Alaska Class, U.S. Large Cruisers

Photograph of Alaska-class large cruiser

Naval Historical Center #97127

Schematic diagram of Alaska class large cruiser

ONI 222



29,799 tons standard displacement


808'6" by 91'1" by 32'4"
246.43m by 27.76m by 9.86m

Maximum speed      

33 knots




2 catapults
4 seaplanes


3x3 12"/50 guns
6x2 5"/38 dual purpose guns
14x4 40mm Bofors AA guns
34x1 20mm Oerlikon AA guns


4720 tons
9" (229mm) belt sloped to 10 degrees (equivalent to 12" or 305mm) and tapered to 5" (127mm) at the bottom edge
10.2" (260mm) bulkheads closing the citadel
3.75" (95mm) main deck, tapered to 2.8" (71mm) inboard
10.6" (270mm) steering sides and bulkheads
1.5" (38mm) steering roof
0.75" (19mm) splinter deck
1.4" (36mm) upper deck
13" (330mm) barbette
12.8"/6"/5.2"/5" (325mm/152mm/133mm/127mm) turret face/side/rear/roof
10.6"/5" (269mm/127mm) conning tower side/roof
9'10" underwater protection
Immune zone 21,600-28,800 yards against 12" (305mm) shells
4-shaft General Electric geared turbine (150,000 shp)
8 Babcock & Wilson boilers


3619 tons fuel oil


12,000 miles (19,300 km) at 15 knots
SK air search radar
2 SG-1 surface search radar
2 Mark 8 fire control radar
2 Mark 12/22 fire control radar
Modifications No significant modifications during their short period of Pacific War service.

The Alaskas were completed in 1944 as "large cruisers", which has sometimes been characterized as a euphemism for battle cruisers. They were not true battle cruisers, and Friedman discusses their design history in his volume on cruisers rather than his volume on battleships. Their role was not to scout for the fleet, but to provide carrier escort, and they lacked the underwater protection of true battle cruisers. Their armor protection of 4720 tons constituted 16.4% of their displacement, on the high side for a heavy cruiser but much less than the 30% of a true battle cruiser like the British Hood.

The Alaskas formed the heavyweight tier of a three-tiered post-treaty cruiser family conceived in 1939. With war looming, the other two tiers were rushed into construction as the Baltimores and the Clevelands, whose designs were still influenced by treaty restrictions. It was inevitable that the Alaskas would be the largest departure from the treaty designs, since they fell into the displacement range between battleships and traditional cruisers that the treaties had specifically created. As a result, work on the Alaska design continued even as the Baltimores and Clevelands were laid down and the design of their successors (the postwar Des Moines and Worcesters) began.

The large cruiser concept was originally a response to the German pocket battleships, which were seen as "cruiser-killers" capable of catching and destroying conventional cruisers. There were also rumors that the Japanese had something similar in the works, which the Japanese were in fact planning but never built. The Alaskas became a pet project of King, then serving on the General Board, who saw them as the ideal escort for carriers making independent raids. The greatest threat to such raiding forces was assumed to be enemy heavy cruisers. King was encouraged in this by Roosevelt, who is sometimes unfairly blamed for the Alaskas.

The Alaskas must be counted as one of the few design failures by the U.S. Navy during this period.  They were an utterly unnecessary design, doing nothing that an Iowa did not do better, and doing most things much worse; and, at $75 million apiece, they were not that much cheaper than the Iowas. Among their specific flaws was atrocious maneuverability, poor subdivision, the aforementioned inadequate torpedo protection, the use of a single exhaust uptake, and poor antiaircraft direction that made the effective antiaircraft firepower little better than that of a heavy cruiser. About their only strengths were a decent main armament and beautiful lines.

They might have been much better: Though the basic concept was flawed, some of the preliminary designs would at least have led to a decent mini-battleship like the French Dunkerques or a more balanced large cruiser. The grotesque final product was probably a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, as the design process seems to have attracted an unusual amount of attention. The Navy could seemingly never really reach consensus on whether they were to be true cruisers suitable for independent operations, carrier escorts, or a fast wing of the battle line. Lack of consensus on their proper role led to such poor design choices as aircraft catapults amidships, appropriate for scouting cruisers but not for carrier escorts.

Units in the Pacific:


arrived 1945-1


arrived 1945-1-24

Photo Gallery

Side view of Alaska-class cruiser

U.S. Navy

Overhead view of Alaska-class cruiser

U.S. Navy

Bow view of Alaska-class cruiser

U.S. Navy

Miships view of Alaska-class cruiser

U.S. Navy

Aft superstructure of Alaska-class cruiser

U.S. Navy

40mm magazines in magazine room

U.S. Navy



Friedman (1984)

Gogin (2010; accessed 2012-12-1)


Whitley (1995)

Worth (2001)

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