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Houston III (CL-81)

(CL-81: dp. 10,000, l. 610'1"; b. 66'4"; dr. 20'; s. 33 k.; cpl. 992; a. 12 6", 12 5"; cl. Cleveland)

A city in Texas.


The third Houston (CL-81) was launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va., 19 June 1943; sponsored by Mrs. C. B. Hamill. Originally named Vicksburg, her name had been changed 12 October 1942. The ship commissioned 20 December 1943, Captain W. W. Behrens commanding.

Houston departed Norfolk 1 February 1944 for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean and after a period of training out of Boston sailed for the Pacific 16 April. She arrived Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and San Diego 6 May, and after more training exercises arrived Majuro Atoll 31 May to join Vice Admiral Mitscher's famed fast carrier task force. Houston was to take part in the invasion of the Marianas, a spectacular amphibious operation and another important step in the drive across the Pacific Islands to Japan. Departing 5 June 1944, Houston screened carrier strike units which pounded the Marianas 12-13 June and the Bonins 15-16 June.

As the forces of Adm. Kelly Turner landed on Saipan 15 June, the Japanese made preparations to close the island for a decisive naval battle. The great fleets approached each other 19 June for the biggest carrier engagement of the war, and as four large air raids hit the American dispositions, fighter cover and antiaircraft fire from Houston and other screen ships decimated the attacking Japanese formations. In this great Battle of the Philippine Sea, the first phase of which is called "The Marianas Turkey Shoot," Japan's naval air power was struck a death blow and the invasion of the Marianas secured. After offensive raids had sunk carrier Hiji, the battle ended with the task force returning to protect the Marianas. Houston remained to screen carrier strikes and engaged 26 June in shore bombardment on Guam and Rota, destroying a radar station, an airstrip, and 10 aircraft on the ground. She then returned to Eniwetok 12 August to prepare for the next operation.

Assigned to the newly-designated Task Group 38.2 under Rear Admiral Bogen, Houston sailed 30 August for air attacks on the Palaus 6 September, after which the cruiser and a group of destroyers bombarded Peleliu and other islands preparatory to amphibious landings. The carrier group then turned to the Philippines for strikes against airfields and shipping, and returned to Peleliu to support the forces ashore 17-19 September.

Returning to Ulithi 1 October 1944, Houston and her task group sailed 5 days later for an important operation into the western Pacific. Warming up with strikes against Okinawa 10 October, the carrier force moved toward its real objective 12 October, Formosa. In a devastating 3 days of attacks, naval air forces did much to destroy Formosa as a supporting base for the Japanese in the island battles still to come. Japanese forces retaliated with heavy and repeated land-based aircraft attacks. Houston splashed four aircraft in one attack on 12 October, and helped repel another attack next day, in which Canberra suffered damage. Taking Canberra's, old station 14 October, Houston and other ships met another heavy raid. Her gunners shot down three of the attackers but a fourth's torpedo hit her engine room, causing loss of power.

Captain Behrens requested a tow. This delicate operation was undertaken by Boston. By midnight both Canberra and Houston were under tow to Ulithi for repairs. Paivnec, fleet tug, assumed the tow 16 October. Late that afternoon one of the determined strikes from Formosa still trying to sink the ships placed another torpedo in Houston, in her stern. Evacuating surplus hands to escorting ships, the captain kept his damage control parties working and managed to keep Houston afloat and moving slowly toward Ulithi.

Learning that the Japanese believed "CripDiv I", as it was called, to be the battered remnants of Task Force 38, Admiral Halsey set a trap for the enemy fleet, hoping to lure them into an attack on the two crippled cruisers. The Japanese fleet actually did sortie from the Inland Sea but after an air attack evidently thought better of the idea and retired. Houston and Canberra were soon out of land-based air range, and arrived Ulithi 27 October 1944. After temporary repairs she proceeded to Manus 20 December and eventually steamed to New York Navy Yard, arriving 24 March 1945.

Houston steamed out of New York harbor 11 October 1945, after extensive rebuilding. Following refresher training in the Caribbean she took part in training exercises out of Newport, R.I. She sailed 16 April 1946 for an extended goodwill tour of European ports, visiting cities in Scandinavia, Portugal, Italy, and Egypt. She returned 14 December 1946 and engaged in training and readiness operations until 17 May 1947, when she sailed with Cruiser Division 12 for a Mediterranean cruise. Returning to Philadelphia 16 August 1947, Houston decommissioned 15 December 1947, was placed in reserve, and finally stricken from the Navy List 1 March 1959 and scrapped.

Houston received three battle stars for World War II service.

Published: Mon Jul 20 10:24:49 EDT 2015