USS Houston (CA-30)

USS Houston (CA-30) was a Northampton class heavy cruiser that was lost during the disastrous attempt to defend the Dutch East Indies against Japanese invasion.

The Houston was laid down on 1 May 1928, launched on 7 September 1929 and commissioned on 17 June 1930 (as CL-30 - she became CA-30 on 1 July 1931). Her shakedown cruise was in the Atlantic, and she then crossed the Pacific, reaching Manila on 22 February 1931. She became flagship of the Asiatic Station, and remained in the Far East until she was replaced by the Augusta in November 1933. From the start of 1932 her main task was to protect American interests in Shanghai during the conflict between China and Japan.

USS Houston (CA-30) at Houston, late 1930s
USS Houston (CA-30)
at Houston, late 1930s

After her return from the Far East the Houston joined the Scouting Force, which had just moved from the east coast to the west coast. She joined CruDiv 6 in 1934 and CruDiv 5 as flagship in 1935. In 1937 she moved to CruDiv 5. Between 19 September and 28 December 1938 she served as flagship of the U.S. Fleet, with Rear Admiral Block onboard. She then returned to the Scouting Fleet, before in 1939 becoming flagship of the Hawaiian Detachment. She performed this role until 17 February 1940. In 3 November she led for the Philippines to rejoin the Asiatic Fleet as flagship, with Admiral Thomas C. Hart onboard. 

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the Houston joined a convoy that sailed from Panay Island to Darwin, Australia. She then joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian fleet at Surabaya (ABDA command). During this period she came under frequent air attack, including one on 4 February during an attempt to intercept a Japanese landing force at Balikpapan that disabled No.3 Turret and forced the cruiser Marblehead to leave the fleet.

The Houston briefly returned to Australia, before leaving with a convoy heading for Timor on 15 February. The convoy came under heavy air attack, but the Japanese largely driven off by the Houston's anti-aircraft guns.

Laundry day on USS Houston (CA-30), 1930s
Laundry day on USS Houston (CA-30), 1930s

On 26 February Admiral Doorman, the Dutch commander of the ABDA fleet set sail to intercept an invasion force heading for Java. Doorman had a mixed fleet which included the Houston, the cruisers HMAS Perth, HNMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNMS Java and ten destroyers. The Japanese had four cruisers and thirteen destroyers and were much more practised as a unit. The resulting battle of the Java Sea (27 February 1942) was a crushing Japanese victory. Doorman was killed when his flagship was sunk. Both Dutch cruisers were lost but Perth and Houston managed to escape to Tanjang Priok (near Jakarta on the north-west coast of Java).

The two surviving cruisers were ordered to sail west through the Sunda Strait (between Java and Sumatra) to reach Cilacap (then Tjilatjap) on the south coast. They sailed at 9pm on 28 February, but in the strait ran into the main Japanese invasion fleet for western Java. They were able to sink one transport, but their route was blocked by a mixed force of destroyers and cruisers. Both cruisers were sunk in the resulting battle of the Sunda Strait (28 February-1 March 1942). Perth sank first, while Houston fought oninto 1 March before sinking. It took nine months for news of her fate to reach the outside world, and the detailed story of her final battle wasn’t known until her survivors were liberated at the end of the war. Captain Rooks was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor while the ship and her crew got the Presidential Unit Citation.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

3in over machinery
1in deck

 - magazines

3.75in side
2in deck

 - barbettes


 - gunhouses

2.5in face
2in roof
0.75in side and rear


600ft 3in oa


Nine 8in guns (three 3-gun turrets)
Four 5in guns (four single positions)
Six 21in torpedo tubes
Four aircraft

Crew complement

617? (734-48 for USS Chicago and USS Houston)

Laid down

1 May 1928


7 September 1929


17 June 1930


1 March 1942

US Heavy Cruisers 1941-45: Pre War Classes, Mark Stille. Looks at the 'treaty cruisers' built in the US between the wars, limited by treaty to 10,000 tons and 8in guns. Five classes of treaty cruisers were produced and they played a major role in the fighting during the Second World War, despite the limits imposed on them by the treaty restrictions. [read full review]
cover cover cover


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 April 2014), USS Houston (CA-30) ,

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