ALBANY — From Cruiser to Submarine

Captain Robert C. Peniston USN (Ret.)


On 29 August 1980. I witnessed the demise of an old friend. USS ALBANY the last true guided missile cruiser, save one, was moored at the Destroyer-submarine pier, Naval Sta­tion, Norfolk awaiting the last.

To the untrained eye there was little hint of the fate about to befall her.  But for those of us who had the privilege of serving aboard during her illustrious 34-year career she was but a shell awaiting the final order that would relegate her to the inactive fleet and the inevitable final voyage to the breakers.  Until that order was given, she was a regal lady and a symbol of the power of the Navy.

The commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet spoke of the power of this great ship and of his chagrin at her loss, without replacement, in a Navy of dwindling numbers.  The Com­manding Officer had a more difficult task.  He had to decommission a ship which had just completed four years as the flagship of the sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.  During this period, she had won about every award for excellence the Navy bestows.  In 1979, she won the coveted Battenburg Cup to the best in the fleet.  Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, after whose father the cup is named, made the presentation.  It was his last official act before his grisly death at the hands of assassins.

As good captains are won’t to do, the last commanding Officer of the cruiser ALBANY paid tribute to members of the crew because without them the ship was nothing.   It. was obvious that the crew had great pride in their ship.  They looked sharp as did the ship lending credence to the axiom that sharp looking ships are indeed the ones which operate smoothly and efficiently.

As the national ensign, the union jack, the commission pennant and the newly awarded Navy Unit Commendation pennant were hauled down, the watch secured and the crew marched ashore. There were lumps in many throats and many moist eyes.  I confess to both because I had the honor to serve as the 19th commanding Officer, of 25, during the ships service on the active rolls.  The career of this ship was somewhat unique in as much as she never fired a shot in anger in a world fraught with tension during her 34 years of service.

After the decommissioning, she went to the inactive ship facility nearby.  Secured by chains that signal the finality of it all, I have never had a desire to see her because I want her etched in my memory as the fighting ship she was on 20 August 1971 when I relin­quished command.

Although frequently in my thoughts, I never wondered much about her status until I learned of the keel-laying of SSN-753 at Newport News shipbuilding.  This new construction was given the name ALBANY.  This caused a pang because the cruiser ALBANY had been strick­en from the Navy list in 1985, the year the keel of the submarine was laid.  The name of the cruiser given to a submarine?  Mind you I had no quarrel with the construction of her namesake but it did take me back a bit. But the blow was softened adorably when the prospective Commanding Officer sent a letter in July 1987 asking for stories and anecdotes about the cruiser during my time in command and stated that he would like to have former captains of the ship as his guests at the commissioning of the submarine ALBANY.

Like most construction dates, this one slipped beyond the projected 1989 date.  But late in March 1990, the invitation to attend the commissioning on 7 April arrived.

It was a happy occasion, whereas the decommissioning of nearly ten years earlier had been a sad one.  The Commanding Officer kept his word and. invited the former commanding Officers of ALBANY (CA-123) and (CG-10).  Three of us attended,  RADM. Ben B. Pickett, Capt. Robert C. Merritt and I were on hand and recognized during the ceremony.

I could not help but contrast the scene on this very cold day in April 1990 with the very warm one in August 1980.  The number of guests present at the latter was quite small for such a prestigious ship.  I was the only former captain present.  The Atlantic Fleet commander and the Commanding Officer were the sole participants.  With the end inevitable, there was still a tread of it.  But it did come.  The crew marched off; the watch secured. It was over.  After a reception at the head of the pier, all went their way, but the CG-10 was left alone waiting the move to the chains at the inactive ship facility.  As I left the pier, I looked back on ‘my” ALBANY and said a silent “well done” to this gallant lady which had helped maintain the peace during her years of service.