USS Houston (CL-81)

USS Houston (CL-81), a Cleveland-class light cruiser, was the third vessel in the United States Navy named after the city of Houston, Texas. She was active in the Pacific War for several months, and survived two separate aerial torpedo hits in October 1944.

USS Houston (CL-81), off Norfolk, Virginia, 12 January 1944. She is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 1d.
United States
Name: USS Houston (CL-81)
Namesake: City of Houston, Texas
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia
Launched: 19 June 1943
Sponsored by: Mrs. C. B. Hamill
Commissioned: 20 December 1943
Decommissioned: 15 December 1947
Struck: 1 March 1959
Honors and
3 × battle stars
Fate: Sold for scrap on 1 June 1961
General characteristics
Class and type: Cleveland-class Light cruiser
  • 11,744 long tons (11,932 t) (standard)
  • 14,131 long tons (14,358 t) (max)
  • 610 ft 1 in (185.95 m) oa
  • 608 ft (185 m)pp
Beam: 66 ft 4 in (20.22 m)
  • 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m) (mean)
  • 25 ft (7.6 m) (max)
Installed power:
Speed: 32.5 kn (37.4 mph; 60.2 km/h)
Range: 11,000 nmi (20,000 km) @ 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 1,255 officers and enlisted
Aircraft carried: 4 × floatplanes
Aviation facilities: 2 × stern catapults

Renaming and construction

On 30 May 1942, 1,000 new recruits for the Navy, known as the Houston Volunteers, were sworn in at a dedication ceremony in downtown Houston, to replace those believed lost on the heavy cruiser USS Houston. On 12 October 1942 the light cruiser Vicksburg (CL-81), then under construction, was renamed Houston in honor of the old ship, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declaring:

Our enemies have given us the chance to prove that there will be another USS Houston, and yet another USS Houston if that becomes necessary, and still another USS Houston as long as American ideals are in jeopardy.[1][2]

She was launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia on 19 June 1943, sponsored by Mrs. C. B. Hamill. Originally named Vicksburg, her name had been changed on 12 October 1942 in honor of her predecessor USS Houston which had been sunk at the Battle of Sunda Strait. Despite CL-81 being classified as a light cruiser due to her 6-inch main battery as opposed to CA-30's heavy cruiser designation as she carried 8-inch guns, CL-81 had a greater displacement and was better armed and protected than her namesake.

The ship was commissioned on 20 December 1943, with Captain William W. Behrens, USN, in command.[3]

With a nineteen-month period between the May 1942 enlistment into service of the 1,000 Houston Volunteer sailors and the final December 1943 commissioning into service of the new Houston (CL-81), only one Houston Volunteer went on to specifically serve aboard the new Houston.[4]

World War II

Houston departed Norfolk on 1 February 1944 for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea, and after a period of training out of Boston, she steamed for the Pacific on 16 April.[3]


Houston arrived at Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and San Diego on 6 May, and after more training exercises arrived Majuro Atoll on 31 May to join Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's huge Fast Carrier Task Force. Houston was to take part in the invasion of the Mariana and Palau Islands, a spectacular amphibious operation and another important step in the drive across the Pacific Islands to Japan. Departing on 5 June 1944, Houston screened carrier strike units which pounded the Mariana Islands on 12–13 June and the Bonin Islands on 15–16 June.[3]

As the forces of Admiral Richmond K. Turner landed on Saipan on 15 June, the Japanese made preparations to close onto that island for a "decisive" naval battle. The great fleets approached each other on 19 June for the largest aircraft carrier battle of the war, and as four large air raids hit the American fleet, the covering fighters, with some help from anti-aircraft fire from Houston and the other screening warships, destroyed the attacking Japanese formations.[3]

In the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the first phase of which was called "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", Japan's naval air power was struck a severe blow from which it never recovered, and the invasion of the Mariana Islands was secured. After offensive raids had sunk Hiyō, and with two Japanese large carriers being sunk by submarines, the battle ended with the task force returning to protect the Marianas. Houston remained to screen carrier strikes and engaged on 26 June in shore bombardment on Guam and Rota, destroying a radar station, an airstrip, and about 10 aircraft on the ground. She then returned to Eniwetok on 12 August to prepare for the next operation.[3]

Assigned to the newly designated Task Group 38.2 (TG 38.2) under Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, Houston steamed on 30 August for air attacks on Palau on 6 September, after which she and a group of destroyers bombarded Peleliu and other islands in preparation for the upcoming amphibious landings by U.S. Marines and Army troops. The carrier group next turned to the Philippines for strikes against airfields and shipping, and then returned to Peleliu to support the forces ashore from 17 to 19 September.[3]

Returning to Ulithi on 1 October 1944, Houston and her task group steamed five days later for an important operation into the western Pacific, with preliminary air strikes against Okinawa on 10 October. Two days later, the task force moved toward its real objective: Formosa.[3]

In the Battle of Formosa, the US naval air force did much to destroy Japanese bases for the island battles still to come. Japanese forces retaliated with heavy and repeated land-based air attacks. Houston splashed about four aircraft in one attack on 12 October, and helped repel another attack next day, in which Canberra was hit by an aerial torpedo. Taking Canberra's old station on 14 October, Houston and other ships encountered another heavy air raid. Her gunners shot down three of the attacking torpedo bombers, but a fourth's torpedo hit her engine room, causing the loss of propulsive power. Captain Behrens requested a tow, which was undertaken by Boston.[3]

By midnight, both Canberra and Houston were under tow toward Ulithi for repairs. Pawnee – a fleet tug – assumed the tow on 16 October. Late that afternoon, one of the Japanese torpedo plane strikes from Formosa, still trying to sink the cruiser, struck Houston directly on her stern from the rear. This flooded the hangar for Houston's scout planes.

Evacuating all surplus sailors to the escorting ships, Captain Behrens and his damage control officer, with the aid of Houston's Executive Officer, Captain Clarence J. Broussard, kept the damage control parties working, and they managed to keep Houston afloat, traveling slowly toward Ulithi. Captain Broussard was later awarded the Silver Star for his actions. Learning that the Japanese believed "Cripple Division I" – as it was called – was the remnants of Task Force 38 (TF 38), Admiral William F. Halsey hoped to lure them into an attack on the two damaged cruisers.[3]

Part of the Japanese fleet did sortie from the Inland Sea, Japanese home islands, but after an air attack, their commanders evidently thought better of the idea, and then retired back to port. Houston and Canberra were shortly out of range of Japanese land-based air power, and they arrived at Ulithi on 27 October. After temporary repairs, Houston then proceeded to Manus Island, where she headed for a floating dry dock to begin repairs. She arrived there on 20 December, and eventually steamed first to Pearl Harbor then to New York Navy Yard, as there was insufficient repair capacity available on the West Coast due to the large number of ships already undergoing repairs and overhauls. She arrived in New York on 24 March 1945.[3]



After extensive work in New York, Houston steamed out of New York harbor on 11 October 1945. Following refresher training in the Caribbean Sea, she took part in training exercises from Newport, Rhode Island. She steamed on 16 April 1946 for an extended goodwill tour of European and African ports, visiting cities in Scandinavia, Portugal, Italy, and Egypt.[3]

Houston returned to the US on 14 December 1946 and engaged in training and readiness operations until 17 May 1947, when she steamed with Cruiser Division 12 (CruDiv 12) for a Mediterranean Sea voyage.[3]

Returning to Philadelphia on 16 August 1947, Houston was decommissioned on 15 December 1947, and then was placed in reserve for over a decade, and then finally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 March 1959 and scrapped.[3]


Houston received three battle stars for World War II service.[3]


  • John Grider Miller, The Battle to save the Houston, October 1944 to March 1945. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1985; 2000).

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

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