The USA's first two Washington Treaty cruisers were the two 'Pensacola' class heavy cruisers of 1929. Both had very active lives in World War II, but their design was not particularly successful, being cramped and having an extremely low freeboard. Their 10- gun 203-mm (8-in) armament (set, unusually, in mixed twin and triple turrets) was overambitious to the point where the ships were extremely tender. Even before their completion an improved design, the 'Northampton' class, was well advanced. These not only regrouped the main battery into a homogeneous nine guns set in three triple turrets, but had a hull 4.4 m (14 ft 6 in) greater in length plus a raised forecastle to improve seaworthiness.
Of the class of six ships, the USS Houston was lost in March 1942 in the aftermath of the Java Sea debacle. The USS Chicago survived the shambles of the Savo Island battle in August 1942 with most of her bows removed by a Japanese torpedo. Guadalcanal still claimed her, however, for after repairs she returned shortly afterward to cover a replenishment trip to the island. Near Rennell Island she was sunk by air-dropped torpedoes. The USS Northampton also went down in the area, only a couple of miles from Savo, in the dreadful night action of Tassafaronga. An American force of five cruisers and six destroyers fell foul of the so-called 'Tokyo Express'. The latter were surprised, but acted with great resolution and speed, using their specialized night-fighting training to good advantage, Despite being encumbered with embarked troops and stores, they split into subdivisions and launched a devastating torpedo attack. Four of the five American cruisers were hit, although only the Northampton was a total loss. The surviving trio of the class, known as the 'Chester' class, lasted until 1960.
Specification 'Northampton' class
Ships in class (launched): Northampton (1929), Chester (1929), Louisville (1930), Chicago (1930), Houston (1929) and Augusta (1930)
Displacement: 9,050-9,300 tons standard and 12,350 tons full load
Dimensions: length 183,0 m (600 ft 3 in); beam 20.1 m (66 ft); draught 4.95 m (16 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: Parsons geared turbines delivering 107,000 shp (79790 kW) to four shafts
Speed: 32.5 kts
Armour: belt 76 mm (3 in); deck 51 mm (2 in); turrets 38-64 mm (1.5-2,5 in); barbettes 38 mm (1.5 in); conning tower 203 mm (8 in)
Armament: nine 203-mm (8-in), eight 127-mm (5-in) AA, two 3-pdr, and eight 12.7-mm (0.5-m) AA guns
Aircraft: four floatplanes