Monday, December 08, 2008

Battleship Row: Where are they now?

While at least a few of the names of the 8 battleships present during the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor are widely known, the stories of these ships after the attack are less famous.

USS Nevada

The Nevada was the lead ship of her class, sharing a design with the USS Oklahoma, also present in Pearl Harbor that morning. The Nevada had a long career, being launched in 1914 and serving in both World War 1 and World War 2. She was the only battleship in Pearl Harbor to get underway, which made her a prime target for the attacking planes. After taking several torpedo and bomb hits, her captain grounded the ship on Hospital Point, to avoid her sinking and blocking the harbor entrance.

After a three month salvage operation, where huge and cumbersome patches were placed over the torpedo holes, the Nevada was refloated, and sailed to the West Coast to complete repairs and undergo a total modernization.

Nevada participated in both theaters, bombarding the Normandy Beaches, and then returning to the Pacific in time to help flatten Iwo Jima. After the war she was used in the Bikini Atol Atomic Bomb tests, surviving two explosions. Here damaged and radioactive hulk was finally sunk by other Navy ships in practice exercises.

USS Arizona

The Arizona was a Pennsylvania class super dreadnaught, built shortly before the first World War. She stayed in home waters during that time, owing to a shortage of fuel oil in Britain. In the inter-war period Arizona underwent several upgrades and modifications, and was often showing the flag, as she was one of our largest and most impressive battleships.

The air raid alarm on the Arizona went off at 7:55 AM on December 7th, and at 8:06 a 500kg armor piercing bomb ignited a black powder magazine, which then ignited her vast main batter magazine. The explosion broke her back, and shattered the entire forward part of the ship. Of any ship in the Harbor, everybody knew from the very start that there would be no salvage of the Arizona. The superstructure was taken off as scrap, and her big guns were removed and placed in shore batteries around Oahu. The hull, with its 1,177 remains, stayed in place, and is now a memorial.

USS Tennessee

The Tennessee was a post World War 1 design, the lead ship of her class. The design used all of the lessons learned in the Great War, especially those of the battle of Jutland.

During the attack she was moored inboard of the USS West Virgina, and ahead of the USS Arizona. The shattering explosion of the Arizona showered the ships around her with flaming debris, and soon burning oil was flooding the harbor. The captain avoided the oil flooding towards his ship by running his propellers, without undocking or moving! Protected by torpedoes by the West Virginia, the Tennessee was relatively unscathed, and was soon on the West Coast for repair and refit.

The changing realities of naval war meant that the old, slow battle wagons weren't as useful in fleet engagements anymore, relegating them to coastal bombardment rolls. The above photo shows the Tennessee supporting the invasion of Okinawa. After the war the ship was mothballed in case of future need, but no need arrived, and she was sold for scrap in 1959.

USS West Virginia

The West Virginia was a Colorado Class Battleship, commissioned in 1923. In 1941 the three ships of the Colorado Class were the largest and most modern battleships in the US Navy. They had bigger guns than the preceding Tennessee class, designed in response to the big guns being built into new Japanese construction.

The West Virginia, or WeeVee was moored outboard from the Tennessee, and thus was a prime target for torpedoes. She took at least 6 torpedoes, and two bombs, and it is thought that one or two of the torpedoes may have entered the ship through holes created by previous hits, and thus detonated even deeper into the ship.

Quick thinking prevented the West Virgina from capsizing, but she soon settled in about 40 feet of water, her decks awash and aflame. At first it was thought that the WeeVee was a total loss, suitable only for scrapping, but with so few battleships, she represented an important asset, so her salvage became a priority. She was refloated in May of 1942, and after the holes in her hull were repaired, she sailed to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, and was totally repaired and rebuilt over a period of two years. Finally released from the yard in mid 1944, she went on to participate in bombardments and surface actions throughout the rest of the war. At the close of hostilities, she too was mothballed, and then scrapped in 1959.

USS Maryland

The second Colorado Class ship at Pearl Harbor, the USS Maryland was moored inboard of the Oklahoma. Like the Tennessee, this protected her from the shallow water modified torpedoes. With only minimal damage from a pair of bomb strikes, she was at the Puget Sound Yard by the end of December, and by February of 1942 was fully repaired and modernized, in time for the battle of Midway.

However, as the battles of Pearl Harbor and Midway proved, the day of the battleship was over, and their role as lords of the ocean was at a decisive end. With the rest of the pre-war designs, the Maryland was mothballed at the end of the war, and was scrapped in 1959.

USS Oklahoma

The sister ship of the Nevada, the Oklahoma had a long career, beginning from May 1916. On December 7th, she was moored outboard of the Maryland, again making her a target for the torpedo planes. In the early minutes of the attack, she took three torpedo hits in rapid succession, and begin to roll. Several more strikes soon followed, with perhaps as many as nine torpedoes hitting her port side. Within 12 minutes she had completely capsized, burying her masts and superstructure in the mud of the harbor.

Initially it was thought that the Oklahoma could be salvaged, though everybody involved knew that it would be a major job, and that other ships like the Nevada and California would be easier to get back in the fight. By July of 1942 it was time to begin. The first step was to right the ship, and this took months of work, with winches and structures constructed on Ford Island, and attached to the ship. By the time she was righted and the gaping holes in her port side examined, nobody was talking about repair. She was patched at her berth, refloated, and carefully escorted to dry dock. Her guns and superstructure were all salvaged by the navy, and her hulk was sold for scrap. Her damaged side gave way in a storm while she was under tow, and she sank 540 miles out of Hawaii in May of 1947.

USS California

The California was a Tennessee class ship, launched in 1919. Like the other ships docked in Pearl Harbor, she was caught unawares by the attack, but the California was even more worse off the other moored ships. In preparation for an inspection the following day, the watertight hatches that lead into the voids and fuel tanks were not latched, and some were fully open. These hatches lead into the areas that were designed to take the brunt of any torpedo attack. She took two torpedo hits in the attack, as well as a few bomb strikes and near misses. With her watertight integrity fatally compromised by the open hatches, despite three days of pumping and fighting to keep her afloat, by the 10th of December she was on the bottom, and her decks were awash.

By March of 1942 California was patched and refloated, and by June she was ready to depart for the West Coast for permanent repair and upgrade. She was turned loose from the yard in January of 1944, and participated in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. She too was mothballed in 1946, and then sold for scrap in 1959.

USS Pennsylvania

The lead ship of her class, the Pennsylvania was dry docked for routine repairs in December of 1941. She escaped relatively unscathed in the attack, though the two ships in the dock with her, the destroyers Cassin and Downes were devastated by bomb hits and fire. After the attack, the Pennsylvania's repairs were expedited, and she departed Hawaii on December 20th. She was further repaired in San Francisco that spring, and soon joined a force of battleships steaming off the west coast, protecting from any follow on Japanese Attack.

Soon after the battle of Midway, with a forward Japanese assault on the Mainland now very unlikely, she steamed into the Pacific. In the photo above, she leades the USS Colorado into the Philippines in January of 1945. Towards the end of the war she took a torpedo hit aft, and was heavily damaged. She was repaired, but the end was near, and nobody needed a damaged battleship. Like the Nevada, the Pennsylvania was use as an Atomic guinea pig at Bikini Atoll. After the tests she was towed to a nearby atoll, studied, and sunk.

From the 1600's to 1941 the Battleship was the lord of the sea. The more armor and guns a ship had, the more powerful she was. With the advent of the aircraft carrier, their primacy was ended forever. Ironically, the attack on Pearl Harbor achieved it's goal, the battleships of the pacific fleet were all damaged or sunk, many would return to war but years after the attack. However, by missing the US carriers, a new kind of decisive battle would be fought, not with big guns but with dive bombers and torpedo planes.

1 comment:

Island Auntie said...

What a perfect topic for December 7, a day which has lived in infamy. Next time you come maybe we can get on the Admiral's Barge around Ford Island which takes in the USS Utah, Hospital Point, and of course, the Arizona Memorial.