USS HOUSTON heads for Sunda Strait


Call Sign Flag
Call Sign: NIQF
9050 tons
Dimensions:     600ft x 66ft x 23ft
107,000 SHP; Geared Turbines, 4 screw 32.7 Knots
8 White Forster boilers
Radius: 13000 miles at 15 Knots


Laid Down:     


Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, VA

1 May 1928
7 Sep 1929
17 Jun 1930


4 SOC - See "AIRCRAFT" Page


9 x 8" 55 cal, 4 x 5" 25 cal, 4 x 1.1

6 x 21" Torpedos (Triple) - Removed 1934-5


U.S.S. HOUSTON was launched  on 7th September 1929 and commissioned on 17th June 1930.     She left for the Pacific on 10th January 1931 arriving at Manila in the Philippines on 22nd February to take up position as flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.    When  the Japanese invaded China, HOUSTON was sent to Shanghai to protect American  nationals.   She remained there from January 1932 to May 1933.   While stationed there she made brief visits to Japan and Manila.   On 17th November 1933 she was relieved as flagship by her sister ship U.S.S. AUGUSTA and she returned to San Francisco to join the Scouting Force.

           In 1934, with President Roosevelt aboard, she undertook a cruise to the Caribbean then on to Hawaii and  Portland, Oregon.   In 1935 she cruised to Hawaii,  Alaskan waters, and Seattle and in October took President Roosevelt to the West Coast of Central America and on to Charleston N.C.   HOUSTON was present at the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge on 28th May 1937 and in 1938 carried President Roosevelt at the Fleet Review off San Francisco.  She served as the flagship of the U.S.Fleet from 19th September 1938 to December .  She sailed on 4th January 1939 to Norfolk, Key West, Houston, and arrived in Seattle on 3rd May.  She was flagship of the Hawaiian Detachment from 7th December 1939 until February when she returned to Mare island for a refit.

      On 3rd November 1940 she left America for the last time and proceeded to Manila where she arrived on 19th November.  She was now once again the flagship of the Asiatic Fleet.

HOUSTON was at Iloilo on the S.E. coast of Panay in the Philippines on 7th December 1941.   She immediately sailed south through the Sibutu Passage into the Celebes Sea. She called at Balikpapan Borneo, and Makassar in the Celebes, before diverting to Surabaya Java where she arrived on 18th December.   On 22nd she rendezvoused with a convoy in the East Java Sea and escorted them to Darwin, Australia.

           HOUSTON spent January 1942   escorting convoys from Thursday Island to Darwin, patrolling the Flores Sea and, on 23rd, left for Surabaya arriving there 29th January. On 1st February she sailed from Surabaya to Bounder Roads just south of Madura Island.  

           Near midnight on the 3rd February HOUSTON left with the ABDA strike force to search the Makassar Strait for a Japanese Invasion force. They sailed for Meinderts Reef off the north tip of Java and at 0500 on the 4th headed for the Makassar Strait.  At about 0930, when about 30 miles south of Kavieng Is. in the Java Sea, the allied ships came under very intense air attack by about 54 Japanese Mitsubishi "Betty" and "Nell" bombers and HOUSTON received a direct hit to her after 8" turret, killing 48 men and putting the turret out of action.  Aircraftsman John Ranger was awarded a Silver Star for heroism in helping to put out the fire in the turret.

The light cruiser USS MARBLEHEAD was also hit and was so badly damaged that she had to withdraw from the area and struggle back to Tjilitjap. From there sailed back to America via Ceylon and South Africa for repairs.   HOUSTON returned via Alas Strait* to Tjilitjap on Java to bury her dead and then sailed for Darwin.

   * Log of USS Houston for Feb 1942 as reconstructed by surviving officers in Batavia, 1 June 1942.  

Track of the bomb that hit USS HOUSTON on 4th Feb 1942 south of Kavieng Is. Java Sea

HOUSTON left Darwin on the 14th February with a convoy bound for Timor but Japanese air attacks on the 15th and 16th forced a return to Darwin.  On the 18th ,at 2200, she left Darwin to sail 300 miles southwest of Broome to try and rendezvous with one of her ship's planes that had been stranded in Broome.  Her arrival off Broome on the 19th was to prove lucky for, had she stayed in Darwin Harbour, she would have been caught by the Japanese air attack that sank the destroyer  U.S.S. PEARY.


She diverted from off Broome to Tjilitjap arriving 21st February.  The next day she sailed west , through Sunda Strait to Surabaya.  On 25th she underwent another air attack and carried out a sweep towards Bali Strait.   She sailed on 26th into the Java Sea  and on the 27th took part in the Java Sea Battle before returning to Tanjong Priok.   With HMAS PERTH, she sailed from there on the night of 28th February 1942 and ran into a Japanese Invasion force off the northwest coast of Java.  After an intense battle both ships were sunk near the entrance to Sunda Strait. ( See "SUNDA STRAIT")

HOUSTON lies at position 05.48.45S 106.07.55E.  Of her crew of 1008 men, 638 were lost in the action and 104 died as POW's.  Only 266 returned home at the end of the war.  

Early 1930s
Panama Canal 1940
Medal of Honor

Darwin 17 Feb 1942
U.S.Marine Floyd Wesley Barron KIA

Crew List 1942

Wartime Track Chart


USS Houston shown as in 1940 wearing Standard Navy Grey
USS Houston shown as she appeared in Darwin Harbour in February 1942.


The topmasts have been removed apparently to facilitate use of the machine guns against attacking aircraft.

The lighter upperworks may be the original Standard Navy Grey. On the hull is a coat of the Cavite Blue which appears.
to have faded and the old light grey is starting to show through. Perhaps there was not enough paint to make up sufficient Cavite Blue to
cover the whole ship and the coat of Cavite Blue was either thinned down to make it go further or was mixed from paints not suitable for
ship-use hence the fading. It has also been suggested that the light upperworks may have been an attempt to paint the ship in a modified
Measure 1 scheme.
(The original photo of HOUSTON at Darwin in Feb 1942 showed a lot of fading and wear of the Cavite Bluel)


Just out of interest:- Years ago I was given a paperback book (since lost) written about the attack on Darwin in 1942.
The book was written either during the war or just after.The author was a resident of Darwin when HOUSTON was there and
he refers to her in the book as "The big blue American cruiser"


Photos of
USS Houston

USS Houston in Far East early 1930's
Collection of onboard photos 1930's
President Roosevelt on deck.
USS Houston in Panama Canal 1940
Crewman John Ranger-Silver Star-(Far right) and friends pre war.
Composite of the ribbons worn by crew members.

US Decorations and Medals awarded to various crew members




Home Page



1939 Manila Bay 1941 (USNHC) At Darwin with USS Peary 17 Feb 1942 16th Feb 1942 Stern of Houston at Tjilitjap 6th Feb 1942 Peary & Houston at Darwin Feb 1942 Cavite Blue Map of HOUSTON's wartime movements 1935 Flores Sea Battle Flores Sea Battle Wartime Track Chart