Brazil’s ABC Cruisers

Brazil acquired two Brooklyn class cruisers under the Military Assistance Program (MAP). They were the Barosso (C11) (ex-USS Philadelphia CL-41) and Tamandare (C12) (ex-USS St Louis CL-49). These two cruisers were sister-ships to Chile’s O’Higgins (ex-USS Brooklyn) and Capitan Prat (ex-USS Nashville); and Argentina’s ARA Nueve de Julio (ex-USS Boise) and ARA General Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix) – famously sunk off the Falklands in 1982.

Together, these six Argentine, Brazilian, and Chilean ships were known as the ABC Cruisers. The ABC Cruisers were the core of a bizarre naval arms race in South America during the latter half of the 20th century centered around purchases of obsolete gun cruisers.

tamandareThe Brooklyn class in general

The Brooklyn class was actually a pre-WWII type, designed to meet the London Naval Treaty. They displaced 12,207 tons and measured 606’x62’x23′. To fit a maximum number of guns onto the treaty’s displacement limit, their main battery was five triple turrets, three forward and two aft, with the third facing “backwards”. They had a fairly substantial armament: fifteen Mk16 6″ anti-ship guns with a rated range of 12NM, backed up by four twin Mk29 5″, twenty-eight Mk2/Mk4 40mm, and eight Mk2 20mm anti-aircraft guns. The Brooklyn class had 5″-thick vertical armor and 2″-thick deck armor, and the main turrets had 6 ½”-thick armor. There were two seaplane catapults and a handling crane, however no seaplanes were included with the transfer.

The Brooklyn class had a top speed of 32 ½ kts. Propulsion was by eight Babcock & Wilcox 618psi boilers, powering eight Westinghouse geared steam turbines with Falk Milwaukee reduction gearboxes, turning four shafts with three-bladed bronze propellers. At a cruising speed of 20kts, range was 5,590NM. These ships had frozen food storage and partial air conditioning, so along with their good range and seakeeping. were ideal for Brazil’s focus on the tropical southern Atlantic.

As designed, the US Navy planned for a crew of 868. In Brazilian service, the crew was 1,070: 58 oficiais (commissioned officers), 35 suboficiais (chief petty officers), 168 sargentos (enlisted petty officers), and 809 cabos (enlisted seamen).

The USA built nine ships of this class between 1937-1939. One was sunk during WWII, two were decommissioned in 1947 and later scrapped, and the remaining six became the ABC Cruisers.


USS Philadelphia (CL-41) made two Magic Carpet voyages from Europe after WWII, and then decommissioned on 3 February 1947. On 9 January 1951, the US Navy declared the ship eligible for MAP transfer, and on 29 January was identified as a candidate by visiting Brazilian officers. On 21 August 1951, the transfer was made official and the ship was renamed Barosso, pennant number C11. This was the fourth warship the Brazilians had named for Admiral Francisco Manuel Barosso, the “Baron of the Amazon”. Barosso was brought out of mothballs by Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. On 14 November 1951, Barosso departed Philadelphia and arrived in Rio de Janeiro on 7 December.

barosso3(Looking forward from Barosso’s aft starboard quarterdeck, shortly after the transfer from the USA. Barosso still has the US Navy WWII radar fit with the large SK air search antenna topped with a SG surface search dish on the main mast. The little pole-and-ring on the yardarm is a BL/BG-series IFF interrogator, and the device on the end of the yardarm is a 1940s-era radio antenna. Below, angled to port, is the Mk34 director for the main guns. On the side of the Mk16 turret, the square ‘bug eye’ protruding outwards is a stereoscopic rangefinder, in case the Mk34 was destroyed. The objects lashed to the turret roof are liferafts.)

The Brazilians initially made few changes to Barosso. The useless catapults were removed (but the crane left onboard), and LORAN navigational gear was fitted. During the summer of 1953, Barosso participated in the Spithead Naval Review in Great Britain.

From June 1958-May 1959, Barosso tested the suitability of flying helicopters off the WWII-era cruisers. To land a helicopter (initially Widgeon H.1s as in the below picture, later Wasp HAS.1s) the #5 Mk16 turret had to be turned outboard and the crane rotated over the stern. With some effort, two helicopters could be stowed in the former seaplane hangar, although this was not normally done.


Throughout 1967, Barosso made several unrefueled Atlantic crossings, visiting Angola (then still a Portuguese colony). Brazil was one of the few countries to send warships on goodwill visits there, as Portugal’s colonial war was increasingly unpopular internationally.

Unfortunately at the conclusion of the last African voyage, Barosso suffered a boiler explosion and fire which killed eleven crewmen. The cruiser had to be towed back to Brazil. While the engines were being repaired, the radar fit was updated and most of the smaller-caliber AA guns were removed. The photo below shows the larger AN/SPS-12 and smaller AN/SPS-10 radars on a new mainmast.


Despite the changes, Barosso only made a few more exercise voyages before decommissioning in 1971.


USS St Louis (CL-49) was the eighth ship of the class and like the final ship USS Helena, was about a thousand tons heavier and incorporated all of the lessons learned building the others. After WWII, USS St Louis served in TF.73, the US Navy’s China detachment, before decommissioning on 20 June 1946.

Brazil’s acquisition of the ship happened just after her sister Barosso. Tamandare (pennant number C12) departed Philadelphia on 26 March 1952, arriving in Rio de Janeiro on 20 April. The ship was named after Admiral Tamandare, father of the Brazilian navy.

tamandare1(All of the Brazilian warships in this late-1950s photo are ex-US Navy veterans of WWII. From top to bottom: Pernambuco (ex-USS Hailey DD-556), Parana (ex-USS Cushing DD-797), Tamandare (ex-USS St Louis CL-49), Para (ex-USS Guest DD-472), and Paraiba (ex-USS Bennett DD-473).)

In 1955, Tamandare made a goodwill visit to Portugal and Morocco. In 1958, after the initial tests aboard her sister Barosso, Tamandare embarked helicopters for the first time. In 1960, the cruiser visited Portugal again.

For most of the 1960s, Tamadare acted as an escort for Brazil’s aircraft carrier, Minas Gerais. The radars were updated the same as Barosso. In 1967 the cruiser made several solo trans-Atlantic crossings to west Africa.


By the early 1970s, Barosso had already been decommissioned and Tamadare was judged as too expensive to operate. Because of the investment in the radars, thought was given to modernizing Tamadare with Seacat SAMs and Exocet anti-ship missiles; while using the hulk of Barosso as a spare parts source. However after study, the Brazilians decided that new frigates and attack submarines were a higher budget priority. In April 1976, the Brazilian government ordered the navy to discontinue further studies and on 28 June 1976, Brazil decommissioned Tamadare, Brazil’s final cruiser. The ship had sailed 220,000NM in Brazilian service, visiting four continents, and was commended for having an excellent safety record.


Of the South American countries, Brazil was the first to exit the cruiser arms race. The two decommissioned ships sat in mothballs for some years. The decommissioned Barosso had deteriorated rapidly and was scrapped in Santos, Brazil in 1975.


The decommissioned Tamadare, in better shape, was kept as an emergency reactivation asset until 1980. Brazil sold the ship for $1.1 million to Superwinton Enterprises Inc of Panama, on behalf of a Taiwanese scrapper, via a Hong Kong middleman as to not upset China. The plan was to tow the cruiser “the long way”; across the Atlantic, past South Africa, up through the Indian Ocean, and then east to Taiwan. However near South Africa, the tow line snapped and the hulk sank on 24 August 1980.


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