USS Fall River (CA-131) Heavy Cruiser
The USS Fall River was delivered July of 1945 and decommissioned a short time later in October of 1947.
Authored By JR Potts, AUS 173d AB; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
From the age of sail onwards, navies from around the world needed a class of warship to fit that special bill somewhere between battleship
- the vessel would be built smaller than the former but larger than the latter. In World War 2
, the aircraft carrier ascended to become the primary capital ship of the most powerful navies, replacing the battleship in the role. It was then that the "cruiser" arose to provide general protection for the new-look fleet. The heavy cruiser started to fill the gap by having an inherently reduced price tag and the concept of the all-powerful battleship as a capital ship was fading. Today the cruiser has emerged as the largest and most powerful surface combat ship of all the available classes - essentially becoming the "modern day" battleship of today's sea-going fleet.
At the end of World War 2, the US Navy continued to build heavy cruisers of the Baltimore-class. The USS Fall River (CA-131) was one such vessel and was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at the Camden New Jersey shipyards. She was commissioned on July 1st, 1945 and proved a powerful ship but was inducted into service too late for combat operations in Europe or the Pacific. Instead, the Navy used her to help develop cruiser tactics in the post-war "peace" and into the Cold War-era against Soviet Union.
Fall River fielded powerful armament fitted as three traversing turrets each having 3 x 8 inch 55 caliber guns along with secondary weapons of 12 x 5 inch guns in dual mounts. For close-in anti-aircraft protection, there were 48 x 40mm Bofors cannons spread across twelve quad mounts along with 24 x 20mm Oerlikon cannons in single mountings. She was protected over by six inches (150mm) of belt armor against torpedoes. Her main turrets had 8 inches (200mm) of armor to combat splinters and, against small plunging projectiles, her deck had 2.5 inches (64mm) or armoring. Her best defense against battleships was to flee using her 120,000 shaft horsepower output allowing the vessel to make headway at 33 knots (61kph / 38mph). For over-the-horizon (OTH) contacts, she was afforded 4 x Vought OS2U Kingfisher seaplane spotting aircraft. These aircraft was specifically adept at sea-going activities and featured wings that could fold for easier storage in aft hangers as well as inherently excellent ranges and loitering times. Two catapults were used to launch the planes while a powered crane was utilized to recover the aircraft.
CA-131 was assigned to Joint Task Force 1 operating during "Operation Crossroads". The force was assigned to fleet duty to oversee atomic weapons testing in the Marshall Islands. Fall River sailed to San Pedro, California to receive alterations as needed in order to become the flagship for the upcoming operation. The refit was completed on March 6, 1946 to which then she sailed for Pearl Harbor to accept additional crew including Rear Admiral F. G. Fahrion - commander of the target vessel group for the upcoming tests. Pearl Harbor had long served as a gateway to the Western Pacific and proved extremely vital to Pacific operations of the United States Navy during all of World War 2. Fall River sailed from Pearl and later arrived in the Marshalls by June 14th. During a three week period, a support fleet of 150-plus ships arrived and would provide quarters, nuclear work stations and workshops needed for the 37,000 Navy personnel and 5,000 observers and scientists involved in the atomic program.
Operation Crossroads was to be conducted at the Bikini Atoll in 1946 with the assigned staff on the Fall River, and the supporting USN vessels, investigating the effects of nuclear weapons on naval ships. The series consisted of two detonations each with a yield of 23 kilotons. "Able" was detonated on July 1st, 1946 while "Baker" was detonated underwater on July 25th, 1946. Because of the radioactive contamination delivered by these tests, Bikini Atoll remains uninhabitable to this date though she is regularly visited by sport divers. Participants on Fall River and her task force were thought to be well protected against radiation sickness though testing in the later years revealed crew life expectancy to be reduced by an average of three months.
Fall River returned to Camden, New Jersey in late 1946 for a refit and then, from January 1947 to June 1947, she served a tour of duty in the Far East as flagship of Cruiser Division 1. She received decommissioning orders on October 31st, 1947 and returned to Puget Sound Navy Yard where she was placed in reserve. She was struck from the Naval Register on February 19th, 1971 and sold for scrap on August 28th, 1972. However, some two hundred tons of armor plate from the USS Fall River was removed for use at the Fermi National Accelerator Libratory.
Today, her symbolic remaining bow graces the entrance to "Battleship Cove" in Fall River, Massachusetts.