USS Salem (CA-139) was part of the twelve-planned ships of the Des Moines-class heavy cruisers of the United States Navy (USN) during World War 2 (1939-1945). Only three of the group were completed as they arrived too late to see fighting in the global conflict (the rest were ultimately cancelled in the post-war drawdown). The class was regarded as the ultimate form of the conventional heavy cruiser by wartime standards. USS Salem became the last such vessel to be commissioned and currently lives on as a floating museum in Massachusetts waters.
The class succeeded the Oregon City-class surface ships of similar role and carried the same space-saving features such as a small superstructure and combined smoke funnel in an effort to provide better firing angles for the guns aboard. The Salem was thoroughly modern at the time of its commissioning and incorporated much improved Anti-Aircraft (AA) function and featured a fully-automatic main gun battery to improve firing actions. The main guns also introduced fully-cased projectiles, no longer requiring the shell-and-bag system of old.
USS Salem was ordered on June 14th, 1943 and built by the Bethlehem Steel Company at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was laid down on July 4th, 1945 and sailed on March 25th, 1947 - well after the fighting of World War 2 had completed (August 1945). The vessel was formally commissioned on January 30th, 1959 with hull symbol CA-139 and managed a service life until 1959.
The warship displaced 17,000 tons under standard load and 21,500 tons under full load. Her length was 717 feet with a beam measuring 77 feet and a draught of 26 feet. Power was from 4 x Babcock & Wilcox boilers feeding 4 x General Electric turbines developing 120,000 horsepower to 2 x Shafts. Maximum speed in ideal conditions reached 33 knots and the vessel ranged out to 10,500 nautical miles. Her crew numbered 1,800 officers and enlisted.
USS Salem followed traditional armament schemes for American warships of the World War 2 period: She carried 9 x 8" /55 caliber main guns in three triple-gunned turrets, two seated over the forecastle and the other aft of the superstructure. These acted as the primary battery, given excellent firing arcs, particularly for broadsides. To this was added 12 x 5" /38 caliber guns backed by 20 a 3" guns. Close-in air defense was provided by 8 x 20mm Oerlikon AA guns.
USS Salem completed her shakedown cruising in Caribbean waters into October 1949 and returned to Cuba twice before the end of the year. She joined the Atlantic Fleet at the turn-of-the-decade before entering the Mediterranean. Beyond typical friendly port stops, NATO exercises and training endeavors, the warship was used for humanitarian operations and was active in the Mediterranean Sea during the Suez Crisis (October - November 1956). She was stationed off the Lebanese coast as a deterrent during the 1958 Lebanon Crisis (July - October).
The warship ended her sailing days on January 30th, 1959 when she was officially decommissioned - a rather short service life for such an expensive and capable warship. She was then assigned to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet for a time out of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She was spared the scrapman's torch when, in October of 1994, she was relocated to Quincy, Massachusetts to become a museum ship. She is set to be relocated to East Boston waters in the near future due to several issues ongoing in the immediate area.