seeing service during the Second World War. Despite these large numbers the Cleveland class had emerged as a compromise design in 1939, and the cruisers were top-heavy throughout their career.

In June 1938 work began on a design for a new 8,000 ton light cruiser that would be armed with eight or nine 6in dual purpose guns. This ship was designed within the limits of the 1936 London Naval Treaty, and the weight limit would soon cause problems. By May 1939 the design had evolved. It was now armed with ten 6in/47 guns in twin dual purpose turrets, with five quad 1.1in gun mountings for extra anti-aircraft protection, a single aircraft catapult aft and two banks of triple torpedo tubes. These design was visually similar to the eventual Cleveland class, so must have been at least partly based on the earlier Brooklyn class.

USS Birmingham fighting fires on USS Princeton
USS Birmingham
fighting fires on
USS Princeton

By June a tentative plan was in place to built two of these cruisers as CL55 and CL56 as part of the Financial Year 1940 (FY40) building budget, possibly to be followed by another twenty over the next ten years, but the design was running into problems. It was proving very difficult to fit all of the guns into 8,000 tons without removing virtually all protection.

USS Columbia (CL-56), heading to Lingayen Gulf
USS Columbia (CL-56),
heading to Lingayen Gulf

After the outbreak of the Second World War, Great Britain officially abandoned the 8,000 ton treaty limit for light cruisers. At about the same time the US Navy lost interest in the 6in/47 gun, and with it the existing light cruiser design. The General Board wanted an anti-aircraft cruiser to be armed with a new 5.4in dual purpose gun (later developed as the 5in/54 gun), but the Navy decided that it would take too long to produce a new design. On 2 October 1939 the Navy decided to order a modified version of USS Helena, the last of the Brooklyn class light cruisers. The new ships would carry fewer 6in guns and more dual purpose 5in guns, but would otherwise be similar to the Helena. The eventual size of the class was decided by a 1940 decision to concentrate construction on existing designs rather than risk the delays that might have come from introducing better designs.

The first two ships in the class, CL55 and CL56, were officially ordered on 23 March 1940. Further orders followed quickly. CL57 and CL58 were ordered on 12 June 1940, CL59 to CL67 during July 1940, CL76-CL88 in September and CL89-94 in October.

Only two were ordered during 1941 - CL101 and CL102 - and these were ordered to replace two that had been cancelled to allow their builder to focus on destroyers. CL103 to CL118 were ordered in August 1942. Very few of these later ships were actually completed. Of the earlier ships nine were converted into light carriers, with work beginning in 1942 before any had been completed as cruisers.

USS Montpelier (CL-57), December 1942
USS Montpelier (CL-57),
December 1942

Combat Infomation Centre on USS Pasadena (CL-65), 21 November 1944
Combat Infomation Centre
on USS Pasadena (CL-65),
21 November 1944

USS Springfield (CL-66) off Boston, 6 January 1945
USS Springfield (CL-66)
off Boston,
6 January 1945

USS Denver (CL-58) from above
USS Denver (CL-58)
from above

CL144 to CL147 were ordered as Cleveland class cruisers on 15 June 1943 and CL148 and CL149 on 14 June, but none of these ships were completed as Cleveland (or Fargo) class cruisers and even the numbers were reused, with CL144 to CL147 allocated to Worcester class light cruisers.

Captain's Inspection on USS Cleveland (CL-55), 28 March 1944
Captain's Inspection on USS Cleveland (CL-55), 28 March 1944

The Brooklyn class cruisers were produced as a result of the 1930 London Naval Treaty, which allowed for the production of 10,000 ton cruisers armed with 6in guns. The nine Brooklyn class ships were all armed with fifteen 6in guns carried in three triple turrets, two aft and three forward. The third of the fore turrets was mounted lower than the middle turret, and so couldn't fire forward. The last two in the class, USS St Louis (CL-49) and USS Helena (CL-50) were modified. Their engineering spaces were rearranged so that boiler rooms and engine rooms alternated. The eight single 5in guns of the first ships were grouped into four twin gunhouses and a longer gun installed. The four gunhouses were mounted on the sides of the ship, next to the fore and after superstructures. The superstructure was also rearranged - on the earlier ships the rear superstructure was close to the rear 6in guns, on the St Louis and Helena it was moved forward, and was just behind the rear of the two funnels.

The new Cleveland design kept the general layout of the Helena, but with three fewer 6in guns and four more 5in/38 guns. The third of the forward 6in turrets was removed, giving the Clevelands four 6in triple turrets, two fore and two aft. The existing 5in gun positions were retained (two positions on each side of the ship, carried by the side of the main fore and aft superstructures. Two new twin 5in gun mountings were added, one fore and one aft, each mounted between the main 6in turrets and the superstructure. These guns were carried on raised positions, although they weren't high enough to fire level over the main guns.

The Cleveland class ships were the same length as the Helena, but their beam was increased by 4ft 7in. The hull was generally the same shape, although the hull sloped inwards amidships (tumble home) and they had a rounded stern. They were designed to use lighter aluminium deckhouses, but wartime shortages meant that heavier steel had to be used. They also gained a great deal of extra equipment as the war went on, with new radar and electronics causing extra problems as so much of it had to be carried high on the ship. The ships became increasingly top-heavy as time went on, and in 1945 one of the two aircraft catapults was removed from most ships in an attempt to save weight. Some also had the range finder removed from No.1 turret and the amount of ready use anti-aircraft ammo that could be carried on deck was restricted.

USS Santa Fe (CL-60) at sea, 5 March 1943
USS Santa Fe (CL-60) at sea, 5 March 1943

USS Tallahassee (CL-61) under construction, 1 July 1941
USS Tallahassee (CL-61) under construction, 1 July 1941

USS Birmingham (CL-62), Mare Island Navy Yard, 21 January 1945
USS Birmingham (CL-62), Mare Island Navy Yard, 21 January 1945

USS Mobile (CL-63) preparing to launch a Vought OS2U Kingfisher, Marcus Raid
USS Mobile (CL-63) preparing to launch a Vought OS2U Kingfisher, Marcus Raid

USS Vincennes (CL-64), 1945
USS Vincennes (CL-64), 1945

USS Topeka (CL-67) in Manila Bay, July 1946
USS Topeka (CL-67) in Manila Bay, July 1946

In the middle of 1942, before any of the Cleveland class had entered service, a modified design was produced. This took advantage of wartime experience to solve potential problems with the ship, in particular the top-heaviness. The turrets, 5in gunhouses and 40mm guns were to be lowered, partly to lower the centre of gravity and partly to shorten the ammunition hoists. The superstructure was to be redesigned to clear arcs for anti-aircraft fire and a single funnel was adopted. The aircraft hanger was halved in space in order to make room for crew accommodation. In August 1942 the Navy decided to build CL106 to 118 to the new design, and these ships are sometimes allocated to the Fargo class. Only two of these ships were completed to the new design - USS Fargo (CL-106) and USS Huntington (CL-107).

Twenty-two of the Cleveland class light cruisers saw service during the Second World War. The Cleveland made her combat debut in December 1942 during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, but most of the class served almost exclusively in the Pacific. The first Cleveland class cruisers entered combat in the Pacific early in 1943. For most of the time they served as part of the cruiser screen around the fast aircraft carriers of the Pacific Fleet, providing part of the powerful anti-aircraft barrage. Some members of the class carried out shore bombardments, most commonly at Okinawa. Very few saw combat with Japanese surface vessels, with the main clash coming during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, where the Columbia, Denver, Santa Fe, Mobile, Vincennes and Miami all fired their guns in anger at enemy surface ships.

In the post-war period the Cleveland class cruisers were quickly laid up, with most going into the reserve. By the start of the Korean War in 1950 only the Manchester was still with the active fleet. She saw combat in Korean and won nine battle stars during the fighting. During her three tours off the Korean coast she was mainly used for shore bombardment and to provide fire support, but she also carried out air-sea rescue missions using her helicopters.

In the late 1950s six of the Cleveland class light cruisers were chosen for conversion into guided missile cruisers. Springfield CL-66, Topeka CL-76, Providence CL-82, Oklahoma City CL-91, Little Rock CL-92 and Galveston CL-93 were all converted, gaining new CLG numbers. Springfield and Little Rock both served with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, but Oklahoma, Galveston, Topeka and Providence all saw combat in Vietnam. Despite their more modern weapons they performed a role that would have been familiar to their Second World War crews, providing a mix of cover for the US Navy's carriers off the Vietnamese coast and carrying out shore bombardments to help troops fighting near the coast. Some of the missile cruisers remained in service well into the late 1970s.

The Oklahoma was the last member of the Cleveland class to remain in service, and she wasn't stricken from the reserve fleet until 1999. She was then deliberately sunk during military exercises. One member of the class still exists. The Little Rock was moved to the Buffalo Naval and Military Museum in 1977, and she is still there.

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


66ft 4in

(light anti-aircraft guns varied greatly)

Twelve 6in/47 guns (four triple turrets)
Twelve 5in/38 guns (six double positions)
Twenty eight 40mm guns (4x4, 6x2)
Ten 20mm guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement


Ships in Class


CL55 USS Cleveland

Broken up 1960

CL56 USS Columbia

Broken up 1960

CL57 USS Montpelier

Broken up 1960

CL58 USS Denver

Broken up 1960

CL59 USS Amsterdam

Converted to carrier 1942

CL60 USS Santa Fe

Broken up 1960

CL61 USS Tallahassee

Converted to carrier 1942

CL62 USS Birmingham

Broken up 1959

CL63 USS Mobile

Broken up 1960

CL64 USS Vincennes (originally Flint)

Expended 1966

CL65 USS Pasadena

Stricken 1970

CL66 USS Springfield

Sold for break up 1978

CL67 USS Topeka

Stricken 1973

CL76 USS New Haven

Converted to carrier 1942

CL77 USS Huntington

Converted to carrier 1942

CL78 USS Dayton

Converted to carrier 1942

CL79 USS Wilmington

Converted to carrier 1942

CL80 USS Biloxi

Broken up 1962

CL81 USS Houston (originally Vicksburg)

Broken up 1960

CL82 USS Providence

Sold for break up 1978

CL83 USS Manchester

Broken up 1961

CL84 USS Buffalo

Cancelled 1940

CL85 USS Fargo

Converted to carrier 1942

CL86 USS Vicksburg (originally Cheyenne)

Broken up 1964

CL87 USS Duluth

Broken up 1961

CL88 un-named

Cancelled 1940

CL89 USS Miami

Broken up 1962

CL90 USS Astoria (originally Wilkes-Barre)

Stricken 1969

CL91 USS Oklahoma City

Stricken 1979

CL92 USS Little Rock

Stricken 1976, preserved

CL93 USS Galveston

Stricken 1973

CL94 USS Youngstown

Cancelled 1945

CL99 USS Buffalo

Converted to carrier 1942

CL100 USS Newark

Converted to carrier 1942

CL101 USS Amsterdam

Stricken 1971

CL102 USS Portsmouth

Stricken 1970

CL103 USS Wilkes-Barre

Expended 1972

CL104 USS Atlanta

Expended 1965

CL105 USS Dayton

Broken up 1962

CL106 USS Fargo

Stricken 1970

CL107 USS Huntington

Broken up 1962

CL108 USS Newark

Hull broken up 1949

CL109 USS New Haven

Cancelled 1945

CL110 USS Buffalo

Cancelled 1945

CL111 USS Wilmington

Cancelled 1945

CL112 USS Vallejo

Cancelled 1944

CL113 USS Helena

Cancelled 1944

CL114 un-named

Cancelled 1944

CL115 USS Roanoke

Cancelled 1944

CL116 USS Tallahassee

Cancelled 1945

CL117 USS Cheyenne

Cancelled 1945

CL118 USS Chattanooga

Cancelled 1945

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 (11 December 2013), Cleveland Class Light Cruisers ,

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