In the age of sail an admiralís staff was minimal, maybe a flag lieutenant, maybe a clerk, but there werenít many. If the flagship was a two decker, the admiral would take over the captainís cabin and the captain would boot his subordinate officers out of the wardroom. It was a 1st or 2nd rate three decker, the ship already had admiralís quarters and room for the minimal staff. Not much changed with the advent of the age of steam. However, by the turn of the century the size of the staff started to increase. In 1914 a reserve officer named Filson Young finagled his way onto the staff of Vice Admiral David Beatty, commander of the British battle cruiser force. Young wanted to document Beatty and the battle cruisers with their history. Beatty, who certainly suffered no self-esteem problems, saw this as a perfect opportunity for someone beside himself to toot Beattyís horn. Young became the historian of the battle cruisers and defacto publicist for Beatty. Young was aboard the Lion at the Battle of Dogger Bank but latter in 1915 had to leave because the berthing space was now needed for operational staff. Young went on to author With the Battle Cruisers for this short period of service but his departure reflected the increasing need for larger staffs.
The need for larger naval staffs was recognized between the two world wars and the USN built cruisers with additional staff space for use as flagships. With World War Two the size of staffs again rose dramatically. It was not only the need for larger naval staffs with meteorologists, aviation specialists and larger operation staffs but also the need to coordinate multi-service operations that multiplied the need to house large staffs at sea. World War Two saw intensive amphibious operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific. There the need was not only for a large naval staff but also for a large marine or army staff to command and coordinate amphibious operations. Admiral Kelly Turner came up with an answer for the Solomons campaign. He converted a transport into a command ship. The transport had increased space for the additional personnel but was vulnerable to combat damage and was slow. The USN recognized the need for warships specifically designed to serve as command ships and not as a combatant.
At the end of the war the USN still had a great number of hulls in the process of construction. The question was which one was most suitable to be converted as a dedicated command ship. In 1942 the USN had used the limited combat experience to redesign and improve on the prewar Baltimore, Cleveland and Atlanta classes of cruisers. This resulted in the Oregon City class of "improved" Baltimores, Fargo class of "improved" Clevelands and the Oakland class of "improved" Atlantas. The Oakland class was clearly too small to serve as a command ship. Since the Fargo class still suffered to a lesser degree the overweight condition of the Cleveland design, it wasnít really suitable. This left the Oregon City class as the only "improved" design with sufficient size and displacement for use as a command ship. At the end of World War Two, three of the Oregon City class, Oregon City, Rochester and Albany, had been launched for completion as cruisers. However, five more of the class had already been laid down. Four of these were suspended and subsequently scrapped but the 4th Oregon City cruiser, USS Northampton CA-125, was ordained for a different fate.
Northamptonwas laid down as CA-125 on August 31, 1944, the 4th ship in the Oregon City Class. On August 11, 1945 work on the cruiser was suspended at which point she was 56.2% complete. She lingered in this state until the admirals decided what to do with this half-finished cruiser. In July 1946 it was decided that she would be finished as a Headquarters Ship. To maximize the benefits of having a large dedicated command ship, the design would have to be entirely reworked. The armor, hull and machinery would be kept but the ship would no longer need a cruiser's armament. The space freed by the elimination of the armament could be used for the extra space needed for command staffs. Finally on July 1, 1948 Northampton was restarted to a completely new design and to a completely new designation as tactical command ship CLC-1.
During the intervening two years from 1946 to 1948, her role as command ship had also significantly changed. Not since the Battle of Actium had there been a dedicated National Command Ship, when Cleopatra had her huge golden galley. It had been decided that Northampton would not only be a command ship for multi-service operations but also she would be fitted to be the National Command Ship for the President and presidential staff. Although the USA was still the only power to possess the atomic bomb it was recognized that sooner or later the Soviet Union would also have the weapon. Accordingly the Northampton was made "atomic proof". This of course couldnít stop a direct hit or near miss but could provide radiation shielding and overpressure ventilation system to prevent fallout from entering the internal ventilation system. Northampton received the official governmental designation of NECPA for National Emergency Command Post Afloat. After almost nine years from the date she was laid down, USS Northampton CLC-1 was commissioned on March 7, 1953. Her standard displacement was 13,000-tons with a full load displacement of 17,204-tons.
A command ship needed internal space for operational space and berthing of the large staffs that evolved through the course of World War Two. Although the Northampton hull was spacious, there still wasnít enough room. To further increase space another entire deck was added to the top of the hull. In addition to the higher freeboard because of the extra hull deck, the superstructure was completely different. The Northampton sported a high rounded bridge, which appeared almost futuristic compared to the angular superstructure of the Baltimore/Oregon City classes. A large, heavy tower was added, similar to the tower on the US fast battleship designs. This would allow for updates with heavier and better radar arrays. The first radar installed at this position was a massive diamond shaped SPS-2 with a detection range of 300 miles. A second, smaller tower was also added on the aft superstructure, affording even more space for electronic systems. The single stack was about the only carry-over from the Oregon City heavy cruiser external design. Another unique feature of this unique ship was a towering 125-foot pylon antenna/mast fitted on the forecastle. Posed like a huge upright spear on the bow of the ship, the purpose was to give the ship unmatched communication ability.
Northamptonreceived various other radars in addition to the SPS-2. The aft tower was given SPS-3 array but this proved to be a flop so it was replaced by the SPS-12 in 1956 and SPS-290. The forward tower later also received a parabolic dish. Later a small mast was added by 1955 between the 2nd gun mount and bridge, which was fitted with a SK-2 antenna. She was retyped CC-1 on April 15, 1961. The SPS-2 was replaced in 1963, at first by a very small rectangular array and then with parabolic dishes in increasing sizes. At the end of her career it was a very large solid parabolic dish on the forward tower.
The Northampton had dumped all of the cruiser armament, but a ship of this size still needed some armament. For the main armament she was given four Mk 42 5-inch/54 automatic loading guns. For AA defense she was given four 3-inch/50 open twin gun mountings, which were later upgraded to 3-inch/70 twin gun turrets. The 3-inch guns were removed in 1962 and in 1968 three of the four 5-inch gun turrets were landed. Fire control for the 5-inch guns came from a single Mk 67 director on top of the bridge but as gun mounts were landed, the director was also removed. A weatherproof hangar in the aft hull was equipped with helicopters. Northampton spent hr entire career in the Atlantic or Mediterranean until she was decommissioned on January 14, 1970. In keeping with her design, she spent most of her operational career as a flagship but of greater worth to the USN, Northampton served as a practical operational laboratory for the command ship concept and equipment.
The IHP Northampton
It is in the realm of deck detail that the IHP Northampton steps up to the plate. The forecastle has details scattered everywhere from cutwater to superstructure front face. There are many of these details that make the Northampton especially appealing. One is the presence of asymmetrical fittings, which break up the normal deck pattern. Another is the presence of unique "funky" fittings found with this one off ship. Even at the cutwater there is a unique detail, the cutwater bulkhead has a short front face. You will quickly notice two pylon towers with the second one larger and taller. These fittings are not alone with one bollard on centerline forward of the first pylon and two more flanking twin bollard fittings. More detail is found clustered around the larger, second pylon. These include access coamings on centerline fore and aft and flanking bollard fittings. Just after the end of the forecastle deck edge bulkheads another cluster of fittings is found arranged as a row across the deck. At deck edge are closed chocks. Inboard are two more access hatches and two-deck hawse leading into the chain locker in front of three windlasses, rounded out by come ventilators.
From the anchor machinery to the front face of the superstructure is a hodge-podge of asymmetrically arranged detail. The first gun mount position, offset to starboard dominates this area but there are many other details to keep it company. Whether they are open chocks, coamings or the assorted other fittings, there are enough fittings here to have an ample scattering of light gray superstructure paint to contrast with the dark deck gray. When you get to the 01 deck superstructure, the main deck is reduced to narrow gangways along each side. There is still is an occasional fitting here but the detail moves to the superstructure. At 01 level is the second gun mount but this one is offset to port. A short thick pylon is even further offset to port before reaching a curved breakwater. This appears to resemble a breakwater in front of the bridge but this feature is normally found on the forecastle, not one-third of the way from the bow on the 01 deck. If a breakwater, it does appear too thick for that type of fitting. Immediately behind this is the outline for placement of the bridge. Thank goodness IHP does place outlines on the decks for addition of the superstructure parts, as not all companies do so. It certainly makes aligning the parts easier.
The bulk of the 01 deck will be covered by the forward superstructure, stack and aft superstructure. However, there are still other fittings to be found at this level. Four half-circle gun shields are provided for the twin three-inch AA guns. Flanking each side of the stack are coamings or lockers. In contrast to the forward gun mounts, the two after gun mounts are on centerline. X mount is on the 01 deck with asymmetrical fittings fore and aft of the position. The quarterdeck still has a generous amount of area and the Y gun mounting is surrounded by a sea of deck fittings. There are three tube shaped pylons that certainly would have restricted fire of Y gun. Other detail are two small deck houses, multiple twin bollard fittings, multiple chocks and some access coamings. The helicopter hanger lift is not outlined on the quarterdeck but additional twin bollards, single bollards and other fittings are found at the stern. The sides of the 01 deck have numerous access doors, strakes and other features. A three-sided structure extends outward at the base of each three-inch position. I did not notice any casting defects in the hull casting and detail quality was good but not spectacular.
The stack is massive and has additional good detail. It has a flared stack cap at the top. There are a series of ventilation louvers about halfway up but they do not have individual slat detail. There are two doors on each side of the base and five equipment boxes slightly above door level. The steam pipes at the rear of the stack appear slightly over-scale. Behind the stack is a multi-story deckhouse. This part has open walkways part of the way up, equipment boxes and ends with multiple smaller deckhouses of different shapes on top. The aft superstructure part, while not as large as the forward superstructure, is still massive. Consisting of at least seven levels, it is somewhat of a pyramid shape at the base with the apex forward. The 02 deck culminates with an open deck around an aft director tube, surrounded by solid splinter shield bulkheads. The 04 deck is inset from the lower part of the aft superstructure with much open deck space, again encircled by solid bulkheads. Starting at deck 05, there are at least three stories to the aft tower. At the base are doors and all the way up are various equipment boxes. The tower has vertical ladder cast onto the part. A smaller equipment tube is found atop the 05 aft deck. Also found on this sheet are two tall pylons, one fitted forward and one offset to the port aft.
Smaller Resin Parts
Another sheet has the radar. In common with all resin and plastic kits, the radars are solid and present the clearest need to add photo-etch replacements. There are six radars on this sheet with two large parabolic, one large rectangular, one small oval and one small rectangular arrays, plus a commo dome. IHP provides optional radars for the 1963 Northampton with small rectangular array on the fore tower and 1964 fit with large parabolic array. At the very least the three large arrays should be replaced, however, the parts included are detailed within the constraints of the medium. The next sheet has the shipís boats. They come in four different designs. Two are large launches with canvas covers over the cockpits. The other five are open boats with two large whalers and three gigs. The one or two part casting sheets have an assortment of platforms and accordingly should be sanded to reduce the thickness of the platform. IHP rounds out the parts with metal anchor chain and various brass and plastic rods, which are cut to length for various whip antennae, gun barrels and topmasts.
With the instructions, the IHP Northampton displays its craftsman roots. They are functional in that they show the placement of the parts but if you are looking for a set of instructions, which will hold your hand with every step of assembly, you wonít find them here. IHP has a parts lay-down in which each individual part is numbered and that same number is used to identify the attachment location of that part during assembly. This sheet also has three sub-assemblies, which include 5-inch gun turrets, SPS-8 radar, and foremasts. The reverse shows the attachment of main superstructure parts, along with boat cranes, some pylons, tower platforms, directors and radars. The next sheet concentrates on attachment of the smaller parts with the other deck pylons, antennae, turrets, bridge wings and boats. Lastly a profile and plan of the 1964 fit Northampton is included. Other than the P&P, all drawings are hand done. They are more caricatures than a portrait but I must emphasize that they are functional and get the job done. No photo-etch comes with this kit, so third party modern USN photo-etch will provide ample opportunity to add the finer details of the design. At the very least, large radar arrays and the boat booms should be replaced with photo-etch and I strongly recommend addition of main deck and platform railing and inclined ladders. However, the possibilities donít end with these items, as door and other smaller details will benefit with the addition of photo-etch parts.
IHP presents most of the fixuns for a delicious dinner of the CLC-1 USS Northampton. This one-off large command cruiser served for almost two decades as a fleet command ship and its increased freeboard and towering superstructure makes a truly unique appearance in the 1950s and 1960s USN fleet. The IHP Northampton can use photo-etch and in keeping with the Craftsman type of model, the Northampton provides good but not spectacular resin castings.