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Cruisers have long been important ships in any navy, including the U.S. Navy, especially during war time. The modern cruisers of the U.S. Navy were designed to be warships engaging in various types of combat and offensive maneuvers. Various types of cruisers have been a part of the navy at different times, each with a specific role, such as surface or air warfare. Today, only the guided-missile cruisers are still a part of the U.S. Navy.

Many of the cruisers built for the U.S. Navy in the twentieth century were constructed using asbestos in hundreds of components. Although it was used to protect crew from fire and heat the extensive use of asbestos actually caused harm, exposing thousands who would later develop illnesses as veterans: mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other respiratory illnesses.

About Navy Cruisers

The term cruiser has been used to describe various types of war ships throughout history. In the 1600s the term generally came to mean a faster and smaller warship. Over the next centuries, the meaning would solidify and also diversify as different types of cruisers evolved. In the modern era of the twentieth century, cruisers became known as armored war ships that could travel fast and that were only slightly less powerful than battleships.

In the U.S. Navy, cruisers have played important roles in the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and during the tense period of history known as the Cold War. They came to prominence particularly after the use of battleships waned post World War II. The cruisers took over as the ships most involved in direct combat.

Types of Cruisers

The cruiser type of naval ship is one of the most varied. There are several designations that refer to the various types of cruisers that have been used in the U.S. Navy. The different designations distinguish the ships by their type and purpose, such as anti-aircraft or guided missile cruisers. The types of cruisers that have been built for the navy in the past include:

  • Heavy cruiser
  • Large cruiser
  • Armored cruiser
  • Guided missile cruiser
  • Guided missile heavy cruiser
  • Guided missile cruiser with a helicopter
  • Guided missile cruiser, nuclear powered
  • Guided missile cruiser light
  • Guided missile cruiser light, nuclear powered
  • Large command ship
  • Command cruiser
  • Command light cruiser
  • Light cruiser
  • Anti-aircraft light cruiser
  • Cruiser-hunter killer ship

War Time History

The use of cruisers and the designation for warships began in the 1800s, but modern cruisers did not evolve or engage in wartime activities until World War I. During this war the U.S. Navy cruisers were deployed in 1914. Thirty cruisers were activated, largely for patrol missions and for escorting the fleet. Cruisers were also sometimes used in the First World War for putting in under water mines.

After World War I, the Washington Naval Treaty limited the size of cruisers. Navy cruisers could not weigh more than 10,000 tons or have guns greater than eight-inch calibers. When World War II began, the treaty limitations were suspended and the U.S. began building and deploying cruisers. They served in the war in various roles, including escorting convoys, protecting aircraft carriers, gun fire support, and defensive screening. World War II saw a big change in warfare with the increase of aircraft and even fast cruisers were unable to outrun their guns.

After the war cruisers were modernized with new weaponry that could better take on aircraft. The updated cruisers became important during the Korean War and provided gunfire support. The cruisers were then used even more heavily during the Vietnam War, offering gunfire support and also firing against enemy targets. The USS Canberra, a U.S. Navy cruiser, was the first navy ship to use satellite communications to relay messages during the war. During the decades of Cold War-tension with the Soviet Union, cruisers had a role to play. They were used to blockade Cuba during the 1960s missile crisis, for instance.

Modern Cruisers

The only cruisers still active in the U.S. Navy are the Ticonderoga class of guided missile cruisers. They were ordered in 1978, and 22 are currently active. They were commissioned in 1983, and while these ships are getting old, there is no plan to replace them with any new cruisers. The Ticonderoga cruisers are considered to be multi-role ships, meaning they can engage in different types of operations. They are outfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as anti-aircraft missiles.

Asbestos Use in Cruisers

Asbestos use in ships, including U.S. Navy cruisers was heaviest in those built between the 1930s and the 1970s, at which time regulations were put in place to limit asbestos use. Cruisers were no exception, and most were made with asbestos to insulate, prevent overheating from friction, to prevent the spread of fire, and to protect personnel from heat and fire. Asbestos was desirable for these properties, but it was also used so extensively because it was cheap, abundant, and lightweight.

In cruisers asbestos was used as pipe insulation, in boiler and engine rooms, in the areas where fuel was stored, in electrical parts, and in the bulkheads of the ships. Essentially asbestos was used in any part of the ship where insulation was needed or where protection from fire was crucial. Few parts of the cruisers were left untouched by asbestos. Even the safety gear that firefighters and the men who manned the guns wore was made with asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure on Cruisers

The heavy use of asbestos on cruisers left the men who served on them vulnerable to exposure. Exposure occurs when the fibers of asbestos flake off and enter the air where people inhale them or ingest them. The fibers may detach from asbestos if the material becomes damaged but also simply by regular use and wear and tear. Any men who served on cruisers with asbestos were likely to have been exposed in this way.

The most at risk, though, were maintenance and repair workers, both those who worked on the ships and those who worked in the shipyards where the cruisers were repaired and upgraded. These workers had to handle asbestos materials, even cutting into them or tearing them out, which released fibers. The crew members who worked in areas of the ships with the most asbestos, such as the engine rooms, were also more at risk than others. Poor ventilation on board made the risk even greater as the particles of asbestos tended to accumulate.

U.S. Cruisers with Asbestos

It is likely that all of the cruisers built before the late 1970s were made with asbestos, but documentation exists for some of the ships to prove that they contained asbestos. Even later cruisers may have contained some asbestos, although not as much as earlier ships. Anyone who served on any navy cruiser should be aware that they could have been exposed and are at risk for developing an asbestos-related illness. Some of the cruisers known to have contained asbestos include:

  • USS Belknap, commissioned 1964, sunk
  • USS California, commissioned 1974, recycled
  • USS Galveston, commissioned 1958, scrapped
  • USS Halsey, commissioned 1963, scrapped
  • USS Josephus Daniels, commissioned 1965, scrapped
  • USS Jouett, commissioned 1966, sunk
  • USS Mississippi, commissioned 1978, recycled
  • USS Little Rock, commissioned 1944, museum ship
  • USS Oklahoma City, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS Astoria, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Biloxi, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Duluth, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Manchester, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Miami, commissioned 1942, scrapped
  • USS Providence, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Vicksburg, commissioned 3 scrapped
  • USS Wilkes-Barre, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS Denver, commissioned 1942, scrapped
  • USS Canberra, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Dayton, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS England, commissioned 1963, scrapped
  • USS Chicago, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS Duluth, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS Guam, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Pasadena, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Pittsburgh, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS St. Paul, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS Tallahassee, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS Topeka, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS San Diego, commissioned 1942, scrapped
  • USS Oregon City, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Quincy, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Baltimore, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Helena, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS Los Angeles, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS Worcester, commissioned 1948, scrapped

This is not a comprehensive list, and all veterans who served in the U.S. Navy should be aware that it was not only cruisers that contained asbestos. Nearly all of the ships in the navy contained some amount of asbestos, especially those made from the 1930s to the 1970s. If you served on a cruiser or other ship from that time period, get screened for asbestos related illnesses. If you get a diagnosis, you can make a claim with the Veterans Administration.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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