U.S. Navy Battleships - USS California (BB 44)
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Displacement: 32,300 tons
Speed: 21 knots
Armament: Twelve 14" guns; fourteen 5" guns; four 3" guns; two 21" torpedo tubes
Text from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the Naval Historical Center
The fifth California (BB-44) was launched 20 November 1919 by
Mare Island Navy Yard; sponsored by Mrs. R. T. Zane; and
commissioned 10 August 1921, Captain H. J. Ziegemeier in
command; and reported to the Pacific Fleet as flagship.
For 20 years from 1921 until 1941, California served first as
flagship of the Pacific Fleet, then as flagship of the Battle
Fleet (Battle Force), U.S. Fleet. Her annual activities included
joint Army-Navy exercises, tactical and organizational
development problems, and fleet concentrations for various
purposes. Intensive training and superior performance won her
the Battle Efficiency Pennant for 1921-22, and the Gunnery "E"
In the summer of 1925 California led the Battle Fleet and a
division of cruisers from the Scouting Fleet on a very
successful goodwill cruise to Australia and New Zealand. She
took part in the Presidential reviews of 1927, 1930, and 1934.
She was modernized in late 1929 and early 1930 and equipped with
an improved antiaircraft battery.
In 1940 California switched her base to Pearl Harbor. On 7
December 1941 she was moored at the southernmost berth of
"Battleship Row" and was with other dreadnoughts of the Battle
Force when the Japanese launched their aerial attack. As she was
about to undergo a material inspection, watertight integrity was
not at its maximum; consequently the ship suffered great damage
when hit. At 0805 a bomb exploded below decks, setting off an
antiaircraft ammunition magazine and killing about 50 men. A
second bomb ruptured her bow plates. Despite valiant efforts to
keep her afloat, the inrushing water could not be isolated and
California settled into the mud with only her superstructure
remaining above the surface. When the action ended, 98 of her
crew were lost and 61 wounded.
On 25 March 1942 California was refloated and dry-docked at
Pearl Harbor for repairs. On 7 June she departed under her own
power for Puget Sound Navy Yard where a major reconstruction job
was accomplished, including improved protection, stability, AA
battery, and fire control system.
California departed Bremerton 31 January 1944 for shakedown at
San Pedro, and sailed from San Francisco 5 May for the invasion
of the Marianas. Off Saipan in June, she conducted effective
shore bombardment and call fire missions. On 14 June she was hit
by a shell from an enemy shore battery which killed one man and
wounded nine. Following Saipan, her heavy guns helped blast the
way for our assault force in the Guam and Tinian operations (18
July-9 August). On 24 August she arrived at Espiritu Santo for
repairs to her port bow damaged in a collision with USS Tennessee
On 17 September 1944 California sailed to Manus to ready for the
invasion of the Philippines. From 17 October to 20 November she
played a key role in the Leyte operation, including the
destruction of the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Surigao
Strait (25 October). On 1 January 1945 she departed the Palaus
for the Luzon landings. Her powerful batteries were an important
factor in the success of these dangerous operations driven home
into the heart of enemy-held territory under heavy air attack.
On 6 January while providing shore bombardment at Lingayen Gulf
she was hit by a kamikaze plane; 44 of her crew were killed and
155 were wounded. Undeterred she made temporary repairs on the
spot and remained carrying out her critical mission of shore
bombardment until the job was done. She departed 23 January for
Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving 15 February, for permanent
California returned to action at Okinawa 15 June 1945 and
remained in that embattled area until 21 July. Two days later
she joined TF 95 to cover the East China Sea minesweeping
operations. After a short voyage to San Pedro Bay, P.I., in
August, the ship departed Okinawa 20 September to cover the
landing of the 6th Army occupation force at Wakanoura Wan,
Honshu. She remained supporting the occupation until 15 October,
then sailed via Singapore, Colombo, and Capetown, to
Philadelphia, arriving 7 December. She was placed in commission
in reserve there 7 August 1946; out of commission in reserve 14
February 1947; and sold 10 July 1959.
California received seven battle stars for World War II service.
Updated: 30 July 2009