U.S. Navy Battleships - USS Pennsylvania (BB 38)
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Displacement: 31,400 tons
Speed: 21 knots
Armament: Twelve 14" guns; fourteen 5" guns; four 3" guns; four 3-pounders; two 21" torpedo tubes
Text from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the Naval Historical Center
The second Pennsylvania (BB-38) was laid down 27 October
1913 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co.,
Newport News, Va.; launched 16 March 1915; sponsored by
Miss Elizabeth Kolb; and commissioned 12 June 1916, Capt.
H.B.Wilson in command.
Pennsylvania was attached to the Atlantic Fleet. On 12 October
1916 she became flagship of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic
Fleet, when Admiral Henry T. Mayo shifted his flag from USS Wyoming (BB 32)
to Pennsylvania. In January 1917, Pennsylvania steamed for Fleet
maneuvers in the Caribbean. She returned to her base at
Yorktown, Va., 6 April 1917, the day of declaration of war
against Germany. She did not sail to join the British Grand
Fleet since she burned fuel oil and tankers could not be spared
to carry additional fuel to the British Isles. In the light of
this circumstance, only coal burning battleships were selected
for this mission. Based at Yorktown, she kept in battle trim
with Fleet maneuvers, tactics, and training in the areas of the
Chesapeake Bay, intervened by overhaul at Norfolk and New York,
with brief maneuvers in Long Island Sound.
While at Yorktown, 11 August 1917, Pennsylvania manned the rail
and rendered honors as, with President Wilson aboard, Mayflower
stood in and anchored. At 12:15 p.m. President Wilson returned
the call of Commander, Battle Force aboard Pennsylvania and was
given full honors.
On 2 December 1918, Pennsylvania steamed to anchorage off
Tompkinsville, New York. On 4 December, she got underway for
Brest, France. At 11:00 a.m., the transport George Washington
flying the flag of the President of the United States, stood out
with an escort of ten destroyers. Pennsylvania manned the rail
and fired a salute of 21 guns. She took position ahead of George
Washington as guide for the resident's escort. Arriving in Brest
13 December, the crew manned the rail and cheered as George
Washington passed and proceeded to her anchorage. On 14 December
Pennsylvania departed for New York, arriving 25 December 1918.
In February 1919, Pennsylvania steamed for Fleet maneuvers in
the Caribbean Sea, returning to New York in the late spring.
While at New York, 30 June 1919, Admiral Mayo was relieved as
Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, by Vice Admiral Henry
At Tompkinsville, N.Y., 8 July 1919, Pennsylvania embarked
Vice President Marshall, Cabinet Secretaries Daniels, Glass,
Wilson, Baker, Lane, and Senator Champ Clark, and then put to
sea. At 10:00 a.m. USS Oklahoma (BB 37) was sighted with George Washington
flying the President's flag and accompanied by her ocean escort.
Pennsylvania fired a presidential salute, then took position
ahead of Oklahoma and steamed to New York, stopping enroute to
disembark her distinguished guests before proceeding to berth.
On 7 January 1920, she departed New York for Fleet maneuvers, in
the Caribbean Sea, returning to New York 26 April 1920. She
resumed a schedule of local training operations until
17 January 1921 when she departed New York for the Panama Canal,
arriving at Balboa, 20 January, to join units of the Pacific
Fleet and became flagship of the combined fleets, the Commander
in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet assuming command of the U.S.
Battle Fleet on orders of the Navy Department. On 21 January
1921, the Fleet sailed from Balboa, en route to Callao, Peru,
arriving 31 January 1921. Departing, 2 February, Pennsylvania
returned to Balboa, 14 February, then conducted brief exercises
while based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Upon return to Hampton
Roads, 28 April 1921, she rendered a 21 gun salute as she passed
Mayflower. The Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval
Operations, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy came aboard for a reception to the President of the United States. At 11:40
President Harding came aboard and his flag was broken at the
On 22 August 1922, Pennsylvania departed Lynnhaven Roads to join
the Pacific Fleet. Arriving at San Pedro, Calif., 26 September
1922, her principal area of operations until 1929 was along the
coast of California, Washington, and Oregon, with periodic
maneuvers and tactics off the Panama Canal, in the Caribbean
Sea, and Hawaiian operating areas. She departed with the Fleet
from San Francisco, 15 April 1925, and after war games in the
Hawaiian area, departed Honolulu, 1 July, en route to Melbourne,
Australia. After a visit to Wellington, New Zealand, she
returned to San Pedro, Calif., 26 September 1925.
In January 1929, Pennsylvania cruised to Panama, and after
training maneuvers while based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, steamed
to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving 1 June 1920, to undergo
overhaul and modernization. She remained in the yard for nearly
two years. On 8 May 1931, she departed for a refresher training
cruise to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then returned. On 6 August
1931, she again sailed for Guantanamo, and later continued on to
San Pedro, where she again joined the Battle Fleet.
From August 1931 to 1941, Pennsylvania engaged in Fleet tactics
and battle practice along the west coast and participated in
Fleet problems and maneuvers which were held periodically in the
Hawaiian area as well as the Caribbean Sea. After overhaul in
the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 7 January 1941, she again sailed
for Hawaii where she carried out scheduled operations with units
of Task Forces 1 and 5, throughout that year, making one brief
voyage to the west coast with Task Force 18.
At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December
1941, Pennsylvania was in drydock in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.
She was one of the first ships in the harbor to open fire as
enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes roared out of the high
overcast. They did not succeed in repeated attempts to torpedo
the caisson of the dry-dock but Pennsylvania and the surrounding
dock areas were severely strafed. The crew of one 5-inch gun
mount was wiped out when a bomb struck the starboard side of her
boat deck and exploded inside casemate 9. Destroyers USS Cassin (DD 372) and
USS Downes (DD 375), just forward of Pennsylvania in dry-dock were seriously
damaged by bomb hits. Pennsylvania was pockmarked by flying
fragments. A part of a torpedo tube from Downes, about
1000 pounds in weight, was blown onto the forecastle of
Pennsylvania. She had 15 men killed, 14 missing in action, and
38 men wounded.
0n 20 December 1941, Pennsylvania sailed for San Francisco,
arriving 29 December 1941. She underwent repairs until 30 March
1942. From 14 April to 1 August 1942, Pennsylvania conducted
extensive training operations and patrols along the coast of
California, intervened by overhaul at San Francisco. During this
duty, 4 June 1942, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of
the United States Fleet, held brief ceremonies aboard
Pennsylvania to present the Distinguished Service Medal to
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz for "exceptionally meritorious service
as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet since 31
On 1 August 1942, Pennsylvania departed San Francisco for Pearl
Harbor, arriving 14 August. She conducted gunnery exercises and
took part in carrier task force guard tactics in the Hawaiian
area. On 4 October, Pennsylvania returned to San Francisco,
remaining for overhaul which was completed by 5 February 1943.
She then conducted refresher training and air defense patrol off
the coast of California. On 23 April Pennsylvania sailed for
Alaska to take part in the Aleutian Campaign.
On 30 April, Pennsylvania arrived at Cold Bay, Alaska. During
11-12 May, she engaged in shore bombardment of Holtz Bay and
Chicago Harbor, Attu, in support of the landings. As she retired
from Attu on 12 May, a patrol plane warned that a torpedo wake
was headed for Pennsylvania. She maneuvered at full speed as the
torpedo passed safely astern. The destroyer USS Edwards (DD 619) teamed with
USS Farragut (DD 348) to hunt down the attacker. After ten hours of
relentless depth charge attacks, submarine I-31 was forced to
the surface and was shelled by gunfire from Edwards. Severely
damaged, the enemy survived until 13 June, then being sunk by
destroyer USS Frazier (DD 607). Torpedo wakes were again sighted the morning
of 14 May, and destroyers conducted a fruitless search for the
enemy. That same morning Pennsylvania's seaplanes were launched
to operate from the seaplane tender USS Casco (AVP 12) in making strafing
attacks on enemy positions on Attu.
The afternoon of 14 May 1943, Pennsylvania conducted her third
bombardment mission, this time in support of the infantry attack
on the west arm of Holtz Bay. She then operated to the north and
east of Attu until 19 May when she steamed for Adak. She
departed Adak 21 May and arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard,
Bremerton, Wash., 28 May. She returned to Adak, 7 August, and
departed 13 August as flagship of Admiral Rockwell, commanding
the Kiska Attack Force. On 15 August assault troops landed
without oppostition on the western beaches of Kiska. By the
evening of 16 August it became apparent the Japanese had
evacuated under cover of fog prior to the landing. She patrolled
off Kiska for a time then returned to Adak, 23 August.
On 25 August 1943, Pennsylvania steamed for Pearl Harbor,
arriving 1 September. Here she took aboard 790 passengers and
departed 19 September for San Francisco where she arrived 25
September. She returned to Pearl Harbor, 6 October, and after
debarking passengers, took part in rehearsal and bombardment
exercises in the Hawaiian areas. She became flagship of Rear
Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Commander Fifth Amphibious Force,
and formed part of the Northern Attack Force, departing Pearl
Harbor, 10 November, for the assault on Makin Atoll, Gilbert
The Task Force, comprising four battleships, four cruisers,
three escort carriers, transports and destroyers, approached
Makin Atoll from the southeast on the morning of 20 November.
Pennsylvania opened fire on Butaritari Island with her main
battery at the initial range of 14,200 yards and then opened
with her secondary battery.
Just before general quarters on the morning of 24 November 1943,
a tremendous explosion took place off the starboard bow as
Pennsylvania was returning to a screening sector off Makin. At
almost the same instant a screening destroyer reported sound
contact and disposition immediately executed a course change.
For several minutes after the explosion, a large fire lighted up
the entire area. Word soon came that escort carrier USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56)
had been torpedoed. She sank with tremendous loss of life.
Determined night air attacks were made by enemy torpedo planes
on the nights of 25 and 26 November but were repelled without
damage to ships of the Task Force.
On 31 January 1944, Pennsylvania commenced bombardment of
Kwajalein Island which was continued throughout the day.
Landings were made 1 February, with Pennsylvania joining in
bombardment support before and after the landing operations. On
the evening of 3 February, she anchored in the lagoon near
Kwajalein Island. The success of the Kwajalein operation was
ensured and Pennsylvania retired to Majuro Atoll to replenish
On 12 February Pennsylvania got underway for operations against
Eniwetok, Marshall Islands. On 17 February, Pennsylvania steamed
boldly through the deep entrance into Eniwetok Lagoon with her
batteries blazing away. She steamed up a swept channel in the
lagoon to a position off Engebi Island and commenced bombardment
of enemy installations. On the morning of 18 February 1944,
Pennsylvania bombarded Engebi before and during the approach of
the assault waves to the beach. When Engebi had been secured,
Pennsylvania steamed southward through the lagoon to the
vicinity of Parry Island, where she took part in bombardment 20-
21 February, preparatory to the landing assaults. At the
commencement of bombardment the island had been covered with a
dense growth of palm trees extending to the waters edge. At
conclusion of bombardment, not a single tree remained standing.
On the morning of 22 February, she gave bombardment support
prior to the landing on Parry Island.
Pennsylvania retired to Majuro, 1 March, then steamed south to
Havannah Harbor, Efate, New Hebrides Islands. She remained at
Efate until late April. On 29 April 1944, Pennsylvania arrived
in Sydney, Australia. She returned to Efate, 11 May, then sailed
to Port Purvis, Florida Islands, from which she operated to
conduct bombardment and amphibious assault exercises. She
returned to Efate 27 March, and after replenishment of
ammunition, departed, 2 June, arriving at Roi, 3 June.
On 10 June, Pennsylvania formed with a force of battleships,
cruisers, escort carriers, and destroyers en route for the
assault and occupation of the Marianas Islands. That night a
destroyer in the screen reported sound contact and emergency
turn left 90 degrees was ordered. As a result of this maneuver,
Pennsylvania collided with high-speed transport USS Talbot (DD 114) and
sustained minor damage. Talbot put into Eniwetok for emergency
On 14 June,1944, Pennsylvania took part in the bombardment of
Saipan preparatory to the assault landings made the next day
while she cruised off the northeastern shore of Tinian,
conducting heavy bombardment of that island to neutralize any
enemy batteries which might have opened fire on the landing
beaches of Saipan. t On 16 June she conducted bombardment of
targets on Orote Point, Guam, then retired to cover the Saipan
area. Pennsylvania departed the Marianas, 25 June, and after a
brief stay at Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, departed 9 July to
resume support of the Marianas Campaign.
From 12 through 14 July, Pennsylvania conducted bombardment of
Guam in preparation for the assault and landings on that island.
On completion of firing the evening of 14 July, she returned to
Saipan to replenish ammunition. She returned to Guam, 17 July,
and delivered protective fire support to demolition parties. At
the same time she continued deliberate destructive fire on
designated targets through 20 July.
On the early morning of 21 July, Pennsylvania took a position
between Agat Beach and Orote Peninsula, and commenced
bombardment of beach areas in immediate preparation for the
assault while troops and equipment were loaded into landing
craft and landing waves were being formed. Upon establishment of
the beachhead she stood by for fire support missions as might be
called for by shore fire control parties, continuing this duty
until 3 August. She then steamed to Eniwetok, thence to the New
Hebrides Islands, and after rehearsal of landing assaults on
Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal, arrived at Port Purvis, Florida
Island. She departed 6 September as part of the Palau
Bombardment and Fire Support Group. From 12 through 14
September, Pennsylvania took part in intensive bombardment of
targets on the island of Peleliu. On 15 September, she also
furnished gunfire support for the landings on that island. She
then delivered a devastating fire on enemy gun emplacements
among the rocks and cliffs flanking Red Beach on Angaur Island.
On 25 September Pennsylvania steamed for emergency repairs at
Manus, Admiralty Island, entering floating dry-dock, 1 October
1944. She departed 12 October, one of six battleships in Rear
Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's Bombardment and Fire Support Group
which formed a part of the Central Philippine Attack Force under
command of Vice Admiral Thomas Cassin Kinkaid, en route to the
Pennsylvania reached fire support station on the eastern coast
of Leyte, 18 October, and commenced covering bombardment for
beach reconnaissance, underwater demolition teams, and
minesweeping units operating in Leyte Gulf and San Pedro Harbor.
She conducted bombardment missions the next day and supported
the landings on Leyte, 20 October. Gunfire support missions
continued through 22 October, including harassing and night
On 24 October, all available United States vessels prepared for
action as units of the Japanese Fleet closed the Philippines,
preliminary to the Battle for Leyte Gulf. Pennsylvania and five
other battleships, with cruisers and destroyers of Rear Admiral
Oldendorf's Force, steamed south and by nightfall were steaming
slowly back and forth across the northern entrance of Surigao
Strait, awaiting the approach of the enemy. That night, American
motor torpedo boats stationed well down in Surigao Strait made
the first encounter with torpedo attacks. Destroyers of the
Force, on either flank of the enemy's line of approach, followed
with torpedo and gun attacks. At 0353, 25 October 1944, USS West
Virginia (BB 48) opened fire, joined shortly thereafter by other
battleships and cruisers. The Japanese had run head on into a
perfect trap. Rear Admiral Oldendorf had executed the dream of
every naval tactician by crossing the enemy's 'T'. The Japanese
lost two battleships and three destroyers in the Battle of
Surigao Strait. The cruiser Mogami, in company with a destroyer,
all that remained of the enemy force, managed to escape. Rear
Admiral Oldendorf's Force did not suffer the loss of a single
vessel. Mogami was sunk the next day by carrier planes.
On 25 October 1944 ten enemy planes made a simultaneous run on a
destroyer close aboard Pennsylvania which assisted in splashing
four and driving off the others. On the night of 28 October, she
shot down a bomber as it attempted a torpedo run.
Remaining on patrol in Leyte Gulf until 25 November,
Pennsylvania then steamed to Manus, Admiralty Islands, and
thence to Kossol Passage where she loaded ammunition. She
departed 1 January 1945 with Vice Admiral Oldendorf's Lingayen
Bombardment and Fire Support Group, steaming for Lingayen Gulf.
The Group came under heavy air attacks 4-5 January and the
escort carrier USS Ommaney Bay (CVE 79) was hit by a suicide plane and
destroyed by the resulting fire. Many other ships were damaged.
On the morning of 6 January, Pennsylvania commenced bombardment
of target areas on Santiago Island at the mouth of Lingayen
Gulf. That afternoon she entered the Gulf to conduct counter-
battery fire in support of minesweeping forces, retiring at
night. At daybreak, 7 January, the entire bombardment force
entered Lingayen Gulf to deliver supporting and destructive
fire. Preliminary assault bombardment was continued the next
day. On 9 January, Pennsylvania provided gunfire support for the
protection of the waves of landing troops. Enemy aircraft
attacked the force in Lingayen Gulf, 10 January. Four bombs
landed close by, but Pennsylvania was not hit. That afternoon
she executed her last call fire mission in support of the
operation by firing twelve rounds to destroy a concentration of
enemy tanks which had been located inland by a shore fire
From 10 to 17 January, Pennsylvania conducted patrol in the
South China Sea, off Lingayen Gulf, with other ships of the task
group. On 17 January she anchored in Lingayen Gulf, remaining
until 10 February when she sailed for temporary repairs at
Manus, Admiralty Islands. Departing 22 February, she steamed via
the Marshall Islands and Pearl Harbor to San Francisco, arriving
13 March. She entered the Hunter's Point Shipyard and underwent
thorough overhaul. Her main battery turrets and secondary
battery mounts were regunned. Additional close range weapons as
well as improved radar and fire control equipment were
Upon completion of overhaul, Pennsylvania conducted trial runs
out of San Francisco, followed by refresher training while based
at San Diego, Calif. She departed San Francisco 12 July for
Pearl Harbor, arriving 18 July. She sailed for Okinawa, 24 July.
En route she took part in the bombardment of Wake Island, 1
August, and, after loading ammunition at Saipan the next day,
resumed her voyage. She anchored in Buckner Bay alongside
USS Tennessee (BB 43). On 12 August a Japanese torpedo plane slipped in over
Buckner Bay without detection and launched a torpedo at
Pennsylvania which lay at anchor. Hit well aft, Pennsylvania
suffered extensive damage. Twenty men were killed and ten
injured. Many compartments were flooded and Pennsylvania settled
heavily by the stern. The flooding was brought under control by
efforts of Pennsylvania's repair parties and the prompt
assistance of two salvage tugs. The following day, she was towed
to more shallow water where salvage operations continued.
On 18 August, Pennsylvania departed Buckner Bay, Okinawa, under
tow of two tugs. She arrived Apra Harbor, Guam, 6 September, and
entered drydock where a large sheet steel patch was welded over
the torpedo hole and repairs to permit her to return to the
United States under her own power were completed. On 4 October,
she sailed for the Puget Sound Navy Yard in company with
destroyer USS Walke (DD 723) and cruiser USS Atlanta (CL 51). On 17 October number 3
shaft suddenly carried away inside the stern tube and the shaft
slipped aft. It was necessary to send divers down to cut through
the shaft, letting the shaft and propeller drop into the sea.
Shipping water and with only one screw turning, Pennsylvania
limped into Puget Sound Navy Yard, 24 October.
Repairs were made to enable Pennsylvania to steam to the
Marshall Islands where she was used as a target ship in the
atomic bomb tests at Bikini during July 1946. She was then towed
to Kwajalein Lagoon where she decommissioned 29 August 1946. She
remained in Kwajalein Lagoon for radiological and structural
studies until 10 February 1948 when she was sunk off Kwajalein.
She was struck from the Navy List 19 February 1948.
Pennsylvania received eight battle stars for World War II
Updated: 30 July 2009