(CL-26: dp. 9,050; l. 600'3"; b. 66'1"; dr. 16'4"; s. 32.5 k.; cpl. 621; a. 9 8", 4 5", 8.50 cal. mg., 6 21" tt.; cl. Northampton)
A city in Massachusetts; the first vessel of this name retained its former name.
Northampton (CL-26) was laid down 12 April 1928 by Bethlehem Steel Corp., Quincy, Mass.; launched 5 September 1929; sponsored by Mrs. Calvin Coolidge; and commissioned 17 May 1930, Captain Walter N. Vernou in command.
Joining the Atlantic Fleet, Northampton made a shakedown cruise to the Mediterranean during the summer of 1930, then participated in the fleet training schedule which took her to the Caribbean, the Canal Zone, and, occasionally, into the Pacific for exercises with other cruisers and ships of all types. Redesignated CA-26 in 1931, she operated primarily in the Pacific from 1932, homeported at San Pedro, and later at Pearl Harbor.
Northampton was at sea with Admiral William Halsey in Enterprise during the Japanese attack 7 December 1941, returning to Pearl Harbor the next day. On the 9th the force sortied to search northeast of Oahu, then swept south to Johnston Island, then north again to hunt the enemy west of Lisianski and Midway. Through January 1942 Northampton joined in such searches until detached with Salt Lake City to bombard Wotje 1 February. The bombardment not only demolished buildings and fuel dumps on the island, but also sank two Japanese ships. A similar assault was fired against Wake 24 February when despite serious enemy counterfire, the guns of Northampton and her force started large fires on the island and sank a dredge in the lagoon. As Northampton retired from the island, enemy sea-planes, landbased planes, and patrol craft attacked, but all were destroyed or repulsed.
On 4 March, the force launched aircraft for a strike on Marcus, then turned east for Pearl Harbor. Early in April the Enterprise force, Northampton a member, sortied once again, and joined the Hornet force for the "Shangri-La" raid on Tokyo 18 April. Once again the ships replenished at Pearl Harbor, then sailed for the Southwest Pacific, arriving just after the Battle of the Coral Sea. Returning to Pearl Harbor, Northampton prepared for the action soon to come at Midway, when she screened Enterprise. On 4 and 5 June the American carriers launched their planes to win a great victory, turning the Japanese back in the mid-Pacific, and dealing them an irreparable blow by sinking or completely disabling their four carriers. Throughout the Battle of Midway, Northampton protected her carrier and with her returned undamaged to Pearl Harbor 13 June.
In mid-August, Northampton sailed for the Southwest Pacific to join in the Guadalcanal operation. She patrolled southeast of San Cristobal where on 15 September her force was attacked by submarines which damaged Wasp and North Carolina and struck O'Brien only 800 yards off Northampton's port beam. Now sailing with Hornet, Northampton screened the carrier during attacks on Bougainville 5 October.
During the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October, which took place without surface contact with the enemy, Northampton went to the aid of Hornet, mortally wounded by enemy aircraft, and fired antiaircraft cover while attempting to take the stricken giant in tow. Obviously doomed, the carrier was later sunk by destroyer torpedo and gunfire, and the American force retired to the southwest.
Northampton next operated with a cruiser-destroyer force, to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their troops on Guadalcanal. The Battle of Tassafaronga began 40 minutes before midnight, 30 November, when three American destroyers made a surprise torpedo attack on the Japanese. All American ships then opened fire, which the startled enemy did not return for 7 minutes. Then two of the American cruisers took torpedo hits within the space of a minute, and 10 minutes later, another was hit, all being forced to retire from the action. Northampton and Honolulu, with 6 destroyers, continued the fierce action, scoring many hits. Close to the end of the engagement, Northampton was struck by two torpedoes, which tore a huge hole in her port side, ripping away decks and bulkheads. Flaming diesel oil sprayed over the ship, she took on water rapidly and began to list. Three hours later, as she began to sink stern first, she had to be abandoned. So orderly and controlled was the process that loss of life was surprisingly light, and the survivors were all picked up within an hour by destroyers. While three cruisers had been damaged and Northampton lost, the Japanese had been denied a major reinforcement, and once again the Navy had given vital support to the marines fighting ashore.
Northampton received 6 battle stars for World War II service.