One of the primary players for the United States Navy (USN) in the Pacific Theater of War during World War 2 (1939-1945) was the quantitative Cleveland-class of light cruisers. Some fifty-two of the type were initially planned though only twenty-seven of the lot were actually completed due to the end of the war. Thirteen were reordered as the "Fargo-class" light cruiser while nine were converted to aircraft carriers with three ultimately being cancelled.
CL-90 was originally to be called USS Wilkes-Barre but the name eventually fell to CL-103 (CL-90 took up the name of the fallen USS Astoria (CA-34)). New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey was contracted to build her and the keel was laid down on December 14th, 1942. The vessel was launched to sea on December 24th, 1943 and formally commissioned into service on July 1st, 1944.
Light cruisers (also "light armored cruiser") of the period were relatively compact surface combatants all the while retaining the armor protection of their full-fledged armored cruiser counterparts. For combat in World War 2, these warships could be called upon to operate independently or as part of the main fighting fleet, typically assigned as scouts or in the fleet support role.
As completed, USS Wilkes-Barre had a displacement of 12,000 tons under standard loads and up to 14,360 tons under full loads. Dimensions included a running length of 610 feet with a beam of 66.3 feet and a draught of 25.5 feet. Power was from 4 x Boiler units feeding 4 x Geared steam turbines developing 100,000 horsepower to 4 x Shafts under stern. This provided the vessel with a maximum ocean-going speed nearing 32.5 knots with a range out to 11,000 nautical miles.
Aboard was a crew complement of 1,255 officers and enlisted personnel. Four recoverable floatplanes were carried to provide a much-needed Over-the-Horizon (OtH) capability in locating enemy surface ships and submarines as well as in aiding the onboard guns. The aircraft were launched via twin catapults at the stern of the ship and were recovered via crane.
Armor protection reached up to 5" at the belt with the decks protected over in 2 inches of plate armor, the barbettes carrying 6", and the conning tower showcasing up to 5" thickness.
Armament centered on 12 x 6" (150mm) /47 caliber Mark 16 main guns set within four triple-gunned turrets, two forward and two aft. After this were 12 x 5" (130mm) /38 caliber guns in six twin-gunned turrets for added as a ranged-fire measure. 16 x 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns were spread about in four quadruple-gunned mountings and joined by 12 x 40mm Bofors AA guns in six twin-gunned mountings about the hull superstructure. Finally, additional AA support was had through 10 x 20mm Oerlikon AA guns in single-gunned mountings.
Once commissioned, Wilkes-Barre transited the Panama Canal to arrive in the Pacific Theater ready for work. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii greeted her on November 17th, 1944 and exercises followed. As part of Task Force 38 (TF38), she supported actions against the Japanese at Formosa, Ryukyus, and Luzon into the beginning of 1945. The warship and others served as decoys during the invasion of Iwo Jima. On February 21st, her guns were used in anger against Japanese positions on the island as American marines waded ashore. On March 19th, her crew claimed their first enemy aircraft, a Yokosuka D4Y single-seat monoplane fighter. Wilkes-Barre then supported the landings at Okinawa - three Zeroes and a sole Aichi D3A were downed in attempted kamikaze attacks. Later, she was part of the support ships coming to the aid of the stricken carrier USS Bunker Hill.
With the end of the war in August-September 1945, Wilkes-Barre took her victorious place in Tokyo Bay. With her usefulness behind her, the warship was decommissioned on October 9th, 1947 and placed into reserve in Philadelphia waters. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on January 15thm 1971, becoming the last of her kind in USN service. After this, she was used in extensive underwater demolition testing until her hull split in two on May 12th, 1972. The following day, the remains of the veteran vessel went under.
For her time in the war, USS Wilkes-Barre received four Battle Stars.