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The USS Little Rock (CL-92) was built as a Cleveland-class light cruiser at the end of World War II and later converted into a guided missile cruiser. The Little Rock was in service for more than thirty years until it was donated to the City of Buffalo, New York, where it is now part of the Naval Museum at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
The Little Rock was built by Cramp Shipbuilding of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Its keel was laid on March 6, 1943; it was launched on August 27, 1944, and was commissioned as CL-92 on June 17, 1945. The first commanding officer was Captain William E. Miller. Too late to be deployed in the war effort, the ship was ordered on an extended South American tour as a goodwill ambassador. For the next four years, it visited twenty-three countries.
On June 24, 1949, the Little Rock was decommissioned and placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet in New York. In January 1957, pursuant to a presidential executive order, the Little Rock and several other ships in the Fleet Reserve were ordered to undergo a massive overhaul under the then-new program called Fleet Rehabilitation and Mobilization (FRAM). It was towed to the New York Shipbuilding facilities at Camden, New Jersey, and underwent a massive conversion to a modern guided missile cruiser, becoming the first U.S. Navy vessel to carry the brand-new ram jet engine Talos missile. Talos was a spectacular air-to-air and air-to-surface weapon, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead some 700 miles distant.
This conversion also encompassed a special feature: the Little Rock was configured to become a flagship for an operational commander, including dedicated spaces for an admiral and substantial staff, including a flag bridge. This conversion was completed in 1960, and the Little Rock was re-commissioned as CLG-4. The new commission took place on June 3, 1960, at the U.S. Naval Base in Philadelphia.
The reconfigured ship was 610 feet in length with a beam of sixty-six feet and the highest mast being 165 feet above the keel (or the equivalent of a thirteen-story building). The Little Rock featured 659 compartments and weighed 15,000 tons. The ship, with four screws operating on 100,000 pounds of horsepower with a single rudder, could exceed speeds of thirty knots (or about thirty-eight miles an hour). Its main armament was the Talos nuclear missile; secondary armament included three six-inch gun turrets and a five-inch twin mount gun turret. It had a complement of 1,185 officers and enlisted men.
After the required shakedown cruise to the Caribbean Sea, where the ship engaged in firing exercises of its conventional weaponry and launched several Talos missiles (without warheads), it returned to Philadelphia prior to deployment to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. On February 9, 1961, the Little Rock left for Europe carrying Rear Admiral James W. Davis, commander of Cruiser Division Four. From then until the fall of 1976, the Little Rock rotated from various deployments back to the United States for necessary repairs. Its multiple deployments included voyages to the North Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean. At various points, it was the command ship for the commanders of the Second and Sixth Fleets. On November 18, 1961, the Little Rock was ordered to waters off Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to provide stability to the area after dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. On June 9, 1967, it was the first ship to come to the assistance of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), which was attacked the previous day by the navy and air force of Israel. The crew of the Little Rock and other Sixth Fleet ships evacuated 279 people from Lebanon on June 20, 1976, and transported them to Athens, Greece. On July 4, 1976, it was anchored at Cannes, France, to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States. The ship’s navy and marine corps marching units, in the company of French units, participated in a ninety-minute march in downtown Nice, and French singer Mireille Mathieu performed on board the Little Rock.
In the fall of 1976, the Little Rock was donated to the City of Buffalo, New York, where it is on display as part of the Naval Museum at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors walk its decks and visit most compartments, including the bridge and missile house.
For additional information:“USS Little Rock.” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/l7/little_rock.htm (accessed April 14, 2010).
USS Little Rock Association. http://www.usslittlerock.org/ (accessed April 14, 2010).
Gerard A. DupuisUSS Little Rock Association
Last Updated 6/21/2010
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