With a couple of exceptions, the US Navy had laid down at least one cruiser in each year since 1926. Six Northampton Class had been laid down in 1928, so there was no new cruiser construction in 1929. Likewise 1932 was skipped but four New Orleans class heavies had been laid down in 1931. When the USS St Louis was laid down on December 10, 1936, the USN entered its first long gap in cruiser construction. Over three years were to pass before the next American cruiser was laid down. One reason for the delay was uncertainty as to whether the proposed terms of the 1936 London Treaty would take effect. The diplomats in an effort to put the genie back in the bottle had agreed to smaller, less capable designs as part of the proposed terms. Great Britain wanted to start immediately on new battleship construction and accordingly limited the King George V class to 14-inch guns, which was the largest size authorized under the proposed treaty terms. In contrast the USN waited to see if the treaty would be ratified by Japan before committing to 14-inch guns for the North Carolina Class.

The terms of the new treaty would also significantly affect cruiser size. Under the terms maximum displacement for new cruisers would be 8,000-tons with a maximum gun size of 6-inches. As far as initial planning, the admirals of the USN thought very roughly along the lines of a smaller Brooklyn class with twin 6-inch gun turrets, however, as with other cruisers, any new design would be a jack-of-all-trades ship, rather than have any specialized mission. Another body of admirals wanted small cruisers to function as destroyer squadron leaders in a manner similar to the method in which the Japanese employed their light cruisers. The USN was working on a twin 6-inch DP mount but that design was still too early in development. However, the new 5-inch/38 DP gun had already been developed and proved to be very successful. Instead of waiting for the 6-inch DP mount to be developed, a new cruiser could be constructed around the 5-inch/38 gun, giving the design a very strong anti-aircraft capability. In the same month that St Louis was laid down, it was recommended to build ten of these smaller cruisers. By 1937 the 6-inch gun option had been discarded.

In July 1938 the design for the new 6,000-ton (standard) cruiser had been completed. The most remarkable feature was the eight twin 5-inch/38 turrets. Six were mounted on centerline in three turret tiers fore and aft with two additional wing turrets abreast of the aft superstructure. To further enforce the AA capability of the design three quadruple 1.1-inch AA mounts were worked into the design with two abreast the forward superstructure and one centerline, overlooking the aft tier of 5-inch turrets. For 1938 this was probably the most formidable AA capability of any cruiser design in the world. To placate the destroyer leader advocates, in marked contrast with other USN cruiser designs, this new design was given a torpedo armament with a four tube 21-inch mount placed on each side. The design was to have a top speed of 32.5-knots with 75,000shp. The new design was called the Atlanta class.

On April 25, 1939 four ships of the Atlanta class were ordered and all four were laid down in spring 1940. The USS San Diego CL-53 was actually the first of the class to be laid down at the Bethlehem works in Quincy, Massachusetts on March 27, 1940 and first to be launched on July 26, 1941 but the USS Atlanta CL-51 was completed first on December 24, 1941. San Diego was completed on January 10, 1942 with Juneau CL-52 and San Juan CL-54 completing in February. A fourth 1.1-inch mount was added to Atlanta and San Diego almost immediately after completion and to Juneau and San Juan before completion. This was on centerline at the stern. In December 1941 the authorized AA fit was changed to four twin 40mm Bofors in place of the 1.1-inch guns but the ships were completed with their Chicago Pianos until the Bofors were available. Additionally eight 20mm Oerlikons were authorized. Atlanta and Juneau were both lost in fall 1942 and it was only San Diego and San Juan that received the 40mm mounts. In December 1943 a quadruple 40mm mount was fitted to the stern and the other 1.1-inch mounts replaced with twin 40mm mounts.

USS San Diego was clearly a lucky ship in that she participated in the long Solomons campaign without suffering significant damage. She participated in the Battle of Santa Cruz and other action off Guadalcanal and the Solomons. In summer of 1943 she was escort to the USS Saratoga and HMS Victorious in support of landings off New Georgia. In December it was the Gilberts and a raid on Kwajalein. After this she returned to San Francisco for a quick refit, in which she landed her 1.1-inch guns for Bofors mounts, however, by January 1944 San Diego was back at Pearl Harbor. Throughout early 1944 she participated in raids as well as in the major actions of Battle of the Philippine Sea. By fall 1944 San Diego was permanently an escort with the fast carriers and participated at Leyte Gulf and Okinawa, as well as innumerable raids on Japanese held islands and Japanese home islands. San Diego was the first ship to enter Tokyo Bay after the surrender. After the war she participated in Operation Magic Carpet in transferring troops back to the States and was finally decommissioned on November 4, 1946. San Diego was never again placed back in commission. On March 1, 1959 she was stricken and was scrapped in 1960 at Seattle. (History from Cruisers of World War Two, An International Encyclopedia, 1995, by M. J. Whitley)

Dragon USS San Diego
The box top states "Premium Edition", which marks this release of USS San Diego as different from the USS Atlanta previously released. Clearly the Atlanta kit was used as a basis for the San Diego as the nameplate provided in the kit is for Atlanta, not San Diego. However, the box side states what is new with the DML San Diego. Listed there are: updated radar; improved 5-inch turrets; updated Oerlikons; updated quad Bofors; new photo-etch 1.1-inch mounts; two types of new life rafts; photo-etched depth charge racks, photo-etch railings and new bridge structure. Since I have not seen the original DML Atlanta, I can’t say which parts stayed the same but a quick look at the sprues in the DML San Diego clearly indicates that additional parts are included in this kit.

For example, this kit contains 24 5-inch/38 twin mounts and eight 5-inch/38 single mounts. Since the ship only mounts eight twin mounts and no single mounts, you’ll have a lot of spares for your parts bin. Eight of the twin turrets were on weapons sprues that were probably included in the original release. Eight more are on weapons sprues produced for the DML Essex and eight more are on Essex island sprues. These last eight are definitely the best of the lot. About 40% of the parts won’t be used.

A Sprue – Hull & Superstructure
This is the heart of the kit, as it contains the hull, deck and superstructure pieces. Even with this sprue, not all of the parts are used. Some parts are apparently for the second batch of the class that did not carry the wing 5-inch mounts because some of the decks and one of the two bridge faces included on this sprue are not used. The hull has a rather odd construction. The main hull piece goes to waterline only for first third of the ship. For the aft 2/3 length of the ship there is a separate lower hull piece that fits below the main hull part. This may simulate the armor belt or may reflect a difference in hull design between the first and second batches of the Atlanta class but this solution does present the modeler with problems. There are seams on the hull sides to be filled and sanded because of this design decision and although the work is not great, it does present and additional step for the modeler. One unusual design characteristic was a very prominent knuckle at the bow. Although common with British cruisers, the use of a knuckle was rare with USN designs. I personally like it because the changing directions created by the hull add extra dimension to a normally flat hull surface.

A Sprue - Hull & Superstructure
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Deck detail is good but not spectacular. The Atlanta class utilized metal decks so you won’t find wooden plank detail. The forecastle piece is separate from the main hull. Windlasses, anchor chains and anchor hawse are molded into the piece. There are five sets of bollards and assorted other deck fittings. DML includes locator outlines for the forward superstructure, which will help the modeler in assembly. The balance of the main deck is part of the hull. Part of the superstructure base is molded to the hull. This includes two Aztec inclined ladders. I would suggest using a hobby knife to cut these out. Then clean up the positions and add generic photo-etch inclined ladders. Deck detail includes nine sets of bollards, ten closed chocks, lockers or smoke generators at the stern, plus a few other fittings. As with the forecastle, there are locator lines on the deck to help in positioning other structures.

Some decks have Oerlikon tubs molded to the piece with nice grid tread plates. The superstructure parts have the best detail. Portholes are deep and beg to be drilled out. There are plenty of detailed doors, inclined ladders, funnel base louvers and piping to add texture and interest to the superstructure parts. Other nice parts on this sprue are platforms with hollow tops to flag bags, curved front bridge face and the decks with ring mount plates for the directors. The director base rings have rivet head detail and although I will admit that these appear to be over scale, as does the grid tread plates for the AA mounts, I like the look.

A Sprue - Hull & Superstructure
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Sprue B – Weapons
Two B sprues are included in the kit. This appears to be a generic DML weapons sprue, as all sorts of AA guns and other fittings are found here. Only about 30% of the parts on these sprues are used. These parts are davits, twin Bofors, carley rafts, anchors, four tube torpedo mounts, AA tubs, small boats, depth charge racks, searchlights, hose reels and what appears to be Mk 51 directors. Actually this kit is designed to be the initial fit of San Diego with 1.1-inch guns, so you would not use the twin Bofors unless you decided to build the kit as post December-1943. With all of the parts included in this kit that certainly seems possible but additional references would be required as the instructions only show the January 1942 – November 1943 fit. Some of these parts are optional, such as the depth charge racks. DML also includes depth charge racks on the included photo-etch fret. My personal preference would be to cut down the plastic part so that the brass rack could be folded over the plastic depth charges. AA tubes have the same grid plate pattern found on the AA positions on A sprue. I don't like the Mk 51 directors, as they appear to be large boxes atop pedestals, rather than the smaller and much more detailed shape of the actual directors.

B Sprues - Weapons
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C Sprue – Lower Hull
This sprue contains the lower hull parts for those wishing to build the ship full hull and the display stand. The lower hull has nice bilge keels and central keel at the stern. The sides bulge out approximately where the armor belt starts. The Atlanta class had only a 3 ½-inch belt and the bulges appear somewhat over scale. As mentioned previously the name plate is for the Atlanta and not the San Diego.

C Sprue - Lower Hull
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K Sprues – Weapons & Fittings
Four of these sprues are included with the kit. They were originally designed for the DML Essex class carrier kits. As with the B Weapons sprue, only a portion of the parts are used. These are primarily the 20mm Oerlikon guns. Each 20mm is of two parts. One is the combined shield and pedestal and the other is the gun. They may be a trifle over scale but nonetheless will look good on the ship with three dimensions rather than flatter photo-etch 20mm guns. Oddly, DML shows quad 40mm guns as being used but at most there was only one 40mm quad position, which replaced the aft 1.1-inch gun mount on the quarterdeck after December 1943. Other parts used are twin 5-inch guns, optional square carley rafts and 5-inch directors.

K Sprues - Weapons & Fittings
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L Sprues – 5-Inch/38 Turrets
There are two of these sprues and they were also originally designed for the DML Essex kits. Not only does the sprue have Essex printed on it but the presence of an Essex island on each sprue is another clue. The only parts used off of these two sprues are the 5-inch gun turrets. These parts are definitely the ones to use as they offer the best detail by far over all of the twin turrets found on the B and K weapons sprues. After an exhaustive check of the instructions, I could not find any place for attachment of an Essex class islands, or rather two Essex class islands. So there are further parts for your spares bin.

L Sprues - Turrets
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Brass Photo-Etch Fret
One obvious distinction included with this Premium Edition is a brass photo-etch fret designed specifically for this model. The biggest features are the four 1.1-inch AA gun mounts included. Each mount has two pieces, a relief-etched frame and the guns. I applaud Dragon for including these in the fret as the 1.1-inch AA gun normally appears too clunky when executed in plastic. These brass mounts appear easy to assemble, detailed and have the necessary fineness in detail to stand out on the finished model. Two different types of main search radar are included on the fret. Again, these brass parts are infinitely superior to the solid plastic parts also found in the kit. A smaller radar is included for the main mast. The time of the fit that you are building will determine which radar to attach to the foremast. Two stern depth charge racks are included but I would use these in conjunction with the plastic depth charges found in the kit. In fact the instructions show these parts being combined. The fret includes seven run of three-bar railing. These runs are very well done with drooping rail and stanchion supports. There are also fourteen runs in five different lengths of two-bar rail for the superstructure. These appear to be custom-cut to conform to the required positions without a need to cut or adjust them. Unfortunately there are no brass radars included for the directors.

Brass Photo-Etch Fret
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Decal Sheet
The DML San Diego has a brand new decal sheet from Cartograf of Italy. Decals are present for all four of the first batch of the Atlanta class. Included are stern names, hull numbers, national flags and bow jacks.

Box Art & Decal Sheet
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This is in the standard format used by Dragon. It is one large, fold out sheet with a total of eight pages. The first pages lays out the sprues found in the kit and shades in blue parts that are not used. Page two has an icon key, color list in Aqueous Hobby Color, Mr. Color and Model Master color numbers and blow up assembly diagrams of the twin Bofors, quad Bofors, 1.1-inch guns, 20mm Oerlikons and directors. In the next five pages the assembly of the DML San Diego is presented in twelve sequenced steps. It is logically laid out and presented through clear drawings and the use of icons. Most of the icons identify optional parts or where it is necessary to cut a part. Each part to be attached is not only shown by a drawing but also indicated by sprue number. He last page provides a plan and both profiles of the ship for three different periods of her career. The first is the Measure 12 Mod worn in 1942 with splotch pattern. The second is the dazzle pattern worn in 1944 and the third is the overall navy blue Measure 21 worn in 1945.

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Dragon provides a vast number of parts in their Premium Edition kit for USS San Diego. However, only about 40% to 50% of the parts are used as Dragon has included upgraded, more detailed parts for some items, as well as older parts found in the previous Atlanta release. A brand-new photo-etch fret designed for this kit and new decal sheet are also very significant upgrades that add detail to the Premium Edition. The Atlanta class has always been popular and with the array of different AA guns and radar, almost any fit of the ships of the class can be duplicated.