Under the weight of the Washington Conference of 1930, the United States Navy had little tonnage left for the construction of cruisers armed with 8-inch guns, now typed as heavy cruisers under the treaty. However, the new category created by the
treaty of light cruiser, determined by gun size of main guns under 6.1-inches, and not by displacement, opened up a fertile ground for future USN cruiser development. The Royal Navy had anticipated that the USN and Imperial Japanese Navy would
use their allowable light cruiser tonnage to build cruisers in the 6,000-ton to 8,000-ton range, which was exactly what the British wished to build, as their greatest need was their quantity of cruisers, not individual quality. However, neither Japan not the
US were enamored with the idea of small cruisers. They both had the vast distances of the Pacific Ocean with which to contend. Japan got the ball rolling when they announced that they would build the
Mogami Class armed with fifteen 6.1-inch guns
placed in five triple turrets. They did fudge on the proclaimed displacement of 8,500-tons, as the class far exceeded the 10,000-ton treaty limit.

On March 10, 1933 the USN requested designs for a cruiser with fifteen 6-inch guns in triple turrets or sixteen guns in four quadruple turrets on 10,000-tons. The quadruple turret was considered risky to develop so the five triple gun turret design was
selected. The starting point was the
New Orleans Class design. As designs were formulated it was discovered that by lengthening the hull from 578-feet as in New Orleans to 600-feet a better design could be produced that would allow less water
resistance and would allow the maximum speed of 32.5-knots on 93,500 horsepower instead of the 107,000 horsepower required with a shorter hull. The fifth turret complicated the aircraft handling characteristics, which had always been placed
amidship. The result was the
Brooklyn Class, which marked a number of firsts. She was armed with fifteen fast firing 6/47-inch guns Mk 16 in five turrets arranged as in the Mogami Class with the third turret capable of only broadside fire. This
newly designed gun was capable of eight to ten rounds per minute, compared to the two rounds per minute of USN eight inch guns. The guns used a new super heavy shell of 130 pounds (59kg), which had almost twice the penetration power of the
older 6-inch gun on the
Omaha Class. Range was 26,1000-yards at the maximum elevation of 47.5 degrees. Secondary guns were eight 5-inch/25 dual purpose guns in open mounts and a light antiaircraft battery of eight .50 machine guns. Mk 34
directors were fitted for the main guns and Mk 33 directors for the secondary. The armor belt ranged from 3.5-inches to 3.25-inches. Turrets had maximum armor of 6.5-inches and barbettes 6-inches. End internal armored bulkheads tied in with the
belt armor were 5-inches thick. A 2-inch armored deck was fitted. Complement was initially 52 officers and 816 crewmen but by 1945 it had swelled to 80 officers and 1,116 crewmen. The design was flush deck for the first time. Another first was to
place the hangar underneath the quarterdeck with catapults at deck edge between the hangar opening and hull sides. This was a far superior design to having the hangar and aircraft midship where time after time it proved to be an extreme fire hazard.
The tripod masts of earlier designs were replaced by light pole masts. The design proved to be excellent sea boats and were dry with a smooth roll. The first four of the class were ordered on August 3, 1933 under FY1934.
The last two cruisers of the Brooklyn Class incorporated a significant change. Delighted with the tests of the new 5-inch/38 dual purpose guns, whose performance was far better than the 5-inch/25 open single gun mounts used in the previous ships of
Brooklyn Class, the last two ships of the Brooklyn Class, the Helena and St. Louis, were equipped with four twin gun 5-inch/38 mounts in armored gun houses, with two mounts on each side. They were sometimes called the St. Louis Class.
After these two the USN did build a smaller cruiser but it was for a special purpose. The
Atlanta Class were designed and built for the specific purpose of providing anti-aircraft defense and with their ordnance on multiple twin gun 5-inch/38 gun
positions were certainly outside the evolution of the US cruiser. This decision was made in September 1937. Within the Navy there was a group that wanted smaller cruisers but armed with dual purpose 6-inch guns. They considered the 5-inch main
guns of the
Atlantas as too light for the main guns of a cruiser. On February 20, 1939 the General Board decided that the next two cruisers to be numbered CL-55 and CL-56 were to be of 8,000-tons displacement and mount five twin gun 6-inch/47
dual purpose guns to be authorized in the FY40 program. Three months later the proposed cruiser were criticized by President Roosevelt as being too lightly armed. He was concerned that they wouldn’t have any chance against a German Panzerschiffe
such as the
Admiral Scheer. The deadline for contracts for the FY40 program was September 15, 1939. Admiral Harold Stark, the new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) also disliked the 8,000-ton cruiser design. Salvation came with start of World
War Two. On September 3, 1939 Great Britain announced that it would no longer follow the terms of the London Treaty indefinitely. Stark quickly ditched the planned 8,000-ton cruiser.
There was too little time to develop an entirely new design, so Stark went back to the design for Helena and St. Louis. On October 2, 1939 Stark proposed that the CL-55 and CL-56 should be repeats of the St. Louis but substituting two more twin
5-inch/38 gun mounts for the deletion of the 3rd triple 6-inch turret of
St. Louis. To speed up the process it was decided to have these two cruisers built in government yards to avoid the bidding process. Both were designated to be built by New York
Shipbuilding. From the start there was concern about top weight of the cruisers and their inherent stability. One very important partial solution was suggested by the builder. With the
Helena and St. Louis, their 3-inch armor belt inclined inwards at 2
degrees. The yard suggested that with the CL-55 and CL-56 the same belt should incline outwards at 6 degrees. This would provide more internal volume lower in the hull, enhancing stability. This suggestion was quickly accepted and gave the
Clevelands a noticeable tumblehome lacking in the Brooklyn Class. The beam at waterline increased by 2.5-feet. In June 1940 the King Board recommended that new large ships should mount at least four quadruple 1.1-inch gun mounts. This
recommendation was worked into the
Cleveland design. However, none of the ships in the class every carried the Chicago Pianos. By mid-1941 it was realized that the 1.1-inch/75 was an unreliable gun system. The Bureau of Ordnance ordered that
the 1.1-inch guns of
Cleveland be replaced by twin 40mm/56 Bofors guns. Admiral Stark thought that he was overseeing the construction of only two light cruisers but with the advent of World War Two, the quantity of warships was a paramount
concern. Eventually 52 cruisers of the
Cleveland Class would be ordered with 29 finished as cruisers, 9 would be converted into light aircraft carriers,, one would be broken up in the yard and 13 would be cancelled at the end of the war. USS
CL-55 would be the only one of the class completed with four twin 40mm Bofors mounts. For USS Columbia CL-56 the AA fit changed to two twin Bofors mounts and two quadruple Bofors mounts.

USS Cleveland was laid down on July 1, 1940 at New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey, launched on November 1, 1941, and completed on July 29, 1942. Her length was 608-feet 4-inches overall and 600-feet at waterline, with a beam of
64-feet 4-inches and draft 24-feet 6-inches at deep load. Design displacement was 10,000-tons but actual full load displacement was 14,131-tons. Armament was twelve 6-inch/47 Mk 16 main guns (4x3), twelve 5-inch/38 DP secondary guns (6x2),
eight 40mm/56 Mk 2 Bofors guns (4x2), and ten 20mm/70 Mk 2 Oerlikon guns. The armor belt ranged from 3.25-inches to 1.25-inches. A 2-inch armored deck was over machinery spaces and magazines. Four Babcock & Wilcox boilers supplied
steam to four General Electric geared turbines, developing 109,458 horsepower for an actual maximum speed of 32.3-knots, instead of the designed 32.5-knots. Designed range was 11,000 nm at 15-knots but actual range was far less, 8,640 nm at
15-knots. (History from:
The Modern Cruiser, The Evolution of the Ships that Fought the Second World War by Robert C. Stern, Seaforth Publishing 2020; U.S. Cruisers by Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press 1984)
At the end of 2020 Very Fire Models released a 1:350 scale model of USS Cleveland CL-55 in her late war fit and then followed up with a USS Birmingham kit. If you have not seen it, the Very Fire Cleveland is a very nice kit. It does come with a
small fret of brass photo-etch, which is totally insufficient for the kit. Very Fire has also released a detail-up set of photo-etch but at $178.95 it certainly is not economical. So what is the modeler to do? You certainly don’t want solid plastic SK-2
dish radar that look more like a giant pizza pie baking dish than the delicate SK-2 dish. Enter
Tom's Modelworks. Toms has just released a new two fret brass photo-etch set for the Very Fire Cleveland. The set contains one large fret and one
medium sized fret. You certainly get the quantity of parts to deck out the
Cleveland but at a price that will send you into perpetual debt and make the President of your house unhappy with you and likely to take a 2x4 up side your head. Get this! The
Tom’s Modelworks 1:350 scale set for the Very Fire USS Cleveland is priced at an economical $48. At the end of this review you will see photographs of the Tom’s brass parts compared with the actual fittings and photographs contrasting the
Tom’s part with the photo-etch or plastic parts that come with the kit.
As mentioned, there is a large fret and a medium fret in the Tom’s set. The medium size fret concentrates on aircraft handling equipment while the large fret supplies the bulk of the ship specific fittings as well as railing. A good amount of the large
fret is devoted to radar arrays. These alone are worth the cost of the set. The Very Fire
Cleveland has solid plastic parts for the radar arrays. The late war Cleveland has a lot of them. There is no way to compare a solid plastic part with a multi-part
brass radar. Two of the most obvious are the circular dish SK-2 and the bed mattress SK radars. It looks like a competition between spidery, open radar arrays and solid cooking ware. The plastic SK-2 looks a pan, more suitable to cook pizzas than
to detect a threat. The solid plastic SK may be useful to cook waffles but not for threat detection. The Tom’s SK-2 consists of eleven parts. It certainly takes more time and patience to assembly than simply slapping on the plastic piece but the
appearance of the brass array is certainly superior. The same can be said about the square SK array with two brass parts. Even when you go one against one, Tom’s wins. A case in point is the oval SP-1 array. Both the plastic and brass parts are
solid but the
Tom’s relief-etched SP-1 with raised edge is much thinner than the plastic part in the kit and also gives you the frame across the front. When it comes to fire control radar, the same rubric applies. Solid plastic radars are crude when
contrasted with the brass Mk. 4, Mk. 8, and Mk. 12 arrays. Other brass radar arrays included in the set are the SG, Mk. 22, DF array with platform and IFF arrays.

Other parts on the large fret are equally important. The Bofors platforms have no safety railing in the kit. Do you want your 1;350 scale crew continuously break their ankles and legs by falling off their gun platforms? No you say, well then add
safety railing to the Bofors platforms. This Bofors railing comes for quadruple and twin mounts. Hey, speaking of AA gun crews, the kit has nice Oerlikons but they lack gun shields. Don’t leave the  Oerlikon gunners open to Japanese machine
guns or bomb fragments, use the
Tom’s Oerlikon gun shields found on this fret. Various mast platforms are solid in the kit but have open mesh flooring with the photo-etch, as well as yards with foot ropes. Aircraft get cradles, support struts and
propellers, plus block and tackle for the aircraft and boat cranes. Eight floater net baskets are included. Accommodation ladders have open grid platforms. Tom’s provides a full set of railig for the model, Something the kit lacks, as the kit included
photo-etch railing is too small and only outfits a part of the model. Other brass parts on the large fret are inclined ladders with safety railing and trainable treads, vertical ladder, and Bofors sites.
The medium sized fret is almost exclusively connected with the aircraft handling equipment of the catapults and cranes. They pose an interesting choice as the plastic catapults in the kit are good. Each plastic catapult has two halves and solid
turntables. On the plus side, the plastic catapults are easier to assemble and the turntables have raised detail. On the other hand the brass catapults, which have to be folded have a lighter appearance, open design turntables and walkways with railing,
as well as some fittings on the walkways. I have not tried it but it may be possible to use the brass walkways and fittings on the plastic catapults. You can certainly use the brass aircraft cradles on the plastic or brass catapults. When it comes to the
aircraft and boat cranes, I’ll take the
Tom’s finery with their equipment and fittings. The medium brass fret even has a 1:350 scale Richard Harden figure placed between the two aircraft cradles on the fret. I don’t know if this figure is provided as
a pilot ready to climb into the floatplane or the captain for the bridge of the cruiser.

The instructions are good. They are a series of modules for particular arrays or fittings with a mixture of text, drawings and photographs. Thhe text is detailed and helpful. As they are a series of modules, you don’t have to follow modules in
sequence. You can just hop around with the modules that interest you most. Page one has modules on SOC detailing, boat cranes and aircraft crane, numbered 1 through 3. Page two is a photograph of the quarterdeck of
USS Mobile. Page three has
only one module numbered 4. It is on assembly of the catapults with a numbered parts laydown and each number is reflected in the assembly drawings. Page four finishes the catapults assembly and as module five starts Mk 8 radar assembly. Page
five concludes assembly of the Mk 8 radars and has module 6 on the Mk 34 catwalk. Page six has a photo of the Mk 34 director with Mk 8 radar on the crown and has module 7 on assembly of the SK radar. Page seven has modules 8 through 10
on assembly of the SK-2 radar, general use of vertical ladders, and use of inclined ladders. Page eight is module 11 and is entirely on assembly of the Mk 4 radar. Page nine doesn’t have its own module number and shows assembly of the Mk 12
radar. Page ten has modules 12 and 13 on turret vertical ladders and turret top rails, as well as two photographs showing the aft two 6-inch gun turrets of
USS Denver and USS Santa Fe. Page eleven has seven modules, numbered 14 through 20.
The modules cover assemblies of the accommodation ladders, SG radar, SP radar, communications antennas, ECM fan array, RDF loop and floater net baskets. Page twelve has eight modules, numbered 21 through 28. These cover assemblies of
Kingfisher details, floatplane braces, foremast platform, foreyard foot ropes, foretopmast platform, mainmast platform, mainyard foot ropes, and Oerlikon gun shields. Page thirteen has three modules, numbered 29 through 31 on assembly of twin
Bofors safety railing, quad Bofors safety railing and main deck railing. Page fourteen has module 32 on DF antenna and platform assembly with two photographs of
USS Birmingham. Page fifteen has another laydown with many of the parts
numbered. Page sixteen has a single photograph of the aft superstructure of
USS Santa Fe. Page seventeen has a single photograph of the forward superstructure of USS Denver and page eighteen has a single photograph of the superstructure of
USS Montpelier.
The Tom’s Modelworks brass photo-etch set for the USS Cleveland in 1:350 scale from Very Fire gives you all the brass you need to finish off the Cleveland in style. You get enough brass on the two fret Tom’s set to equip every marching band in
the Macy’s Christmas Parade. With an attractive, moderate price, the
Tom’s set has an appeal to any modeler. The Tom’s Modelworks 1:350 scale brass photo-etch set, don’t let your Cleveland leave port without one.

Steve Backer
Huntsville, Alabama