With a growing requirement for faster ships the US Navy commissioned the first of a new line of craft in 1905. Initially classified as a “Scout”, the cruiser CS-1 (later to be re-designated CL-1), was one of three ships built to explore the concept, each with their own unique design. Launched by the Bath Iron Works in Maine in 1907, she was commissioned in April 1908 under the captaincy of Commander H. B. Wilson.
Named Chester after the city in Pennsylvania, she was 120m long and 3,750 tons displacement. When launched, she was armed with 2 single mount 5 inch cannon, and 6 smaller 3 inch secondary guns. She was the first US warship to be fitted with reaction turbine engines (compression bladed turbines), built by Parsons of Newcastle, England and generating a total of 23,000 horse power at the shaft. Her armour was limited but with over 2” of steel around the hull belt, she was capable of taking on her contemporaries at range and provided ample protection for her 350+ crew.
Three Chester class cruisers were built, and her two sister ships were fitted with different power systems. The Salem was fitted with an American derived version of an impulse turbine engine manufactured by Curtis, and the Birmingham carried the more conventional reciprocating steam engine we would all recognise. The US Navy held a competition between all 3 craft to establish which design was the most effective in April 1905.
The test was a 24 hour run at full speed the ships being set off at 3 mile intervals and running along the same route. After just 12 hours the Birmingham had to pull out of the trial with a broken engine, the crew complaining that they had “run of the mine” coal where as their competitors had “hand selected” fuel. The Chester and the Salem remained locked in contest, sailing back and forth along the course, after over 625 miles of racing the Chester edged out the Salem to take the victory by 12.8 miles.
Prior to the outbreak of WWI Chester was predominantly used as a training ship off the East coast of the US and down in to the Caribbean. She also carried out diplomatic duties including a Congressional tour of North Africa in 1909. During the “Banana” wars, American interests in the Caribbean were threatened and Chester patrolled off Mexico and Haiti carrying a Marine occupation force in 1911 to Honduras.
Between December 1911 and November 1913 Chester was put in to fleet reserve but in April 1912 she was ordered to escort the Cunard Line’s RMS Carpathia back to New York. Carpathia had just recovered the survivors from the sinking of RMS Titanic.
In January 1914 Chester was in action again, President Wilson held conference on-board with John Lind the envoy for Mexican affairs to discuss the occupation of Veracruz, and in April of that year Chester was ordered to travel to Veracruz. Under the command of William Moffett she held top speed from port at Tampico and neared the port at around midnight on a moonless night, the radio operator contacted the USS Prairie AD-5. Commander Fletcher aboard warned the Chester that the harbour lights were out and navigation in to the port was hazardous before dawn. With time against them, Commander Moffett chose to head straight in, and holding both nerve and speed he safely negotiated the narr
ow entrance to the harbour and brought Chester to dock. For his actions on that day Moffett was awarded the Medal of Honor. Having disembarked her troops on the pier she prepared to support and at first light began shelling strategic buildings in Veracruz. Later she was required to transport refugees to Cuba, mail and stores to the squadron off shore and other diplomatic activities before returning to Boston for overhaul and a second period in reserve until 1915.
Chester spent a further period bolstering American interests in the Mediterranean, providing assistance in relief work across the Middle East and off the Liberian coast supporting the government there who were threatened by insurrection. Chester then returned for duty as a training ship in Boston where she was put back in to reserve between May 1916 and March 1917.
Chester was once again brought back in to commission in April 1917 and performed her duties patrolling off the East coast of America where U-boat activity had been increasing. In August she sailed for Gibraltar to begin her escort role, supporting convoys between Gibraltar and Plymouth England. On the 5th of September she sighted a U-boat at close range and attempted to ram the enemy sub. She passed directly over the diving German craft and damaged her own para-vane, although depth charges were launched at the fleeing submarine no further contact was made.
As the Great War came to a conclusion Chester was enrolled in carrying several allied armistice commissions on tours of the German sea ports (a dangerous task due to the number of sea mines in the area), before she carried troops to the army units operating in Northern Russia. Homeward bound she carried army veterans back to New York before returning to Boston for overhaul where she was de-commissioned in June 1921. In 1927 she was towed to Philadelphia Navy Yard and in July 1928 her name was changed to York. She was finally sold for scrap in May 1930.
Over her career at sea USS Chester convoyed 426 ships with just a single loss to the enemy. She travelled over 60,000 miles across European waters in her wartime duties and set the standard for the light cruiser class that followed her in to service.
In game the Chester is highly manoeuvrable and has excellent speed for her size and class. She is however quite a large craft and as such is easy prey for the ever present destroyers and those nasty torpedoes, so keep your distance. Although her armaments are typical of the period, their range and firepower are not great when compared to cruisers from the IJN at the same tier, and when bottom tiered she can really struggle against T3 battleships.
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