Page last updated: 14 March, 2021

A Brief History of U.S. Navy Cruisers
Hull Numbering Systems
Galveston Class Cruisers
Other Guided Missile Cruiser Classes
A list of ALL the CLEVELAND's

A Brief History of U.S. Navy Cruisers

Historically a cruiser was not a type of ship but a warship role, the nature and role of which has changed considerably over the years. The term "cruiser" was a mid 19th century invention. When warships were made of wood and had sails, frigates were small, fast, long range, lightly armed ships used for scouting and carrying dispatches, a role largely independent from the fleet. The first ironclads had only a single gun-deck and were referred to as frigates. Thus the definition of a frigate changed. Ships which carried out the original frigate role were renamed "cruising ships", which was rapidly abbreviated to "cruiser".

During the 19th century, as steam propulsion became the norm, fleets started to use the term 'cruiser' to refer to some ironclad warships as well as a miscellaneous unarmored frigates, sloops, and corvettes, most of which had mixed steam and sail propulsion. From the 1890s to the 1950s a "cruiser" was a warship larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship. This continued to be the meaning until after the Second World War - a fast, long-range, lightly armored ship, although by then more powerful than a destroyer.

In the early 1880s the deficiencies of the Navy had become too obvious to be ignored. The first signs of modernization came in 1883, when the department began construction of three new "protected" steel cruisers, the Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. Each contained a thin steel hull, but with heavier protection for its vital areas. Protected cruisers had only deck armor, while Armored cruisers had deck and hull armor, while. Armored cruisers were intended to serve in fleet actions, meaning battles. Light armored cruisers, with lighter armament and armor, could carry more coal and thus go further.

For much of 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the cruiser was the navy's long-range "force projection" weapon. Their main role was to attack enemy merchant vessels, so much so that this task came to be called cruiser warfare. Other roles included reconnaissance, and cruisers were often attached to the battlefleet. In the later 20th century, the decline of the battleship left the cruiser as the largest and most powerful surface combatant. However, the role of the cruiser increasingly became one of providing air defense for a fleet, rather than independent cruiser warfare. At the beginning of the 21st century, cruisers are the heaviest surface combatant ships in use. Only four nations, the United States, Russia, France and Peru deploy them.

Hull Numbering Systems

When the U.S. Navy formally implemented its hull number system in July 1920 twenty-two warships received "cruiser numbers", informally abbreviated "C-1" through "C-22". In 1921 the members of the group received new designations and numbers in the Armored Cruiser (CA), Light Cruiser (CL) and Gunboat (PG) series. The old cruiser ("C-") numbers then became extinct.

In 1926, construction began on a new group of light cruisers, armed with eight-inch guns instead of the six-inch carried by the existing CLs. Eight of these were completed between late 1929 and early 1931 as CL-24 through CL-31. At the beginning of July 1931, these eight ships were redesignated as "Heavy cruisers" (CA), based on warship classifications established by the previous year's London Naval Treaty, but their hull numbers were not changed.

The short-lived large cruiser (CB) designation was applied only to the to six-ship Alaska class ordered in 1940. Three of these big cruisers were canceled before construction began, two were completed in 1944 and one was launched but never finished. The CB series became extinct with the sale of the last of these ships in mid-1961.

All subsequent U.S. Navy light and heavy cruisers were numbered in the same series, which ultimately encompassed 160 ships, all but one (LONG BEACH) resulting from building programs of 1945 or earlier. Ten of these were completed for other purposes, and construction of another thirty-seven was canceled. The last number in the series (CLGN-160) was briefly assigned to the new nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser LONG BEACH in 1956-57, before she was laid down. No further ships have been built in the CL/CA series, and its few surviving members are now in museum status, so the designation can be safely considered extinct.

In early 1952, as the U.S. Navy was beginning to convert the heavy cruisers BOSTON (CA-69) and CANBERRA (CA-70) to carry anti-aircraft guided missiles, it also began a new cruiser hull number series for this new type of warship. Since both of these ships retained some of their original eight-inch guns, they were redesignated guided missile heavy cruisers (CAG-1 and CAG-2). In 1957, six light cruisers were similarly redesignated as CLG-3 through CLG-8, though the first of these GALVESTON) briefly retained her original number (as CLG-93). Similarly, LONG BEACH (originally designated CLGN-160, then CGN-160, received her definitive designation (CGN-9) in mid-1957. The next three heavy cruiser conversions, ALBANY (ex CA-123), CHICAGO (ex CA-136), and COLUMBUS (ex CA-74), which retained none of their original guns, became CG-10 through CG-12. Two more planned conversions, CG-13 and CG-14, (ROCHESTER CA-124 and BREMERTON CA-130 ) were canceled.

In 1975 all Navy guided missile frigates (DLG's) were reclassified as either guided missile destroyers (DDG), or as guided missile cruisers (CG). The CG's still under construction retained their original DLG series numbers, becoming CG-16 (LEAHY) through CGN-41. (Hull number CG-15 was skipped.) A short time later, construction of additional un-named nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers was stopped, resulting in cancellation of the planned CGN-42.

In 1980 the new DDG-47 class guided missile destroyers were upgraded to guided missile cruisers, but retained their original numbers to become the CG 47 (TICONDEROGA) class. This reclassification also required skipping the intervening CG series numbers (CG 43 through CG 46). Subsequently, more than two dozen new CGs have been built and are still in service.

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Information on this page has been derived in part from:
www.global security.org