Warship Wednesday Sept. 30, 2015: The Deseret Battlewagon
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Sept. 30, 2015: The Deseret Battlewagon
Here we see the Florida-class dreadnought USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16) as she appeared during World War I. While she went “Over There” and was ready to fight the Germans yet never fired a shot, her follow-on experience in the next world war would be much different.
The period of U.S. battleship development from the USS Indiana (Battleship No. 1) in 1890, until Florida was ordered in 1908 saw a staggering 29 huge capital ships built in under two decades. While the majority of those vessels were pre-dreadnought Monopoly battleships (for instance, Indiana was 10,500-tons and carried 2 × twin 13″/35 guns), the U.S. had gotten in the dreadnought business with the two smallish 16,000-ton, 8×12 inch/45 caliber gunned South Carolina-class ships ordered in 1905, followed by a pair of larger 22,400-ton, 10×12 inch/45 gunned Delaware-class battleships in 1907.
The pair of Florida-class ships were better than the U.S. battleships before them but rapidly eclipsed by the 33 that came after and developmentally were sandwiched between the old and new era. Dimensionally, they were more than twice as heavy as the country’s first battleships and only half as heavy as the last commissioned in 1944.
At 25,000 tons, they carried roughly the same battery of 12 inchers (10x12″/45 caliber Mark 5 guns) in six twin turrets as the Delawares, which were equivalent to the period Royal Navy’s BL 12 inch Mk X naval gun and the Japanese Type 41 12-inch (305 mm) /45 caliber naval gun. Utah was the last battleship mounted with this particular model gun.
Their belt, an almost homogenous 11-inches everywhere, was thick for the time and they could make 21-knots on a quartet of Parsons steam turbines powered by a full dozen Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired boilers.
Laid down 9 March 1909 at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Utah was first (and, until this week, only) ship named after the former State of Deseret.
Commissioned 31 August 1911, her early career was a series of training and goodwill cruises. Then the gloves came off.
In April, 1914, Utah was heavily involved in Mr. Wilson’s intervention in the affairs of Mexico, ordered to seize the German-flagged steamer SS Ypiranga, and loaded with good Krupp and Mauser guns for old man Huerta.
This led to the battle for and subsequent occupation of Veracruz where Utah and her sistership Florida landed two provisional battalions consisting of 502 Marines and 669 bluejackets (many of whose white uniforms were dyed brown with coffee grounds) to fight their way to the Veracruz Naval Academy. Utah‘s 384 sailors gave hard service, pushing street by street and tackling the Mexican barricades. In the fighting, the fleet suffered ~100 casualties while the Mexicans took nearly five times that number.
As the crisis abated, Utah sailed away two months later for the first of her many refits.
When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Utah spent most of the conflict as an engineering school training ship in Chesapeake Bay. then in August 1918 sailed for Ireland where she was stationed in Bantry Bay to keep an eye peeled for German surface raiders.
After her fairly pedestrian war service, she and Florida had their dozen coal eaters replaced with a quartet of more efficient White-Forster oil-fired boilers, which allowed one funnel to be removed. Their AAA suite was likewise increased.
One bluejacket who served aboard her in 1922 as a Fireman 3rd Class assigned was a fellow by the name of John Herbert Dillinger, but he deserted after a few months when Utah was docked in Boston and was eventually dishonorably discharged before becoming Public Enemy No. 1.
Despite the cranky Mr. Dilinger, Utah was a happy ship in the 1920s, completing a number of goodwill cruises to South America and Europe including a trip in 1928 with President-Elect Herbert Hoover aboard.
While the ships survived the cuts of the Washington Naval Treaty, the ax of the follow-on London Naval Treaty fell and, when compared to the newer hulls in the battleship fleet, Utah and Florida were found lacking although they were only 15~ years old and recently modernized.
As such, class leader Florida was decommissioned in February 1931 and towed to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where she was broken up for scrap.
As for Utah, she was decommissioned, pulled from the battle fleet, disarmed and converted to a radio-controlled target ship, designated AG-16 on 1 July 1931. She was capable of being operated completely by remote control with a skeleton crew.
Her electric motors, operated by signals from the controlling ship, opened and closed throttle valves, moved her steering gear, and regulated the supply of oil to her boilers. In addition, a Sperry gyro pilot kept the ship on course.
Able to operate with her much-reduced crew buttoned up inside her protective armor with every hatch dogged, her decks were reinforced with a double layer of 6″x12″ plank timbers to keep inert practice bombs from damaging the ship. Her funnel likewise was given a steel cap. Sandbags and cement patches covered hard-to-plank areas.
No longer considered a capital ship befitting flag officers, her 102-piece silver service, purchased by donation from 30,000 schoolchildren of Utah (and each piece with an image of Brigham Young on it), was sent back to the state for safekeeping.
While her main and secondary armament was landed, she was equipped with a battery of 1.1-inch quads and later some 5″/38 cal DP, 5″/25, 20mm and .50 cal mounts to help train anti-aircraft gunners. To keep said small guns from being whacked away by falling practice bombs, they had to be dismantled and stored below decks when not in use or covered with timber “doghouses.”
This armament constantly shifted with the needs of the Navy. In August 1941 she was considerably re-armed for her work as a AAA training vessel.
She carried two 5in/25 mounts forward atop No.1 and No.2 turrets respectively. Two 5in/38 mounts to port atop the port aircastle with two 5in/25s in the same position on the starboard aircastle. (The `aircastles’ are the projecting casemates abreast the bridge area for the former secondary battery). On the 01 level abeam the bridge, a quad 1.1 inch gun was carried on both sides of the ship. Aft, came two more 5in/38s atop No.4 and No.5 turrets, this time enclosed with gun shields. Finally, four Oerlikon 20mm (later scheduled to be replaced by 40mm Bofors) and eight 0.50-calibre guns completed the ensemble. An advanced gun director and stereoscopic range-finder was mounted on the top of No.3 turret and anti-aircraft and 5-inch directors fitted on the foremast area
Used in fleet maneuvers in the Pacific for a decade, she was resting near Battleship Row on Dec. 7, 1941.
Ironically, she was scheduled to leave Hawaii for the West Coast on Dec. 8th.
The attacking Japanese pilots in the Pearl Harbor attack had been ordered not to waste their bombs and torpedoes on the old target ship, but it has been theorized some excited aviators mistook the gleaming wooden planks on her decking to be that of an American flattop. Further, she was berthed on the Northwest side of Ford Island where visiting aircraft carriers were usually tied up on the weekends.
As such, Utah received two (perhaps three) Japanese torpedoes in the first wave of the attack.
Not retrofitted with torpedo bilges as other WWI-era U.S. battleships were, the Emperor’s fish penetrated her hull and she soon capsized, taking 64 of her sailors with her– 54 of which were trapped inside her hull and to this day never recovered.
It went quick for the old battleship. The attack began at 7:55 a.m. and by 8:11 Utah was reported to have turned turtle, her masts embedded in the harbor bottom.
One of those 64 was Chief Watertender Peter Tomich, a Bosnian immigrant who served in the U.S. Army in WWI before enlisting for a career in the Navy. Tomich saved lives that day.
From his MOH citation:
Although realizing that the ship was capsizing, as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, Chief Watertender Tomich remained at his post in the engineering plant of the U.S.S. UTAH (AG-16), until he saw that all boilers were secured and all fireroom personnel had left their stations, and by so doing lost his own life.
Navy hardhat salvage divers made 437 dives on the stricken ship during her attempted re-righting in 1944, involving 2,227 man-hours under pressure. However, she was never fully salvaged. She was stricken from the Naval List 13 November, 1944 and is currently preserved as a war grave. A further move to salvage her in the 1950s was stillborn.
Her silver service is maintained along with other artifacts in Salt Lake City at the Governor’s Mansion.
Utah persists to this day at her berth along Ford Island leaking oil into Pearl Harbor.
She is preserved as the USS Utah Memorial and the National Park Service, U.S. Navy and other stakeholders take her remains very seriously, mounting a color guard daily.
Underwater Photographer Captures Images of USS Utah Memorial. Shaan Hurley, a technologist from Autodesk, takes photographs of the USS Utah Memorial during a data-collecting evolution in Pearl Harbor, October 23, 2014. In a process called “photogrametry” the underwater photos will be inputted into computer software that will create 3D data models of the photographed areas. The National Park Service is working with several companies and agencies to gather data points to create an accurate 3D model of the ship. U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brett Cote / RELEASED
Today she is remembered by a veteran’s group and survivors association of which there are only seven known remaining survivors. A number of those who have passed have been cremated and had their ashes interred in the wreck.
As for Chief Tomich, he was something of an orphan and his award is the only Medal of Honor since the Indian Campaigns in the late 1800s that has never been awarded either to a living recipient, or surviving family member. The state of Utah, who pronounced him a resident posthumously, long had custody of his award.
USS Tomich (DE-242), an Edsall-class destroyer escort, was named in his honor in 1942 and remained on the Naval List until 1972.
In 1989, the U.S. Navy built the Senior Enlisted Academy in Newport, R.I., and named the building Tomich Hall. Chief Tomich’s Medal of Honor is on display on the quarterdeck there.
Finally, this week, SECNAV Ray Mabus announced in Salt Lake City that SSN-801, a Virginia-class submarine under construction, will be the second vessel to carry the name Utah.
Displacement: Standard: 21,825 long tons (22,175 t), full load 25,000
Length: 521 ft. 8 in (159.00 m)
Beam: 88 ft. 3 in (26.90 m)
Draft: 28.3 ft. (8.6 m)
Installed power: 28,000 shp (21,000 kW)
Propulsion: Steam turbines, 4 screws. 12 Coal boilers later replaced by 4 oil boilers in 1926.
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Range: 5,776 nmi (6,650 mi; 10,700 km) at 10 kn (12 mph, 19 km/h) and 2,760 nmi (3,180 mi; 5,110 km) at 20 kn (23 mph, 37 km/h)
Coal: 2,500 tons (2,268 tonnes)
Complement: 1,001 officers and men as designed, 575 after 1932
10 × 12 in (30 cm)/45 cal guns
16 × 5 in (127 mm)/51 cal guns
2 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
4×5″/38 DP in single mounts
4×5″/25 in single mounts
8×1.1″ AAA in two quad mounts
4x20mm/80 in singles
15x.50-cal singles, water-cooled
Belt: 9–11 in (229–279 mm)
Lower casemate: 8–10 in (203–254 mm)
Upper casemate: 5 in (127 mm)
Barbettes: 4–10 in (102–254 mm)
Turret face: 12 in (305 mm)
Conning tower: 11.5 in (292 mm)
Decks: 1.5 in (38 mm), later reinforced with wooden planks, sandbags and concrete.
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