USS Marblehead (CL-12)

USS Marblehead (CL-12) was an Omaha class light cruiser that survived the disastrous campaign in the Dutch East Indies then served in the South Atlantic for most of the war, as well as supporting Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France. She won two battle stars for her action in the war.

By the outbreak for the Second World War the lower pair of rear casemate guns had been removed from the Omaha class ships, having proved to be too wet in action. Marblehead was unique in that one of the guns was then mounted in the centreline of the aft superstructure.

USS Marblehead (CL-12) side view
USS Marblehead (CL-12)
side view

The Marblehead was laid down on 4 August 1920, launched on 9 October 1923 and commissioned on 8 September 1924. Her shakedown cruiser took her to the English Chanel and the Mediterranean, and this was followed in 1925 by a cruise to Australia, Samoa and the Society Islands. She also spent time operating off Nicaragua in 1927 during an American intervention in that country.

From 1928 to January 1933 the Marblehead operated in the Atlantic, and from February 1933 to January 1938 she was in the Pacific. From January 1938 she served with the Asiatic Fleet, and her home port was Cavite in the Philippines. On 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the Date Line) she was at Tarakan, Borneo, placing her in the way of the Japanese offensive in the south-west Pacific.
The Marblehead joined an international force, operating alongside units of the Royal Netherlands Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. The combined fleet had no operating procedures in common, and didn't have time to exercise together before the Japanese began to move south in the Dutch East Indies. In late January she provided cover for a Dutch and American force that had successfully attacked a Japanese convoy off Balikpapan. An attempt to repeat the effort late in the month was less successful. The force left Java on 30 January, but their target had gone. They reached Bunda Roads on 2 February, and on 4 February set sail again, to attack a convoy that had been sighted at the southern end of the Makassar Strait. Early that morning the fleet was attacked by 36 Japanese bombers. Marblehead avoided three waves of attacks, but suffered two direct hits and a near miss in a fourth attack. She caught fire, listed to starboard and her rudder was jammed. Luckily her engines kept running and she was able to avoid further damage. The raid was after by noon, and the Marblehead was left to lick her wounds. She suffered fifteen dead and 84 wounded in the attack.

USS Marblehead (CL-12) Radar Installation, 1944
USS Marblehead (CL-12) Radar Installation, 1944

The crew managed to get the rudder back to 9 degrees to the left, and retreated towards Tjilatjap, using the engines to steer the ship. The worst damage was repaired at Tjilatjap, then on 13 January she moved on. She reached Ceylon on 21 January and South Africa in March. She received some repairs at Simonstown, then sailed for New York. She arrived on 4 May and was finally able to get the major repairs she needed.

The Marblehead was repaired by 15 October 1942 and was allocated to the South Atlantic Force. She was based at Recife and Bahia, Brazil, and operated against Axis blockade runners in the southern Atlantic.

In February 1944 she returned to the United States. She spent five months escorting convoys across the Atlantic, then moved to the Mediterranean. She reached Palermo on 29 July 1944 and helped support Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France. She bombarded shore targets around Saint Raphael on 15-17 August as part of the fire support group attached to TF 87, and was withdrawn on 18 August.

This ended her active service. After leaving the Mediterranean she returned to the United States, where she was used as a training ship. She was decommissioned on 1 November 1945, struck off the Navy List on 28 November and sold for scrap on 27 February 1946.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



10,000nm at 10kts (design)
8,460nm at 10kts (actual)

Armour – deck


 - belt



555ft 6in


55ft 5in

Armaments (as built)

Twelve 6in/53 guns
Two 3in/50 AA guns
Ten 21in torpedo tubes (two triple and two double mountings)

Crew complement


Laid down

4 August 1920


9 October 1923


8 September 1924



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 (30 January 2014), USS Marblehead (CL-12) ,

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