U.S. Navy Battleships - USS Virginia (BB 13)
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Displacement: 14,980 tons
Speed: 19 knots
Armament: Four 12" guns; eight 8" guns; twelve 6" guns; twelve 3" guns; twenty-four 1-pounders; four .30-cal machine guns; four 21" torpedo tubes
Text from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the Naval Historical Center
The fourth Virginia (Battleship No. 13) was laid down on 21 May
1902 at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and
Dry Dock Co.; launched on 5 April 1904; sponsored by Miss Gay
Montague, daughter of the Governor of Virginia; and commissioned
on 7 May 1906, Capt. Seaton Schroeder in command.
After fitting out, Virginia conducted her "shaking down" cruise
in Lynnhaven Bay, Va., off Newport, R.I., and off Long Island,
N.Y., before she put into Bradford, R.I., for coal on 9 August.
After running trials for the standardization of her screws off
Rockland, Maine, the battleship maneuvered in Long Island Sound
before anchoring off President Theodore Roosevelt's home, Oyster
Bay, Long Island, from 2 to 4 September, for a Presidential
Virginia then continued her shakedown cruise before she coaled
again at Bradford. Meanwhile, events were occurring in the
Caribbean that would alter the new battleship's employment. On
the island of Cuba, in August of 1906, a revolution had broken
out against the government of President T. Estrada Palma. The
disaffection, which had started in Piniar del Rio province, grew
in the early autumn to the point where President Palma had no
recourse but to appeal to the United States for intervention.
By mid-September, it had become apparent that the small Cuban
constabulary (3,000 rural guards) was unable to protect foreign
interests, and intervention would be necessary. Accordingly,
Virginia departed Newport on 15 September 1906, bound for Cuba,
and reached Havana on the 21st, ready to protect the city from
attack if necessary. The battleship remained at Havana until 13
October, when she sailed for Sewall's Point, Va.
Virginia disembarked General Frederick Funston at Norfolk upon
her arrival there and coaled before heading north to
Tompkinsville to await further orders. She shifted soon
thereafter to the New York Navy Yard where she was coaled and
drydocked to have her hull bottom painted before undergoing
repairs and alterations at the Norfolk Navy Yard from 3 November
1906 to 18 February 1907. After installation of fire control
apparatus at the New York Navy Yard between 19 February and 23
March, the battleship sailed once more for Cuban waters, joining
the fleet at Guantanamo Bay on 28 March.
Virginia fired target practices in Cuban waters before she
sailed for Hampton Roads on 10 April 1907 to participate in the
Jamestown Tricentennial Exposition festivities. She remained in
Hampton Roads for a month, from 15 April to 15 May, before she
underwent repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard into early June.
Subsequently reviewed in Hampton Roads by President Theodore
Roosevelt between 7 and 13 June, Virginia shifted northward for
target practices on the target grounds of Cape Cod Bay,
evolutions that lasted from mid-June to mid-July. She later
cruised with her division to Newport; the North River, New York
City; and to Provincetown, Mass., before conducting day and
night battle practice in Cape Cod Bay.
Returning southward early that autumn, Virginia underwent two
months of repairs and alterations at the Norfolk Navy Yard, from
24 September to 24 November, before undergoing further repairs
at the New York Navy Yard later in November. She subsequently
shifted southward again, reaching Hampton Roads on 6 December.
Virginia spent the next 10 days preparing for a feat never
before attempted, a round-the-world cruise by the battleships of
the Atlantic Fleet. The voyage, regarded by President Roosevelt
as a dramatic gesture to the Japanese, who had only recently
emerged on the world stage as a power to be reckoned with,
proved to be a signal success, with the ships performing so well
as to confound the doomsayers who had predicted a fiasco.
The cruise began eight days before Christmas of 1907, and ended
on Washington's Birthday, 22 February 1909. During the course of
the voyage, the ships called at ports along both coasts of South
America; on the west coast of the United States; at Hawaii; in
the Philippines; Japan; China; and in Ceylon. Virginia's
division also visited Smyrna, Turkey, via Beirut, during the
Mediterranean leg of the cruise. Both upon departure and upon
arrival, the fleet was reviewed at Hampton Roads by President
Roosevelt, whose "big stick" diplomacy and flair for the
dramatic gesture had been practically personified by the cruise
of the "Great White Fleet".
Following that momentous circumnavigation, Virginia underwent
four months of voyage repairs and alterations at the Norfolk
Navy Yard from 26 February to 26 June 1909. She spent the next
year and three months operating off the eastern seaboard of the
United States, ranging from the southern drill grounds, off the
Virginia capes, to Newport, R.I. During that time, she conducted
one brief cruise with members of the Naval Militia embarked and
visited Rockport and Provincetown, Mass. For the better part of
that time, she conducted battle practices with the fleet-
evolutions only broken by brief periods of yard work at Norfolk
Virginia visited Brest, France, and Gravesend, England, from 15
November to 7 December and from 8 to 29 December 1909,
respectively, before she, as part of the 4th Division, Atlantic
Fleet, joined the Atlantic Fleet in Guantanamo Bay for drills
and exercises. She subsequently operated in Cuban waters for two
months, from 13 January to 13 March 1910, before she returned
north for battle practices on the southern drill grounds.
Virginia departed Hampton Roads on 11 April, in company with
USS Georgia (Battleship No. 15), and reached the Boston Navy Yard
two days later. She underwent repairs there until 24 May before
putting to sea for Provincetown. Over the next five days,
Virginia operated with the collier Vestal, testing a "coaling-
at-sea apparatus" off Provincetown and at Stellwagen's Bank,
before she conducted torpedo practices. The battleship returned
to the Boston Navy Yard on 18 June 1910.
Virginia maintained her routine of operations off the eastern
seaboard, occasionally ranging into Cuban waters for regularly
scheduled fleet evolutions in tactics and gunnery, into 1913, a
routine largely uninterrupted. In 1913, however, unrest in
Mexico caused the frequent dispatch of American men-of-war to
those waters. Virginia became one of those ships in mid-
February, when she reached Tampico on the 15th of that month;
she remained there until 2 March, when she shifted to Vera Cruz
for coal. She returned to Tampico on 5 March and remained there
for 10 days.
After another stint of operations off the eastern seaboard,
ranging from the Virginia capes to Newport, a period of
maneuvers and exercises varied by a visit to New York at the end
of May 1913 for the dedication of the memorial to the battleship
Maine (sunk in Havana Harbor in February 1898) and one to Boston
in mid-June for Flag Day and Bunker Hill exercises, Virginia
returned to Mexican waters in November. She reached Vera Cruz on
4 November and remained in port until the 30th, when she shifted
to Tampico. She observed conditions in those ports and operated
off the Mexican coast into January of 1914.
Returning to Cuban waters for exercises and maneuvers with the
fleet, Virginia sailed for the Virginia capes in mid-March 1914.
She maneuvered with the fleet off Cape Henry and in Lynnhaven
Roads before she conducted gunnery drills at the wreck of San
Marcos (ex-Texas) in Tangier Sound, Chesapeake Bay. Virginia
subsequently held experimental gunnery firings on the southern
drill grounds before she spent much of April drydocked at
The American occupation of Vera Cruz in April 1914 resulted in
the sizeable deployment of American men-of-war to that port that
lasted into the autumn. Virginia reached Vera Cruz on 1 May and
operated with the fleet out of that port into early October, a
period of time broken by target practice in Guantanamo Bay
between 18 September and 3 October.
While war raged in Europe, Virginia continued her operations off
the eastern seaboard of the United States, ranging from the
southern drill grounds to the coast of New England and
occasionally steaming to Cuban waters for winter maneuvers. She
was placed in reserve on 20 March 1916, at the Boston Navy Yard,
and was undergoing an extensive overhaul in the spring of 1917
when the United States declared war on Germany.
On the day America entered World War I, the United States
government took steps to take over all interned German merchant
vessels then in American ports. As part of that move, Virginia
sent boarding parties to seize the German passenger and cargo
vessels Amerika, Cincinnati, Wittekind, Koln, and Ockenfels on 6
Completing her overhaul at Boston on 27 August, Virginia sailed
for Port Jefferson, N.Y., three days later, to join the 3d
Division, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet. Over the ensuing 12
months, the battleship served as a gunnery training ship out of
Port Jefferson and Norfolk: service interrupted briefly in early
December 1917, when she became temporary flagship for Rear
Admiral John A. Hoogewerff, Commander, Battleship Division 1.
She subsequently became flagship for the 3d Division commander,
Rear Admiral Thomas Snowden.
Overhauled at the Boston Navy Yard in the autumn of 1918,
Virginia spent the remainder of hostilities engaged in convoy
escort duties, taking convoys well over half-way across the
Atlantic. She departed New York on 14 October 1918 on her first
such mission, covering a convoy that had some 12,176 men
embarked. After escorting those ships to longitude 22 degrees
west, she put about and headed for home.
That proved to be her only such wartime mission however, because
the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, the day before
Virginia set out with a France-bound convoy, her second escort
run into the mid-Atlantic. After leaving that convoy at
longitude 34 degrees west, Virginia put about and headed for
The cessation of hostilities meant the return of the many troops
that had been engaged in fighting the enemy overseas. Similar in
mission to the "Magic Carpet" operation that followed the end of
World War II, a massive troop-lift, bringing the "doughboys"
back from "over there," commenced soon after World War I ended.
With additional messing and berthing facilities installed to
permit her use as a troopship, Virginia departed Norfolk eight
days before Christmas of 1918. Over the ensuing months, she
conducted five round-trip voyages to Brest, France, and back.
Reaching Boston on Independence Day 1919, ending her last troop
lift, Virginia ended her transport service, having brought some
6,037 men back from France.
Virginia remained at the Boston Navy Yard, inactive, until
decommissioned there on 13 August 1920. Struck from the Navy
list and placed on the sale list on 12 July 1922, the
battleship, reclassified prior to her inactivation as BB-13 on
17 July 1920, was subsequently taken off the sale list and
transferred to the War Department on 6 August 1923 for use as a
Virginia and her sister ship USS New Jersey (BB 16) were taken to a point
three miles off the Diamond Shoals lightship, off Cape Hatteras,
N.C., and anchored there on 5 September 1923. The "attacks" made
by Army Air Service Martin bombers began shortly before 0900. On
the third attack, seven Martins, flying at 3,000 feet, each
dropped two 1,100-pound bombs on Virginia, only one of them hit.
That single bomb, however, "completely demolished the ship as
such." An observer later wrote: "Both masts, the bridge, all
three smokestacks, and the upper-works disappeared with the
explosion and there remained, after the smoke cleared away,
nothing but the bare hull, decks blown off, and covered with a
mass of tangled debris from stem to stern consisting of stacks,
ventilators, cage masts, and bridges."
Within one-half hour of the cataclysmic blast that wrecked the
ship, her battered hulk sank beneath the waves. Her sister ship
ultimately joined her shortly thereafter. Virginia's end, and
New Jersey's, provided far-sighted naval officers with a
dramatic demonstration of air power and impressed upon them the
"urgent need of developing naval aviation with the fleet." As
such, the service performed by the old pre-dreadnought may have
been her most valuable.
Updated: 29 July 2009