With 9,050 tons of displacement, the USS Houston, a Northampton class light cruiser, began operation in June 1930 after being constructed in Newport News, Virginia.
Its initial cruises took place in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico but it was later deployed to the western Pacific where it served as the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, conducting training missions, protecting American interests, and serving as the headquarters for the fleet’s commander during ongoing hostilities between China and Japan.
The Houston was recalled to American territorial waters after the Sino-Japanese War. It joined the Scouting Force, in which it participated in exercises that tested fleet readiness and the US Navy’s war plans for the expected confrontation that became WWII. During 1938, the USS Houston was the flagship for the entire US fleet. It hosted President Franklin D. Roosevelt during 1934, 1935, 1938, and 1939.
Action in World War II
In 1940, the Houston was again ordered to the Pacific. For a second time, the ship became the flagship of the US Asiatic Fleet. When the Japanese escalated aggression into outright war, the Houston was ordered to the waters around Australia and the Dutch East Indies. As the heaviest unit within the Allied forces on patrol in the area, the Houston was active in deterrence and wartime skirmishes.
On February 4, 1942, in the heat of heavy bombardment, the Houston was disabled by an enemy strike to its gun turret. Despite that, the ship remained in the combat zone and fought off enemy fire and air raids during the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, 1942. The Houston was ordered to relocate and did so in the company of the Australian cruiser, the Perth. Both ships encountered a formidable contingent of the Japanese navy armed for an amphibious invasion of East Java. After an exchange of firepower between the ships, both the Perth and the Houston were sunk by enemy gunfire and torpedoes.
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.