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USS New Mexico (BB-40)

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For other ships of the same name, see USS New Mexico.
USS New Mexico BB-40 1921.jpg
New Mexico in 1921
Career (United States)
Name: USS New Mexico
Namesake: State of New Mexico
Builder: New York Navy Yard
Laid down: 14 October 1915
Launched: 13 April 1917
Commissioned: 20 May 1918
Decommissioned: 19 July 1946
Struck: 25 February 1947
Nickname: "The Queen"
Honors and
awards:
6 battle stars, World War II
Fate: Sold 9 November 1947 and broken up for scrap in Newark, NJ
General characteristics
Class and type: New Mexico-class battleship
Displacement: 32,000 tons
Length: 624 ft (190 m)
Beam: 97 ft 5 in (29.69 m)
Draft: 30 ft (9.1 m)
Propulsion: turbo-electric transmission
Speed: 21 kn (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Complement: 1,084 officers and men
Armament:
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 New Mexico (BB-40) was a battleship in service with the United States Navy from 1918 to 1946. She was the lead ship of a class of three battleships, and the first ship to be named for the state of New Mexico. Her keel was laid down on 14 October 1915 at the New York Navy Yard, she was launched on 23 April 1917, and was commissioned on 20 May 1918. She was the first ship with a turbo-electric transmission, which helped her reach a cruising speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). Shortly after completing initial training, New Mexico escorted the ship that carried President Woodrow Wilson to Brest, France to sign the Treaty of Versailles. The interwar period was marked with repeated exercises with the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets, use as a trial ship for PID controllers, and a major modernization between March 1931 and January 1933.

The ship's first actions during World War II were neutrality patrols in the Atlantic Ocean. She returned to the Pacific after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and participated in shore bombardments during operations at Attu and Kiska, Tarawa, the Marshall Islands, the Mariana and Palau islands, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa. These were interspersed with escort duties, patrols, and refits. The ship was attacked by kamikazes on several occasions. New Mexico was present in Tokyo Bay for the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on 2 September 1945. Four days later, she sailed for the United States, and arrived in Boston on 17 October.

New Mexico was decommissioned in Boston on 19 July 1946, and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 25 February 1947. The ship was sold for scrapping to the Lipsett Division of Luria Bros in November 1947, but attempts to bring the ship to Newark, New Jersey for breaking up were met by resistance from city officials. City fireboats were sent to block the passage of the battleship and the Lipsett tugboats, while the United States Coast Guard declared intentions to guarantee safe passage. The Under Secretary of the Navy Department was sent to defuse what the media began to call the "Battle of Newark Bay", with the city agreeing to the breaking up of New Mexico and two other battleships before scrapping operations in Newark Bay ceased, and Lipsett under instructions to dismantle the ships in a set timeframe or suffer financial penalties. Scrapping commenced in November and was completed by July 1948.

Description[edit]

New Mexico was 624 feet (190 m) long overall and had a beam of 97 ft 5 in (29.69 m) and a draft of 30 ft (9.1 m). She displaced 31,000 long tons (32,000 t) as designed and up to 32,000 long tons (33,000 t) at full load. She had a crew of 1,084 officers and enlisted men. The ship's main armament comprised twelve 14"/50 caliber guns mounted three guns in each of four turrets, with each turret weighing 980 tonnes (1,080 short tons). The secondary battery consisted of fourteen 5 in (127 mm) /51 guns, with all of them being removed in May 1942. The anti-aircraft defense consisted of four 3 in (76 mm) guns, which were soon replaced by a battery of eight 5 in (127 mm) /25 guns. As was standard for capital ships of the period, she carried two 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes in deck mounted torpedo launchers.[2]

New Mexico‍ '​s main armored belt was 13.5 in (343 mm) thick over the magazines and the machinery spaces and 8 in (203 mm) elsewhere. The main battery gun turrets had 18-inch (460 mm) thick faces, and the supporting barbettes had 13 in (330 mm) of armor plating on their exposed sides. Armor that was 3.5 in (89 mm) thick protected the decks. The conning tower had 11.5 in (290 mm) thick sides.[2]

Propulsion system[edit]

Unlike the other two battleships of this class which used geared turbines, New Mexico had turbo-electric transmission, in which the high-speed steam turbine drove a set of generators providing electricity to electric motors turning the propeller shafts. The engines were rated at 27,000 shaft horsepower (20,000 kW) and had nine Babcock & Wilcox boilers, generating a top speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph). She had a range of 8,000 nautical miles (9,200 mi) at a cruising speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).[2]

General Electric ran an advertisement titled "The "Constitution" of To-day — Electronically Propelled" with a drawing of New Mexico next to USS Constitution. The ad touted the battleship as "the first of any nation to be electrically propelled". The electrical generating plant was said to put out 28,000 horsepower (21,000 kW) for a cruising speed of 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). GE called it one of the most important achievements of the scientific age and related it to consumer products noting that "so general are the applications of electricity to the needs of mankind that scarcely a home or individual today need be without the benefits of General Electric products and service." An illustrated booklet titled "The Electric Ship" was offered free of charge upon request.[3]

A comparison of the turbo-electric propulsion with the more conventional direct-drive turbine design used on her sister ships showed that the conventional design generated 2.5 times the power per ton of machinery and required 1/3 the floor area although at the cost of 20% greater fuel consumption, always a concern for the U.S. Navy given Pacific distances. The turbo-electric design allowed for the equipment to be split between smaller watertight compartments, which was a potential benefit should parts of the engine space be attacked and flooded. There was a design weakness in that all electrical connections went through a single switch room, which could entirely disable the ship were that room to be hit. Saratoga, which used a similar propulsion design, lost power for five minutes when it was hit by a torpedo in 1942. The scheme of watertight subdivisions was further weakened by large ventilation trunks passing through bulkheads and glass windows in the generator room bulkhead.[4]

Service history[edit]

USS New Mexico (BB-40), c. 1935, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

New Mexico‍ '​s keel was laid down on 14 October 1915 by the New York Navy Yard. She was launched on 23 April 1917. The ship was sponsored by Miss Margaret Cabeza De Baca, the daughter of the recently deceased Governor of New Mexico, Ezequiel Cabeza De Baca (died on 28 February 1917). She was commissioned on 20 May 1918, with Captain Ashley Herman Robertson in charge.[5][6]

After New Mexico passed her initial trials, she left New York Harbor on 15 January 1919 for Brest, to escort the ship George Washington. The George Washington was carrying President Woodrow Wilson on his return from the Versailles Peace Conference to the U.S. She returned to the Hampton Roads area on 27 February.[6][7] New Mexico became the flagship of the newly created United States Pacific Fleet on 16 July and three days later she left Hampton for San Pedro, California. She passed through the Panama Canal and arrived at San Pedro on 9 August. Two of her 5-inch (130 mm) /51 guns were removed in a later overhaul, in 1922.[1]

The next twelve years consisted of training exercises and maneuvers in the Pacific and the Caribbean, with the Pacific and the Atlantic Fleets. She also took several cruises to South American ports and was used for the early development of PID controllers. Invented by the Russian-American engineer Nicolas Minorsky for the automated steering of ships, the devices have since become widespread in control engineering.[8] After that, in 1925, she took a cruise to Australia and New Zealand.[9]

After her training exercises in the Atlantic and the Pacific were finished, New Mexico was overhauled and modernized at the Philadelphia Harbor by the Navy from March 1931 to January 1933. The overhaul included the replacement of her turbo-electric drive with more conventional geared turbines, which were made by Curtis. In addition, New Mexico received eight 5 in (130 mm)/25 caliber anti-aircraft guns, replacing the four 76 mm (3.0 in) guns that had been previously installed. After the overhaul, she returned the Pacific to continue training exercises and the development of tactical operations.[6][7]

Even in 1936 during Fleet Problem XVII,[a] she was one of the fastest battleships in the Navy, having a maximum speed of 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph), higher than most U.S. battleships, but only 1.5 knots (2.8 km/h; 1.7 mph) faster than Japan's slowest battleships. This led to the development of the North Carolina-class battleship and South Dakota-class battleship.[11] In 1937, she arrived in Hawaii to sail to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where she and several other ships were sent to help the Navy evaluate fighting in sub-arctic conditions.[12]

World War II[edit]

1940–43[edit]

As the prospect of war grew, New Mexico‍ '​s was based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from 6 December 1940 to 20 May 1941. She then left Pearl Harbor to join the Atlantic fleet at Norfolk on 16 June for neutrality patrol duty along the Atlantic coast.[6][7] In the Atlantic, she served on three 7–14 day "shifts" following destroyers to escort convoys across the Atlantic.[13] On 10 December, while headed to Hampton Roads (en route to the west coast after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor), she accidentally rammed and sank the U.S. freighter Oregon south of the Nantucket Lightship off Boston Harbor.[6][14] She managed to reach the Panama Canal by 17 January 1942.[15]

During an overhaul in May 1942, at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, she had her secondary battery of twelve 5 in/51 guns removed to make space for more anti-aircraft guns.[1] After the overhaul, which was completed on 1 August, she departed San Francisco to Hawaii to prepare for action. From 6 December to 22 March 1943, she escorted convoys and transports to the Fiji Islands. After that, she patrolled the southwestern Pacific, before returning to Pearl Harbor to get ready for the Aleutian Islands Campaign. After her training, on 17 May, she steamed to Adak, which would be her base for the attack on Attu. She later participated in the shelling of Kiska on 21 July, which led to the Japanese evacuation of the island a week later.[6][16]

After the Aleutian Islands Campaign, a refit was undertaken at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. On 25 October, New Mexico returned to Pearl Harbor to practice for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On 20 November, while the invasion was underway, she shelled Makin Atoll. During the fighting on the islands the ship was tasked with guarding transports at night when they retreated from the islands, providing anti-aircraft fire for the unloading of supplies and troops, and providing screening fire for the aircraft carriers. After U.S. troops captured the Gilbert Islands on 5 December, New Mexico returned to Pearl Harbor.[6][16][17]

1944[edit]

New Mexico was part of the Marshall Islands invasion force on 12 January 1944. She shelled Kwajalein and Ebeye from 31 January to 1 February. Replenishing at Majuro, on 20 February the ship shelled Wotje, and then the following month also shelled New Ireland and Kavieng. After that, she sailed to the Solomon Islands to practice the attack on the Mariana Islands, stopping at Sydney, in Australia, on the way.[6][18]

In mid-June, New Mexico joined the shelling of Tinian, and also bombarded Saipan and Guam. On 18 June, she helped drive away two air attacks. Later, on 20 June, she escorted transports off the Mariana Islands. Meanwhile, the carrier task force destroyed the Japanese carrier force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Later, she escorted troop transports to the naval base of Eniwetok. On 9 July, she sailed to guard escort carriers until 12 July. Her guns later hit Guam on 21 July and kept on shelling the island until 30 July.[6][18]

After the invasion of the Mariana Islands, she received an overhaul at Bremerton, Washington, from October to November. After the overhaul, she arrived in Leyte Gulf to escort reinforcement and supply transports and convoys. She dealt with daily air attacks, as the Japanese put up heavy resistance to the liberation of the Philippines. She departed Leyte Gulf on 2 December to the Palaus, where she later joined a Mindoro-bound convoy. She provided anti-aircraft fire for the convoy and provided cover fire for invading forces. She provided cover for two more days before retiring to the Palaus.[6][19]

1945[edit]

New Mexico, with Mt. Fuji in the background, August 1945.

New Mexico‍ '​s next task in the Philippines was the liberation of Luzon. She took part in the pre-invasion shelling of Lingayen Gulf on 6 January. During the bombardment she came under heavy kamikaze attack, one of which hit her bridge, killing her commanding officer, Captain Robert Walton Fleming, and 29 others. The dead included Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden, the British representative to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. A further 87 of her crew were wounded. Bruce Fraser, the commander of the British Pacific Fleet, narrowly escaped death while on her bridge, although his secretary was killed. The guns remained in action as the ship's crew repaired the damage while the invasion troops were landing on the beaches.[6][18]

More extensive repairs were completed at Pearl Harbor, after which New Mexico sailed to the island of Ulithi to rehearse the invasion of Okinawa as part of a large fire-support group. Her heavy guns opened up on Okinawa on 26 March, and for the next month she continued to support the US troops ashore. On 11 May, she destroyed eight Shinyo suicide boats.[6][18]

While she was approaching her berth in the Hagushi anchorage, just after sunset on 12 May, she was attacked by two kamikazes. One of them plunged into her, the other managed to hit her with its bomb. She was set on fire and 54 members of New Mexico‍ '​s crew were killed, while a further 119 were wounded. Swift action led to the fires being extinguished within 30 minutes. On 28 May, she departed for repairs at Leyte, followed by rehearsals for the planned invasion of the Japan. Word of the war's end reached her when she was at Saipan on 15 August. The next day she sailed for Okinawa to join the occupation force. She entered Sagami Wan on 27 August to support the airborne occupation of Atsugi Airfield. The next day New Mexico passed into Tokyo Bay to witness the Japanese surrender, which took place on 2 September. She departed Tokyo Bay on 6 September, passing Okinawa, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal, before arriving at Boston on 17 October.[6][18][20]

Postwar[edit]

New Mexico was decommissioned in Boston on 19 July 1946, and was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 25 February 1947. On 9 November 1947, she was sold for scrapping to the Lipsett Division of Luria Bros, for $381,600.[6][21]

Lipsett decided to tow New Mexico for scrapping at Newark, New Jersey. The proximity of Newark to rail lines made it an ideal location for dismantling the ship and hauling away the steel. In early November 1947 New Mexico departed Boston, towed by two tugs. On 12 November, while off the coast of New York, the tugs pulling the battleship encountered heavy weather and were forced to cut the tow lines. Running lights were kept on aboard New Mexico along with three crewmembers, but the tugs eventually lost sight of the battleship.[22] New Mexico then drifted as a derelict until spotted by a Coast Guard plane the next day, 35 miles off the coast. The two tugs then secured tow lines and continued the journey to the scrapyard.[23][24]

Newark city officials decided they did not want any more ships scrapped along the city's waterfront. Newark was implementing a beautification plan for the waterfront, and had allocated $70 million for improvements.[23] As such, the city declared that any attempt to bring New Mexico to Newark would be blocked. Two city fireboats, Michael P. Duffy and William T. Brennan, were dispatched and were prepared to use their fire hoses and chemical sprayers to halt Lipsett and New Mexico.[23] In response, Lipsett organized its own force of four tugs, and the United States Coast Guard declared it would guarantee safe passage of New Mexico, provided legal entry was permitted. This showdown was dubbed by the press as the "Battle of Newark Bay", while the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce announced it would protest Newark's "slur" of New Mexico's namesake, through its refusal to admit the battleship.[22]

As New Mexico awaited suitable tidal conditions to make the final tow into Newark, the Navy Department sent Under Secretary W. John Kenney to negotiate. After several sessions, he arranged a tenuous agreement between the City of Newark and Lipsett. Newark would allow New Mexico and two other battleships, Idaho and Wyoming, to be scrapped at Newark, but there would be no permanent ship dismantling facility. Lipsett had nine months to dispose of the three ships, or would be subjected to a fine of $1,000 per day after the deadline.[23]

New Mexico finally entered Newark Channel on 19 November, and was greeted by the same Newark fireboats that had earlier been sent to oppose the ship. Newark also arranged to have school children honor the old battleship dockside, with a marching band. New Mexico was subsequently joined by Idaho and Wyoming, where all three were finally dismantled. Scrapping of New Mexico began on 24 November and was completed by July 1948.[25]

Awards[edit]

The following awards were presented to the ship for its service during World War II:[26]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ A "fleet problem" was an annual large-scale training exercise, where the "battle fleet" would be divided up into two opposing sides, and test doctrine and tactics.[10]

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]