Asbestos on Navy Cruisers

USS Birmingham

Nov. 14, 1910, Eugene B. Ely takes off from the USS Birmingham (CL 2) as the first pilot to fly off a ship.

U.S. Navy cruisers are large combat warships with multiple target response capability. Modern guided missile cruisers, the only remaining active Navy cruisers, primarily perform a battle force role. These ships can accomplish multiple missions including air warfare, surface warfare, undersea warfare, naval surface fire support and long range strike warfare with Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Served in:

  • World War I (1914 - 1918)
  • World War II (1941 - 1945)
  • The Korean War (1950 - 1953)
  • The Vietnam War (1955 - 1975)
  • The Cold War (1945 - 1991)

Unlike other U.S. Navy war vessels that generally have one type of classification design that remains similar among modified ship designations, early construction of Navy cruisers resulted in variations among cruisers in design and size, from the small protected cruiser to the large armored cruisers, which rivaled the size of a battleship but remained less powerful.

By the early 20th century, cruiser classification designs remained more consistent between modified designations. Each ship was built similar and were larger than destroyers but smaller compared to battleships.

Throughout the following years, the Navy developed several modified Navy cruiser designations, including:

  • Armored Cruiser (CA)

  • Heavy Cruiser (CA)

  • Guided Missile Heavy Cruiser (CAG)

  • Large Cruiser (CB)

  • Large Command Ship (CBC)

  • Command Cruiser (CC)

  • Guided Missile Cruiser (CG)

  • Guided Missile Cruiser with a Helicopter (CGH)

  • Guided Missile Cruiser, Nuclear Powered (CGN)

  • Light Cruiser (CL)

  • Anti-Aircraft Light Cruiser (CLAA)

  • Command Light Cruiser (CLC)

  • Guided Missile Light Cruiser - Light cruiser converted to carry missiles (CLG)

  • Guided Missile Light Cruiser, Nuclear Powered (CLGN)

  • Cruiser-Hunter Killer Ship (CLK)

Armored cruisers and light cruisers were deployed during World War I. Many were responsible for convoy duties, escorting merchant ships, troop transports and cargo men across the Atlantic.

During the Second World War, U.S. Navy battleships became obsolete largely because of their inability to fight off air attacks, which left cruisers as the largest and most powerful surface warship during and after the war; but their role was significantly impacted by the rise in aircraft attacks during war, as well.

To later combat air warfare, especially during the Cold War, guided missile cruisers, a new cruiser classification with a number of varied designations, and other cruiser variations were constructed.

Currently, the U.S., Russia and Peru are the only nations worldwide with active Navy cruisers.

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Asbestos in Navy Cruisers

USS Helena USS Helena (CA 75) fires main battery guns at Chongjin, North Korea in October 1950.

During the 1930s through the 1970s, before the health risks of asbestos exposure were widely known, the toxic mineral was commonly used in the construction and repairing of naval ships, including cruisers.

Asbestos was commonly used in ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, switches, electrical components, fuel storage areas, boiler and engine rooms, and bulkheads of cruisers — anywhere that required protection from fire or extreme heat and anywhere insulation was needed. Its versatility, affordability and insulation properties contributed to the wide use of the material, despite its hazardous effects.

Through extended daily use, asbestos-containing products on board may become easily degraded or agitated over time. When asbestos fibers are disturbed, its fibers are released into the air. Once these fibers are inhaled, they can become lodged into the lining of the lungs and with prolonged inhalation, the accumulation of fibers may cause the development of a tumor such as mesothelioma cancer or other asbestos-related diseases.

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History of U.S. Navy Cruisers

USS Canberra USS Canberra (CA 70) fires a “Terrier” missile during fleet demonstration in December, 1963.

A U.S. Navy cruiser is a type of warship, but before its classification, the term cruiser had a few different meanings. From as early as the 16th century, cruising was a term referring to specific types of missions, including raiding, independent scouting, and commerce protection, performed by Navy frigates, which were considered cruising warships.

By the middle of the 19th century, the term was given to the Navy ship classification that we know today as Navy cruisers, but their designs often fluctuated and were relatively inconsistent. As of the early 20th century, their designs became more consistent and all modified classifications retained a similar design, which also better prepared the ships for their role in upcoming battle.

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  1. U.S. Department of State. Milestones: 1921-1936: The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922. Retrieved from
  2. U.S. Navy. A Brief History of U.S. Navy Cruisers: Part II - World War II (1941-1943). Retrieved from
  3. U.S. Navy. A Brief History of U.S. Navy Cruisers: Part III - Korea, Vietnam and Cold War. (2009, June, 22). Retrieved from
  4. U.S. Navy. Fact File: Cruisers – CG. Retrieved from
  5. U.S. Navy. The Cruisers. Retrieved from
  6. U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy Ships Listed by Hull Number. Retrieved from

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