Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday October 3 The Phoenix of Pearl Harbor
Here we see the Colorado-class battleship USS West Virgina (BB-48) as she appeared at the end of her WWII refit. You wouldn’t know it at the time but she was over 20 years old and had already seen severe combat, even being sunk in the first hour of the war.
Commissioned on 1 December 1923, with Navy Cross-winner Captain (later Admiral) Thomas J. Senn in command, West Virgina was the last US battleship built for nearly two decades. The end of World War One and the resulting Washington and London Naval Treaties stopped further battleship construction. In fact, one of her sister ships, the USS Washington BB-47, was canceled while some 75% complete and sunk as a naval target.
West Virgina was arguably the most powerful class of battleship afloat in the world at the time. Displacing nearly 35,000-tons at a full load, their clipper bow set them apart from earlier US battlewagons and made them far drier, especially in rough weather. Turbo-electric transmission pushed four screws and could make 21-knots. Keeping enough oil in her bunkers for a 8000-mile round trip at half that, she was capable of crossing the Atlantic without an oiler to keep close to her. Upto 13.5-inches of armor (18 on turret faces) shielded her while 8 powerful 16-inch guns gave her tremendous ‘throw’.
The closest rival in any fleet around the world to her in 1923 was the British HMS Hood. Hood was bigger and faster (47,000-tons, 31-knots) but had thin armor and 8-15-inch guns. The Japanese Nagato-class were also slightly larger (38,000-tons), slightly faster (25-knots), and 8x 16-inch guns, but like the Hood had less armor.
As a hold back of pre-WWI thinking, she was the last US battleship commissioned with torpedo tubes and a four-turret main battery.
A happy ship, she spent the first 18 years of her life in the peacetime navy, participating in naval gunnery exercises, showing the flag, and taking part in war games. On December 7, 1941, just a week after her birthday, she was sitting peacefully at the quay on Battleship Row. Japanese torpedo bombers sent *seven* fish into her sides while at least two Type 99 bombs hit her decks (one of which failed to explode). Catastrophic damage, flooding, and oil fires resulted and the battleship sank in 40-feet of water, settling on her hull with her decks awash. No ship can withstand 7 torpedo hits. Incredibly, only a hundred of her crew (about 10%) were lost in the battle.
After spending six months on the bottom of Pearl, she was one of the first ships salvaged. Patched up and pumped out, she refloated and spent the next year at Pearl under repair. Following this, she was able to steam to Puget Naval Yard for modernization. There she spent 15-months being converted from 1923 to 1943. Her old 5-inch/51s and 3-inch guns were removed as were her dated observation towers. She was given a new camouflage scheme, a wider hull (with more torpedo protection), a new radar package, and a huge new AAA suite that included 16 new rapid fire 5-inch guns and nearly 100 40mm Bofors and Oerlikon 20mm cannons. Likewise, the entire interior of the ship was upgraded from keel to bridge.
In the end she looked more like a new 1943-era South Dakota class battleship than a 1920s Colorado.
She took her new act on the road and steamed West for some payback. As the flagship of Battleship Division Four (BatDiv4), she led five other WWI-era battleships into the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf. These ships included the USS Maryland (BB-46), USS Mississippi (BB-41), USS Tennessee (BB-43), USS California (BB-44), and USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)— three of which had been at Pearl Harbor with the Wee Vee.
In combat with the Japanese battlewagons Fuso and Yamashiro, the Wee Vee sent more than 16 salvos into the Japanese line in a night action, being credited with numerous hits on Yamashiro, leading to that ship’s sinking.
She finished the war with bombarding Iwo and Okinawa, coming to within 600-yards of the beach (which is close for a ship that needed 31-feet of water under her keel to float). She caught a kamikaze for her trouble.
Decommissioned on 9 January 1947, the Navy kept the newly rebuilt old battlewagon on red lead row for 12 years before striking her in 1959. With several newer ships around for donation to museums such as the Massachusetts and Alabama, no one seemed to want the Wee Vee and she was sold for her value in scrap metal per pound after 36-years of service.
Her bowflag is preserved in Clarksburg, WV, and her mooring quay is retired on Battleship Row, in mute testimony to that quiet Sunday morning in 1941.
Displacement: 33,590 tons
Length: 624 ft (190 m)
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
processing systems: CXAM-1 RADAR from 1940
8 × 16 in (410 mm)/45 cal guns
12 × 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal guns
4 × 3 in (76 mm)s
2 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes
8 × 16 in (410 mm)/45 cal guns
16 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal guns
40 × Bofors 40 mm guns
50 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
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)
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