USS Vincennes (CA-44)

USS Vincennes (CA-44) was a New Orleans class heavy cruiser that took part in the Neutrality Patrol, the Doolittle raid, the battle of Midway and the invasion of Guadalcanal before being sunk at the battle of Savo Island (9 August 1942). She was awarded two battle stars.

The previous pair of ships, Tuscaloosa (CA-37) and San Francisco (CA-38) had been given a lighter 8in gun and a smaller turret, saving around 40 tons. This weight was used to increase the amount of barbette armour, but this turned out to bring them very close to the treaty limits. In order to counter this Quincy and Vincennes had some armour removed, especially in the barbettes.

San Francisco (CA-38), Quincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44) were the first US cruisers to be fitted with emergency diesel generators.

For financial reasons Vincennes was laid down some time after the other members of the class, in January 1934. She was launched in May 1936 and commissioned on 24 February 1937. Her shakedown cruiser took her to European waters, ending at Portsmouth. At the start of 1938 she joined Cruiser Division 7 and joined the division at San Diego in time to take part in Fleet Problem XIX at Hawaii in March 1938. Early in 1939 she underwent an overhaul at Mare Island, before in June she moved to the Atlantic, where she was based around the Chesapeake light ship.

Wartime Service

After the outbreak of the Second World War Vincennes joined the Neutrality Patrol, operating in the Caribbean and Gulf of Yucatan until the spring of 1940. In May she visited the Azores and in June she visited to French Morocco to collect a shipment of gold being sent to the United States. She was at Casablanca during the crisis of the battle of France, and for the Italian entry into the war, departing on 10 June. Most of the rest of 1940 was spent on neutrality patrol, but the year ended with her undergoing an overhaul at Portsmouth, Virginia. In mid-January she moved to Guantanamo Bay on Cuba, from where she continued to conduct Neutrality Patrols.

USS Vincennes (CA-44), Hawaii, 8 July 1942
USS Vincennes (CA-44), Hawaii, 8 July 1942

In late March she repeated her gold carrying exploits, this time bringing British gold from Cape Town to pay for badly needed armaments. After this she returned to the Caribbean until June, then took part in the Neutrality Patrols in the North Atlantic.

In November the Vincennes formed part of the escort of Convoy WS-12X (one of Winston's Specials). This was a most unusual convoy in that it saw US troop ships carry British troops to Cape Town, guarded by American warships, all while America was still officially neutral. The only slight justification for this is that the troops were heading to Singapore. The convoy left Canada on 10 November and reached Capetown on 9 December, still escorted by the Vincennes. By then the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and so the United States was at war with Japan, but the German declaration of war hadn’t yet come.

The Vincennes returned to US waters, and in January 1942 she provided part of the escort for the new carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) during her shakedown cruise. She was then sent to the Pacific, passing through the Panama Canal on 11 March and reaching San Francisco, where she and Hornet formed part of Task Force 18.

The Hornet had been chosen to carry the B-25 bombers that were to make the first American attack on Japan (the famous Doolittle Raid). TF 18 left San Francisco on 2 April and joined TF 16 (Enterprise CV-6) at sea. The combined fleet then sailed for Japan. On 18 April, 150 miles short of the launch point, the fleet ran into Japanese trawlers which reported the sighting. Admiral Halsey decided to launch the attack from that position, and the B-25s were dispatched on their way. The two carriers and their escorts then turned back to return to Pearl Harbor.

The Doolittle raid was a great morale raiser, but it did mean that the two carriers missed the battle of the Coral Sea. They were back at Pearl Harbor by 26 May, but were soon sent west to take part in the Battle of Midway. The Vincennes formed part of the screen for the Yorktown. When the carrier came under air attack Vincennes opened fire with all of her anti-aircraft guns, which at the time was a mix of 5in guns, single 20mm guns and quad mounted 1.1in anti-aircraft guns. She claimed one Nakajima B5N 'Kate', but was unable to stop the Japanese from inflicting heavy damage on the Yorktown. Even then the carrier might have been saved if the Japanese submarine I-168 hadn't managed to slip through her defensive screen of destroyers on 6 June. The Japanese submarine torpedoed the Yorktown, and also sank the destroyer Hammann (DD-412). The Yorktown sank on 7 June.

The Vincennes was allocated to TF 62 for the invasion of Guadalcanal, serving as the flagship of TG 62.3. On 7 August she screened Transport Division 7 as it approached the island. The initial landings, on 7 August, were relatively unopposed, but the fleet soon came under air attack. The Vincennes shot down two Japanese aircraft on 7 June and claimed part of seven Mitsubishi B4M 'Betties' during an attack just after noon on 8 August.

On the afternoon of 8 June American aircraft detected a Japanese surface fleet approaching from Rabaul. The Americans believed that these ships were there to support another aerial attack, and split their cruisers to screen the transport craft. Vincennes, Astoria and Quincy, all New Orleans class ships, formed the Northern Escort Force, posted off Savo Island. 

The American had fatally misjudged Japanese intentions. They actually planned to conduct a night attack with their surface ships. The resulting battle of Savo Island (9 August 1942) was a major defeat for the Allies. The Japanese began by attacking the Southern Escort Group, knocking out the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra and the American cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29). They then turned north to attack the Northern Escort Group, and in the upcoming battle sank all three cruisers.

The Vincennes came under fire just after 1.55am on the morning of 9 August. The first Japanese salvo hit the bridge, the carpentry shop, the 'Battle II' control room and part of the radio equipment. The next set of salvoes hit her aircraft in the hanger, starting a fierce fire that couldn't be put out. The aft anti-aircraft director was knocked off the ship by another hit. At 2am the Vincennes turned to starboard, but she was ten hit by one or two long lance torpedoes, which knocked out No.1 Fireroom. Five minutes later the ship was out of control and was dead in the water. Her guns were soon knocked out, and by the end of the battle she had been hit by at least 57 8in and 5in shells, losing 332 crewmen.

At 2.10am the Japanese retired, but they had already done fatal damage to the Vincennes. Captain Riefkohl ordered his crew to abandon ship at 2.30am and the last men left by 2.40am. The ship sank ten minutes later.

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. Vincennes was also give twelve single 20mm guns.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

5in to 3.25in over 0.75in STS

 - over machinery


 - magazines

4in-3in side
2.25in above

 - barbettes


 - turrets

6in face
2.25in roof
1.5in side


588ft oa


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


Laid Down

2 January 1934


21 May 1936


24 February 1937


9 August 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 (19 December 2014), USS Vincennes (CA-44) ,

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