Pittsburg class armoured cruisers (1903)

USA – As renamed: USS Pittsburg, Huntington, California (never renamed), Pueblo, Frederick, Huron

The first 1900 Armoured cruisers serie:
The Spanish-American War showed the numerical inferiority of the US Navy and triggered a wave of new constructions, including new classes of armoured cruisers. Ordered in fiscal years 1900 (ACR-4/6) and 1901 (ACR-7/9) and succeeding Tennessee-class ships they were called the “Big Ten”. Intended to operate in the battle line with battleships but their role was changing even after entering service.

USS South Dakota 1915, notice the cage mast

The 1904’s report Navy’s Bureau of Navigation after the Russo-Japanese War concluded that armored cruisers role were auxiliaries to battleships, and they can serve with these battleships, though not replacing them. Since most battleships were concentrated in the Atlantic, 3-4 armored cruisers were assigned to the Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines, to counter Japan’s rising naval power.
The new armoured cruisers were named Pennsylvania, West Virginia, California, Colorado, Maryland and South Dakota and rebaptised as new dreadnoughts were given these names (see later). They had been built at William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia, Union Iron Works, San Francisco, and Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Virginia (two each), launched 1903-1904 and in service by 1905-1908.

USS Pennsylvania's Eugen Ely landing on USS Pennsylvania, in 1911
USS Pennsylvania’s Eugen Ely landing on USS Pennsylvania, 04/18/1911.


Captain Sigsbee, argued for adequate armor protection at the cost of speed. Belt armor was 6 in (152 mm) waterline, (127 mm) upper belt, the turrets 6.5 in (165 mm) faces. The protective deck was 4 in sloped (102 mm) 1.5 in (38 mm) flat. The conning tower was 9 in (229 mm)
The Pennsylvania series has originally to be armed with four 8-inch (203 mm)/40 caliber Mark 5 guns (twin turrets fore and aft) replaced later with 45 caliber Mark 6 guns by 1911 (a result of a gun burtsing on USS Colorado in 1907). This was completed by fourteen 6-inch (152 mm)/50 caliber Mark 6 in side casemates. Light armament included eighteen 3-inch (76 mm)/50 caliber QF guns, twelve 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in)). Outside the 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) saluting guns, there were two 18-inch (457 mm) submarine torpedo tubes.

USS Huntington (Former Pennsylvania)
USS Huntington (Former Pennsylvania)

Propulsion was assured by two inverted vertical four-cylinder triple-expansion engines served by 16 coal-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers (32 Niclausse on Pennsylvania and Colorado) giving 250 psi (1,700 kPa) for a total of 23,000 ihp (17,000 kW) and 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph). On trials South Dakota achieved 22.24 kn (41.19 km/h; 25.59 mph) at 28,543 ihp. Coal carried originally was about 900 tons, later increased to 2,000 tons.


USS California in 1907, long before being renamed. Colorized by Irootoko Jr.

In 1911 the main 40 caliber guns were replaced with four 45 caliber Mark 6 guns in Mark 12 turrets and also from 1911 military foremasts were replaced with cage masts. The USS Pennsylvania was given an after flight deck used on 18 January 1911 by pilot Eugene Ely (second takeoff from a ship).
From 1915 to April 1917, USS Huntington was given catapults for seaplanes (on the after turret) and carried up to four aircraft, and an observation balloon for convoy escort duty. All was cancelled in late 1917.

Eugen Ely landing on USS Pennsylvania
Eugen Ely landing on USS Pennsylvania (later USS Pittsburg)

USS Huntington’s reconnaissance Balloon trials, Pensacola FL, 1917.
From 1917, all but four 6-inch guns were removed (reallocated on merchant ships) also as to avoid lower casemates flooding (probably a cause for USS San Diego sinking in July 1918). 3-inch QF guns were reduced to ten but two AA 3-inch/50 caliber added. Power was also affected as in 1919 the 32 Niclausse boilers in Pittsburgh (ex-Pennsylvania) and Pueblo (ex-Colorado) were replaced by 20 Babcock & Wilcox boilers along with other changes in 1921 with “modified Niclausse” boilers. In 1922, Pittsburgh’s forward funnel and associated boilers were removed. Modernization were thought of but never performed.

USS San Diego, ex-California January 1915.

Active career

The Pennsylvania class spent the years prior to 1917 patrolling Latin America and the Western Pacific. Colorado landed troops in a 1912 intervention in Nicaragua. In early 1917, the ships operated in the South Atlantic and the Pacific, and transferred to convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic. USS
USS Pittsburgh remained in the Pacific, to search for German commerce raiders. The first Medal of Honor was awarded to shipfitter Patrick McGunigal for rescuing a balloon pilot. USS San Diego was sunk on 19 July 1918, (mine) off Fire Island, New York.

USS California in 1907

The six ships were rechristened between 1912 and 1920 Pittsburgh, Huntington, San Diego, Pueblo, Frederick, and Huron, notably to leave these names to the new Dreadnoughts in construction.

Most ships were decommissioned or relegated as “receiving ship” in the early 1920s; Pittsburgh and Huron continued on to 1930. All were sold for scrap in 1930-1931 (London Naval Treaty tonnage limits). Huron was converted as a floating breakwater in Powell River, British Columbia (lost in a storm 1961).

USS Colorado in 1907

-Displacement: 13 700t, 15 140t FL
-Dimensions: 504 x 69 x 26 feets (153,6 m x 21,2 m x 7,95 m)
-Propulsion: 16 Babcock & Wilcox/32 Niclausse boilers, VITE steam engines, 2 screws 23,000 ihp (17,000 kW) and top speed 22 knots.
-Armour: 1.5 in (38 mm) flat (belt) to 9 in (229 mm) Conning Tower.
-Armement: 4 x 8in (208 mm), 14 x 6 in (152 mm), 18 x 3in (76 mm), 12 x 3pdr (47 mm), 2 saluting guns, 2 TT 18 in (427 mm) sub sides.
-Crew: 830 sailors and officers
Src: The Pennsylvania class on Wikipedia

USS Frederick, ex-Maryland in 1918.

Illustration of the USS Pittsburg in 1915.

Author: naval encyclopedia

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