The San Jacinto Museum of History recently added to its collection a new model of the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Houston (CA-30), by Robert D. Ivy, Jr. It’s a big model, with lots of fine detail. Notable in particular are the figures — dozens of them — swarming all over the ship. From Marines lining up for inspection on the forecastle, to mechanics working on the observation aircraft amidships, there’s a hive of activity going on all over the place. It adds a lot to the model, and especially helps to humanize it.
USS Houston, a 9050-ton Northampton class light cruiser, was built at Newport News, Virginia. She was commissioned in June 1930 and reclassified as a heavy cruiser a year later, at which time her hull number was changed from CL-30 to CA-30. After initial operations in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, Houston steamed to the western Pacific in early 1931 to become flagship of the Asiatic Fleet. She served in that role until November 1933, spending considerable time in Chinese waters protecting U.S. interests during the conflict between China and Japan.
Following her Asiatic Station tour, Houston crossed the Pacific to join the Scouting Force. During the rest of the decade, she regularly partcipated in exercises, including the periodic Fleet Problems that tested the Navy’s war plans and readiness. She was flagship of the United States Fleet during September-December 1938 and also carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt on a number of occasions in 1934, 1935, 1938 and 1939.
In November 1940, Houston returned to the Philippines for her second deployment as Asiatic Fleet flagship. When Japan escalated its disputes with the U.S. into open warfare in December 1941, the cruiser was sent south to Australian and Netherlands East Indies waters. As the heaviest unit of the Allied naval force in that area, she was actively employed in the desperate struggle against the Japanese East Indies’ offensive. A enemy bomb disabled her after gun turret on 4 February 1942, but she remained in the combat zone, fighting off air raids and taking part in the Battle of the Java Sea on 27 February.
The next day, with the situation in the East Indies now hopeless, Houston was ordered to leave the area. Steaming in company with the Australian light cruiser Perth, she encountered a strong Japanese navy force supporting an amphibious landing on western Java, near the Sunda Strait. In a valiant night battle against overwhelming odds, Houston and Perth were sunk by enemy gunfire and torpedos. [Text from U.S. Naval Historical Center]
After the loss of U.S.S> Houston became public, a drive was held in May 1942 for volunteers to replace the men lost. Over 1,600 men were accepted into the Navy, one thousand of whom were formally designated as part of the “Houston Volunteers” group. At the same time, war bond subscriptions totaling $85,000,000 were raised to completely pay for another ship named for the city, the eventual Houston (CL-81), with enough left over to pay for aircraft carrier San Jacinto (CVL-30). Later than summer, the Todd Houston Shipbuilding Yard on Buffalo Bayou, east of Houston, also honored the men by christening one of the yard’s first Liberty ships, Houston Volunteers.
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