USS Norfolk (DL-1) Ocean Escort, Cruiser

USS Norfolk (DL-1)

US Navy Flag Ocean Escort (Cruiser)
Cold War US DDs:
Fletcher DDE class | Gearing DDE class | Gearing FRAM I class | Sumner FRAM II class | Forrest Sherman class | Mitscher class | Farragut class | Norfolk class | Charles F. Adams class | Spruance class

The USS Norfolk (Destroyer Leader 1) was a new type of large oceanic escort vessel, a new generation of very large destroyer, later reclassified as a cruiser. Launched in 1951 and completed in 1953, the new ship was tailored to track and hunt down the Soviet “Whiskey” class submarines, which performances were estimated at least as good as the WW2 German Type XXI. Nevertheless, USS Norfolk soon appeared too costly and too large as a concept while the role of destroyer leader was now largely obsolete. A sister ships, CLK-2, was never ordered, and after having trouble find her place in the US Navy, USS Norfolk was deactivated in 1973 and stricken.

Fire testing of ASROC by USS Norfolk off Key West (Florida)

The first attempt of an ocean escort

The lessons of WW2 were barely digested in 1946 when the US admiralty started to have a look at the new instrument of the task force centered around an aircraft carrier. It appeared that battleships or cruisers were neither really well tailored to bring the optimum all-round support, while destroyers lacked range to be effective. This led to the search for a new type (which remained to be defined), collectively known as the “escort”. It could be either an ocean escort or a fleet escort. Both frigates and modernized WW2 destroyers were given the denomination Ocean Escort (Destroyer).

USS Norfolk underway circa 1954
USS Norfolk underway circa 1954

But it was felt that a larger ship, mid-size between a true cruiser (at the time, an all-big gun conventional model, tailored for anti-ship combat) and an AA/ASW escort. The second option was chosen, a sort of “super destroyer”, with long range and enough speed, but at the same time only light dual purpose and AA armament, and a generous ASW suite. It was assumed that the size of the new vessel made it suitable to house command facilities as well, so as to be used as destroyer leader.

Design development of the new ship future “DL 1” for “destroyer leader”, started in April-May 1946 under the project SCB 1. It was eventually authorized in 1947 as CLK-1. It was designed as a large anti-submarine hunter killer ship capable of operating under all weather conditions and large enough to carry the latest and best radar, sonar, and electronics available. She was designed on a light cruiser hull so to carry a large variety of detection gear, far more than a destroyer. It was estimated that this long range detection would make it able to coordinate destroyers attacks on ASW targets. The design was refined again in 1948, and almost all the way to the summer of 1949, with numerous designs submitted an back-and-forth discussions between BuShips and the admiralty. The basic model was the WW2 Atlanta class cruisers.

blueprint front
Front section blueprint. SRC

The last design was eventually retained and USS Norfolk, the largest ship ordered post-WW2, was eventually laid down on 1st September 1949 at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden (New Jersey). The new cruiser was launched on 29 December 1951 but was soon reclassified as destroyer leader (DL-1). During the ceremony she was sponsored by Miss Betty King Duckworth. USS Norfolk was eventually commissioned on 4 March 1953. Her first captain was Clarence Matheson Bowley.

Design of USS Norfolk

South Boston annex and army base, circa 1958
South Boston annex and army base, circa 1958, Norfolk can be seen in the upper left corner

Measuring 164 m overall (540 feets) for 16.3 m (53 feets 6 inches) was rather long and narrow, with the same ratio as a destroyer and a high prow, long flush-deck hull and transom stern, making her a good sea-going vessel, at relative ease in heavy weather. She also had a design mid-way between a light cruiser and a destroyer, with long superstructures not interrupted by torpedo tubes banks but boats, two funnel, a relatively tall bridge, and two superfiring gun positions fore and aft plus AA mounts. She had torpedo tubes, but to have her decks clean, they were all fixed along the hull, four per side. Needless to say, she had no armour but internal compartimentation and triple hull for a part of the hull. Also she benefited a lot from the Bikini nuclear test: Notably special efforts were made to permit fallout to wash from her decks and her bridgework was fully enclosed for better protection, while seals were placed on all doors, not only those of the deck level. In short, she was the first USN NBC warship.



USS Norfolk was propelled by two shafts connected to steam turbines, fed by four Babcock & Wilcox boilers for a total output of 80,000 hp. Due to her moderate tonnage of 5,550 tonnes fully loaded, hull ratio and fine lines, she was able to reach 33 knots. Range was tailored for the Atlantic at 6,000 nautical miles at cruise speed (20 knots). As part of her ASW role, her propellers were unusually large and apparently shaped in a way to allow them to turn slower and therefore quieter as well.


3-in/70 (76 mm) gun turrets circa 1962
3-in/70 (76 mm) gun turrets circa 1962

It looked weak at first glance giving her size and tonnage:
Four twin 3-in/50: In two position fore and aft, superfiring. This standard mount was designed in 1945 as an intermediate between the 5-in and 40 mm Bofors for its stopping power. The 3″/50 (7.62 cm) Mark 22 was placed in a semi-enclosed Mark 33 mount. They were replaced by still experimental 3 in/70 models later in 1950. For details, check the cold war USN section.

Four twin 20 mm/70: Standard twin-mount Oerlikon gun, placed at the stern deck, two on each side.
Eight 21-in TT: Like the 21″ (53.3 cm) Mark 35: 13 ft 5 in long with a 270 lbs. (122.5 kg) HBX warhead, able to reach 15,000 yards (13,710 m) at 27 knots guided by Active and passive acoustic with spiral search. These were in fact her primary ASW weapons. These acoustic models were all grouped together in the aft superstructure behind the aft funnel.
Four ‘Weapon Alfa’: Four turrets, two aft in tandem, two forward in a pair (port and starboard). Basically a turreted mortar. More info here and on naweaps. This was the second layer of ASW combat capabilities, shorter range.
This armament was modified during her career, see her active service records.

USS Norfolk ASROC system
USS Norfolk’s ASROC system


The USS Norfolk benefited from the very best electronic equipments of her time: The latest radar and latest sonar, upgraded twice during her career.
In addition to the sonars she also had decoys systems, quite novel at the time, also experimented.

  • Main air search/1st warning radar: SPS-6* Mk.35
  • *Upgrade 1: SPS-26
  • Two FCS SPG-48 radars
  • Sonar QHB
  • Sonar GHG
  • Sonar QXB
  • Sonar SQG-2*
  • *Upgrade 1: SQS-4
  • *Upgrade 2: SQS-26
  • 4x NAE torpedo decoy RL
  • FXR torpedo decoy

USS Norfolks digital Computer
USS Norfolk’s digital Computer

USS Norfolk underway

USS Norfolk underway

USS Norfolk as completed

Dimensions 158,5 wl/164.6 wl x 16.3 x 5.8m (540 ft x 53 ft x 19 ft)
Displacement 4,956t, 5,556t FL Fully Loaded
Propulsion 2 shafts geared turbines, 4 boilers, 80,000 hp, 33 knots.
Range 1,230t fuel, 6,000 nmi/20 knots
Armament: 4×2 3in, 4×2 20mm AA, 4x Weapon Alfa ASWRL, 8x 533m TTs
Electronics: Radar SQS-6, Sonars QHB, SQG-1
Crew 546

USS Norfolk in service 1953-73

badge USS Norfolk was seen as an experimental ship since her early conception, and served with the Operational Test and Evaluation Force. When introduced, she was the test ship for the ASROC weapons system, the SPS-26 electronically scanned Radar, prototype of the SPS-39. In 1959, conversion as a Terrier missile cruiser was proposed as part as the same upgrade envisioned for the Mitscher and Sherman classes, with the smaller Tartar. But this was dropped because of the high cost of the conversion, while not sticking to her ASW role. In addition tat the time this was still considered highly unreliable as a weapon.

ASROC loaded
ASROC system being reloaded, tested for the first time onboard a USN vessel.

1960 Early service

patch After her Caribbean shakedown cruise (February 1954), Norfolk was assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In 1955 and 1957 she served successively as flagship for Commander Destroyer Flotillas 2, 4, and 6, befitting her denomination ad initial role. In 1956-1957 she acted as flagship for all the whole Commander Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet. In June 1957, she participated in the International Fleet Review (as flagship) bearing the mark of Admiral Jerauld Wright, Ci-in-C of the Atlantic Fleet, and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic for NATO.
In late 1955 she suffered a boiler explosion. She was repaired soon after.
In 1957, she received her new radar SPS-26.
In 1959 Norfolk saw one of her numerous modifications: Her eight 3 inch/50 which were provisional, were replaced by the 3″/70 Mark 37 caliber guns first planned in 1950, while her twin 20 mm battery was removed entirely, seen as obsolete against modern jets. Her GHG, QHB, QXB sonar suite were replaced by the more modern SQS-4 sonar.

USS Norfolk and Bushnell off Key West

1960 Modernization and later career

In 1960, the addition of an ASROC launcher enhanced her antisubmarine capabilities. This was the first time this weapon system was tested in the US Navy, on a ship. It was placed aft, instead of the former two tandem 324mm Mk 108 Weapon Alfa ASWRL. The two forward ones were kept. The ASROC fired eight RUR-5 torpedo-missiles.

On 10 May 1960, when deployed off Cuban waters, she was harassed dangerously by a 83-foot Cuban vessel while she was patrolling the Florida Straits with USS The Sullivans. In Fall 1961, she took part in the NATO exercise UNITAS II as flagship, Commander Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla 2. During it, she was involved in a realistic ASW training with the navies of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. USS Norfolk reproduced this routine over the next five years (until 1965), always as flagship, Commander South Atlantic Forces. In 1962 however she became flagship, Commander Cruiser Destroyer Forces Atlantic Fleet. In 1965, she served again, and for the last time as flagship, this was UNITAS VI.

In 1966, USS Norfolk joined LANTFLEX 66, as flagship again, which was held between 28 November and 16 December. This exercise saw her shadowing two Russian trawlers, “Repiter” and “Teodilit”. In fall 1967, she demonstrated valuable antisubmarine capabilities again as flagship, Commander South Atlantic Forces (Exercise UNITAS VIII).
USS Norfolk was deployed next in the Mediterranean: She became Flagship, Commander Middle East Force from 17 April to 15 October 1968. She visited Bahrain and Somaliland as well as Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia but also stopped in Kenya, passed the Suez canal, stopped in the Seychelles, visited Mauritius, Madagascar, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Mexico, and Panama Canal Zone to be back in the Atlantic. This was her largest and longest operational cruise, and a sort of farewell tour as well as her operational life reached an end for the Operational Test and Evaluation Force.

In October 1968, having northing more to test, and being a design largely seen as experimental, USS Norfolk returned to Norfolk for decommission, which was acted on 15 January 1970. She entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, mothballed. Four years later, on 1 September 1974, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. She was soon sold for scrap.

USS John.W.Weeks returns to Naval Station Norfolk, with USS Norfolk anchored nearby, December 1967


Her sister ship DL-2 was projected, affected to the yard New Haven as N°489, then deferred and eventually cancelled cancelled in 9.1951 in favor of smaller and less expensive Mitscher-class destroyers. The projected cost of her construction was indeed $61.9 million. Norfolk remained in effective a one ship class experiment testing ASW weaponry and flotilla management as well as other concepts.

As for USS Norfolk’s remains, two of her 3in/70 gun mounts were saved and are displayed now at the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida, later hosted by Boca Raton Community High School’s NJROTC. They long stayed at the football field in Boca Raton then were moved to Naval Station Norfolk by November 2020. Volunteers helped their refection for a display in front of Commander Naval Surface Force Atlantic headquarters. The ship’s bell is in Norfolk, Virginia, St. Paul’s Boulevard (Elizabeth River waterfront) then Town Point Park and now in the Wisconsin Square, Norfolk.

USS John Willis (DE-1027) and USS Van Voorhis (DE-1028) underway off Argentinia in October 1965, seen from Norfolk's prow
USS John Willis (DE-1027) and USS Van Voorhis (DE-1028) underway off Argentinia in October 1965, seen from Norfolk’s stern


Read More & Resources

Conway’s all the world’s fighting ships 1947-1995
Blackman, Raymond V. B. Jane’s Fighting Ships (1970/71)
Friedman, Norman (1982). U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History

The Models Corner
-1/700 Niko Model US Navy Destroyer Leader USS Norfolk DL-1 Resin Model Kit with Photo Etch
If you know about others, thanks to contact me.

Author: dreadnaughtz

Naval Encyclopedia webmaster. Find more on the "about" page.

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