(CA-37: dp. 9,950, 1. 588'2", b. 61'9"; dr. 19'5"; s. 32.7 k., cpl. 708, a. 9 8", 8 5", 8 .50-car. mg.; cl.New Orleans)
Tuscalousa (CA-37) was laid down on 3 September 1931 at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 15 November 1933; sponsored by Mrs. Thomas Lee McCann, wife of Lt. Thomas L. McCann and the niece of the Hon. William B. Oliver, Representative of the 6th District of Alabama, and commissioned on 17 August 1934, Capt. John N. Ferguson in command.
Tuscaloosa devoted the autumn to a shakedown cruise which took her to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, before she returned to the New York Navy Yard shortly before Christmas. She then underwent post-shakedown repairs which kept her in the yard into March 1935.
The heavy cruiser soon shaped a course for the west coast. After a stop at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she transited the Panama Canal on 7 and 8 April and then steamed north to San Diego, where she joined Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 6 in time to participate in Fleet Problem XVI staged in May in the northern Pacific off the coast of Alaska and in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. This operation was divided into five distinct phases which might be aspects of some real naval campaign of the future in which the United States would take the strategic offensive.
Tuscaloosa subsequently was based at San Pedro Calif., whence she conducted routine exercises and local operations with CruDiv 6. In the spring of 1936, the heavy cruiser participated in Fleet Problem XVII, taking place off the west coast of the United States, Central America, and the Panama Canal Zone. The fivephase exercise was devoted to preparing the fleet for antisubmarine operations, testing communications systems, and training of aircraft patrol squadrons for extended fleet operations.
In May 1937 the Fleet again exercised in Alaskan waters and in tie vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands and Midway, practicing the tactics of seizing advanced base sites—a technique later to be polished to a high degree into close support and amphibious warfare doctrines. Tuscaloosa, as part of the "augmented" Seouting Foree, "battled" the Battle Force that spring.
In April and May 1938, the heavy cruiser participated in Fleet Problem XIX, which was conducted in the vicinity of Hawaii. This operation gave the Navy added experience in search tactics; in the use of submarines, destroyers, and aircraft in scouting and attack, in the dispositions of the Fleet and the conduct of a major fleet battle.
In addition, the exercise again dealt with the matter of seizing advanced fleet bases and defending them against minor opposition. Fleet Problem XIX also tested the capabilities of the Hawaiian Defense Force, augmenting it with fleet units to help to defend the islands against the United States Fleet as a whole. The last phase of the exercise exercised the Fleet in operations against a defended coastline.
Tuscaloosa departed San Diego on 3 January 1939 and proceeded, via the Panama Canal, to the Caribbean. She took part in Fleet Problem XX, in the Atlantic to the east of the Lesser Antilles, before undergoing a brief refit at the Norfolk Navy Yard. She than joined San Francisco (CA-38) and Quineg (CA-39) for a goodwill tour of South American ports. Between 8 April and 10 May, the division—under the command of Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel—visited Caraeas, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires before transiting the storm-tossed Strait of Magellan. The three cruisers drove their bows deep into heavy seas and battled gale-force winds as they made the diffienlt passage on 14 and 15 May. The division then sailed up the west coast of South America, visiting Valparaiso, Chile, and Callao, Peru, before transiting the Panama Canal and returning to Norfolk, where she arrived on 6 June.
Tuscaloosa remained off the east coast into the summer of 1939. In August, she carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Campobello Island, New Brunswick. En route, off Portsmouth, N.H., the Commander in Chief witnessed salvage operations in progress on the sunken Squalus (SS-192) which had stayed down after a test dive on 24 May 1939. On 24 August, following visits to Campobello and several ports in Newfoundland, President Roosevelt disembarked at Sandy Hook, N.J.
A week later, the German Army invaded Poland, plunging Europe into war. The outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939 found Tuscaloosa at NOB Norfolk. On the 5th President Roosevelt established the Neutrality Patroi; and, the next day, the cruiser departed for her first patrol which kept her at sea until she returned to her home port on the 11th. Three days later, the heavy cruiser departed Norfolk and spent the remainder of September and most of October engaged in gunnery training and conducting exercises out of Guantanamo Bay and San Juan, Puerto Rico. She departed the Caribbean on 27 October, bound for Hampton Roads, and arrived at Norfolk on 5 November and, but for gunnery exercises off the Virginia capes from the 13th to the 15th, remained in the Hampton Roads areas until mid-December.
Meanwhile, the Neutrality Patrol found itself keeping track of German merchantmen in waters of the western hemisphere. At the outbreak of hostilities, there had been some 85 German ships near the Americas. One of those, the North German (Norddeuteher) Lloyd (NDL) liner Columbus—the 13th largest steamship in the world—had been on a tourist cruise when war caught her in the West Indies. She put into Vera Cruz, Mex., where she fueled and prepared to make a break for home.
The liner departed Vera Cruz on 14 December 1939 but soon thereafter was picked up and shadowed by the destroyer Benham (DD-397). In ensuing days, a sueeession of United States warships—totaling seven in all—trailed the liner. Capt. Wilhelm Daehne, Columbus' master, was careful to keep his ship within the 300-mile neutrality zone until she was abreast of the Delaware capes. He then headed east.
Tuscaloosa, meanwhile, had been ordered out to participate in the chase. On 16 December, two days after Columbus departed Vera Cruz, Tuscaloosa stood out of Norfolk, bound for her patrol station. She soon relieved Cole (DD-155) and Ellis (DD-154)—two flushdeckers —and at 1450 on 19 December, spotted the British destroyer HMS Hyperion, guns trained out and battle ensigns streaming, standing toward Columbus. Hyperion radioed Tusculoosa: "What ship are you escorting?" Tuscaloosa remained silent, but Hvperion was soon radioing Columbus to heave to and not use her radio. Two shots whistled across the German liner's bow.
For Capt. Daehne, there remained only one alternative. After having carefully planned for that eventulity, he scuttled his ship. All but two of his crew—a oomplement that included nine women stewardesses— succeeded in going over the side and manning the lifeboats. Since Hyperion clearly had no room for the 577 Germans who had abandoned the liner, she radioed Tuscaloosa, asking politely if the cruiser could handle the survivors.
From his motor launch, Capt. Daehne kept the lifeboats together while Tuscaloosa embarked the 567 men and nine women. He then followed them to safety on board the cruiser which provided hospitality for the shipwrecked mariners who were glad to be on board an American cruiser as rescued seamen and not in a British warship as prisoners-of-war. The bulk of the survivors were put up in the cruiser's seaplane hangar that had been cleared out to facilitate its use as a large berthing area; and the women were berthed in sick bay.
Tuscaloosa took the survivors to New York—the only port equipped to handle such a large and sudden influx of aliens—and disembarked them at Ellis Island between 1610 and 1730 on 20 December for officials to process. Ultimately, most of Columbus' officers and men returned, via the Pacific, to their native land. Meanwhile, Tuscaloosa departed New York on the 21st and arrived at Norfolk the following day.
The heavy cruiser remained at Norfolk into the New Year, 1940, and departed her home port on 11 January bound for the West Indies. On the voyage to the Caribbean, she was accompanied by her sister ship, San Francisco; Battleship Division 5—less Wyoming (BB33), and Manley (APD-1), the prototype, high-speed transport. Tuscaloosa and her consorts arrived at Culebra on the 16th and, two days later, shifted to Guantanamo Bay. There, she participated in fleet exercises from the 18th to the 27th. Departing Ouantanamo on the latter day, Tuscaloosa returned to Norfolk on 29 January and entered the navy yard there for special alterations to fit her out for service as Presidential flagship.
Tuscaloosa departed the Norfolk Navy Yard on 2 February and moored at NOB Norfolk. Two days later, she got underway for Cuba, arriving at Guantanamo on the 7th, only to sail three days later for Pensacola, Fla., in company with Lang (DD 399). The two ships exercised en route and arrived at Pensacola on the 14th.
The next day, Tuscaloosa embarked President Roosevelt and his guests and departed in company with Jouett (DD-396) and Lang for a cruise to Panama and the west coast of Central America. The voyage gave the President an opportunity to discuss Pan American defense with leaders of Latin American nations. Steaming to the Pacific coast of Central America, Roosevelt inspected the Pacific defenses of the Panama Canal. In addition, he fished regularly at a variety of locations but, as he later recounted, caught "damned few fish." On the return passage through the canal, on 27 February, Roosevelt conferred with United States Navy, Army, and Air Corps officers to discuss the defense of the vital passage.
After disembarking the President at Pensacola, Tuscaloosa proceeded north to Norfolk and from thence to the New York Navy Yard for a three-month overhaul. During her sojourn at Brooklyn, Hitler's legions conquered France in June 1940 and won mastery of continental Europe. Soon thereafter, Tuscatoosa returned to the neutrality patrol and conducted monotonous but intensive patrols in the Caribbean and Bermuda areas through the summer and fall months of 1940.
On 3 December 1940 at Miami, President Roosevelt embarked in Tuscaloosa for the third time for a cruise to inspect the base sites obtained from Great Britain in the recently negotiated "destroyers for bases" deal. In that transaction, the United States had traded 60 old flush-decked destroyers for 99-year leases on bases in the western hemisphere. Ports of call included Kingston, Jamaica; Santa Lucia, Antigua; and the Bahamas. Roosevelt fished and entertained British colonial officials—including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor —on board the cruiser.
While the President cruised in Tuscaloosa, American officials in Washington wrestled with the problem of extending aid to Britain. Having barely weathered the disastrous campaign in France in the spring and the Battle of Britain in the summer, the United Kingdom desperately needed war materiel. American production could meet England's need, but American neutrality law limiting the purchase of arms by belligerents to "eash-and-earry" transactions was about to become a major obstacle, for British coffers were almost empty. While pondering England's plight as he luxuriated in Tuscaloosa the President hit upon the idea of the "lend-lease;' program to aid the embattled British.
On 16 December, Roosevelt left the ship at Charleston, S.C., to head for Washington to implement his "lend-lease" idea—one more step in United States' progress towards full involvement in the war. Soon thereafter, Tuscaloosa sailed for Norfolk and, on 22 December, embarked Admiral William D. Leahy, the newly designated Ambassador to Vichy France, and his wife, for passage to Portugal. With the "stars and stripes" painted large on the roofs of Turrets II and III, and her largest colors flying, Tuscaloosa sailed for the European war zone, initially escorted by Upshur (DD-144) and Madison (DD-425).
After disembarking the Ambassador to Vichy France at Lisbon and returning to Norfolk on 11 January 1941, the cruiser went to sea on maneuvers that kept her at sea until 2 March. She subsequently arrived at the newly opened American naval facility at Bermuda, on 8 April, the day after the base's commissioning. Her consorts included Ranger (CV 4), Wichita (CA45), and destroyers Kearng (DD-432) and Livermore (DD-429). Based at Bermuda, Tuscaloosa continued patroling shipping lanes in the North Atlantic, enforcing the neutrality of the United States.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, the war between the British and the Germans took an anxious turn late in May when German battleship Bismarok and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen broke out into the Atlantic. On 24 May, Bismarok had sunk the vaunted HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait and had temporarily eluded pursuit.
Bismarok's escape into the swirling mists of the Atlantic prompted orders which sent Tuscaloosa to sea immediately. Most of the erew on liberty at the time could not be rounded up in time, so the ship set out for the hunt with personnel "shanghaied" from Vincennes (CA-44) and Quiney and a group of reserve ensigns who happened to be on board for a reserve cruise. However, before the cruiser reached waters where she hoped to find the Bismarok, British warships—directed by an Ameriean naval reserve ensign piloting a British PBY—succeeded in pounding Bismarok to junk on 27 May, avenging the loss of Hood.
Tuscaloosa soon returned to the tedium of neutrality patrolling. As the United States continued in a slow but deliberate fashion to become involved, however, the tenor of events soon changed for the heavy cruiser. On 8 August, she departed Bermuda for Newfoundland and soon embarked General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps: Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Director of the War Plans Division of the Navy; and Capt. Forrest Sherman. She joined Augusta (CA-31) off New York; and, together, the two ships, escorted by a screen of three destroyers proceeded to Argentia, Newfoundland.
Augusta, bearing President Roosevelt, and her consorts soon arrived in the barren anchorage where the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales—with Prime Minister Churehill embarked—awaited her. The ensuing discussions between the two heads of state hammered out the "Atlantic Charter."
Returning from Argentia upon the conclusion of the Anglo-American talks, Tuscaloosa conveyed Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles to Portland, Maine. Three weeks later, in September, the cruiser overtook the first American troop convoy tc Ieeland, as Ameriean marines relieved British troops guarding that strategic island which lay like a pistol pointed at England.
Tuscaloosa soon received new orders which assigned her to a task group built around battleships Idaho (BB-40), Mississippi (BB-41), and New Mescico (BB-42). Wichita and two divisions of destroyers joined Tuscaloosa in the screen of the men of-war. Under the two-starred flag of Rear Admiral Robert C. "Ike" Giffen, the Denmark Strait patrol worked out of wind-swept, cold Hvalfjordur, Iceland—known to Americans as "Valley Forge."
The similiarities between the Contincntal Army's historic winter campground and the Ieelandic region were not just confined to a homonymous relation of their names. The bitter cold, wind, and snow and the wartime operations seemed similar—the latter in the form of daily patrols, unceasingly vigilant for any signs of the "enemy." Tuscaloosa and Wichita "stripped ship" for war, removing accumulated eoats of paint and other inflammable and nonessential items before they set out for sea on 5 November. As the task force steamed toward Iceland, its warships were constantly alert to the possibility of an imminent sortie by the German battleship Tirpitz, the sistership of the late Bismarok.
While Tirpitz failed to show herself, the American ships continued to conduct "short of war" operations which became increasingly warlike as time went on. The attempted torpedoing of Greer (DD-145), the damaging of Kearny in October; the sinking of Reuben James (DD-245) by a German U-boat; and the torpedoing of Salinas (AO-9) all pointed to the fact that American ships were becoming involved in the fighting.
Meanwhile, tensions heightened in the Pacific, as Japan continued her undeclared war against Chinatook over Freneh Indoehina; and proceeded apace with plans to move southward against British and Dutch colonial possessions. The Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor on 7 December plunged the United States into "real" war at last, in both oceans, for Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on 11 December.