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Throughout history, cruisers have been important naval vessels, especially during times of war. Modern cruisers engaged in both combat and defensive maneuvers. The U.S. Navy has used different types of cruisers at different times. Each cruiser has a specific role, including engaging in surface or air combat. Today, only guided-missile cruisers are part of the U.S. Navy.

In the twentieth century, many cruisers built for the Navy were constructed with hundreds of asbestos-containing components. Although asbestos protected crew members from fire and heat, extensive asbestos use caused harm. Asbestos components on naval vessels exposed thousands who would later develop illnesses as veterans. These asbestos related illnesses include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other respiratory diseases.

About Navy Cruisers

The term cruiser has been used describe various war ships throughout history. In the 1600s, the term cruiser referred to warships that were faster and small in size. Over time, the meaning would solidify, yet diversify, as different cruisers evolved. In the 20th century, cruisers became known as armored war ships. These armored warships could travel fast and were slightly less powerful than battleships.

In the U.S. Navy, cruisers played important roles in the two World Wars, Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War. Cruisers became prominent after battleships waned in popularity after World War II. At that time, cruisers took over as the vessels most involved in direct combat.

Types of Cruisers

Naval cruisers are some of the most varied. Several cruiser designations are used by the U.S. Navy. Different designations distinguish the ships by type and purpose. The types of cruisers built for the Navy 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

Modern cruisers did not evolve or engage in wartime activities until World War I. U.S. Navy cruisers were first deployed in 1914. During the Great War, 30 cruisers were activated for patrol missions. Cruisers also used escorted larger fleets and placed underwater mines.

After World War I, the Washington Naval Treaty limited the size of cruisers. In accordance with the treaty, Navy cruisers could not weigh more than 10,000 tons. They also could not have guns greater than eight-inch calibers.

When World War II began, treaty limitations were suspended and the U.S. once again began deploying cruisers. These new cruisers served various roles, including escorting convoys, protecting aircraft carriers, gun fire support, and defensive screening. World War II saw a major change in warfare, with more aircraft and fast cruisers that could outrun guns.

After the war, cruisers were modernized with new weaponry more appropriate for defending against aircraft. Updated cruisers provided gunfire support during the Korean War.

Cruisers were used extensively during the Vietnam War, offering gunfire support and attacking enemy targets. The USS Canberra, a U.S. Navy cruiser, was the first Navy ship to relay messages using satellite communications.

During years of Cold War tension between the U.S. and Soviet Union, cruisers played a vital role. One example of the importance of Cold War cruisers was their use to blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Modern Cruisers

The only cruisers still active in the U.S. Navy are the Ticonderoga class of guided missile cruisers. This cruiser class was ordered in 1978. Today, there are 22 cruisers active, all commissioned in 1983. These ships are beginning to age and there is no plan for replacement. Ticonderoga cruisers are multi-role ships, meaning they can engage in a variety of operations. These ships are armed with Tomahawk cruise and anti-aircraft missiles.

Asbestos Use in Cruisers

Asbestos use in ships, including U.S. Navy cruisers was heaviest between the 1930s and the 1970s. After this time period, strict regulations limited asbestos use. Cruisers were no exception. Most cruisers used asbestos to insulate, prevent overheating, as fireproofing, and to protect personnel from heat. Asbestos insulates effectively, but it is also inexpensive, abundant, and lightweight.

In cruiser construction, asbestos was used as pipe insulation, in boiler and engine rooms, fuel storage areas, electrical parts, and bulkheads. Essentially, asbestos was used in any part of the ship where insulation or fire protection was necessary. Asbestos was even used in safety gear for firefighters and gunners.

Asbestos Exposure on Cruisers

The heavy asbestos use left men serving vulnerable to exposure. Asbestos exposure occurs when the microscopic fibers flake off and become airborne. Once these tiny fibers float in the air, they can be easily inhaled by personnel in the area. Fibers may detach when the asbestos material damaged. However, it can also happen through regular wear and tear. Exposure is likely for men who served on cruisers with asbestos.

Maintenance and repair workers were most at risk, both those on the ships and those in shipyards where cruisers were repaired. These workers handled asbestos materials, cutting and tearing them in the course of their work. Crew members working in areas with the most asbestos, such as engine rooms, were at an increased risk of exposure. Poor ventilation on these compact vessels could cause asbestos dust to accumulate, increasing exposure risk.

U.S. Cruisers with Asbestos

It is likely all cruisers built before the late 1970s contained asbestos. However, documentation exists for some, proving they contained asbestos. Later cruisers may have contained asbestos, although not in the quantities present on later models. Men should be aware of potential exposure if they served on a Navy cruiser. Exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of asbestos-related illness. Some cruisers known to contain 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. All veterans should be aware that many Naval ships contained asbestos. Nearly every Navy vessel made between the 1930s and 1970s contained asbestos in some form. If you served on a cruiser or other ship from that time period, you should be screened for asbestos related illnesses. If you receive a diagnosis, you can make a claim with the Veterans Administration to receive compensation for suffering and medical expenses.

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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