New Orleans Class Cruisers

The New Orleans class heavy cruisers were the last in a series of related treaty cruisers that began with the Pensacola class and were the first to carry armour designed to stop 8in shells. Earlier designs in this series had been thinly armoured but also under weight, and this spare weight (1,000 tons on a 10,000 ton limit) would be used to improve protection.

The New Orleans class was also sometimes known as the Astoria class, as she was the first of the class to have been laid down. The New Orleans name was officially adopted after the loss of the Astoria in 1942.

In 1929 the US Navy adopted a programme that would have produced 15 cruisers, spread between FY 29 (CA32-36), FY30 (CA37-41) and FY31 (CA42-46).

The London Naval Treaty of 1930 limited the United States to eighteen 8in cruisers. The 1929 programme would have produced a total of twenty three. The Navy already had the two Pensacola class ships and the six Northampton class ships, all of which had been launched by the time the treaty was ratified on 27 October 1930. The two ships of the Portland class had been laid down, so this gave the navy ten 8in cruisers.

USS San Francisco (CA-38) underway, 8 April 1944
USS San Francisco (CA-38) underway, 8 April 1944

The original plan had been for CA-32 to CA-36 to be modified Northampton class ships and for CA-37 to CA-41 to be the improved New Orleans design. This plan was modified when it became clear that the earlier designs were almost 1,000 tons under their 10,000 ton limit. The two Portland class cruisers were being built at private yards, where the cost of a late change would have been excessive, but three were allocated to Navy Yards. These three ships thus became the first of the New Orleans class cruisers. They were laid down between September 1930 and June 1931. This brought the total up to thirteen 8in cruisers.

The second batch of cruisers, CA-37 to CA-41, were to have been built as heavy cruisers under the FY30 budget. The first two, CA-37 and CA-38, were laid down in 1931. All five of these early ships were launched during 1933 and completed in 1934.

The US Navy could now only build three more 8in cruisers. It was thus decided to produce a new class of 6in cruisers, the Brooklyn class. CA-40 and CA-41 from the FY30 programme and CL42-43 and CA-45 to CA-46 from the FY31 programme would all be completed as Brooklyn class cruisers. Four more Brooklyn class cruisers were built (CL-47 to CL-50), before work moved onto the numerous Cleveland class.

USS Quincy (CA-39) at New York, 29 May 1942
USS Quincy (CA-39) at
New York, 29 May 1942

The US Navy still had space for three more 8in cruisers. Two of these would be New Orleans class ships - USS Quincy (CA-39), laid down in 1933 and USS Vincennes (CA-44), laid down in 1934. The final pre-war heavy cruiser, USS Wichita, was laid down in 1935 and was a modification of the Brooklyn design. This ended heavy cruiser construction until the outbreak of the Second World War ended the treaty limits. The resulting Baltimore class of heavy cruisers had a standard displacement of 14,472 tons, an increase of nearly 50% over the treaty cruisers.

The New Orleans class cruisers had the same basic layout as the earlier Northampton and Portland classes, with nine 8in guns carried in three triple turrets (two forward and one aft). They were built without torpedo tubes and with eight 5in guns as secondary armament. As with the older cruisers the surviving ships gained an increasing amount of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns as the war went on.

Power was provided by eight Babcock and Wilcox high-pressure steam boilers, providing 107,000 horsepower to four Westinghouse geared steam turbines. The machinery space was shortened, partly by abandoning the unit system (with the engine room placed between two boiler rooms).

USS New Orleans (CA-32), 8 March 1945
USS New Orleans (CA-32), 8 March 1945

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

The change in machinery layout meant that the aft funnel was moved forward. As a result the aircraft equipment had to be moved. On the older ships the catapults were carried between the funnels and the hanger was built around the rear funnel. On the New Orleans class ships the catapults were behind the rear funnel, with the hanger even further to the rear. The rear superstructure and mast were also moved back to make space.

The biggest improvement was in the armour. The main belt was doubled to 5in with a 3in thick lower section below the water. The magazines had 3in to 4.7in side armour, with a 2.5in armoured deck above the magazines. The barbettes had 5in of armour. The biggest improvement was on the turrets. The older ships had 2.5in on the turret front and 2in on the roof, making them vulnerable to 6in and 8in shells at most ranges. The New Orleans class ships had 8in armour on the turret face although the sides and roof weren't improved by much.

Despite the efforts to improve their protection three of the New Orleans class ships were lost in a single engage, the battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942. The Astoria was hit by Japanese shells which started a devastating fire. She survived the battle but the fires were never put out and she sank on the following day. Quincy was also badly damaged by shell fire and sank. Vincennes was hit by shells that set the aircraft hanger on fire. Her guns were quickly knocked out and the crew had to abandon ship at 2.40am. Ten minutes later she rolled and sank.

Despite these serious losses several other members of the class proved to be very robust, surviving an incredible amount of damage and no other members of the class were lost. Most members of the class served in the Pacific during the Second World War, where they were present at many of the major battles.

The Tuscaloosa served in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and took part in the D-Day landings before ending the war in the Pacific. Quincy was in the Atlantic in December 1941, but moved to the Pacific in the summer of 1942. Vincennes was also in the Atlantic when America entered the war, and moved to the Pacific in March 1942.

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

8in 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


Ships in Class


CA32 USS New Orleans

Broken up 1959

CA34 USS Astoria

Sunk 9 August 1942

CA36 USS Minneapolis

Broken up 1960

CA37 USS Tuscaloosa

Broken up 1959

CA38 USS San Francisco

Broken up 1961

CA39 USS Quincy

Sunk 9 August 1942

CA44 USS Vincennes

Sunk 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 (27 November 2014), New Orleans Class Cruisers ,

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