U.S.S. Newport News (CA-148)

Newport News was a Des Moines-class heavy cruiser built just after WWII. She is most famous for her service on the “gun line” in Viet Nam. She was the last “all-gun” cruiser to be decommissioned by the U.S. Navy.

Design and Construction

Newport News was the last of three Des Moines-class ships, and also the last heavy cruiser, built for the Navy. She was laid down on October 1, 1945 and commissioned January 29, 1949. She featured nine Mark 16 guns in three turrets, the final version of the venerable 8-inch/55-caliber gun. These weapons were self-loading, allowing her to fire continuously at a rate of 10 rounds per minute.

Service

Newport News set out from Norfolk on April 5, 1949 for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. She returned to Norfolk on June 20. In August she departed for Nova Scotia on a Naval Reserve training cruise, briefly sailing as flagship of the Atlantic Fleet. Upon her return, she joined Task Force 89 and crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time in November.

On January 6, 1950, Newport News relieved her sister Des Moines as flagship of the 6th fleet. She remained in this capacity until May 26, when she was relieved by her sister Salem. She returned to Norfolk and spent three months in the Navy Yard for routine upkeep. For the remainder of 1950, she conducted refresher training near Cuba. Newport News continued to operate from Norfolk until January 16, 1953, when she returned to the Mediterranean, relieving Columbus as 6th fleet flagship. She entered dry dock briefly on August 10, 1954 to receive upgraded fire control systems. She continued to operate between the Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets through the 1950s.

Newport News was in the “Med” once again on February 28, 1960 when an earthquake devastated Agadir, Morocco. She rushed to the scene, achieving an average speed of 31 knots, and arrived on March 3. She remained until 9 March, providing medical personnel, supplies, and electrical power to the city. Newport News was called immediately thereafter to respond to a plane crash near Granada, Spain. She sent helicopters and more medical supplies to assist. In December 1961, Newport News reported to the Norfolk Navy Yard to convert to a fleet flagship. The work was completed in March 1962, and on April 3, Newport News became flagship of the Second Fleet. She was called from port early on October 22 to participate in naval blockades during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She remained after the crisis passed to count missiles, making sure the Soviets were dismantling all of them as agreed.

As flagship of Second fleet, Newport News stayed in Atlantic waters for most of 1963. She rendered full honors for President Kennedy when he was assassinated on November 22. On May 8, 1964, Newport News returned to her namesake city for the first time since she was commissioned there. The mayor of Newport News named the day in honor of her. She continued her routine until April 28, 1965, when she was called to respond to a crisis in the Dominican Republic. The cruiser embarked an extra Marine detachment and took command of Joint Task Force 122, a coordinated effort between the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. She sent her marines ashore and began relaying messages between the services, keeping the JTF alive and on task. On May 7, JTF 122 was disbanded and Newport News returned to Norfolk. She once again took up her routine until August 4, 1967, when she entered the Navy Yard to prepare for her first tour off Viet Nam.

Newport News relinquished her command of Second Fleet on September 1, 1967 and set out for Pearl Harbor 4 days later. Arriving on the 21st, she left Pearl n the 25th, and arrived at Da Nang, Viet Nam on 9 October. There, she took aboard Rear Admiral Combs, becoming flagship of the Seventh Fleet Cruiser/Destroyer Force. That night, Newport News began her first bombardment of Viet Nam. She remained with the Pacific Fleet off Viet Nam until April 1968. During this time, she fired over 51,000 shells from her 8-, 5-, and 3-inch guns and was noted for her accuracy, often firing within 100 yards of friendly troops without ever injuring them. She arrived back at Norfolk on May 13, 1968. She was awarded a Naval Unit Commendation for her Viet Nam tour on Independence Day 1968 while in New York. On November 21 she left Norfolk for the Pacific once again.

The cruiser conducted her first bombardments on Christmas Day 1968 off Viet Nam. In January 1969, Newport News began reconnaissance patrols in the waters surrounding Viet Nam. She gathered intelligence on Soviet shipping and the firing positions of North Vietnamese boats. She also boarded Soviet trawlers, taking tactical documents and photographing the spy ships. She returned to home waters in September and, while participating in an exercise, gathered impromptu intelligence on a Soviet Tallin-class destroyer and BE-6 patrol plane.

Newport News found herself in dire need of new linings for her nine 8-inch gun barrels in August 1970. The barrels had been scheduled for a re-lining during her regular Yard period earlier that year, but budget cuts had forced shipyard workers to omit the procedure. Determined to have her in complete fighting trim, her Weapons department conducted the operation themselves, saving the government $75,000 dollars on the do-it-yourself job.

Newport News received a royal visit on September 24, 1971. While in Oslo, Norway, she took aboard King Olav V of Norway. The cruiser departed Norfolk on April 13, 1972 for her third and final tour on the “gun-line” off Viet Nam.

She fired her opening salvoes on May 10. She came under fire several times during this action, but she was not damaged. Her luck changed on June 27, when she took two rounds from enemy shore batteries. Damage was minor and the ship was able to maintain her station. Newport News suffered the only serious damage of her career on October 1. While off the Demilitarized Zone, a shell exploded in the center barrel of no. 2 8-inch gun turret. This destroyed the barrel and caused further explosions in the turret and ammunition loading spaces. Quick and effective damage control saved the ship, but she lost 20 men. She put in to Subic Bay in the Philippines, where the barrel was removed and the crippled turret was trained to its neutral position. She then rearmed and was underway for the gun-line on October 19. The cruiser remained off Viet Nam until December, when she was finally allowed to return to her homeport.

Turret no. 2 was the subject of some debate upon her return. Ideas to replace the destroyed gun with a unit from her decommissioned sisters were floated, but once again budgetary concerns prevailed. For the rest of her service life, Newport News had only 2 operational main battery turrets. She was awarded her second Naval Unit Commendation on July 13, 1973 for her final Viet Nam tour. During a visit to Oslo on October 10, an explosion occurred in one of her 5-inch turrets. Several men were injured, but the ship suffered no losses. The cruiser celebrated the 25th anniversary of her commissioning on February 1, 1974. That year, the last of her 3-inch anti-aircraft mounts was removed as she prepared for decommissioning. Newport News left U.S. Naval service on June 27, 1975.

Fate

The cruiser was towed to Philadelphia, where she remained until 1993, when she was sold for scrapping. A memorial to Newport News is currently kept on Salem, her sister ship. Salem is a museum ship in Quincy, MA.

Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Newport News was a steam-powered vessel built during the height of U.S. Naval construction in WWII. Consequently, asbestos insulation would have been present throughout the ship, particularly in engineering areas. Any damage to this insulation would have cause the asbestos to break off into tiny fibers, making it easy for sailors and shipyard workers to inhale.

Asbestos is proven to cause the malignant lung cancer mesothelioma. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can be employed to fight the disease.

If you or someone you know served on Newport News or worked on her in a shipyard and has contracted mesothelioma, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page for free information regarding your rights to compensation.

Resources/Further Reading

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