"As she came out of it Hiei loomed up in her sights, range 4000 yards, and Portland let her have it from both forward turrets. This concluded the evening’s main battery performance for the ‘Sweet Pea’ as the crew called this happy ship" (History of United States Naval Operations of World War II, Volume V The Struggle for Guadalcanal, Little Brown and Company, Boston 1984, by Samuel Eliot Morison, at pages 247-248)
In 1916 the Royal Navy laid down the first units of a new cruiser class. This one design, the Hawkins Class, would exert far-reaching effects for the next two decades. The cruisers displaced slightly under 10,000 tons and carried seven 7.5-inch guns. When the major naval powers met in Washington in 1921 to develop a naval limitations treaty, one topic concerned what type of cruiser would be allowable under the new treaty. The Royal Navy wanted to retain their new cruisers so the new treaty limits for cruisers were set at a displacement no greater than 10,000-tons and guns no greater than 8-inch. Those were the only limitations on cruisers, as there was no quantity limitation on cruiser construction like there was for battleships. As most signatories already had the maximum displacement in capital ships, they all eagerly joined in on a new naval competition, cruiser construction.
The goal of any cruiser design was to pack as much punch into a cruiser, while staying under the 10,000-ton limit. Initially every nation built up to the maximum limits allowed under the treaty. This meant a wide variety of 8-inch gun cruisers close to the 10,000-ton limit, appearing in the 1920s. The gun power, torpedo power, speed and infrequently armor scheme of each new design were compared against those of competing nations’ designs. Although some mistakes were made with minor fudging on displacement figures, by and large France, Great Britain and the United States lived up to the treaty limitations. Italy and Japan on the other hand significantly understated displacement figures from the start. Of the three critical factors involved in a warship design, armament, speed and armor, all of the early cruisers sacrificed armor in favor of the other two characteristics.
Great Britain started immediately building cruisers to the new standard with the County class, while the USN didn’t immediately jump in. The first attempt by the USN to build a ship to the new treaty limitations was only partially successful. In a display of excess caution to avoid exceeding the 10,000-ton limit, the Pensacola CA-24 and Salt Lake City CA-25 came in 900 tons under the limit. Although well armed, their light design made them bad rollers with a consequent degradation of gunnery accuracy. The armor belt was a paltry 2.5 inches and that was only over machinery spaces. The next design, the Northampton Class, was somewhat better but still decidedly under-armored. The six ships of the class CA-26 through CA-31 were 1,000-tons under limit but did marginally increase the armor to a belt of 3-inches over machinery spaces. However, one salient feature of the six Northamptons was that they were all laid down within six months of each other in 1928.
Under the Washington Treaty of 1922 there was no subdivision between light and heavy cruisers. The only limitations were on maximum displacement at 10,000-tons standard and maximum gun size at 8-inches. There was no limitation on quantity of cruisers that could be built. As every major navy built heavy cruisers armed with 8-inch guns and close to the 10,000-ton limit or exceeding it in the case of Japan and Italy, the Royal Navy had trouble "Keeping up with the Joneses". In London, their Lordships of the Admiralty started to see unlimited cruiser construction running amuck. Britain could not keep up with this tempo. Britain didn’t want to build the large, expensive County Class heavy cruisers. The RN wanted smaller, lighter cruisers in large quantities for trade route protection. However, they felt compelled to sink their limited naval budget into the big Counties. Politically, it would have been probable suicide to build smaller, less capable cruisers, when everybody else was building to the limit. Undoubtedly, some paper on Fleet Street would have alleged that the government was selling out the safety of the Empire by building inferior designs.
"On February 5, 1929, the Senate passed by a large majority, the Bill authorizing the construction of a further fifteen 10,000-ton cruisers. They refused to comply with the wish of the President that the rate of construction should be left to the discretion, and retained in the Bill a clause decreeing that the cruisers are to be laid down at the rate of five a year for the next three years." (Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1930, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross) The first batch of this new huge cruiser program was for FY29 and were allocated in July 1929 with three of the five allocated to US Navy Yards and the other two allocated to private yards.
In Les Flottes de Combat 1933, the French version of Jane’s Fighting Ships, reports, "Les plans de la serie CA 32 a CA 36 derivent de ceux du type Augusta, mais avec une augmentation de la protection contre une vitesse moindre et VIII 127 ai lieu de IV." Loosely interpreted it was, The plans of series CA 32 to CA 36 derive from the Augusta class but with greater armor and less speed and Mark VIII 5-inch guns instead of Mark IV guns. The volume reported that all five cruisers, New Orleans, Portland, Astoria, Indianapolis and Minneapolis were to be a common class based on the preceding Augusta design, with the following Tuscaloosa and San Francisco of a different class and design. All five cruisers were from the same 1929 program, but as we know now the Portland and Indianapolis were of a much different design from the other three. So how did these cruisers originally authorized to be of a common design, separate into two very different designs? President Herbert Hoover was responsible for the production of two classes of USN heavy cruisers built under the 1929 program. He did this by freezing the construction of three cruisers to be built in Navy Yards from the 1929 program. If Congress would not allow him the discretion of seeing to their rate of construction, Hoover would do an end run around Congress. He didn’t have the power to stop construction of Portland and Indianapolis at civilian yards, as commander in chief, he did have the power to control the construction of the cruisers to be constructed in the navy yards. If he had not done this there would have been five ships in the Portland Class, instead of two, and USN cruiser design may have gone down a different path. However, as a result of the delay a new, more heavily armored design was developed, which became the New Orleans Class heavy cruisers.
In Britain Ramsay MacDonald, leader of the Labour Party, had just become Prime Minister and looked with alarm at the huge increase in US cruiser construction. There was no way the Royal Navy could afford five new 10,000-ton cruisers each year for the next three years. Twenty years earlier in the dreadnought building race between Britain and Imperial Germany, the Royal Navy simply outspent and out built the German fleet. The British Empire was at the height of her power, prestige and wealth then. In one year in that period the Royal Navy had laid down eight battleships. World War One had been a human and financial catastrophe for Britain, even though she was among the victors. She no longer could afford to simply out build a competitor. "It is impossible in the face of this experience that to deny that competitive building is a serious bar to the maintenance of good relations between nations, nor can it be denied that independent building may very easily assume an aspect of competition. It was so in the case of Germany and England from 1900 to 1914; it was so in the case of the United States in 1919; it was so in 1926 when the United States woke up to the fact that they had only two 10,000-ton 8-inch-gun cruisers against the British eleven, and announced the discovery in an explosion of feeling which was only too readily exploited by ‘propagandists of hate." .""( Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross," The London Naval Treaty, by Captain Alfred C. Dewar RN at pages 69,70)
Whether or not he played upon the Congressional snub of Herbert Hoover’s wish to control the pace of cruiser construction, Mac Donald quickly contacted Hoover about the arms race in cruisers that Britain could not afford to enter. MacDonald pressed for more arms reductions. MacDonald suspended activity on two cruisers ordered in May but not yet laid down, the Northumberland and Surrey. In response Hoover deferred laying down the three cruisers allocated to the Navy Yards but the USN was already contractually obligated to proceed with the two of the five allocated to private yards. Those two ships were Portland CA-33 and Indianapolis CA-35 and their construction started while the three Navy Yard cruisers were still on hold. Both ships were laid down in spring 1930 while the London Conference was meeting over further armament limitations. This time, instead of coming in at 9,000-tons, the designers used the 10,000-ton limit to add extra armor protection. Although the belt remained 3-inches, the armored deck jumped from 1-inch to 2.5-inches and magazine armor jumped from 3.25-inches to 5.75-inches. So this pair in terms of deck and magazine protection were much more robust that the earlier eight cruisers. However, the belt armor had not changed and the navy wanted their cruisers to have better side protection. If President Hoover had not responded to MacDonald by suspending work on the three Navy Yard cruisers of the 1929 program, New Orleans, Astoria and Minneapolis would have been built as members of the Portland Class.
The upshot of the postponement of new cruiser construction was the London Treaty of 1930. The same signatories to the Washington Treaty agreed to further restrictions. Cruisers were now subdivided into two types; heavy cruisers with guns over 6.1-inch and no greater than 8-inch and light cruisers with guns up to 6.1-inch. The terms, heavy and light, did not refer to displacement but just gun size. The maximum displacement per ship was left at 10,000-tons but now the parties agreed to maximum total tonnage of cruisers by the light and heavy categories. By 1930 it was well recognized that heavy cruiser designs were vulnerable. The 10,000-ton limit just did not allow an adequate armor scheme with the designs that had already appeared. "The great weakness of the type is the insufficiency of the protection that can be afforded, particularly on the sides and above water decks amidships, where the deck immediately over the machinery spaces is usually at a height slightly above the waterline owing to the comparatively shallow draught of the vessels; all the while such high speeds and great endurances are held to be essential the ship must be of such size that she cannot be adequately protected against a ship with gun power equal to her own; as at present built a well placed salvo of 8-inch shells would place the ship receiving it out of action, and it would have required at least an additional thousand tons of displacement beyond the Treaty limit if full protection against 8-inch guns had been incorporated in the design of existing ships. It is possible that experience will show that some reduction in the designed speed and in the radius of action is acceptable; the reduction of space required for machinery and fuel would permit of reduced dimensions for the ship, there would be a saving of weight in hull, and a reduction in the areas requiring protection.""( Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross,"Capital Ships and Cruisers, by William J. Berry at pages 110-111) Of course the Italian and Japanese navies had already solved this dilemma by adding the extra armor to their designs and then lying about the true displacement of their cruisers. The USN had taken a step in the right direction with the increased deck and magazine protection of Portland and Indianapolis but that was still not enough armor.
"It was cruisers that the Washington Conference unfortunately omitted, and it is cruisers which now form the substance and essence of the London Treaty enveloped in a variety of clauses not too easy to unravel….The vexed question of United States cruisers has at last been settled." .""( Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, 1930, Edited by Commander Charles Robinson RN and H.M. Ross," The London Naval Treaty, by Captain Alfred C. Dewar RN at pages 72,75) Under the terms of the new London Treaty the USN was allowed a total tonnage of 180,000-tons of heavy cruisers (i.e. eighteen 10,000-ton cruisers) and 143,500-tons in light cruisers. The RN received 146,800-tons in heavies and 192,200-tons in lights, while Japan received 108,400-tons in heavies and 100,450-tons in lights. The Royal Navy received what it wanted. It stopped the huge new US cruiser program dead in its tracks. With the two Pensacolas, six Northamptons and two Portlands, the USN could build eight more heavy cruisers and even here there were additional restrictions imposed on the US. Three of the eight were already accounted for. In his article on the results of the London Treaty in Brassey’s Naval and Shipping Annual 1931, Captain Dewar also listed the three navy yard ships put on hold by Hoover in 1929 as Indianapolis type ships, but in fact as mentioned above, they had already gone down a different path. When the London Treaty was signed in April 1930, the plans for the two private yard ships of 1929 were locked. Portland was laid down on February 17, 1930 and Indianapolis on March 31, 1930.
Portlandwas built by Bethlehem in the Quincy, Massachusetts yard. She was launched on May 21, 1932 and completed on February 23, 1959. Her displacement was 10,258-tons standard and 12,775-tons full load. She was 610-feet long overall (592-feet wl), with a beam of 66-feet and draught of 21-feet. Her engineering plant provided 107,000shp for her four shafts with a 32.5 knot maximum speed. On key aspect of the Portland design was to provide increased protection over the preceding tin- clad designs. Her belt was 3-inches over machinery spaces and a 2.5-inch armored deck. Magazine armor was 5.75-inches on the side and 2.1-inches on the crown. In her early years Portland spent time in Cruiser Divisions 3, 4, 5 and 6. At the end of 1940 she was reassigned to CruDiv 4 in which she remained for all of World War Two.
By 1940 tensions had steadily been building between Japan and the US. US diplomatic policy centered around ending the Japanese war against China and the Japanese army was not about to end it. The US had stopped short o an embargo against Japan for fear that the Japanese would go after the Dutch and British east Indies. Still an embargo, including oil, was finally imposed. To show US solidarity with New Zealand and Australia, Portland, Brooklyn, Chicago and Savannah were sent on a good will tour of not only New Zealand and Australia, but also Fiji and French Tahiti. On December 7, 1941 Portland, along with Astoria and Chicago was escorting Lexington on a mission to reinforce Midway with a Marine squadron. A jittery scout pilot from Johnston Island reported Portland to be a Japanese aircraft carrier disguised to look like a cruiser, but fortunately there was no reaction to this bit of high anxiety. On December 14 it was Portland, Indianapolis and Chicago, which escorted Lexington on a raid on Japanese eastern Pacific islands and then relief expedition to relieve Wake Island. That spring Portland received four quadruple 1.1-inch medium AA mounts, one on each side of the bridge and one in each grouping of 5-inch guns and twelve 20mm Oerlikons. In May 1942 Portland was with TF17 at the Battle of Coral Sea and helped to remove survivors from Lexington.
In June 4, 1942 Portland was with Astoria in forming TG 17.2 in providing the heavy escort for the carrier Yorktown at the Battle of Midway. Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were all knocked out before the Japanese could strike back. As the avenging strike of Hiryu came in on Yorktown, the cruisers knocked down two of the attackers but the Yorktown was hit three times. As Admiral Fletcher transferred his flag to Astoria, he ordered Portland to take Yorktown under tow but before this could be done, Yorktown had regained power. Portland took position ahead and slightly off to the port of Yorktown for the 2nd wave from Hiryu. After taking two torpedoes, the Yorktown lost power again and was abandoned. Portland picked up many of the survivors but the cruisers were detached with some of the destroyers from the carrier, and Yorktown remained behind with a few destroyers awaiting the arrival of a tug. On June 15 the carrier task groups and their escorts were reassigned. The Yorktown had been lost at the Battle of Midway, so Sweet Pea was up for reallocation to escort another carrier. Her new assignment was to protect USS Enterprise.
The first USN offensive campaign in the Pacific had only been underway for two weeks when USS Portland joined in. It was still August 1942 and neither the USN nor IJN knew that they were still in the opening phases of a death struggle for Guadalcanal that would see so many more warships joining those already littering the seabed around that jungle island. Portland’s first mission was clean enough, she and Atlanta were the cruisers under Rear Admiral Mahlon Tisdale whose sole purpose was to protect the USS Enterprise in TF17. The Big E wasn’t the only carrier hanging around, as USS Saratoga was the centerpiece of TF-11. The Battle of Savo Island had occurred on August 9 and now, two weeks later, the Japanese proposed to end the Marines temporary hold on the island with the best of Japanese naval aviation. Veterans of the Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Coral Sea, the big fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku, along with the light carrier Ryujo, were tasked with ridding the Solomons of those irksome Americans.
In the following Battle of the Eastern Solomons of August 24, Portland used her anti-aircraft guns attempting to swat Japanese naval aircraft away from the Big E. Vals from the big carriers bored in on Enterprise. Almost 30 made runs on the Big E, passing through the encircling escorts of which Portland was one, 2,000-yards and at 10 o’clock from Enterprise. The Japanese scored three hits on Enterprise and reported back the Big E was a goner. Far from it, the Enterprise was back up to 24-knots after one hour. Things looked good at first but a delayed result of the bomb hits caused the flooding of the steering room of the carrier. With her rudder frozen at 10 degrees to port, the Big E steamed in circles and was lucky that a second strike missed her. The Japanese aircraft were visible on radar to the west but they turned back for the Zuikaku and Shokaku, having never sighted the Enterprise, slightly over the horizon to their east. The Americans had sunk the Ryujo and at this point the battle ended. The damage to Enterprise couldn’t be fixed locally so the Big E had to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Portland and four destroyers were tasked to escort her back to Pearl.
The Portland stayed married to the Enterprise because she and South Dakota were the two big ships of Enterprise’s escort for the next big Solomon’s carrier battle. It was just beyond two months since the Battle of the Eastern Solomons with the last big carrier battle. On October 26, 1942 the Big E’s old friends, Zuikaku and Shokaku, came back for a visit, this time with two of their buddies, Junyo and Zuiho. The stage was set for the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Again Portland occupied the position of a bit player, hanging out in the AA screen for Enterprise but for this battle the South Dakota garnered almost as much headlines as the carriers for the number of Japanese aircraft she claimed to have shot down. In the August carrier battle, the Enterprise was damaged but it was the Japanese who lost a carrier. For this October engagement it was the Americans that lost a carrier. Enterprise’s sister Hornet was immobilized and could not be towed out of harms way. After being hit by bombs, Japanese aerial torpedoes, nine US destroyer torpedoes, 430+ rounds of US 5-inch gunfire the Hornet was still afloat when US forces departed the area. She was finished off by four 24-inch Long Lance torpedoes from two Japanese destroyers. No doubt about it, the carriers of the Yorktown class were tough ships. Portland had been in the carrier screen up to now, but her sideshow status was about to end. Enterprise had been damaged in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands but not as seriously as in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Instead of going all of the back to Pearl she went just to Noumea for repairs. In the meantime the Portland’s 8-inch guns were needed in the cruiser battle line against the Tokyo Express.
On November 12, 1942 Portland was one of Rear Admiral Callaghan’s five cruisers escorting attack transports to Guadalcanal. At first it seemed to the Sweet Pea’s crew that she was back to her old role as AA platform. The Japanese launched a series of air strikes against the US forces during the 12th. As the day progressed, new information kept coming in that the Japanese were amassing a heavy surface force northwest up the slot. It appeared that two battleships, up to six cruisers and numerous destroyers were going to show up that night. At dusk the transports hauled out of the anchorage and sped off to the southeast to get out of harms way. In the meantime Callaghan prepared his force for battle. With a single line of battle as a long column, Callaghan put four destroyers in the van, five cruisers in the middle and four destroyers to the rear of the column. The cruisers were in the following order, Atlanta, San Francisco, Portland, Helena and Juneau, so Portland was in the exact middle of the column. The actual collision of the USN and IJN forces would be early in the morning of Friday, 13 November and would result in the famous barroom brawl known as the First Naval Battle of Gualalcanal. Callaghan again displayed a lack of appreciation for radar, as Helena with the best radar was 4th in line of the cruisers, instead of being on point. The forces ran head long into each other and became intermingled at point blank range.
At 0124 Helena still made first contact as she picked up suspicious blips to the northeast, and promptly reported this to Callaghan on San Francisco. Since Callaghan didn’t have the up to the date radar on his cruiser he kept the air waves hot by continuously asking for updates from Helena, a disadvantage he would not have had if he had used his head and made the Helena his flagship, instead using his heart and making his old command San Francisco his flag. Sixteen minutes later the lead destroyer Cushing sighted the lead Japanese destroyers at 3000 yards. As the two columns piled into each other, all battle plans disintegrated and the engagement became a close order knife fight in a darkened closet. The actual firing began at 0150 when the Japanese ships illuminated the American ships in their searchlights and the range had dropped to 1600 yards. Portland opened up at this time on a target to starboard and only a feeble return fire was encountered, hitting Portland only once and wounding the XO. At 0155 Callaghan was confused and ordered a cease-fire, afraid that American was firing on American. His confusion was greatly increased by his poor selection of flagship. At first Portland disregarded the order with her captain sending, "What’s the dope, did you want to cease fire?" to the flagship. Callaghan said yes and ordered a course change to the north.
"Portland checked firing briefly while turning, then picked up a target three miles to starboard and commenced gnawing away at it with her turret guns. A Japanese torpedo tore through the water toward her. A terrific wallop rocked the cruiser as the explosion ripped a huge chunk from her stern, bending the structure so that projecting hull plates acted as an unwanted auxiliary rudder and she made an involuntary complete circle." (History of United States Naval Operations of World War II, Volume V The Struggle for Guadalcanal, Little Brown and Company, Boston 1984, by Samuel Eliot Morison, at pages 247) The torpedo strike not only caused a loss of control but also sheered off both inboard propellers and jammed the aft turret. The Hiei was less than two miles distant when Portland opened up on the Japanese battleship. Both forces kept on their paths and left the cruiser behind as Portland remained fixed on a point, circling around and around and around. As dawn broke on November 13, Portland was still doing her circles on the glassy waters of the slot five miles from Guadalcanal. The surface of the slot was littered from flotsam from many lost and damaged ships from both sides. Most of both sides warships had left the scene of the train wreck. However, there were still some wounded ducks littering the slot. Mortally wounded Atlanta was to the southeast beyond Portland, closer to Guadalcanal. Two burning USN destroyers, Cushing and Monssen were to the northwest with a crippled Aaron Ward further north. Just north of Savo Island the immobile Hiei, attended by the destroyer Yukikaze, loosened a few salvos at the Aaron Ward, before Marine pilots from Henderson Field swarmed over her and sealed her fate. There was one more cripple to be seen.
The destroyer Yudachi was six miles to the northeast of Portland. The destroyer was on fire and abandoned. As light increased Portland saw this inviting target, which furnished morning’s entertainment for the cruiser. Six six-gun salvos were fired at Yudachi at 12,500 yards. At least one of these 36 rounds found the Yudachi’s magazine and she exploded like a volcano to the cheers of not only the Sweet Pea’s crew but also the many survivors of sunken USN ships still treading water in the warm waters of the slot. More than 20 Higgins boats came out in an effort to stop the circling of Portland but they were mere Lilliputians against the Gulliver of Portland, and their efforts had no effect. Only with the arrival of the tug Bobolink solved the problem. With the tug applying counter force on the bow of the Portland to counteract the torque of the warped hull plating, the cruiser could steer a more or less straight course. Sweet Pea gained the safety of the Tulagi anchorage at 0100 on November 14 after almost 24 hours of involuntary circling in the slot.
The stern damage temporarily knocked Portland out of the fight, as she had to go all the way back to Mare Island for repairs. While in for this repair her forward bridge was extended and the aft superstructure cut down. A lattice main fast just forward of the second stack was added, as well as stack caps. The Chicago Pianos were landed and quadruple 40mm Bofors mounted in their place and two twin Bofors added to the quarterdeck. The Oerliokon count jumped to 20. When she was ready to go back to the show it was not with the glamorous fast carriers or the grinder of the Solomons. Instead it was the far north against Kiska. She was with the battleships New Mexico and Mississippi to bombard Kiska on the morning of July 22, 1943. The Battle of the Pips occurred early in the dark of the morning of July 26. Portland, Idaho, Mississippi and Wichita all reported radar contacts within 15 minutes of each other to their port bow. Everybody blazed away into the night using up 518 14-inch shells and 487 8-inch shells to bracket nothing in particular other than a few fish. The sailors thought it was peculiar that there was no return fire. It was later determined that there had been no Japanese ships ever there and that they had fired at phantom radar signals. By the end of 1943 Portland was out of the purgatory of the north and back with the fast carriers as sole heavy cruiser, along with four light cruisers, as escort for TG 50.3 formed around Sweet Pea’s old friend Enterprise, and young consorts Essex and Belleau Wood. She was detached temporarily to accompany two CVEs and destroyer transports in the seizure of the atoll Majuro in the central Marshall Islands from 31 January to 8 February 1944. This was hardly a difficult assignment as there were only three Japanese on the island. In the 18-minute bombardment the 435 shells fired mostly demolished palm trees or exploded in the air, as none of the three Japanese were injured. In the Battle of Majuro neither side lost a man, as the three Japanese weren’t looking for a fight with an entire USN TF and Marine landing force and promptly surrendered, although the coconut palms really took a beating. Portland joined battleships Pennsylvania, Colorado and Tennessee, along with cruisers Indianapolis and Louisville as the fire support group for the Eniwetok Expeditionary Group TG 51.11, which sortied on 15 February from Kwajalein to seize Eniwetok on February 17, 1944. In April 1944 she supported operations in Hollandia.
That summer she received another refit at Mare Island and two more twin Bofor mounts were added to the forward portion of the quarterdeck. Portland had switched her carrier escort duties of 1942 and late 1943 for fire support duties as started with her Aleutian assignment. She was still with Indianapolis and Louisville for the invasion of Peleliu on September 15 but because of poor and confused information from the ground troops, she had few fire support missions. Sweet Pea got to be in another gun duel surface fight but this one would be far different from her knife fight at Guadalcanal. On October 24, 1944 Portland was still with Louisville, which was flying the flag of Rear Admiral Jessie Oldendorf, but Minneapolis had replaced Indianapolis. These three heavies along with Denver, Columbia and destroyers comprised the left flank at the Battle of Surigao Strait. Early in the morning of 25 October, all of these cruiser plus the battleship line opened up on the Japanese battleship Yamashiro. Since the poor Yamashiro had more than enough gunfire assigned to her destruction at 03:58 Sweet Pea shifted her fire to the cruiser Mogami, which be then had done an about face and was trying to scoot back down the strait the way it had come. At 04:02 the Portland scored big with a salvo. At least one shell hit the bridge of Mogami, killing the captain, XO and all other officers on the bridge. Other shells from the salvo hit the engine and fire rooms. The Mogami slowed dramatically but did not loose headway. To compound the misery of Mogami at 04:30 she was accidentally rammed by cruiser Nachi, which was headed north up the strait. Oldendorf’s cruisers came south after the fleeing Japanese survivors and by 05:20 had reached the point where Mogami and Nachi had collided. Portland reopened fire on Mogami, and was joined by Louisville and Denver. Although "burning like a city block" the Mogami refused to go down and by then Oldendorf was picking up disquieting radio traffic far to the north from the CVEs east of Samar. At 05:37 Oldendorf turned north and his cruisers ended their torment of Mogami. It looked like the tough Mogami might make it out but at 09:10 Avengers left her dead in the water and after her valiant crew was removed the destroyer Akebono finally put Mogami down with a Long Lance.
Portland was present at the landings in the Lingayen Gulf on Luzon and was one of the few lucky ships not to be damaged in Japanese air attacks. Throughout early spring 1945 Sweet Pea continued to receive fire support missions for ground operations on Luzon and Corregidor. She went on to take part in the Okinawa campaign, in which she was again lucky and avoided the kamikazes. She accepted the surrender of Japanese forces at Truk in September and brought servicemen back to the USA in Operation Magic Carpet. On July 12, 1946 her crew were paid off and Sweet Pea went from the intense action of combat in the Pacific to that long gray dusk of suspended-life in the reserve. Eventually that quasi life came to an end and Portland was sold to Union Mineral and Alloys Corporation of New York on October 6, 1959. She was towed to Panama City where her breaking started that December.
Niko Model Portland
The Niko Model 1:70 scale Portland CA-33 represents the Sweet Pea after her second refit at Mare Island in 1944 with four quadruple 40mm Bofor mounts and four twin Bofor mounts. This is her appearance at Surigao Strait. Niko is one of those firms with a consistent record of producing excellent kits time after time and their 1944 Portland doesn’t disappoint. For most warship kits the bulk of the hull casting detail are on the decks. Some manufacturers cast as much detail and superstructure onto the hull casting as possible, while others prefer to cast deck fittings and superstructure levels separately. Niko Model falls among the former. I believe this greatly eases the assembly burden of the modeler, as it results in a reduction of parts, assembly steps and attendant pitfalls, chief among them misalignment of superstructure parts. This approach is great if there is no fall off in detail but fortunately Niko detail remains top drawer, although there was some clean up to be done at the juncture of the forecastle and 01 level. The hull casting includes not only the hull but also the first two levels of the forward superstructure and the hangar aft.
Deck detail starts just aft of the top of the cutwater with notches at deck edge, presumably to facilitate in the deployment of paravanes. Long horseshoe deck hawse mark the start of the anchor gear fittings but they are no drilled out for reception of three dimensional anchor chain, which would have been better. After following back the deck chain bed plates to the anchor windlasses, the fittings for the chain locker do have drilled holes that would show the chain running into the locker. The windlasses have a thin extending lip that overhangs the main body and this is done with marvelous fineness. If you look at the entire gamut of both cast on detail and separate part detail, you’ll find universally excellent design and execution in the resin parts. There was no breakage, even the smallest part had excellent detail, tub walls and splinter shields were very thin with no voids, clean up was minimal, in short everything any reasonable modeler could hope to see in a multimedia kit. The steel deck of the forecastle ends just aft of the windlasses and additional cast on detail for this portion includes a deck access hatch and four single bollards, two outboard and two inboard. Aft of the windlasses the wood deck planking starts. If you have good glasses and look closely on some of the magnified macro-photography of the Niko Portland, you’ll clearly notice that the deck planking has butt-end detail, which to me is the supreme mark of quality in resin or plastic. Fittings detail on the wood planked forecastle in front of A barbette includes twin bollard fittings, access coamings and doors, a ventilator fitting and best of all two Oerlikon positions. These 20mm positions have a detail ready ammunition locker, thin splinter shield with external support bracing and the 20mm pedestals, so all you have to do is top the pedestals with the guns themselves. Before you get to the superstructure the only other deck features are the A barbette and a couple of more twin bollard fittings.
I did notice a small problem involving clean up at the juncture of the forecastle and 01 level of superstructure. There was a little bit of resin over flow to be removed with a hobby knife and aft of that a little too wide a gap that can easily be sealed with a miniscule amount of white glue, as it is far too small to use filler putty. The forward 01 superstructure detail includes very finely detailed doors, fire hose fittings, outstanding bulkhead mounted cable reels, fittings boxes and portholes. The 01 deck has B barbette and the 02 level, which is the base for the bridge and is surrounded to the sides by more thinly cast splinter shielding. The splinter shields run aft into large circular tubs for the forward quadruple 40mm mounts. Another tell tale sign of quality is that these tubs are cast as part of the hull, rather than as separate parts and that they have perfectly clean overhangs. There is any ledge overhang at the deck break where the wooden planked forecastle level ends and another steel deck begins one level lower at the flight deck or catapult positions. Underneath the overhang there are lockers and doors that will be mostly obscured but Niko refused to stint on quality.
Amidships along the centerline is a two level deckhouse, which forms the base for the forward stack. Side detail again includes the doors, ventilator louvers and vertical ladders. The two catapult towers are finely detailed with catwalks on their inboard sides, along with porthole and window detail. A solid deck edge bulkhead starts aft of the catapult towers and has open /cable handling/drainage positions with twin bollard plates inboard of the openings. As mentioned the hangar bulkheads are cast integral to the hull, with separate doors and top deck. This certainly facilitates the option to have the doors open with floatplanes inside the hangar. There are more bulkhead doors, bulkhead fitting boxes and vertical ladder detail on the hangar bulkheads. Aft of the hangar is the lower level of the 5-inch/25 gun gallery with two positions on either side. The upper level is atop the hangar. Before you get to the fiv-inch gun positions there is a deck house on each side, which serve as the base for the aft quadruple Bofor mounts. The rounded splinter shields for the 5-inchers have nicely cast support ribbing. Other detail in this area include more of the excellent doors, deck lockers, ventilation louvers and 5-inch mount bases. There is a second deck break where this gun gallery drops to lower quarterdeck. Just aft of the drop is the first set of twin Bofor positions distinguished by more admirably thin splinter shields. Again there are more detailed doors, deck access hatches, fittings boxes, single and twin bollard fittings. Aft of the Y barbette there is another resurgence in deck fittings with mushroom ventilators, twin bollards and another detailed deck access door. At the extreme end of the quarterdeck is the oval splinter shield for the aft twin Bofor mounts. Niko has added open grid decking on which the mounts are placed, which provides a superb level of detail. This position is further complemented with ready ammunition lockers. At the vry stern a smoke generator fitting overhangs each stern quarter. Hull side detail starts with the beautiful clipper cutwater and then to the hull side anchor hawse, which are functional rather than beautiful. What appears to be an external fuel line appears forward and runs to the hangar. This conforms to practices at the time because if an external fuel line were cut the fuel would pour harmlessly into the sea rather than feed a bonfire aboard ship. A single row of portholes starts aft of A barbtte and runs along the upper level of the forecastle. Amidships is the side belt, which protected the machinery spaces. Along the solid deck bulkheads are chock fittings and the hangar gas square widows as well as circular portholes. Minimal cleanup will be needed along the waterline s there is a very small amount of resin residue to remove.
Smaller Sheet Resin Parts
With all of the superstructure levels and detail cast integral to the hull, you might think that the Niko Portland would have a low parts content. You would be wrong because there are still quite a number of high quality smaller resin parts to attach in the assembly sequence. The deck above the hangar is largest of the smaller resin parts. It includes the splinter shielding for the upper four deck edge 5-inch/25 guns, tubs for the amidships 40mm mounts, with triangular braces and ready ammo lockers all over the place. Centerline is a two-level deckhouse on top of which sits a nest of Oerlikon and Mk51 tubs. Also atop this structure are some small finely detailed mushroom ventilators and small deckhouse, for deckhouse on top of a deckhouse. This parts is cast on resin film and will need minor cleaning once separated from the film. Sharing this film is a second part, which is the 03 level of the bridge. This is characterized by thin splinter bulkheads at deck edge and conical pedestals for Oerlikon guns. Two more larger parts that were originally cast on film are the 04 level of the bridge and aft Oerlikon gallery. The 04 level is the navigation deck as the position has ship’s controls at the forward edge, surrounded in splinter shielding. Also at this level is the base for the forward director, holes for the tripod lrgs, Mk51 tubs and top deckhouse. The aft Oerlikon gallery runs along the centerline and from the upper 5-inch level to the top of the furthest aft superstructure. With its thin splinter shielding, seven Oerlikon pedestals, and twelve ready ammunition lockers, it is one long firing position.
Smaller Runner Resin Parts
Brass Photo-Etch Frets
You can get the Niko Model 1:700 scale Sweet Pea, as well as any of the other extensive range of Niko Model warship kits from Bill Gruner at Pacific Front Hobbies.