USS West Virginia (BB-48)

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For other ships of the same name, see USS West Virginia.
USS West Virginia (BB-48) in San Francisco Bay, c. 1934.
USS West Virginia in San Francisco Bay, c. 1934
Career (US)
Name: USS West Virginia
Namesake: State of West Virginia
Ordered: 5 December 1916
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding
Laid down: 12 April 1920
Launched: 19 November 1921
Sponsored by: Alice Wright Mann
Commissioned: 1 December 1923
Decommissioned: 9 January 1947
Struck: 1 March 1959
Nickname: "Wee Vee"
Honors and
awards:
5 battle stars
Fate: Sold for scrap 24 August 1959
General characteristics [1][2]
Class & type: Colorado-class battleship
Displacement: 33,590 tons
Length: 624 ft (190 m)
Beam:
  • 97.3 ft (29.7 m) (original)
  • 114 ft (35 m) (rebuilt)
Draft: 30.5 ft (9.3 m)
Speed: 21 kn (24 mph; 39 km/h)
Complement: 1,407 officers and men
Sensors and
processing systems:
CXAM-1 radar from 1940[3]
Armament:

After Reconstruction:

Armor:
  • Belt: 8–13.5 in (203–343 mm)
  • Barbettes: 13 in (330 mm)
  • Turret face: 18 in (457 mm)
  • Turret sides: 9–10 in (229–254 mm)
  • Turret top: 5 in (127 mm)
  • Turret rear 9 in (229 mm)
  • Conning tower: 11.5 in (292 mm)
  • Decks: 3.5 in (89 mm)

USS West Virginia (BB-48), a Colorado-class battleship, was the second ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the 35th state.

Her keel was laid down on 12 April 1920 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on 19 November 1921 sponsored by Miss Alice Wright Mann, daughter of Isaac T. Mann, a prominent West Virginian; and commissioned on 1 December 1923, Captain Thomas J. Senn in command.[1]

As the most recent of the "super-dreadnoughts", West Virginia embodied the latest knowledge of naval architecture; the watertight compartmentation of her hull, and the scale of her armor protection, marked an advance over the design of battleships built, or on the drawing boards before the Battle of Jutland.

Inter-War period[edit]

In the months that followed, West Virginia ran her trials and shakedown and underwent post-commissioning alterations. After a brief period of work at the New York Navy Yard, the ship made the passage to Hampton Roads, although experiencing trouble with her steering gear while en route. Overhauling the troublesome gear thoroughly while in Hampton Roads, West Virginia put to sea on the morning of 16 June 1924.

At 1010, while the battleship was steaming in the center of Lynnhaven Channel, the quartermaster at the wheel reported that the rudder indicator would not answer. The ringing of the emergency bell to the steering motor room produced no response; Captain Senn quickly ordered all engines stopped, but the engine room telegraph would not answer. It transpired that there was no power to the engine room telegraph or the steering telegraph.

The captain then resorted to sending orders down to main control via the voice tube from the bridge. He ordered full speed ahead on the port engine; all stop on the starboard. Efforts continued apace over the ensuing moments to steer the ship with her engines and keep her in the channel and, when this failed, to check headway from the edge of the channel. Unfortunately, all efforts failed; and, as the ship lost headway due to an engine casualty, West Virginia grounded on the soft mud bottom. Fortunately, as Commander (later Admiral) Harold R. Stark, the executive officer, reported: "...not the slightest damage to the hull had been sustained."

The court of inquiry, investigating the grounding, found that inaccurate and misleading navigational data had been supplied to the ship. The legends on the charts were found to indicate uniformly greater channel width than actually existed. The findings of the court thus exonerated Captain Senn and the navigator from any blame.

After repairs had been effected, West Virginia became flagship for the Commander, Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet, on 30 October 1924, thus beginning her service as an integral part of the "backbone of the fleet" as the battleships were regarded. She soon proved her worth under a succession of commanding officers, most of whom later attained flag rank. In 1926, for example, under Captain A.J. Hepburn, the comparative newcomer to battleship ranks scored first in competitive short range target practices. During Hepburn's tour, West Virginia garnered two trophies for attaining the highest merit in the category.

The ship later won the American Defense Cup presented by the American Defense Society to the battleship obtaining the highest merit with all guns in short-range firing, and the Spokane Cup, presented by that city's Chamber of Commerce in recognition of the battleship's scoring the highest merit with all guns at short range. In 1925, West Virginia won the Battle Efficiency Pennant for battleships. This was the first time that the ship had won the coveted "Meatball", but she won it again in 1927, 1932, and 1933.

During this period; West Virginia underwent a cycle of training, maintenance, and readiness exercises, taking part in engineering and gunnery competitions and the annual large-scale exercises, or "Fleet Problems". In the latter the Fleet would be divided up into opposing sides, and a strategic or tactical situation would be played out, with the lessons learned becoming part and parcel of the development of doctrine that would later be tested in the crucible of combat.

During 1926, the battleship took part in the joint Army-Navy maneuvers to test the defenses of the Hawaiian Islands and then cruised with the Fleet to Australia and New Zealand. In fleet exercises subsequent to the 1926 cruise, West Virginia ranged from Hawaii to the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic, and from Alaskan waters to Panama.

In order to keep pace with technological developments in ordnance, gunnery, and fire control, as well as engineering and aviation, the ship underwent modifications designed to increase her capacity to perform her design function. Some of the alterations effected included the replacement of her initial 3 in (76 mm) anti-aircraft battery with 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal guns; the addition of platforms for .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns at the foremast and maintop; and the addition of catapults on her quarterdeck, aft, and on her number III, or "high" turret.

In the closing years of the 1930s, however, it was becoming evident to many that it was only a matter of time before the United States became involved in yet another war on a grand scale. The United States Fleet thus came to be considered a deterrent to the country's most probable enemy, Japan. This reasoning produced the hurried dispatch of the Fleet to Pacific waters in the spring of 1939 and the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian waters in 1940, following the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI in April.

As the year 1941 progressed, West Virginia carried out a schedule of intensive training, basing on Pearl Harbor and operating in various task forces and groups in the Hawaiian operating area. This routine continued even through the unusually tense period that began in late November and extended into the next month. Such at-sea periods were usually followed by in-port upkeep, with the battleships mooring to masonry "quays" along the southeast shores of Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. West Virginia was one of 14 ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 radar.[3]

World War II[edit]

Sailors in a motor launch rescue a man overboard from the water alongside the burning West Virginia during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor[edit]

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, West Virginia lay moored outboard of Tennessee at berth F-6 with 40 ft (12 m) of water beneath her keel. Shortly before 0800, Japanese planes, flying from a six-carrier task force, commenced a well-planned attack on Pearl Harbor. Seven 18 inches (460 millimetres) aerial torpedoes struck the port side of West Virginia.[4] One torpedo hit the steering gear and knocked off the rudder.[4] At least three struck below the armor belt, and one or more struck the armor belt requiring replacement of seven armor plates.[4] One or possibly two torpedoes entered the ship through holes made by the first torpedoes while the ship was listing and exploded on the armored second deck. One torpedo failed to detonate and was later recovered and disarmed by shipyard explosive technicians.

West Virginia was also hit by two type 99 number 80 mark 5 bombs made from 16 in (410 mm) armor-piercing naval shells fitted with fins. The first bomb hit the foretop, penetrated the superstructure deck, and was found unexploded in the debris on the second deck.[5] The second bomb hit further aft, wrecking one Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane atop the "high" catapult on turret 3 and pitching the second one on her top on the main deck below. The projectile penetrated the 4 in (100 mm) turret roof, wrecking one gun in the turret itself. Although the bomb was another dud, burning gasoline from the damaged aircraft caused some casualties among turret personnel and damage to the guns. West Virginia was then seriously damaged by being engulfed in an oil fire started by Arizona and sustained for 30 hours by fuel leaking from both ships.[5] The torpedoes caused two large holes extending from frames 43 to 52 and 62 to 97.[6] Prompt counter-flooding by the four damage control parties under the command of LCDR J.S. Harper, First Lieutenant together with the early closure of all water doors and hatches ordered by Harper's assistant Ensign Archie P. Kelley prevented the ship from capsizing.[7][8]

The massive damage to the port side caused rapid flooding of the port compartments, including the battle phone circuit batteries. Fortunately an experimental sound-powered telephone circuit connecting Central Station with the damage control parties was in good working order and had been thoroughly tested during damage control drills during the summer. But the captain and the officers on the bridge were unaware of the existence of this experimental telephone circuit and that the four damage control parties (15 men each) and the two Central Station damage control officers were effectively counter-flooding all available starboard compartments. This led the captain to assign Lieut. C.V. Ricketts to proceed to the third deck and commence counter-flooding the starboard voids. By the time Ricketts had spent critical minutes manning his battle station and additional time on his own duties with the AA gun batteries, the damage control parties were near completion of the counter-flooding an estimated 30 to 40 voids on the starboard side. In his battle report Ricketts claimed to have witnessed the flooding of one compartment (which may have been already flooded or withheld from flooding). He then ordered a crew member to see that all other starboard voids were flooded and returned to the bridge to help move the captain, who was dying of a severe bomb fragment wound. From Harper's report, in which he received confirmation from the damage control parties that they had completed flooding "all available voids" as directed, it was evident that the well-intentioned assistance by Ricketts was unnecessary.[8]

During the first attack the Executive Officer CDR R.H. Hillenkoetter abandoned ship by jumping over the starboard side of the quarterdeck during the counter-flooding operation. LCDR Harper was then notified by an officer shouting down the access tube from the conning tower to Central Stations that, as third in command, he was now the commanding officer, since the captain was dying on the bridge and the executive officer had abandoned ship. Upon abandoning Central Station after confirming that all starboard voids had been flooded, Harper countermanded the captain's dying order for all hands to abandon ship, and ordered the repair parties to fight fires fore and aft. Fire hoses from the Tennessee were passed to the West Virginia, and the fires near turret III and elsewhere on the ship were fought until about 2:00 pm, at which time Harper ordered a final abandon ship.[9] The false assumption that a single officer was responsible for "saving the West Virginia from capsizing like the Oklahoma" has persisted with at least one of the ship's retired officers until as recently as 2012, when this statement appeared in the Naval Academy magazine Shipmate.[citation needed]

With a patch over the damaged area of her hull, the battleship was pumped out and ultimately refloated on May 17, 1942, and docked in Drydock Number One on 9 June. This gave the opportunity for a more detailed damage assessment, and it became clear that there had been not six, but seven torpedo hits.[10]

During the ensuing repairs, workers located 66 bodies of West Virginia sailors who had been trapped below when the ship sank.[11] Several bodies were found lying on top of steam pipes within the air bubble existing in flooded areas.[11] Three bodies were found in a storeroom compartment, where the sailors had lived on emergency rations and fresh water from a battle station.[11] A calendar found with them indicated they had lived through December 23.[12] The task confronting the nucleus crew and shipyard workers was a monumental one, so great was the damage on the battleship's port side. Ultimately, however, West Virginia departed Pearl Harbor on May 7, 1943, for the west coast and a complete rebuilding at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington.[13]

Rebuild[edit]

Emerging from the extensive modernization, the battleship that had risen from the destruction at Pearl Harbor looked significantly different from the way she had appeared prior to 7 December 1941 and certainly different from her sistership USS Maryland. Her appearance was nearly identical to that of Tennessee and California, differentiated from those ships by her twin-gun main battery turrets.

Gone were the hyperboloid cage masts that supported the three-tier fire-control tops, as well as the two funnels, the open-mount 5"/25 caliber guns and the casemates with the single-purpose 5"/51 caliber guns. A streamlined superstructure with a single funnel faired into the tower now gave the ship a new silhouette; dual-purpose 5"/38 caliber guns, in gunhouses, gave the ship a potent antiaircraft battery. In addition, 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikon batteries studded the decks, giving the ship a heavy punch for dealing with close-in enemy planes.

As part of the two ocean navy policy, U.S. battleships had been designed within a beam constraint of 108 feet (33 m) in order to transit the Panama Canal; after their similar rebuilds, Tennessee, California and West Virginia were widened to 114 feet (35 m) feet, in effect limiting deployment to the Pacific theater.

West Virginia remained at Puget Sound until early July 1944. Loading ammunition on 2 July, the battleship got underway soon thereafter to conduct her sea trials out of Port Townsend, Washington. She ran a full power trial on 6 July, continuing her working-up until 12 July. Subsequently returning to Puget Sound for last-minute repairs, the battleship headed for San Pedro, California, and her post-modernization shakedown.

Finally ready to rejoin the Fleet from which she had been away for three years, West Virginia sailed for the Hawaiian Islands on 14 September. Escorted by two destroyers, she made landfall on Oahu on 23 September. Ultimately pushing on for Manus, in the Admiralty Islands, in company with the fleet carrier Hancock, West Virginia, as a unit of Battleship Division 4 (BatDiv 4), reached Seeadler Harbor on 5 October. The next day, she again became a flagship when Rear Admiral Theodore Ruddock shifted his flag from Maryland to the "Wee Vee" as Commander, BatDiv 4.

Leyte landings[edit]

West Virginia in July 1944

Underway on 12 October to participate in the invasion of the Philippine Islands, West Virginia sailed as part of Task Group 77.2 (TG 77.2), under the overall command of Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. On 18 October, the battle line passed into Leyte Gulf, West Virginia steaming astern of California.

At 16:45, California cut loose a naval mine with her paravanes; West Virginia successfully dodged the explosive, it being destroyed a few moments later by gunfire from one of the destroyers in the screen. On 19 October, West Virginia steamed into her assigned station in San Pedro Bay at 07:00 to stand by off shore and provide shore bombardment against targets in the Tacloban area of Leyte. Retiring to sea that evening, the battleship and her consorts returned the next morning to lay down heavy gunfire on Japanese installations in the vicinity of the town of Tacloban.

On the 19th, West Virginia's gunners sent 278 16 in (410 mm) and 1,586 5 in (130 mm) shells against Japanese installations, silencing enemy artillery and supporting the UDT (underwater demolition teams) preparing the beaches for the assault that came on 20 October. On the latter day, enemy planes made many appearances over the landing area. West Virginia took those within range under fire but did not down any.

On 21 October, as she was proceeding to her fire support area to render further gunfire support for the troops still pouring ashore, West Virginia touched bottom, slightly damaging three of her four screws. The vibrations caused by the damaged blades limited sustained speeds to 16 kn (18 mph; 30 km/h), or 18 kn (21 mph; 33 km/h) in emergencies.

For the next two days, West Virginia, with her augmented antiaircraft batteries, remained off the beachhead during the daylight hours, retiring to seaward at night, providing anti-aircraft covering fire for the unfolding invasion operations. Meanwhile, the Japanese, seeing that American operations against Leyte were on a large scale, decided to strike back. Accordingly, the enemy, willing to accept the heavy risks involved, set out in four widely separated forces to destroy the American invasion fleet.

Battle of Leyte Gulf[edit]

Four carriers and two "hybrid" battleship-carriers (Ise and Hyūga) sailed toward the Philippine Sea from Japanese home waters; a small surface force under Admiral Kiyohide Shima headed for the Sulu Sea; two striking forces consisting of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers sortied from Lingga Roads, Sumatra, before separating north of Borneo. The larger of those two groups, commanded by Admiral Takeo Kurita, passed north of the island of Palawan to transit the Sibuyan Sea.

American submarines Darter and Dace saw first action on 23 October 1944 in what would become known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf when they sank, respectively, two of Kurita's cruisers, Maya and Atago. Undeterred, Kurita continued the transit, his force built around the giant battleships Yamato and Musashi with three other battleships, plus cruisers and destroyers.

The smaller of the two forces, under Admiral Shoji Nishimura, turned south of Palawan and transited the Sulu Sea to pass between the islands of Mindanao and Leyte. Shima's forces obediently followed Nishimura's, heading for Leyte Gulf as the southern jaw of a pincer designed to hit the assemblage of amphibious ships and transports unloading off the Leyte beachhead.

Detailed to deal with the force heading in his direction, Admiral Oldendorf accordingly deployed his powerful task group, with its six battleships, eight cruisers and 28 destroyers, in Surigao Strait.

At 2236 on 24 October, the American PT boats deployed in the strait and its approaches made radar contact with Nishimura's force, conducting a harassing attack that annoyed, but did not stop, the oncoming enemy. Well into the strait by 0300 on 25 October, Nishimura took up battle formation when five American destroyers launched a well-planned torpedo attack. Caught in the spread of torpedoes, the battleship Fusō took hits and dropped out of the formation; other spreads of "fish" dispatched a pair of Japanese destroyers and crippled a third.

Fusō's sister ship Yamashiro, meanwhile, had taken one hit and was slowed down, only to be hit again within 15 minutes. Fusō herself, apparently ravaged by fires ignited by the torpedo hits, blew up with a tremendous explosion at 0338.

West Virginia, meanwhile, was leading the battle line of USS Maryland (BB-46), USS Mississippi (BB-41), USS Tennessee (BB-43), USS California (BB-44), USS Pennsylvania (BB-38); four of these ships, like West Virginia, veterans of Pearl Harbor. From 0021 on 25 October, the battleship had picked up reports on the PT boat and destroyer attacks; finally at 03:16, West Virginia's radar picked up Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yd (38,000 m) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yd (27,000 m). She tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night.

At 03:52, West Virginia unleashed her eight 16 inch (406 mm) guns of the main battery at a range of 22,800 yd (20,800 m), striking the leading Japanese battleship with her first salvo. Of the first six salvos West Virginia fired, five had struck the target and in all she fired 16 salvos in the direction of Nishimura's ships as Oldendorf "crossed the T" of the Japanese fleet and thus achieved the tactical mastery of a situation that almost every surface admiral dreams of. At 04:13, the "Wee Vee" checked fire; the Japanese remnants proceeded in disorder down the strait whence they had come. Several burning Japanese ships littered the strait; West Virginia had contributed to Yamashiro's demise, thus avenging her own crippling in the Pearl Harbor attack.

USS Artisan (AFDB-1), a floating drydock, holds the West Virginia so that repairs could be made.

West Virginia had thus taken part in the last naval engagement fought by line-of-battleships and, on 29 October, departed the Philippines for Ulithi, in company with Tennessee and Maryland. Subsequently heading for Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides, after Admiral Ruddock had shifted his flag back from West Virginia to Maryland, the former underwent a period of upkeep in the floating drydock ABSD-1, for her damaged screws.

Philippines operations[edit]

The "Wee Vee" returned to the Philippines, via Manus, on 26 November, resuming her patrols in Leyte Gulf and serving as part of the antiaircraft screen for the transports and amphibious ships. At 11:39 on 27 November, West Virginia's antiaircraft guns splashed a kamikaze and assisted in downing others while on duty the next day.

Rear Admiral Ruddock shifted back on board on 30 November, West Virginia maintaining her operations off Leyte until 2 December, when the battleship headed for the Palau Islands. The battlewagon was then made the flagship for the newly formed TG 77.12 and proceeded toward the Sulu Sea to cover the landings made by the Southwest Pacific Force on the island of Mindoro. Entering Leyte Gulf late on the evening of 12 December, West Virginia transited the Surigao Strait on 13 December and steamed into the Sulu Sea with a carrier force to provide cover for the transports in TG 78.3.

She subsequently covered the retirement of the transports on 16 December, later fueling in Leyte Gulf before she returned to Kossol Roads, Palaus, at mid-day on 19 December. There, West Virginia spent the Christmas of 1944.

There was more work to be done, however, for the battleship, as the "return" to the Philippines continued apace. On New Year's Day, Rear Admiral Ingram C. Sowell relieved Rear Admiral Ruddock as Commander, BatDiv 4, and the ship got underway for Leyte Gulf as part of TG 77.2.

Entering the gulf during the pre-dawn hours of 3 January, West Virginia proceeded into the Sulu Sea. Japanese air opposition, intensifying since the early part of the Philippine campaign, was becoming more deadly. West Virginia's men saw evidence of that when a twin-engined Yokosuka P1Y "Frances" kamikaze crashed into the escort carrier Ommaney Bay at 17:12 on 4 January. Fires and explosions ultimately forced the abandonment of the "jeep carrier", her survivors being picked up by other ships in the screen. Burns dispatched the blazing CVE with torpedoes.

Taking on board survivors from Ommaney Bay from the destroyer Twiggs, West Virginia entered the South China Sea on the morning of the following day, 5 January 1945, defending the carriers during the day from Japanese air attacks. Subsequently, the battleship moved close inshore with the carriers outside to carry out a bombardment mission on San Fernando Point. West Virginia hammered Japanese installations ashore with her 16 in (410 mm) guns.

Kamikazes, however, kept up their attacks in the face of heavy anti-aircraft barrages and combat air patrol (CAP) fighters. Losses among Allied shipping continued to mount; kamikazes claimed damage to HMAS Australia and the battleships California and New Mexico on the 5th. West Virginia participated in putting up volumes of antiaircraft fire during those attacks, emerging unscathed herself.

West Virginia, already carrying the crew of Ommaney Bay on board, took on board another group of survivors: the crew of the high-speed minesweeper Hovey which had been sunk by a Japanese torpedo on 6 January. Before she could transfer the escort carrier's and minesweeper's sailors elsewhere, though, she had to carry out her assigned tasks first. Accordingly, West Virginia's 16 in (410 mm) guns again hammered Japanese positions ashore at San Fabian on 8–9 January, as troops went ashore on the latter day. It was not until the night of 9 January that the battleship finally transferred her passengers off the ship.

After providing call fire support all day on 10 January, West Virginia patrolled off Lingayen Gulf for the next week before proceeding to an anchorage where she replenished her ammunition. During her shore bombardment tours off San Fabian, West Virginia had proved herself most helpful, covering UDT operations, destroying mortar positions, entrenchments, gun emplacements, and leveling the town of San Fabian. In addition, "Wee Vee" destroyed ammunition dumps, railway and road junctions, and machine gun positions and warehouses. During that time, the ship expended 395 16 in (410 mm) shells and over 2,800 5 in (130 mm) projectiles. Underway again at 0707 on 21 January, West Virginia commenced call-fire support duties at 0815, operating in readiness for cooperation with the United States Army units ashore in the vicinity of the towns of Rosario and Santo Tomas. After a few more days of standing ready to provide call-fire support when needed, West Virginia anchored in Lingayen Gulf on 1 February.

Subsequently, as part of TG 77.2, West Virginia protected the shipping arriving at the Lingayen beachheads and stood ready to provide call-fire for the Army when needed. She later departed Lingayen Gulf, her duty completed there, on 10 February, bound for Leyte Gulf. Before her departure, she received 79 bags of United States mail, the first she had received since the day before Christmas.

After touching first at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, West Virginia arrived at Ulithi on 16 February, reporting for duty with the 5th Fleet upon arrival. Ordered to prepare in all haste for another operation, the battleship provisioned and refueled with the highest priority. The ship completed loading some 300 tons (270 tonnes) of stores by 04:00 on 17 February. At 07:30 on the 17th, West Virginia got underway, bound for Iwo Jima in company with the destroyers Izard and McCall. As she headed off to Iwo Jima to join TF 51, West Virginia received a Bravo Zulu "well-done" from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz for the manner in which she had readied herself for her new duty after being released from the Seventh Fleet such a short time before.

Battle of Iwo Jima[edit]

West Virginia sighted Iwo Jima at a range of 82 mi (132 km) at 0907 on 19 February 1945. As she drew nearer, she saw several ships bombarding the isle from all sides and the initial landings of the Battle of Iwo Jima taking place. At 11:25, she received her operations orders via dispatch boat, and 20 minutes later proceeded to her fire support station off the volcanic sand beaches. At 12:45, her big guns bellowed to lend support to the Marines ashore. Gun positions, revetments, blockhouses, tanks, vehicles, caves and supply dumps came under her heavy guns. On 21 February, the ship returned, and at 08:00 commenced her support duties afresh.

Her 16 in (410 mm) shells sealed caves, destroyed antiaircraft gun positions and blockhouses; one salvo struck an ammunition or fuel dump, explosions occurring for about two hours thereafter. On 22 February, a small-caliber shell hit the battleship near turret II, wounding one enlisted man. That same day, another significant event occurred ashore—the United States Marine Corps took Mount Suribachi, the prominent landmark on one end of Iwo Jima. From their position offshore, West Virginia's sailors could see the flag flying from the top.

For the remainder of February, West Virginia continued her daily fire-support missions for the Marines ashore. Again, Japanese positions felt the heavy blows of the battleship's 16 in (410 mm) shells. She hit troop concentrations and trucks, blockhouses, trenches, and houses. During the course of that time spent off the beaches on 27 February, she spotted a Japanese shore battery firing upon Bryant. West Virginia closed the range and, when about 600 yd (550 m) from shore, opened fire with her secondary 5 in (130 mm) battery, silencing the enemy guns.

Replenishing her depleted ammunition stocks early on 28 February, West Virginia was back on the line again that afternoon, firing continuous night harassing and interdiction rounds, silencing enemy batteries with air bursts from her secondary batteries. For the first three days of March, West Virginia continued her fire-support missions, primarily off the northeastern shore of Iwo Jima. Finally, on 4 March, the ship set sail for the Caroline Islands, reaching Ulithi on 6 March.

Battle of Okinawa[edit]

Joining TF 64 for the invasion of Okinawa, West Virginia sailed on 21 March, reaching her objective four days later on 25 March. In fire support section one, West Virginia spent the ensuing days softening up Okinawa for the American landings slated to commence on 1 April. At 10:29 on 26 March, lookouts reported a gun flash from shore, followed by a splash in the water some 6,000 yd (5,500 m) off the port bow. Firing her first salvoes of the operation, West Virginia let fly 28 rounds of 16 in (410 mm) gunfire against the pugnacious Japanese batteries.

The following day, the "Wee Vee" fought against enemy air opposition, taking a "Frances" under fire at 05:20. The twin-engined bomber crashed off the battleship's port quarter, the victim of West Virginia's anti-aircraft guns. Over the days that followed, enemy opposition continued in the form of kamikazes. Naval mines, too, began making themselves felt; one sank the minesweeper Skylark, 3,000 yd (2,700 m) off West Virginia's port bow at 09:30 on 28 March.

After taking on ammunition at Kerama Retto, the island seized to provide an advance base for the armada massing against Okinawa, West Virginia sailed for Okinawa to give direct gunfire support to the landings. Scheduled to fire at 06:30, the battleship headed for her assigned zone off the Okinawa beaches. While en route, though, at 04:55, she had to back down all engines when an unidentified destroyer stood across her bow, thus avoiding a collision.

As she prepared to commence her bombardment, West Virginia spotted a Japanese plane off her port quarter. Her antiaircraft batteries tracked the target and opened fire, downing the enemy aircraft 200 yd (180 m) away. Four more enemy planes passed within her vicinity soon thereafter, and West Virginia claimed one of them.

Finally, at 06:30, West Virginia opened fire as landing craft dotted the sea as far as the eye could reach, all heading for the shores of Okinawa. West Virginia's sailors, some 900 yd (820 m) off the beaches, could see the craft heading shoreward like hundreds of tadpoles; at 08:42, lookouts reported seeing some of the first troops going ashore. The battle for Okinawa was underway.

West Virginia continued her bombardment duties throughout the day, on the alert to provide counter-battery fire in support of the troops as they advanced rapidly inland. There appeared to be little resistance on 1 April, and West Virginia lay to offshore, awaiting further orders. At 19:03, however, an enemy plane brought the war down on West Virginia.

The battleship picked up three enemy planes on her radar and tracked them as they approached; flak peppered the skies but still they came. One crossed over the port side and then looped over and crash-dived into West Virginia, smashing into a superstructure deck just forward of secondary battery director number two. Four men were killed by the attack and 23 were wounded.[14] The bomb carried by the plane broke loose from its shackle and penetrated to the second deck. Fortunately, it did not explode and was rendered harmless by the battleship's bomb disposal officer. Although her galley and laundry looked hard-hit, West Virginia reported her damage as repairable by ship's force and carried on, rendering night illumination fire to the Marines ashore.

West Virginia buried her dead at sea in the wake of the kamikaze attack of 1 April and resumed her gun-fire support duties soon thereafter. In the course of her tour off shore in early April, she shot down an Aichi D3A "Val" on 6 April.

In early April, the Japanese attempted to strike at the invasion fleet in a last gasp offensive formed around the super-battleship Yamato. On the night of 7–8 April, West Virginia steamed north and south in the waters west of Okinawa ready to intercept and engage the Japanese surface force headed her way. The next morning, Commander, TF 68, reported that most of the ships in that enemy force had been sunk including Yamato, whose last sortie had been made with enough fuel to get her to Okinawa but not to return, Thus, the Japanese Navy's largest kamikaze attack perished many miles short of her objective.

For West Virginia, however, her duties went on, providing illumination and counterbattery fire with both main and secondary batteries and giving her antiaircraft gunners a good workout due to the heavy presence of many kamikazes. Her TBS crackled with reports of ships under attack and damaged. Zellars, Tennessee, Salt Lake City, Stanly, and others, were victims of the "divine wind". Her shore bombardments elicited nothing but praise from those enjoying the benefits of the ship's firing; one spotter reported happily on 14 April: "You're shooting perfectly, you could shoot no better, no change, no change", and, "Your shooting is strictly marvelous. I cannot express just how good it is." She delivered support fire for the 6th Marine Division upon that occasion; later, she continued for the 10th Army and the XXIVth Army Corps.

West Virginia continued fire support for the Army until 20 April, at which point she headed for Ulithi, only to turn back to Okinawa, hurriedly recalled because USS Colorado (BB-45) suffered damage when a powder charge exploded while she was loading powder at Kerama Retto. Returning to Hagushi beach, West Virginia provided night harassment and interdiction fire for the Tenth Army and the XXIVth Army Corps. Ultimately, West Virginia sailed for Ulithi, in company with San Francisco and Hobson, reaching her destination, this time without a recall, on 28 April.

Returning to Okinawa after a brief sojourn at Ulithi, West Virginia remained in support of the Army and the Marines on the embattled island into the end of June. On 1 June, she sent her spotting plane aloft to locate a troublesome enemy blockhouse reportedly holding up an Army advance. A couple of rounds hurled in the enemy's direction produced no results; she had to settle for obliterating some of the enemy's motor transport and troop concentrations during the day instead. The next day, 2 June, while in support of the Army's XXIVth Corps, West Virginia scored four direct hits and seven near-misses on the blockhouse that had been hit the day before.

West Virginia then operated off the southeast coast of Okinawa, breaking up Japanese troop concentrations and destroying enemy caves. She also disrupted Japanese road traffic by scoring a direct hit on a road intersection and blasted a staging area. On 16 June, she was firing an assignment for the 1st MarDiv off southwestern Okinawa when her spotting plane, a Vought OS2U Kingfisher, took hits from Japanese antiaircraft fire and headed down in flames, her pilot and observer bailing out over enemy-held territory. Within a short time, aided by Putnam and an LCI, West Virginia closed and blasted enemy guns in an attempt to rescue her plane crew who had "dug in for the day" to await the arrival of the rescuers. The attempt to recover her aircrew, however, was not successful. Loaned a Kingfisher from Tennessee, West Virginia kept up her gunfire support activities for the balance of June.

Shifting to San Pedro Bay, Leyte, at the end of June, the battleship reached her destination on 1 July, escorted by Connolly. There, on the morning of 5 July, she received her first draft of replacements since Pearl Harbor in 1944. After loading ammunition, West Virginia commenced training in the Philippine area, an activity she carried out through the end of July.

Sailing on 3 August for Okinawa, West Virginia reached Buckner Bay on 6 August, the same day that "Little Boy", the first atomic bomb, was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, "Fat Man", a second bomb, obliterated the greater part of the city of Nagasaki. Those two events hastened Japan's collapse. At 21:15 on 10 August, West Virginia picked up a garbled report on radio that the Japanese government had agreed to surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, provided that they could keep the Emperor of Japan as their ruler. The American ships in Buckner Bay soon commenced celebrating; the indiscriminate use of antiaircraft fire and pyrotechnics (not only from the naval vessels in the bay but from Marines and soldiers ashore) endangered friendly planes. Such celebrations, however, proved premature. At 20:04 on 12 August, West Virginia sailors felt a heavy underwater explosion; soon thereafter, at 20:58, the battleship intercepted a radio dispatch from Pennsylvania reporting that she had been torpedoed. West Virginia sent over a whaleboat at 00:23 on 13 August with pumps for the damaged Pennsylvania.

Post-war[edit]

West Virginia drilled her landing force in preparation for the upcoming occupation of the enemy's homeland and sailed for Tokyo Bay on 24 August as part of TG 35.90. She reached Tokyo Bay on the last day of August and was thus present (as one of two representative ships that were also at the 7 December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack along with the USS Detroit) at the time of the formal surrender on 2 September 1945. For that occasion, five musicians from West Virginia's band were transferred temporarily to Missouri to play at the ceremonies.

West Virginia played her part in the occupation, remaining in Tokyo Bay into September 1945. On 14 September, she received on board 270 passengers for transportation to the west coast of the United States. She got underway at midnight on 20 September bound for Okinawa as part of TG 30.4. Shifting to Buckner Bay on 23 September, the battleship sailed for Pearl Harbor soon thereafter, reaching her destination on 4 October.

There, the crew painted ship and kept on board only those passengers slated for transportation to San Diego, California. Bound for that port on 9 October, West Virginia moored at the Navy Pier at San Diego at 1328 on 22 October. Two days later, Rear Admiral I. C. Sowell hauled down his flag as Commander, BatDiv 4.

On Navy Day, 25,554 visitors (more the next day) came on board the ship. Three days later, on 30 October, she got underway for Hawaiian waters to take her place as part of Operation Magic Carpet returning veteran soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen home to the states. After one run between San Diego and Pearl Harbor, West Virginia made another, the second time embarking Rear Admiral William W. Smith, who broke his flag in the battleship for the return voyage to San Francisco, California.

After making yet another run between the West Coast and Hawaii, West Virginia reached San Pedro, California, on 17 December. There, she spent Christmas debarking her third draft of passengers. The veteran battlewagon upped-anchor on 4 January 1946 and sailed for Bremerton, Washington. She reached her destination on 12 January and commenced inactivation soon thereafter, shifting to Seattle, Washington, on 16 January, where she moored alongside sister ship Colorado.

West Virginia entered her final stages of inactivation in the latter part of February 1946 and was decommissioned on 9 January 1947 and placed in reserve, as part of the Pacific Reserve Fleet. She never again received the call to active duty, remaining inactive until struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on 1 March 1959. On 24 August, she was sold for scrapping to the Union Minerals and Alloys Corp. of New York City. The vessel was towed from Bremerton, Washington to Portland, Oregon and broken up.

Awards[edit]

Legacy[edit]

Related works[edit]

For a detailed account of her salvage see Daniel Madsen's Resurrection-Salvaging the Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor". US Naval Institute Press, 2003

References[edit]

Bibliography

Online sources

External links[edit]