USS Houston (CA-30)

USS Houston (CA-30)

The second USS "Houston" (CA-30) (originally designated CL-30), nicknamed the "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast", was a "Northampton"-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy.

She was launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia, September 7 1929, sponsored by Elizabeth Holcombe (daughter of Oscar Holcombe, then-mayor of Houston, Texas), and commissioned as CL-30 on 17 June 1930, Captain J. B. Gay commanding. Her designation was changed to CA-30 on 1 July 1931.

After conducting shakedown cruise in the Atlantic "Houston" returned to the United States in October 1930. She then visited her namesake city Houston, Texas, and joined the fleet at Hampton Roads. Steaming to New York, the cruiser departed on 10 January 1931 for the Pacific, and after stopping at the Panama Canal and the Hawaiian Islands arrived Manila on 22 February 1931. "Houston" became flagship of the US Asiatic Fleet upon arrival, and for the next year participated in training operations in the troubled Far East.

Pacific War Zone

With the outbreak of war between China and Japan in 1931, the "Houston" got underway 31 January for Shanghai to protect American lives and property. She landed Marine and Navy gun platoons to help stabilize the situation and remained in the area, with the exception of a good will cruise to the Philippines in March and one to Japan in May 1933, until being relieved by "Augusta" on 17 November 1933. The cruiser sailed to San Francisco to join the Scouting Force, and for the years preceding World War II participated in Fleet Problems and maneuvers in the Pacific.

During this period "Houston" made several special cruises. President Roosevelt came on board on 1 July 1934 at Annapolis, Maryland, for a cruise of almost 12,000 miles (22 000 km) through the Caribbean and to Portland, Oregon, by way of Hawaii. "Houston" also carried Assistant Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Roosevelt on a tour of the Hawaiian Islands, returning to San Diego on 15 May 1935.

After a short cruise in Alaskan waters, the cruiser returned to Seattle and embarked the President again on 3 October 1935 for a vacation cruise to the Cerros Islands, Magdalena Bay, Cocos Islands, and Charleston, South Carolina. "Houston" also celebrated the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco on 28 May 1937, and carried President Roosevelt for a Fleet Review at the same city on 14 July 1938.

"Houston" became flagship of the U.S. Fleet on 19 September 1938, when Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch brought his flag on board her, and maintained that status until 28 December, when she returned to the Scouting Force. Continuing the now-familiar routine of training exercises, she got underway for Fleet Problem XX, on 4 January 1939 from San Francisco, sailed to Norfolk and Key West, and there embarked the President and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William D. Leahy, for the duration of the problem. She arrived Houston, Texas, 7 April for a brief visit before returning to Seattle, where she arrived 30 May.

Assigned as flagship Hawaiian Detachment, the cruiser arrived Pearl Harbor after her post-overhaul shakedown on 7 December 1939, and continued in that capacity until returning to Mare Island on 17 February 1940. Sailing to Hawaii, she departed 3 November for the Philippine Islands as the world situation grew darker. Arriving Manila on 19 November 1940 she became flagship of Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander Asiatic Fleet.

World War II

As the war crisis deepened, Admiral Hart deposed his fleet in readiness. On the night of the Pearl Harbor attack, "Houston" got underway from Panay Island with fleet units bound for Darwin, Australia, where she arrived on 28 December 1941 by way of Balikpapan and Surabaya. After patrol duty she joined the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) naval force at Surabaya.

Air raids were frequent in the area, and "Houston's" gunners shot down four planes in the battle of Bali Sea on 4 February 1942 as Admiral Karel Doorman of the Royal Netherlands Navy, took his force to engage a Japanese invasion convoy reported to be at Balikpapan. "Houston" took one hit, disabling her No. 3 turret, and the cruiser "Marblehead" was so damaged that she had to be sent out of the battle area. Doorman was forced to abandon his advance.

Returning to Australia, "Houston" departed 15 February with a small convoy to reinforce the garrison on Timor. Before the day was out, the group was forced to beat off numerous air attacks, and next morning the Japanese attacked in full force. During this defensive action, "Houston" distinguished herself by driving off nearly the entire raid without damage to her transports.

Battle of the Java Sea

Receiving word that the major Japanese invasion force was approaching Java protected by a formidable surface unit, Admiral Doorman resolutely determined to meet and seek to destroy the main convoy. Sailing on 26 February 1942 with "Houston", HMAS "Perth", HNLMS "De Ruyter", HMS "Exeter", HNLMS "Java" and 10 destroyers, he met the Japanese support force under Admiral Takeo Takagi consisting of 4 cruisers and 13 destroyers.

In the Battle of the Java Sea which followed, Doorman's forces fought valiantly, but were doomed by lack of air cover and communication difficulties. The ships met for the first time in the late afternoon, and as Japanese destroyers laid smoke the cruisers of both fleets opened fire. After one ineffective torpedo attack the Japanese light cruisers and destroyers launched a second at 17:00, this attack sinking "Kortenaer". "Exeter" and the destroyer HMS "Electra" were hit by gunfire, "Electra" sustaining several hits and sinking shortly after; and at 17:30 Admiral Doorman turned south toward the Java coast, not wishing to be diverted from his main purpose, the destruction of the convoy itself.

With dogged fighting spirit he dodged another torpedo attack and followed the coastline, during which time "Jupiter" was sunk, either by mine or internal explosion. Then "Encounter" was detached to pick up survivors from "Kortenaer", and the American destroyers, their torpedoes expended, were ordered back to Surabaya. Now with no destroyer protection, Doorman's four remaining ships turned north again in a last gallant attempt to stop the invasion of Java.

At 23:00 the same night, the cruisers again encountered the Japanese surface group. On parallel courses the opposing units opened fire, and the Japanese launched a devastating torpedo attack 30 minutes later. "De Ruyter" and "Java", caught in a spread of 12 torpedoes, exploded and sank, carrying their captains and Admiral Doorman down with them.

Battle of Sunda Strait

Before losing contact with "Perth" and "Houston", Doorman had ordered them to retire. This was accomplished, but the next day the two ships steamed into Banten Bay, hoping to damage the Japanese invasion forces there. The cruisers were almost torpedoed as they approached the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyer "Fubuki".

The cruisers then sank one transport and forced three others to beach. A destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of retreat, and on the other hand large cruisers "Mogami" and "Mikuma" stood dangerously near. The resulting battle was foreordained, but "Houston" and "Perth" could not withdraw. "Perth" came under fire at 23:36 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. "Houston" then fought alone until soon after midnight, when she took a torpedo and began to lose headway.

During this time "Houston's" gunners scored hits on three different destroyers and sank a minesweeper, but suffered three more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Albert Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 00:30 and as the ship came to a stop Japanese destroyers moved in, machine gunning the decks. A few minutes later the "Houston" rolled over and sank, her ensign still flying. Of the original crew of 1,061, only 368 survived-including 24 of the 74 USMC detachment.


"Houston's" fate was not fully known by the world for almost nine months, and the full story of her last fight was not told until after the war was over and her survivors were liberated from prison camps. Captain Rooks received posthumously the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism. "Houston" Chaplain George S. Rentz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross — the only Navy Chaplain to be so honored during World War II.

The crew of the "Houston" is honored alongside that of the "Perth" at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Australia.


In addition to two battle stars, "Houston" was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.


See also

* The third "Houston" (CL-81) was a light cruiser, commissioned in 1943, crippled in October 1944, but saved after arduous efforts.
* The Houston Volunteers, 1,000 volunteers for U.S. Navy duty from Houston, Texas, intended to replace the sailors lost on "Houston" (CA-30).
* See List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II for other Navy ships lost in WWII.



In fiction

* The Bridge on the River Kwai, the movie's character Cmdr. Shears identifies he was on the Houston when it sunk.

External links

* [ USS "Houston" homepage] A Collection of Biographies and Photographs of those of Served aboardThe USS Houston CA30 [ "USS Houston Next Generation"]
* [ Navy photographs of "Houston" (CA-30)]
*cite web
url =
title = Battle of Sunda Strait: 28 February-March 1 1942 by Vincent P. O'Hara
accessdate = 2006-05-31

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