The USS Chicago was a Northampton class heavy cruiser weighing 9,300 tons. She was constructed at Mare Island Navy Yard and commissioned in April 1931. After shakedown to Hawaii, Tahiti and American Samoa, in July she was reclassified from light cruiser (CL) to heavy cruiser (CA). Chicago became the flagship of Commander Cruisers, Scouting Force in August 1931 on the Atlantic coast.
Throughout the decade and into the early 1940s, she took part in exercises of the United States Fleet. The Chicago was on hand May 31, 1934, when the naval review commenced for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the harbor outside New York City. Changing her base later that year, Chicago was assigned to San Pedro, California, which became her new home until she was transferred to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in September of 1940.
Action in World War II
On December 7, 1941, when the Pacific War broke out, Chicago assisted in search and patrol missions through early February, which saw her heading to the south Pacific, helping to protect Allied positions against attacks by the Japanese Navy. Participating in the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, she was part of the surface force which was designated to intercept Japanese forces before they could reach Port Moresby, New Guinea. On May 7, she received minor damage when the Japanese mounted an air attack.
In August of 1942, Chicago, having remained in the south Pacific, was a part of the invasion of Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. While on patrol between Guadalcanal and Savo Island on the night of August 8, the Chicago, in tandem with HMAS Canberra and two additional destroyers, came under attack by a number of Japanese cruisers. During the battle, the Chicago was hit by a torpedo at the extreme front of her bow. The following day, she and the other ships in her group withdrew, the Chicago returning to San Francisco for repairs.
Destruction at Rennell Island
She returned to combat duty in the south Pacific in January of 1943. On January 29, as she was making her way to Guadalcanal with several cruisers and destroyers, the Chicago was torpedoed by Japanese aircraft twice in the Battle of Rennell Island. The next evening, as she was being towed clear of the battle zone, another torpedo attack claimed the Chicago and she was sunk. For her service in World War II, the Chicago was awarded three battle stars.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, naval cruisers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.