LITTLE ROCK, one of 27 Cleveland-Class cruisers, was one of five such ships to be built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia, PA. She was laid down on 06 March 1943, launched on 27 August 1944 (sponsored by Mrs. Sam Wassell), and was commissioned on 17 June 1945 with Capt. William E. Miller in command.
After an initial shakedown off Cuba and follow-up training along the Atlantic coast, LITTLE ROCK departed from Newport, RI on 21 October for South America. During this 5-month cruise LITTLE ROCK visited multiple South and Central American countries, rounded Cape Horn, and transited the Panama Canal. She returned to Norfolk, VA on 23 March 1946.
For the next several months she performed exercises off the East Coast and in the Caribbean before sailing for Europe on 04 June 1946. After visiting countries in the North Atlantic and operating with the 6th Fleet throughout the summer of 1946, LITTLE ROCK returned to Norfolk, VA on 27 September 1946.
From 27 September 1946 through 1949, LITTLE ROCK engaged in exercises on the East Coast, and operated in the Caribbean on training maneuvers. She again sailed to the Mediterranean during 1947 and 1948. On 14 January 1949 the ship departed Gibraltar for Newport, RI, arriving on 23 January.
LITTLE ROCK was decommissioned on 24 June 1949 and joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at New York.
On 30 January 1957 LITTLE ROCK began a major three-year conversion from a Cleveland-class gun cruiser to a Galveston-class guided missile cruiser. At New York Shipbuilding Corp. in Camden, NJ she was reconfigured to carry 48 of the new long-range Talos missiles as well as to provide Flag staff and Flag office accommodations.
She was reclassified CLG 4 on 23 May 1957, and recommissioned at Philadelphia, PA on 03 June 1960 with Capt. Jewett O. Phillips in command. Conversion was completed on 05 June 1960.
The cruiser performed shakedown training in the Caribbean and test-fired her Talos missiles in preparation for joining the Navy's rapidly expanding fleet of ships armed with surface-to-air guided missiles.
Departing Philadelphia 09 February 1961, LITTLE ROCK sailed for her first European cruise in her new role. After 6 months operating with the 6th Fleet and NATO units, the guided-missile cruiser returning to Norfolk, VA in September of that year.
While operating in the Caribbean, 18 November 1961, LITTLE ROCK was ordered to the waters off Santo Domingo to provide an element of stability during the uncertainty and unrest which plagued that country as rival factions vied to fill the political vacuum created by the assassination of Trujillo.
For the next 4 years, LITTLE ROCK annually sailed to the Mediterranean, joining the mighty 6th Fleet, serving as its flagship in 1962, as it maintained the peace in southern Europe and the Middle East. During the months between deployments to the Mediterranean, she operated off the East Coast, in the Caribbean, and off northern Europe with units of NATO countries.
Remaining on the East Coast during 1966 for overhaul and refresher training, she resumed a schedule of annual rotation to the Mediterranean in January 1967. In June of that year the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) was attacked by Israeli ships and aircraft. The following day LITTLE ROCK was on scene to aid in evacuating wounded and assisting the Liberty with damage control efforts.
LITTLE ROCK remained in the Mediterranean as Sixth Fleet flagship for the balance of 1967 and all of 1968 and 1969. On 22 August 1970, after 3 1/2 years as flagship, the USS Little Rock was relieved by USS Springfield. On 12 October she entered the Boston Naval Shipyard for 6 a month overhaul, returning to Fleet Readiness status on 19 April 1971. On 01 December of that year LITTLE ROCK departed Newport RI for a 5 month Med cruise, and continued to operate in Med and North Atlantic through 1972. While in the Norwegian Sea on 14 Sep 1972 she crossed the Arctic Circle at 7° 49' East Longitude, thus qualifying all crew members onboard at that time to receive the rare "Blue Nose" certificate.
Returning to Boston in December 1972 LITTLE ROCK remained on the East Coast until her departure from Newport, RI for the Mediterranean on 13 Aug 1973, relieving the USS Springfield CLG-7 as 6th Fleet Flagship in Gaeta, Italy on 29 August. The ship remained in the Mediterranean as Flagship through 1974, 1975, and well into 1976.
On 5 June 1975, after having been closed since June 1967, the USS LITTLE ROCK, flagship of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, represented the United States during reopening of the Suez Canal. She was the only foreign warship in the official flotilla that sailed down the canal to Ismailia.
(On 30 June 1975, LITTLE ROCK's designation was changed from CLG 4 to CG 4.)
On 17 June 1976 LITTLE ROCK was ordered to Lebanon to assist in evacuating US citizens from Beirut during Lebanese Civil War. On 20 June, along with other 6th Fleet units off shore, she aided USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32) in evacuating 279 persons from Lebanon.
In September of 1976 LITTLE ROCK made her final departure from Gaeta and headed for home. On 25 September she tied up briefly at the Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown, VA to offload weapons, arriving on 30 September at the Philadelphia NSY for decommissioning.
On 22 November 1976 the U.S.S. LITTLE ROCK was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and was stricken from the Naval Register.
On 01 June 1977, with all paperwork in order, LITTLE ROCK was officially transferred to the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Servicemen's Park in Buffalo, NY. Towed through the Saint Lawrence Seaway LITTLE ROCK arrived on 15 July in Buffalo, NY. From that date through 30 Jun 79 LITTLE ROCK was prepared for opening as a museum.
Finally, on 30 June 1979 the U.S.S. LITTLE ROCK was opened to the public as a museum, the last surviving cruiser from the Cleveland-class / Galveston-class cruiser fleets.
On 01 June 1977 LITTLE ROCK was transferred to the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Servicemen's Park in Buffalo, NY. The cruiser arrived there on 15 July 1977 and on on 30 June 1979 was opened to the public as a memorial.
The following is an abbreviated summary of LITTLE ROCK's history as published as part of a USS Little Rock brochure in the 1970's:
USS Little Rock is the first ship of the Fleet to bear the name of the city of LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas. Her keel was laid on 6 March 1943 and she was launched on 27 August 1944 as a light cruiser, CL 92. After commissioning on 17 June 1945 the ship joined the Fleet and maintained normal deployment until 1949 when she was placed out of commission.
On 30 January 1957 LITTLE ROCK entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for conversion. On 4 June 1960 she was re-commissioned as a Talos missile cruiser. Her original conventional armament of twelve 6" 47 caliber and twelve 5" 38 caliber guns had been reduced to three 6" 47 caliber and two 5" 38 caliber guns forward. Her main battery is now the Talos missile system with one twin missile launcher aft. The conversion also added communications, office and living spaces to accommodate a Fleet Commander and his Staff.
LITTLE ROCK has served as Flagship for Commander Cruiser Division Four, Commander Second Fleet, and Commander Sixth Fleet. Her second deployment as Sixth Fleet Flagship commenced when she relieved the USS SPRINGFIELD (CLG-7) on 25 January 1967, and changed her homeport to Gaeta, Italy. Since that date LITTLE ROCK has shown the Flag in seventeen ports in eleven countries, and has taken part in many fleet and NATO exercises.
The families of LITTLE ROCK and COMSIXTHFLT Staff personnel have established themselves in the Gaeta Community and daily are strengthening the ties of friendship between Italy and the United States. LITTLE ROCK is fulfilling her varied missions - as a combatant ship, as the Flagship for Commander Sixth Fleet and as an ambassador of good will throughout the Mediterranean.