The Des Moines-class of heavy cruisers was developed by the United States Navy (USN) during World War 2 (1939-1945). They were a further evolution of the Oregon City-class which introduced a combination smoke funnel design and compact superstructure, both designed to improve firing arcs for the primary battery. The Des Moines-class took this further and brought along a fully-automatic main battery as well as cased ammunition (an improvement over the old shell-and-powder-bag system of old).
USS Newport News (CA-148) was part of the Des Moines-class which was originally set to number twelve total ships. However, the end of World War 2 in August of 1945 limited the group to just three - USS Des Moines, USS Salem and USS Newport News. While her sisters held services lives that ended after just a decade or so, USS Newport News sailed into the mid-1970s before being given up (though only USS Salem was preserved as a floating museum).
USS Newport News was laid down on November 1st, 1945 and launched on March 6th, 1948. She was commissioned on January 29th, 1949 with hull symbol CA-148. At the time of her commissioning, USS Newport News was the first USN warship to feature a full air-conditioning suite. She also became the final warship of the service to sport an all-gun armament scheme (the incorporation of missile-minded armament soon followed in warship design).
As built, the warship displaced around 20,000 tons. Her length was 717.5 feet with a beam of 76.5 feet and a draught of 27 feet. Power was from 4 x Babcock & Wilcox boiler units feeding 4 x General Electric turbines developing 120,000 horsepower and driving 4 x Shafts under stern. Maximum speed was 31.5 knots with a range out to 10,500 nautical miles.
The Des Moines-class was noted as being the ultimate incarnation of the conventionally-powered USN heavy cruiser of the World War 2 period. These were relatively fast ships with good armor protection and carried considerable firepower for the role. Should they have been pressed into service sooner, they no doubt would have had an impact on the fighting in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese.
Armament stood at the heart of any USN warship during the conflict and USS Newport News followed the same, proven armament scheme seen in other large vessels. Her primary battery encompassed 9 x 8" /55 caliber guns held in three triple-gunned turrets, two set forward at the forecastle and the remaining gun set aft nearer the stern. These were supported by 12 x 5" /38 caliber guns and 12 x 3" /50 caliber guns.
Like her sister USS Salem, USS Newport News traveled the Caribbean and Mediterranean waters during her early-going. She was a member of the 6th Fleet in the Atlantic which gave her access to vital waterways between the U.S. and Europe. She served during the Moroccan earthquake (in the humanitarian role), during the Dominican Crisis and in NATO RIPTIDE III during the early 1960s. In October of 1962, she was placed on high alert for the Cuban Missile Crisis.
During the 1950s, the vessel was outfitted with additional radar systems and improved both her gunnery and navigation suites. Her bridge was also reworked to now include a flag and navigation bridge. A deckhouse was added amidships in 1962 which allowed her to be used more effectively in the flagship role.
Her deployment to Vietnam waters began in October 1967 and ended in 1972. During this time, she served as flagship of ComCruDesFlot 3 and was used to shell enemy coastal and inland positions during Operation Sea Dragon. Patrols were a necessary part of this deployment in stemming the flow of goods by North Vietnam and acting as a deterrent to any large-scale land maneuvers within reach of her guns. Nearly 60,000 projectiles were fired by the ship in her early tours in the region.
She was overhauled in 1968 to prepare her for her next deployment to Vietnam. Again her guns were brought to bear on the enemy but by this time she was serving side-by-side with guided-missile cruisers - the future of the USN cruiser fleet. In October of 1972, a projectile in one of her guns detonated killing nineteen and injuring ten. This resulted in the turret being disabled for the remainder of her sailing career.
USS Newport News returned to Norfolk before 1973, concluding her tour in Vietnam waters. Several training initiatives and friendly port stops were had involving her during her later years. The warship was decommissioned on June 27th, 1975 and her name struck from the Naval Register in July of 1978. For a time she berthed alongside her sisters in reserve until, in February of 1993, she was sold for scrap.