Warship Wednesday, Dec.7, 2022: Pearl Harbor D+365

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec.7, 2022: Pearl Harbor D+365

Just one year to the day after the Japanese attack that wiped out the Pacific Fleet’s Battleforce, sending four battleships (five if you count the old USS Utah) to the bottom and severely damaging four more, the Navy was already busy making new ships to fill the gaps.

Commissioned in that 365-day period between December 7th, 1941 and 1942 were all four of the brand new South Dakota-class battleships, with SoDak (BB-57) entering the fleet on 20 March, Indiana (BB-58) on 30 April, Massachusetts (BB-59) on 12 May– then cleaning the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart‘s clock just six months later– and Alabama (BB-60) on 16 August, very much making good on the battlewagon losses from Pearl Harbor.

Embarcadero, 1946, showing battleships Alabama, right, Indiana, left, and Massachusetts, center. All three, along with class leader South Dakota, were commissioned within eight months of Pearl Harbor. Photo via San Francisco Public Library

Moreover, the two larger North Carolina-class battleships that were in the Atlantic at the time of the attack on shakedown, were in the Pac and dealing damage in the waters off Guadalcanal (Washington had sent the Japanese battleship Kirishima to the bottom on 15 November 1942).

Further, the most lightly damaged battleship at the Pearl Harbor attack, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) had been repaired just a month after the attack and was even at sea during the Battle of Midway as part of VADM Pye’s Task Force 1.

USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), shown on the warpath against the Empire, firing her guns during the first days of landings at Guam, Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 67584

By 1944, six of the eight battleships that had been sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor had been returned to service, better and more modern than ever. Only Oklahoma and Arizona would never sail again. 

It was not just ships, by the end of 1942, the U.S. was producing more military material than the entire Axis bloc combined and showed no signs of slowing down. 
 
By 1944, as American foundries were making 150 tons of steel every minute– around the clock– shipyards were easily launching four merchant ships per day on average along with at least one warship every five days and up to seven aircraft carriers per month (February: Casablanca-class escort carriers USS Shamrock Bay, Shipley Bay, Sitkoh Bay, and Steamer Bay along with the Essex-class fleet carriers USS Ticonderoga, Bennington, and Shangri-La). In all, 18 American shipyards built 2,710  “Emergency” Liberty ships alone between 1941 and 1945– each requiring 592,000 man-hours (as much as a third performed by women) and 6,850 tons of steel– followed by another 534 larger and faster Victory ships built between 1944 and 1946. Added to this were vast encompassing fleets of amphibious warfare ships (1,051 LSTs and 923 LCIs were constructed during WWII not to mention the amazing 23,000 smaller LCM, LCVP, and LCPL “Higgins Boats”).
 
Look at this chart of force levels for 1938-44 and pay close attention to the totals for 1941-42-43-44, where the U.S. fleet roughly doubles every year from 790 to 1,782 to 3,699 to 6,084 before peaking at 7,601 ships of all sorts on VJ Day. 
 

‘Big J’ on the Way!

But we have forgotten about the best news the country got on December 7, 1942.

The lead ship of the largest class of American battleships ever produced, USS Iowa (BB-61) had been launched on 27 August followed by New Jersey (BB-62), on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) Caption: “World’s largest battleship” is christened by Mrs. Charles Edison, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 7 December 1942. Description: Courtesy of Allan J. Drugan, Columbus, Ohio. Catalog #: NH 45485

USS New Jersey BB-62 Waterborne, a few hours after launch, December 7, 1942.

The Iowas were immense ships, with some 175 tons of blueprint paper alone in the class’s 430,000 man-days of design and each vessel’s 3,300,000 man-days of construction time. 
 
Each was crafted with:
 
  • 4,300,000 feet of welding
  • 90 miles of piping
  • 15,000 valves
  • 300 miles of electric cables (some of them armored)
  • 900 electric motors 
  • 312,000 pounds of paint
  • 15 miles of manila and wire rope
  • 1,857 access openings (161 hatches, 844 doors, and 852 manholes)

Even for her size, New Jersey was just a bullet point in the U.S. shipbuilding program 80 years ago. The U.S. Navy and Maritime Commission between them officially launched no less than 25 ships across the nation on 6-8 December 1942. Among the 15 vessels for the Navy that day was the new Independence-class light aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24)— which would go on to earn the Presidental Unit Citation and a full dozen battle stars in WWII– the future 11-starred Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Miami (CL-89) which would pick up a half-dozen battle stars of her own, and, as mentioned, New Jersey, the latter a full year ahead of schedule.

New Jersey would end up spending more days in commission than her sisters, some 21.5 years – 2.5 years more than Iowa, 5 years more than Missouri, and 8.5 years more than Wisconsin. For several years (1968-69 and again in 1982-84) she was the world’s only operational battleship.
 
As noted by the Battleship New Jersey Museum, “across World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf, the New Jersey earned a total of 19 Battle and Campaign stars, making her the most decorated battleship in American history, the most of any surviving U.S. Navy ship, and the second-most decorated ship in American history.”
 
In a bit of coming full circle, the Virginia-class submarine PCU New Jersey (SSN 796)— only the third U.S. Navy vessel named for the Garden State– last April was rolled out of Newport News Shipbuilding’s Modular Outfitting Facility to the Floating Dry Dock, where she was floated and launched. The submarine is now at a pier undergoing extensive testing in preparation for sea trials. She is expected to be delivered to the Navy late in 2022 and should be commissioned shortly after.
 

3 comments

  • The ‘terrible resolve’ of the United States, on full display… what has happened since is deeply disturbing.

    God Bless America.

  • Chris, the photo of the three SoDaks docked in San Francisco is awesome. In those days, SF’s citizens welcomed the U.S. Navy. It’s a dramatically different situation today; the city’s ultra-left government and much of its citizenry hate and reject the presence of any American warships at its piers.

    • I got to spend the night aboard the USS Massachusetts BB-59 at her permanent home in Fall River on a B.S.A. camp out maybe 10 years ago. It was freakin’ awesome. Go aboard in the afternoon, find a rack and stow your gear. Explore the ship all day. Supper in the mess. Movies in the theater, activities, or tour the ship at night. Coffee while walking out on deck at night before Taps and lights out. I actually got up in the middle of the night to use the head under the red night lights, climbing down from the top rack. So cool for a guy that was in the Army. Reveille at dawn then chow in the mess. Explore the other exhibits before its time to go.

      My Dad, GMM3 Roland LaPorte of Holyoke, MA served on the Essex Class carriers, specifically mentioned here “Big Ben” USS Bennington CVA-20. His battle station was a 5 inch aft gun tub on the starboard side below the flight deck. He was aboard on his 20th birthday, May 26, 1954 when off the coast of Nantucket, the hydraulic catapaults exploded setting off secondary explosions in the magazines located below. He was luckily in an aft galley running a potato peeling machine on KP. He was physically stopped from going forward to help. He did get to go forward after they docked at Quonset Point and told me the damage was unbelievable.

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