At 10:30 Marblehead was going in circles at 25 knots, the rudder still jammed hard aport, and she was settling by the head so much that Tromp moved in with the apparent intention of rescuing survivors when the ship went down. Van Gergen ordered men operating forward to move aft to change the ship’s center of gravity.” (The Lonely Ships, The Life and Death of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, David McKay Company, Inc., New York 1976, by Edwin P. Hoyt, at page220)

In 1880 the United States had no navy to speak of. A single Peruvian ironclad could have destroyed the entire United States Navy with ease. Since the American Civil War the USN had been shamefully over-looked by Congress and ancient steam powered wooden ships were still in service with rusting, totally obsolete monitors of no combat vale, resting in reserve in various ports. Chester Arthur could be said to be the father of the modern USN steel navy. This product of the graft filled Tammany Hall political machine had formerly been the revenue collector for the Port of New York , the plumpest plum in the patronage package. As the candidate for the Democratic Party, Arthur had been elected President. As President, Arthur saw the deplorable state of the USN and it was under his administration that the USN was reborn like the Phoenix , to rise from the ashes of Civil War construction, to become not just a minor regional naval power but to become a global naval power.

At first it had to be baby steps in building a modern steel navy from scratch. Foreign designs were purchased and US naval architects had to learn their craft through trial and error. I series of bizarre protected cruisers of mediocre merit were produced. When it came to battleships Congress still saw the battleship as a tool of imperialism and were stoutly against full fledged blue ocean battleship procurement. The USS Maine was first designated as an armored cruiser and the Texas and Indiana classes were designed as inferior coastal defense battleships to placate a wary Congress. It wasn’t until the design of the USS Iowa that a US battleship had the necessary freeboard to be considered a deep ocean first class battleship. Then came a tremendous explosion of battleship designs given even further emphasis by the success of the USN in the Battles of Manila Bay and Santiago di Cuba in the Spanish-American War. By the dawn of the 20th Century the USN had become a global naval power to match her status as the new Imperial Republic with new colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific acquired from Spain as the result of the war. The over-looked problem of having colonies is that they are vulnerable. Every Imperial power has faced the same challenge, which was never really overcome. Just as Germany couldn’t defend her Pacific colonies in the First World War, so too the U.S., Great Britain, France or the Netherlands couldn’t defend their Pacific colonies/possessions at the start of World War Two in the Pacific. However, they tried, with disastrous results.

For the first quarter of a century, the USN was unbalanced in composition. There was money for battleships, armored cruisers and destroyers but very little money was spent on scout cruisers. The battleships and armored cruisers were the muscle of the fleet, accompanied by the flotillas of destroyers for torpedo attack on any enemy fleet but there was very little that could be used to acquire the location of a hostile fleet so that it could be engaged by the battle line. A boxer could be immensely strong with a killer right punch but if that boxer were blind then the boxer wouldn’t be able to see where to land that punch. In other navies the light scout cruiser provided the eyes of the fleet. Their mission was to operate independently, far in advance of the fleet, to locate and maintain contact with the enemy, until the battleline could close and engage. To mix metaphors, the lack of eyes for the fleet was the Achilles’ heel of the USN. In that first quarter century of growth, the USN built only three scout cruisers. These were the ships of the Birmingham class. Displacing 3,750-tons and armed with two 5-inch/50, six 3-inch/50 and two 21-inch torpedo tubes, they were slow with a top speed of only 24-knots and didn’t have a very impressive range. By 1916 even Congress had tumbled to this acute shortage of vital platforms and in the huge 1916 construction program had provided funds for scout cruisers. This would become the largest single order for cruisers of one class up to that time, the Omaha class.

By 1920 there were only three types of cruisers, slow obsolete armored cruisers whose type had not been built since the early 1900s, the battle cruiser, which replaced the armored cruiser and were ranked as capital ships, and the light cruiser. Nobody was building armored cruisers anymore and with the Washington Naval Treaty battle cruiser construction came to a quick halt. Only in the arena of the light cruisers could a naval power build as many ships as it could afford. The initial 8-inch gunned Treaty cruisers were still called light cruisers until the London Treaty of 1930 created a sub-division of the heavy cruiser and light cruiser, marked by the gun size not displacement. Ships armed with 6.1-inch guns or smaller were designated light cruisers while ships carrying 6.2-inch to 8-inch guns were designated heavy cruisers. The Omaha class remained in the light cruiser category but at the point of their design had a number of missions, including that of scout cruiser.


Plan, Profile & Quarter Views
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The genesis for the Omaha class was a sketch design in1917 for a scout cruiser with ten 6-inch guns in wing positions. As originally designed, the Omaha class ships were provided only with eight 6-inch/53 casemate guns, providing only a four gun broadside, as the open two wing guns amidships had been removed from the original sketch design. This was considered too light for ships of their size so in an afterthought, the design was reworked to include two twin 6-inch centerline turrets, one fore and one aft. To call them turrets is really a misnomer as the gun houses had no armor and only provided splinter and weather protection. There was another problem with the design. The USN wanted very fast ships of 35-knots but also wanted a good range of 10,000 nm at 10 knots. Given the displacement and technology available at the time, these two desires were incompatible. The machinery available to produce the high speeds required was inherently inefficient at lower speeds, so the USN had to either lower the top speed of the design to keep the endurance requirement or reduce the endurance requirement to keep the top speed requirement. The USN chose to keep the speed at the expense of endurance. Range dropped to 6,500 nm at 10-knots, which greatly curtailed their use as scouts. The USN was willing to accept this sacrifice because it saw naval aviation taking over the role of scouts from ships. Although one can see the logic to the argument, naval aviation was still not adequate at the time, as naval aviation was still in its infancy and couldn’t operate in bad weather. Even in bad weather, a scout cruiser could locate and maintain contact with an enemy.

Finally in March 1920 the entire class of ten cruisers were ordered but were broken into two groups for construction time. The first group of Omaha CL-4, Milwaukee CL-5 and Cincinnati CL-6 were ordered to be laid down immediately. However, construction of the other seven, Raleigh CL-7, Detroit CL-8, Richmond CL-9, Concord CL-10, Trenton CL-11, Marblehead CL-12 and Memphis CL-13 were held back as the Engineering Bureau wished to tinker with the design to see if hydrophones could be added. These hydrophones were deigned to allow the cruisers to pick up the underwater machinery sounds from an enemy force at a distance of 12 miles, while the cruiser was moving up to a speed of 15-knots. Obviously aimed to improve the scout mission of the cruisers, in theory the hydrophones would allow the ships to maintain contact at night or in bad weather without the necessity of getting too close to the quarry. Approved in January 1921 these hydrophones were placed in 30-feet long blisters on the lower hull forward. In addition to the twelve 6-inch/53 guns, the Omaha class was completed with four 3-inch/50 AA guns (the design called for two but this was doubled during construction), ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, and stowage for 224 mines with mine rails on the quarterdeck. The torpedo tubes had an unusual arrangement. Two three tube mounts were placed on the weather deck with one mount on each side aft of the catapults. There were two tube mounts one deck lower with one mount underneath the catapult on each side. Large rectangular doors on the sides of the hull would drop down to allow the torpedoes to be fired. From the start the location of the lower tubes proved problematic. By 1924 every commander of one of the class complained about the two tube mounts and recommended their removal.


Hull Detail
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Because of changes and additions the Omaha class proved to be badly overloaded for their size and displacement. Too much was packed into too small a frame. The addition of two centerline turrets, two additional 3-inch AA guns,  two catapults and mine warfare capability had added too much weight to the initial design and they rode two feet lower than designed. One consequence was that the lower casemate guns, even though in the superstructure, were flooded in even moderate weather. The Omaha class cruisers were the last design of cruiser produced by any navy with long tradition of wing/hull side main guns. While turning or in any seaway the lower tubes were worthless, as they flooded when the hull doors were lowered. Crew requirements had jumped from 330 to 425 creating very cramped living conditions. To create more berthing space, the galleys were moved from inside the hull into deckhouses erected between the second and third funnels. The Omaha class was the first USN design to adopt the unit system of propulsion in which each boiler/engine combination was designed as a separate unit, separated from the other propulsion unit. In theory one torpedo would not take out all of the propulsion and just localize the damage to one unit, allowing the ship to retain motive power. The trade off came in terms of space. The unit system required more hull space than the previous system that had concentrated boilers and engines.

The ships had steel decks with no wooden planking in order to save weight. Ventilation was fairly poor so the interior of the hull became an oven when the ships were in the tropics. This was compounded by minimal insulation, which in addition to making them hot in the summer or tropics, made them cold in the winter. The jump in crew size had additional complications for crew habitability over and above cramped berthing space. The ships were not equipped with waist discharge chutes or scuttles. Because the design allowed for 16 men per head, the jump in complement size meant there were 24 men per head. As a consequence, the Omaha class cruisers were regarded as filthy ships. Because their limited endurance they quickly lost their scouting mission and instead were used most often as destroyer flotilla flagships, equivalent to the role of Japanese light cruisers of the same vintage. The centerline turrets were too small and too cramped reducing their rate of fire when compared to the casemate guns. Even with the gun house, the aft twin turret was too low and subject to being flooded in a seaway. A number of remedies were advanced to lessen the negative characteristics but in general with limited funding in the period, they were considered too expensive to undertake. Three weight reducing measures were undertaken. The twin torpedo tubes were removed and the hull side doors disappeared. The lower two casemate guns in the aft superstructure were landed and the stowed mines/mine rails removed, creating more crew space. It had been proposed that one of these lost guns be added back as a single centerline gun on the aft superstructure. Only Marblehead received this centerline gun and four of the other nine just deleted the two guns without adding the centerline replacement. Omaha , Milwaukee , Concord , Trenton and Memphis retained all twelve 6-inch/53 guns. Marblehead had landed her single centerline gun by 1939.


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By 1933 the ships started adding more weight in the form of AA guns. Trenton was the experimental ship to add machine guns to the tripod fore mast. In 1938 Concord was given two additional centerline 3-inch/50 guns aft. This proved beneficial and was incorporated into the other ships with fore and aft centerline positions. At the time of Pearl Harbor the Omaha class was still grossly overloaded and just did not have the space or stability to add on a dramatic increase of AA guns that the newer, larger cruisers experienced during the war. They had eight 3-inch/50 and eight .50 machine guns. To make space for a new AA system, something had to be removed. Around August 1942 two centerline 3-inch guns were removed and a quadruple 1.1-inch (Chicago Piano) gun added at those locations. Starting late 1942 to early 1943 the 1.1-inch mounts and all remaining centerline 3-inch/50 guns were landed and replaced by twin 40mm Bofors mounts. Mk 51 directors were added in small tubs, first for the Chicago Pianos and then for the waist 3-inch guns, which had remained on the ships. With the fitting of the twin Bofors mounts, navigation bridge wings were further extended outward to serve as a platform to carry two 20mm Oerlikon guns on each wing. Additional Oerlikons were added to both the fore and aft superstructures and for some period of time some of the class also had waist Oerlikon positions. The final appearance, at least with some of the ships, had replaced the two upper casemate guns forward with an additional two twin Bofors. Likewise, radar fits were limited. Early in 1942 the SC-1 and SG radars were fitted with a subsequent replacement of the SC-1 with the SK. Throughout their careers in WWII the Omaha class were regarded as not being able to serve with the first team and with some notable exceptions, were relegated to duties where they would not encounter a high aerial threat. One of these exceptions was Marblehead , which encountered a high aerial threat, not through intent but because of circumstances.

Marblehead CL-12 was laid down on August 4, 1920 and launched October 9, 1923. When commissioned on September 8, 1924, she underwent trials and then was sent to the United Kingdom and then onto the Mediterranean . In 1925 she was sent to the Pacific, first on a cruise to Australia . In 1927 she operated off the shoes of Nicaragua and then with Richmond and Trenton to Shanghai to operate as a Yangtze River unit. The next year Marblehead was reassigned to the Atlantic and for the next five years operated out of ports on the east coast. From 1933 to 1938 it was back to the Pacific operating out of west coast ports. In January 1938 came a momentous reassignment. Marblehead was detached from the Pacific Fleet and sent to Cavite , Philippines , for duty with the US Asiatic Fleet. Since the 1890s the US had maintained an Asiatic squadron, based through British permission in Hong Kong . This was the squadron commanded by Admiral Dewey, which at the start of the Spanish American War sailed on to smash an old and obsolete Spanish cruiser squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay. As the result of the war the US acquired the Philippines , as well as other islands. They no longer had to base the Asiatic Squadron at the sufferance of the United Kingdom as the US now had their own base at Cavite near Manila . Shortly before December 7, 1941 Marblehead , along with four destroyers, was sent by Admiral Hart, the commander of the Asiatic Fleet, to Tarakan on the northeast tip of Borneo . Hart saw that war was imminent and wanted to have an initial dispersal of his ships so that they were not concentrated at Cavite , which would be a magnate for any initial Japanese attack. Tarakan was far enough away to be outside the area of any initial strike but was still close enough to provide quick concentration. After the Japanese attack Marblehead first was used as a convoy escort with ships going between the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies .

By January circumstances were different. The Japanese had landed on Luzon and Cavite was no longer tenable as a fleet base. The Japanese were moving in on Borneo and the Dutch East Indies in order to acquire their all important oil fields. Tarakan had been taken by Japanese amphibious attack on January 11, 1942. Hart was commander of all allied naval forces in the Far East but he had maintained his headquarters ashore in Manila , instead of his flagship, USS Houston. On December 23 he left Manila with the intent to join MacArthur on Corregidor but instead the next day hopped a submarine bound for Surabaya on Java, where he arrived new years day. At sea Admiral William Glassford commanded the US forces from his flagship USS Boise in the Dutch East Indies . On January 22 the Japanese sent a convoy out of Tarakan for an attack on Balikpapan , near the southeast tip of Borneo . This convoy was spotted that night by two US submarines. Boise , Marblehead and the four destroyers were anchored at Koepang when the submarines’ report was received. Marblehead had already suffered a mechanical casualty as one turbine was out of operation and the cruiser was only capable of half speed. Glassford still sortied his force whereupon Boise promptly piled up upon an uncharted rock, taking her out of action. Glassford moved his flag to Marblehead and Boise was sent to Surabaya for repairs. An angry Admiral Hart, still in Surabaya , radioed Glassford to intercept the Japanese convoy just with the four destroyers. Glassford proceeded with Marblehead placed just south of Balikpapan to support the destroyers’ attack. Hart sent orders directly to Commander Paul Talbot of Destroyer Division 59 with one word, “Attack”.


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Talbot had four flush deck destroyers of World War One vintage. On January 23 Talbot had his four destroyers in column with his flagship John D. Ford on point, followed by Pope, Parrott and Paul Jones, cruised north up the Celebes coastline southeast of Borneo, with Glassford trailing behind in Marblehead on a different approach coarse due north towards Balikapapan. Around sunset the destroyers changed course, turning northwest on a course directly towards Balikapapan. By 20:00 speed was changed to 27-knots with orders for a night torpedo attack on Japanese shipping at Balikapan. Around 02:00 January 24, the destroyers were close to Balikpapan , still tearing through the sea at 27-knots, and the Japanese were caught completely by surprise. First a Japanese cruiser was sighted, which started blue signal lamps at the John D. Ford. Talbot didn’t respond and the four flushdeckers, swiftly passed by the puzzled cruiser, which was the Naka. Next came a division of Japanese destroyers, which again started flickering signal lamps, which did not get a response. The cruiser and destroyers remained slumbering in spite of the lack of response by the four destroyers traveling at high speed through their area. Since the war started, the Japanese naval forces had not had any encounter with allied surface ships handled in an aggressive manner. Why should it be different now? The Japanese must have figured that it was some green destroyer commander who was too lazy to respond to their repeated signaling or else didn’t see the signaling. Finally the fat transports were spotted.

Parrott was the first to launch torpedoes in spreads of three and then five fish, all of which missed the transports. John D. Ford and Paul Jones then fired one torpedo each, which also missed. Talbot by then had zoomed past the transports and had to reverse course southwards for another run parallel to the transport line. In this new attack Parrott was the first to draw blood. Three fish were launched at the Sumanoura Maru, which was carrying explosives. This time Parrott hit and the transport went up in a thunderclap explosion as her cargo detonated, taking all hands with her. The Japanese finally woke up but didn’t put two and two together. Instead of associating the transport’s explosion with the earlier sighting of unidentified destroyers, Rear Admiral Nishimura on the Naka took his cruiser and nine destroyers to sea away from the flushdeckers. He assumed that it was a submarine to seaward that had torpedoed Sumanoura Maru. In part Nishimura had reason to believe it was a submarine. Hours earlier the Dutch submarine K-14 had torpedoed and sunk the transport Jukka Maru at sea off Balikpapan . However, the K-14 had been ordered to leave the area to prevent friendly fire casualties in the pending US destroyer attack and was long gone when Talbot attacked.


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With the Japanese squadron rushing off directly away from the flushdeckers into the darkness to the east, Talbot’s other three destroyers fired more torpedoes. At least one was a hit because the Taksukami Maru also blew up. For Talbot it was time for another course change 90 degrees to starboard, directly into the heart of the anchorage. What appeared to be a destroyer was sighted and Pope and Parrott fired torpedoes at it. It wasn’t a destroyer but a 750-ton torpedo boat, which was torn apart by three torpedo hits. With burning and exploding ships, the harbor was now a beehive of activity as the remaining transports were cranking up their anchors in preparation for getting the hell out of Dodge. Paul Jones bagged another ammunition ship, the Kuretake Maru. Her extinction was marked like the other two by a tremendous explosion. In the confusion Talbot’s column broke apart into two elements. John D. Ford turned northwest to go deeper into the harbor and was followed by Pope. However, Parrott now without any more torpedoes headed south out of the harbor, followed by Paul Jones. Pope was also out of torpedoes but she and John D. Ford opened up on the crowded inner harbor with their 4-inch guns. John D. Ford was hit a couple of times and four crewmen were wounded. Talbot had one torpedo left on his flagship and shopped around for the best target. A transport was spotted to port and John D.Ford’s torpedo plowed right into it. This time it wasn’t an ammunition ship and the transport took a quick list but survived the torpedoing. With all torpedoes gone John D. Ford and Pope headed south out of the area. All four destroyers joined up after dawn and headed south out of the area. It may have been a small engagement, little remembered in the huge defeats to come but the Battle of Balikapapn showed what even the old four-pipers could do with a good plan, when aggressively handled and with a little luck.

While the destroyers were slashing at the transports in Balikpapan , Admiral Glassford on Marblehead was loitering about 50 miles due south of the port, reading to support the extraction of the destroyers. When Glassford received word that all of the destroyers were clear of the port and were not being followed, he turned his cruiser due south because the cruiser was far slower than the destroyers. Although Balikpapan had been a victory, it was just a pinprick for the Japanese. With Borneo falling they set their sites on the next major objectives, Sumatra followed by Java. On February 1, 1942 Hart set up the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Combined Striking Force, which combined the available surface warships of four countries and placed them under the tactical command of Dutch Admiral Doorman. On February 3 Doorman had assembled a large portion of the force and raised his flag on De Ruyter. With De Ruyter near Surabaya were Houston, Marblehead , Tromp, and seven US flushdeckers. Doorman received a contact report of a Japanese convoy headed south and around midnight sortied to intercept with his four cruisers, four of the US destroyers an additional four Dutch destroyers. At 09:49 the force sighted around 37 Japanese Nell bombers headed south. Doorman signaled his force to scatter on the theory that the Japanese formation would have to break apart with only a few bombers able to concentrate on any one target. This was still before the allies realized that concentrating their ships together for massed supporting AA fire was the best tactic in face of an air attack.

The Japanese force dropped to 14,000-feet and concentrated on Houston and Marblehead . The first two attacks missed completely but Marblehead received a near miss from the third wave at 10:19. In exchange the cruiser shot down one of her attackers. At 10:27 a fourth wave of seven Nells targeted Marblehead . One stick of bombs was perfectly aimed and straddled the ship. One bomb crashed through the deck amidships and destroyed the sickbay, wardroom and all adjacent compartments, as wellas starting a fire. Another bomb hit the quarterdeck, folded up the armored deck, wrecked the steering compartment, jammed the rudders hard to port and started a large fire. Marblehead , who had repaired her balky turbine after Balikpapan , was stuck cutting huge donuts in the ocean at 25-knots. A third bomb was a near miss that crumpled bow plating and allowed flooding forward. Marblehead kept churning up the sea in great circles, down by the head with a 10 degree list to starboard and fires amidships and on the quarterdeck. Fifteen crewmen were killed and 34 seriously injured. Doorman thought the Marblehead was finished and sent the Tromp in to rescue survivors. However, the old cruiser was far from finished. For Captain Robinson there were three equally essential priorities to save the Marblehead . The fires had to be brought under control to prevent their spread and further damage, the leaks especially those at the bow had to be stopped to stop the settling, and the rudders had to be freed. Houston had been injured as well as a bomb knocked out her aft 8-inch gun turret, which was never repaired. The powder in the turret exploded and the entire crew of the turret and handling room below ere killed. The last attack came in at 11:11 and went for De Ruyter but she was lucky and sustained only minor damage from near misses.


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After offering Marblehead assistance, which was declined, Houston turned south bound for the south coast of Java . De Ruyter circled Marblehead in order to intercede with any further attacks on the stricken cruiser. Although the rudders were still jammed by noon Robinson had acquired the art of steering his cruiser on a wobbly course by alternating power to the engines. De Ruyter and the four US destroyers were still with him. She followed the course of Houston bound for the same port, Tjilatjap on the south coast of Java . By midnight Doorman in De Ruyter felt confident that Marblehead was safe and parted company. De Ruyter picked up speed and disappeared into the darkness as Doorman hurried ahead Batavia to reorganize his shattered command. When Hart learned of the fiasco, he ordered Doorman to meet him at Tjilatjap on February 8. When Hart inspected his damaged ships on the 8th he decided that Houston would remain in the Java area. The aft turret could not be repaired but she still had the six guns of her forward turret. There was only one drydock in the area capable of taking a cruiser sized vessel and Houston was sent to this dydock in Surabaya . There was a much smaller drydock in Tjilatjap and Marblehead had her stern raised to free her rudders and repair the damage aft, leaving her with a damaged bow. For Hart there was no question of keeping the Marblehead with the ABDA force, her damage was too extensive. There was considerable doubt as to whether she could even make it to the nearest available drydock in Ceylon .

When Marblehead crept out of Tjilatjap on February 13 with her makeshift repairs, the future looked dark. The Japanese were closing in on both ends of Java. Now detached from the ABDA Combined Striking Force, it was a long way to Colombo in Ceylon with the possibility of hostile surface or air forces appearing at any minute. Captain Robinson and the crew of the cruiser had no way to know of the future of their crippled ship. They didn’t know that they were fortunate to have separated from the doomed ABDA Striking Force. In less than three weeks all of the cruisers and most of destroyers, which had served with Marblehead in the ABDA Striking Force were gone. Admiral Doorman, Tromp and De Ruyter were lost at the Battle of the Java Sea on February 27, while Houston , Exeter and Perth were lost at the Sunda Strait on February 28 trying to get out of the trap of the Java Sea . Lady Luck smiled on the old Marblehead and she did reach Colombo on February 21, where she received more minor temporary repairs before resuming her odyssey to the west to South Africa . Her timing was again fortunate in that she had already left the waters around Ceylon when Admiral Nagumo paid a call on the port in March with his Pearl Harbor carrier force in his Indian Ocean raid that claimed two more RN heavy cruisers and the aircraft carrier Hermes. It seemed that whenever Marblehead left a port, the Japanese arrived hard on her heels to wreak destruction upon those so unfortunate to have remained.

On March 24 the crippled Marblehead steamed into the port of Simonstown , South Africa , where she at long last could receive something greater than a temporary patch. Although now truly seaworthy for the first time since February 4, she still was in dire need of a complete refit and that took return to the United States . The Atlantic Ocean was not a healthy place for allied warships or merchant ships in spring 1942 but Marblehead cruised the length of the Atlantic without a U-Boat attack before reaching Brooklyn Navy Yard on May 4, 1942. On October 15, 1942 the cruiser was again ready to rejoin the war. In common with her sisters of the Omaha class, her assignment was picked to keep her out of an area of a high aerial attack threat. Assignment to the South Atlantic Fleet based at Recife and Bahiia , Brazil certainly qualified on that point. For the next year and a half her crew enjoyed the hospitable climes of the not too far South Atlantic until in February 1944. She spent the next five months on convoy duty in the North Atlantic , which by now was dominated by allied air power, both land based and operating from escort carriers with the convoys. In July Marblehead went to Palermo Sicily to support landings in Operation Avalanche, the landings in the south of France . From August 15 to the 17th her 6-inch guns provided bombardment support after which she was recalled to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for her second refit. The old cruiser was well past her prime and was kept on the east coast to provide training cruises to the midshipmen of Annapolis . She never got back to the fight and on November 1, 1945 Marblehead hauled down the stars and stripes for the last time. One of the handful of ships to survive from the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and the unrelenting allied defeats at the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies in the first four months of the war, Marblehead was finally stricken from the navy roles on November 28, 1945 and sold for breaking into scrap. (History from: The Battle of the Java Sea, Stein and Day, New York, 1968, by David A. Thomas; Cruisers of the U.S. Navy 1922-1962, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Marlyand 1984, by Stefan Terzibaschitsch, The Lonely Ships, The Life and Death of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, David McKay Company, Inc., New York 1976, by Edwin P. Hoyt; U.S. Cruisers, An Illustrated Design History, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1982, by Norman Friedman)


Photo-Etch Fret
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The Niko Model USS Marblehead 1942
When I first saw the box top label for the Niko Model 1942 Marblehead in 1:700 scale, I felt a surge of excitement. I instantly jumped to the conclusion that it was the fit of the Marblehead on February 4, 1942, as the ship appeared while serving in the ABDA Combined Striking Force and was critically damaged by Mitsubishi Nell bombers. Then I noticed the camouflage drawing in the instructions. She was shown in a false horizon camouflage measure not worn in February 1942 when the ship was probably painted overall in that unique Asiatic paint scheme, Cavite Blue. Then I noticed twin Bofors fore and aft. It was conclusive, this Marblehead was in a later fit. Since the Marblehead was in the Asiatic Fleet and ABDA Striking Force in early 1942 and spent three months wandering her way across the Indian and then Atlantic Oceans , she apparently entirely skipped the early 1942 refits with the Chicago Piano. Since she left the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the best equipped navy yards, on October 15, 1942 she apparently had received the twin Bofors fittings during her long repair and refit, just as Bofors mounts came in to replace the 1.1-inch quadruple mounts. At this time the cruisers fighting the Tokyo Express in the Slot off Guadalcanal , were fortunate to just get a handful of the rare Bofors mounts to partially replace the less than successful Chicago Pianos. Yet, because Marblehead was at the right place at the right time, she was one of the first in line to get the new AA guns. I would have preferred an early 1942 Marblehead but my preference does not detract from the quality of the model produced by Niko. As with all Niko Model products the castings are excellent. The bottom of the hull has a slight amount of casting flash that can be quickly sanded smooth. Otherwise there are no blemishes and the casting is of remarkably fine quality with very thin splinter shields and splendidly thin barrels.

The Hull Casting
As mentioned above Niko presents their standard fine quality hull casting. Sure there are pin hole voids on the bottom of the hull casting but none where they can be seen. Since the Omaha class had a such long gestation period the cruiser design shares many of the hull characteristics of flush deck four pipe destroyers designed in the same time period. Although not flush deck, as there was a deck break at the stern, the Omaha design was long, thin, with four funnels and a sharply tapered stern. This appearance is captured perfectly by Niko. The hull sides have a very slight tumblehome with a slightly flared forecastle and moderate sheer at the bow to keep the forecastle dry. The hull sides are generally smooth with a minimum of features. Large round anchor hawse fittings are found on either side of the bow. In the area of the forward superstructure the hull sides extend upwards two levels with two rows of portholes. The lower row extends aft to the deck break at the aft superstructure close to the stern. Superstructure side detail is plentiful and finely done. The superstructure can be grouped into three widely spaced divisions, fore, amidship, and aft. The fore superstructure has the first  three levels cast integral to the hull. The lower level six-inch gun casemates are stars here. They extends outboard beyond the hull and have marvelously fine fine vertical supports on the upper fitting. Door fittings are found on each side of 03 level. The front face is dominated by a horse-shoe shaped gun platform for the forward twin Bofor mount. The amidship superstructure on the hull casting is a two story affair with four additional deck houses/fittings. The first fitting is a superbly executed large ventilator with a rectangular top curving down to the lower edge. The bulk of the amidship superstructure consists of three distinct structures. First is a square deck house with two doors on each side. Attached to this structure is a larger square deck house, which is slightly higher, flush with the forward deck house on the starboard side but extends outboard on the port, creating an asymmetrical appearance. Atop this deck house is a small square galley, flanked by angular J-shape ventilator fittings and an access door on each side, as well as the front face. Aft of this structure is the well for the third funnel, flanked by small deck houses, slightly outboard of the centerline deck house, with access doors. Flanking the fourth stack location are two five-sided small deck houses with a very small deck house just aft of the port side structure. In many aspects the aft superstructure is the most impressive of  the three groups of superstructure. Four levels are cast integral to the hull at this location. Of great interest is the mix of shapes found on the aft superstructure. The front face towers above the main deck, flush to the top platform, except for  a curious rectangular position, which juts forward at the 02 level. The superstructure sides are a riot of detail. The Marblehead already had her upper level six-inch casement guns landed for the aft superstructure but the remaining lower level positions have the same excellent detail found forward. The sides also have the same port hole and access door detail, as well as extraordinarily thin pipe work. Four platforms are on centerline, each overlooking the position aft of it. The highest platform has a flat angular forward face with  a rounded horse-shoe shaped form aft. This platform rests upon a deck house, which in turn rests upon a large triangular platform added in the 1942 refit for an Oerlikon gun platform. Below the gun platform is small Mk 51 director position, which in turn is above the aft horse-shoe shaped twin Bofor mount position. All four platforms are surrounded by thin splinter shielding.


Box Art, Decals & Instructions
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Deck Fittings
The forecastle is fairly short, however, it still has a goodly share of deck fittings. At each side of the top of the cutwater are two large closed chocks, apparently for streaming paravanes, followed by two open chocks. Further aft at the hull sides are twin bollard fittings. The chocks and bollard fittings are, as usual for Niko, remarkably finely cast. On centerline there are numerous fittings, mostly associated with the anchor machinery. Two fine deck hawse are raised fittings with holes into which the anchor chain will fit. Forward of the hawse fittings are fittings for a centerline twin bollard and a small circular deck plate. Offset to port behind the port deck hawse is a small deck access coaming. The remaining anchor chain handling fittings appear next. Plates with guide fittings leading to the chain locker are immediately forward of exceptionally well cast windlasses. Outboard and aft of each windlass is another small circular fitting. The long waist amidships is distinguished by the deck edge splinter shields for the amidship Oerlikon and three-inch AA gun positions. Each deck edge Oerlikon position has two single 20mm gun pedestals and ready ammunition lockers. Ready ammo lockers also appear at the thee-inch gun positions. The forward half amidsip has a small rectangular deck plate with mushroom ventilator fittings outboard and aft of the deck plate. Deck plates are centerline for the first two stacks. On top of the first amidship deck house are six asymmetrically arranged lockers. Aft of the amidship superstructure is a large rectangular deck plate between the wells for the two aft stacks. The area between the amidship superstructure and aft superstructure has only a handful of fittings with a deck access coaming, two outboard twin bollard fittings, and a J-shaped ventilator cowling offset to starboard. The triangular Oerlikon platform has four Oerlikon pedestals and two ready ammo lockers. There are four deck fittings for the short quarterdeck. Three are twin bollard fittings with two outboard forward and a centerline fitting aft. The fourth quarterdeck fitting is another exceptionally well cast mushroom ventilator.

Smaller Resin Castings
One of the most striking features of the Omaha design was the retention of four funnels. With the benefit of perfect  20-20 hindsight, it is now easy to see how much deck space was wasted with this arrangement but at the time of the original design of the class, three and four funnel cruiser designs were the world norm. To the delight of future modelers, the Omaha class kept her four funnels, grouped in two groups of two. Do not remove the square bases from each funnel. These are not resin casting blocks but are instead a feature on each funnel. Also notice that there are three different designs, as the first and fourth funnels have a different design from the middle two. All have finely cast steam pipes aft but the first funnel has a steam pipe, which extends slightly above the stack. The fourth funnel is distinguished by a square fitting at the base of the funnel. All four funnels have additional detail in the form of a prominent apron at the base, prominent cap fitting and reinforcing band near the top. Although most of the levels of the superstructure are cast integral to the hull, the forward superstructure has additional levels provided in the small parts mix. As part of the 1942 refit, the navigation platform was extended in part to provide additional space for Oerlikons. This part has thin splinter shielding all around with vertical reinforcing ribs on the forward half. The aft portion has two Oerlikon pedestals on each side as well as holes for the outboard tripod legs. On top of this platform is the upper level of the bridge with a small splinter shielded main director position. The instructions show this director position as a separate part but it actually cast as part of the navigation platform. Both the bridge level on this platform, as well as the lower bridge level on the hull casting, have indentations to create a three-dimensional appearance, as their front faces are photo-etch parts with open square windows. To perfect the illusion, all you need is some Micro-Klear for the windows. On top of the upper bridge is another part, which provides the upper platform for signal lamps and more Mk-51 directors. This part has splinter shielding with a prominent lip on the forward half and is open on the aft half. A small deck house fits atop this platform with another, smaller platform fitting above the deck house. The foretop is indented all around because, as with the bridge levels, a photo-etch part with open square windows forms the front and sides of the enclosed position. Other, even smaller, resin parts complete the forward superstructure. These parts include flag lockers, forward main gun director, search lights, signal lamps, Mk-51 directors, lower bridge Oerlilon platforms, carley rafts and tripod legs. The aft superstructure has less separate parts. There is a small deck house with a large open platform extending aft, which is the base for a main gun director. Other, smaller resin parts completing the aft superstructure include an aft navigation platform, small radar mast, Mk-51 directors, more carley rafts and signal lamps. There are also quite a few additional smaller resin parts for the main deck and amidship superstructure. Forward are paravanes, Mk-51 directors and their tubs. Main deck amidship gets ship's boats, a winch, another large ventilator, which rests on top of the plate between the last two funnels, large J-shaped ventilator cowlings, a small deck house, searchlight platforms, searchlights, small J-cowlings, more winches, catapult round tables and pole mainmast with observation position and aircraft handling boom. On top of the amidship superstructure are more paravanes, spare aircraft center float, galley stack, more J-cowlings and more carleys.


Niko 1942 Marblehead
Major Parts Dry-Fitted
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Armament
The resin armament deserves separate mention because of it's extremely high design and casting standards. The casemate positions are especially impressive. Each is hollow with an open back, open gun opening and open vision slit. These features create a spectacular effect for these prominent broadside guns. The six-inch guns are fully detailed even though most of this detail is hidden by the casemate, except from the rear. The three-inch AA guns are equally impressively detailed, except these aren't hidden by gun shields. The twin gun six-inch gun houses are loaded with detail and have finely tapered twin barrels. The universally high quality extends to the twin Bofor guns, which have separate mounts and twin gun assemblies, including magazines. The two triple torpedo mounts are equally glorious with superb detail on both the top and bottom surfaces. Rounding out this splendid collection is one four-piece resin Kingfisher floatplane.

Brass Photo-Etch
The intricate detail doesn't end with the resin parts. Niko includes a moderate sized relief etched brass photo-etched fret. About 75% are ship specific parts with the remaining parts consisting of five runs of railing and two runs of vertical ladder. The two largest specific parts are the two catapults. This folds in the traditional manner but lacks the bottom panel. Additional catapult parts include aircraft cradles. However, the most impressive brass parts are the two bridge faces and foretop bulkheads with their square open windows. Other brass foretop fittings include lattice yards, radar with bracket, triangular bracing, anometer and an open signal lamp platform. Additionally the forward superstructure platform supports/carley racks. There are anchor chains and ensign staff for the forecastle. Amidship are boat skids, davits, tall searchlight towers, searchlight platforms, forward funnel siren platform and sireen. Each funnel has a two-piece funnel cap.  The mainmast has parts for yards, top platform, radar and observation position support. Aft superstructure parts include another radar and carley racks. Additional armament parts are the 20mm Oerlikons, safety railings for the twin Bofor mounts and torpedo mount top brackets. Other parts include two-piece anchors and inclined ladders.

Instructions
These are typical Niko Model instructions printed on three sheets of paper. Page one has a parts lay-down with photos of all resin and brass parts. The reverse features two modules for attachment of the parts of the lower forward superstructure and forecastle with detail insets for Oerlikons and Bofor mounts. Page three has the upper forward superstructure steps. Page four features assembly of the amidship structure. Page five concludes with the aft superstructure and quarterdeck with detail insets for Kingfisher, torpedo mounts, catapults and mainmast. The sixth page has a profile painting guide.


Niko 1942 Marblehead
Major Parts Dry-Fitted
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Verdict
This is clearly another winner from Niko Model. Through a wide variety of resin and brass photo-etch parts, all of which are very well executed, one 1942 variant of the wacky and wonderful Omaha class can be built. If you like these slim jim, over-loaded, four stack retro-cruisers, the 1:700 scale Niko Model 1942 USS Marblehead is for you. You can get the Marblehead as well as all of the other Niko Model products from Pacific Front.

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