U.S. Navy Battleships - USS West Virginia (BB 48)
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Displacement: 33,590 tons
Speed: 21 knots
Armament: Eight 16" guns; twelve 5" guns; eight 3" guns; four 6-pounders; two 21" torpedo tubes
Text from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the Naval Historical Center
The second West Virginia (Battleship No. 48) was laid down on 12
April 1920 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. of
Newport News, Va.; reclassified to BB-48 on 17 July 1920;
launched on 17 November 1921; sponsored by Miss Alice Wright
Mann, daughter of Issac T. Mann, a prominent West Virginian; and
commissioned on 1 December 1923, Capt Thomas J. Senn in command.
The most recent of the "super-dreadnoughts," West Virginia
embodied the latest knowledge of naval architecture; the water-
tight compartmentation of her hull and her armor protection
marked an advance over the design of battleships built or on the
drawing boards before the Battle of Jutland.
In the months that followed, West Virginia ran her trials and
shakedown and underwent post-commissioning alterations. After a
brief period of work at the New York Navy Yard, the ship made
the passage to Hampton Roads, although experiencing trouble with
her steering gear while en route. Overhauling the troublesome
gear thoroughly while in Hampton Roads, West Virginia put to sea
on the morning of 16 June 1924. At 1010, while the battleship
was steaming in the center of Lynnhaven Channel, the
quartermaster at the wheel reported that the rudder indicator
would not answer. The ringing of the emergency bell to the
steering motor room produced no response; Capt. Senn quickly
ordered all engines stopped, but the engine room telegraph would
not answer; it was later discovered that there was no power to
the engine room telegraph or the steering telegraph.
The captain then resorted to sending orders down to main control
via the voice tube from the bridge. He ordered full speed ahead
on the port engine; all stop on the starboard. Efforts continued
apace over the ensuing moments to steer the ship with her
engines and keep her in the channel and, when this failed, to
check headway from the edge of the channel. Unfortunately, all
efforts failed; and, as the ship lost headway due to an engine
casualty, West Virginia grounded on the soft mud bottom.
Fortunately, as Commodore (later Admiral) Harold R. Stark, the
executive officer, reported: ". . . not the slightest damage to
the hull had been sustained."
The court of inquiry, investigating the grounding, found that
inaccurate and misleading navigational data had been supplied
the ship. The legends on the charts provided were found to have
indicated uniformly greater channel width than actually existed.
The findings of the court thus exonerated Capt. Senn and the
navigator from any blame.
After repairs had been effected, West Virginia became flagship
for the Commander, Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet, on 30
October 1924, thus beginning her service as an integral part of
the "backbone of the fleet", as the battleships were regarded.
She soon proved her worth under a succession of commanding
officers, most of whom later attained flag rank. In 1925, for
example, under Capt. A. J. Hepburn, the comparative newcomer to
battleship ranks scored first in competitive short range target
practices. During Hepburn's tour, West Virginia garnered two
trophies for attaining the highest merit in the category.
The ship later won the American Defense Cup, presented by the
American Defense Society to the battleship obtaining the highest
merit with all guns in short-range firing, and the Spokane Cup,
presented by that city's Chamber of Commerce in recognition of
the battleship's scoring the highest merit with all guns at
short range. In 1925, West Virginia won the Battle Efficiency
Pennant for battleships, the first time that the ship had won
the coveted "Meatball." She won it again in 1927, 1932, and
During this period, West Virginia underwent a cycle of training, maintenance, and readiness exercises, taking part in engineering
and gunnery competitions and the annual large-scale exercises,
or "Fleet Problems." In the latter, the Fleet would be divided
up into opposing sides, and a strategic or tactical situation
would be played out, with the lessons learned becoming part and
parcel of the development of doctrine that would later be tested
in the crucible of combat.
During 1925, the battleship took part in the joint Army-Navy
maneuvers to test the defenses of the Hawaiian Islands and then
cruised with the Fleet to Australia and New Zealand. In fleet
exercises subsequent to the 1925 cruise, West Virginia ranged
from Hawaii to the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and from
Alaskan waters to Panama.
In order to keep pace with technological developments in
ordnance, gunnery, and fire control, as well as engineering and
aviation, the ship underwent modifications designed to increase
the ship's capacity to perform her designed function. Some of
the alterations effected included the replacement of her initial
3-inch antiaircraft battery with 5-inch/25-caliber dual-purpose
guns; the addition of platforms for .50-caliber machine guns at
the foremast and maintop; and the addition of catapults on her
quarterdeck, aft, and on her number III, or "high" turret.
In the closing years of the decade of the 1930s, however, it was
becoming evident to many that it was only a matter of time
before the United States became involved in yet another war on a
grand scale. The United States Fleet thus came to be considered
a grand deterrent to the country's most probable enemy — Japan.
This reasoning produced the hurried dispatch of the Fleet to
Pacific waters in the spring of 1939 and the retention of the
Fleet in Hawaiian waters in 1940, following the conclusion of
Fleet Problem XXI in April.
As the year 1941 progressed, West Virginia carried out a
schedule of intensive training, basing on Pearl Harbor and
operating in various task forces and groups in the Hawaiian
operating area. This routine continued even through the
unusually tense period that began in late November and extended
into the next month. Such at-sea periods were usually followed
by in-port upkeep, with the battleships mooring to masonry
"quays" along the southeast shores of Ford Island in the center
of Pearl Harbor.
On Sunday, 7 December 1941, West Virginia lay moored outboard of
USS Tennessee (BB-43) at berth F-6 with 40 feet of water beneath her
keel. Shortly before 0800, Japanese planes, flying from a six-
carrier task force, commenced their well-planned attack on the
Fleet at Pearl Harbor. West Virginia took five 18-inch aircraft
torpedoes in her port side and two bomb hits, those bombs being
15-inch armor-piercing shells fitted with fins. The first bomb
penetrated the superstructure deck, wrecking the port casemates
and causing that deck to collapse to the level of the galley
Four casemates and the galley caught fire immediately, with the
subsequent detonation of the ready-service projectiles stowed in
The second bomb hit further aft wrecking one Vought OS2U
Kingfisher float plane atop the "high" catapult on Turret III and
pitching the second one on her top on the main deck below. The
projectile penetrated the 4-inch turret roof, wrecking one gun
in the turret itself. Although the bomb proved a dud, burning
gasoline from the damaged aircraft caused some damage.
The torpedoes, though, ripped into the ship's port side; only
prompt action by Lt. Claude V. Ricketts, the assistant fire
control officer who had some knowledge of damage control
techniques, saved the ship from the fate that befell USS Oklahoma
(BB-37) moored ahead. She, too, took torpedo hits that flooded
the ship and caused her to capsize.
Instances of heroic conduct on board the heavily damaged
battleship proliferated in the heat of battle. The ship's
commanding officer, Capt Mervyn S. Bennion, arrived on his
bridge early in the battle, only to be struck down by a bomb
fragment hurled in his direction when a 15-inch "bomb" hit the
center gun in Tennessee's Turret II, spraying that ship's
superstructure and West Virginia 's with fragments. Bennion, hit
in the abdomen, crumpled to the deck, mortally wounded, but
clung tenaciously to life until just before the ship was
abandoned, involved in the conduct of the ship's defense up to
the last moment of his life. For his conspicuous devotion to
duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own
life, Capt. Bennion was awarded a Medal of Honor, posthumously.
Another hero was Mess Attendant Second Class Doris Miller, USN. While at the side of Capt. Bennion
on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious
fire, assisted in moving his mortally wounded captain to a place of greater safety, and
later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge. Petty Officer Miller was awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, on board USS Enterprise (CV-6) at Pearl Harbor, 27 May 1942. Assigned in the spring of 1943 to the newly constructed USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), Miller was lost when the carrier was torpedoed on 24 November 1943 during Operation Galvanic in the Gilbert islands.
West Virginia was abandoned, settling to the harbor bottom on an
even keel, her fires fought from on board by a party that
volunteered to return to the ship after the first abandonment.
By the afternoon of the following day, 8 December, the flames
had been extinguished. The garbage lighter, YG-17, played an
important role in assisting those efforts during the Pearl
Harbor attack, remaining in position alongside despite the
danger posed by exploding ammunition on board the battleship.
Later examination revealed that West Virginia had taken not
five, but six, torpedo hits. With a patch over the damaged areas
of her hull, the battleship was pumped out and ultimately
refloated on 17 May 1942. Docked in Drydock Number One on 9
June, West Virginia again came under scrutiny, and it was
discovered that there had been not six, but seven torpedo hits.
During the ensuing repairs, workers located 70 bodies of West
Virginia sailors who had been trapped below when the ship sank.
In one compartment, a calendar was found, the last scratch-off
date being 23 December. The task confronting the nucleus crew
and shipyard workers was a monumental one, so great was the
damage on the battleship's port side. Ultimately, however, West
Virginia departed Pearl Harbor for the west coast and a complete
rebuilding at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash.
Emerging from the extensive modernization, the battleship that
had risen, Phoenix-like, from the destruction at Pearl Harbor
looked totally different from the way she had appeared prior to
7 December 1941. Gone were the "cage" masts that supported the
three-tier fire-control tops, as well as the two funnels, the
open-mount 5-inch/25s and the casemates with the single-purpose
5-inch/51s. A streamlined superstructure now gave the ship a
totally new silhouette; dual purpose 5-inch/38-caliber guns, in
gunhouses, gave the ship a potent antiaircraft battery. In
addition, 40 millimeter Bofors and 20-millimeter Oerlikon
batteries studded the decks, giving the ship a heavy "punch" for
dealing with close-in enemy planes.
West Virginia remained at Puget Sound until early July 1944.
Loading ammunition on the 2nd, the battleship got underway soon
thereafter to conduct her sea trials out of Port Townsend, Wash.
She ran a full power trial on the 6th, continuing her working-up
until the 12th. Subsequently returning to Puget Sound for last-
minute repairs, the battleship headed for San Pedro and her
Finally ready to rejoin the Fleet from which she had been away
for two years, West Virginia sailed for the Hawaiian Islands on
14 September 1944. Escorted by two destroyers, she made landfall
on Oahu on the 23rd. Ultimately pushing on for Manus, in the
Admiralities, in company with the fleet carrier USS Hancock (CV-19),
West Virginia, as a unit of Battleship Division (Bat Div) 4,
reached Seeadler Harbor on 5 October. The next day, she again
became a flagship when Rear Admiral Ruddock shifted his flag
from USS Maryland (BB- 46) to the "Wee Vee" as Commander, BatDiv 4.
Underway on 12 October to participate in the invasion of the
Philippine Islands, West Virginia sailed as part of Task Group
(TG) 77.2, under the overall command of Rear Admiral Jesse B.
Oldendorf. On 18 October, the battle line passed into Leyte
Gulf, West Virginia steaming astern of USS California (BB-44).
At 1645, California cut loose a mine with her paravanes; West
Virginia successfully dodged the horned menace, it being
destroyed a few moments later by gunfire from one of the
destroyers in the screen. On 19 October, West Virginia steamed
into her assigned station in San Pedro Bay at 0700 to stand by
off shore and provide shore bombardment against targets in the
Tacloban area of Leyte. Retiring to sea that evening, the
battleship and her consorts returned the next morning to lay
down heavy gunfire on Japanese installations in the vicinity of
the town of Tacloban.
On the 19th, West Virginia 's gunners sent 278 16-inch and 1,586
5-inch shells against Japanese installations, silencing enemy
artillery and supporting the UDT (underwater demolition teams)
preparing the beaches for the assault that came on the 20th. On
the latter day, enemy planes made many appearances over the
landing area. West Virginia took those within range under fire
but did not down any.
On Oct. 21, 1944, as she was proceeding to her fire support area
to render further gunfire support for the troops still pouring
ashore, West Virginia touched bottom, slightly damaging three of
her four screws. The vibrations caused by the damaged blades
limited sustained speeds to 16 knots — 18 in emergencies.
For the next two days, West Virginia , with her augmented
antiaircraft batteries, remained off the beachhead during the
daylight hours, retiring to seaward at night, providing
antiaircraft covering fire for the unfolding invasion
operations. Meanwhile, the Japanese, seeing that American
operations against Leyte were on a large scale, decided to
strike back. Accordingly, the enemy, willing to accept the heavy
risks involved, set out in four widely separated forces to
destroy the American invasion fleet.
Four carriers and two "hermaphrodite" battleship-carriers (Ise
and Hyuga) sailed toward the Philippine Sea from Japanese home
waters; a small surface force under Admiral Shima headed for the
Sulu Sea; two striking forces consisting of battleships,
cruisers, and destroyers sortied from Lingga Roads, Sumatra,
before separating north of Borneo. The larger of those two
groups, commanded by Admiral Kurita, passed north of the island
of Palawan to transit the Sibuyan Sea.
American submarines USS Darter (SS-247) and USS Dace (SS-227) drew first
blood in what would become known as the Battle for Leyte Gulf on
23 October 1944 when they sank, respectively, two of Kurita's
cruisers: Maya and Atago. Undeterred, Kurita continued the
transit, his force built around the giant battleship Musashi.
The smaller of the two forces, under Admiral Nishimura, turned
south of Palawan and transited the Sulu Sea to pass between the
islands of Mindanao and Leyte. Shima's forces obediently
followed Nishimura's, heading for Leyte Gulf as the southern jaw
of a pincer designed to hit the assemblage of amphibious ships
and transports unloading off the Leyte beachhead.
Detailed to deal with the force heading in his direction,
Admiral Oldendorf accordingly deployed his sizeable force — six
battleships, eight cruisers, and 28 destroyers — across the
northern end of Surigao Strait. The American men-of-war steamed
along their assigned courses, their bows cleaving through the
At 2236 on 24 October 1944, the American PT boats deployed in
the strait and its approaches made radar contact with
Nishimura's force, conducting a harassing attack that annoyed,
but did not stop, the oncoming enemy. Well into the strait by
0300 on the 25th, Nishimura took up battle formation when five
American destroyers launched a well-planned torpedo attack.
Caught in the spread of torpedoes, the battleship Fuso took hits
and dropped out of the formation; other spreads of "fish"
dispatched a pair of Japanese destroyers and crippled a third.
Fuso's sister ship Yamashiro, meanwhile, had taken one hit and
was slowed down, only to be hit again within 15 minutes' time.
Fuso herself, apparently ravaged by fires ignited by the torpedo
hits, blew up with a tremendous explosion at 0338.
West Virginia, meanwhile, was maintaining her position ahead of
USS Maryland (BB 46), USS Mississippi (BB-41), USS Tennessee (BB-43),
USS California (BB-44), and USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) — four of these
ships, like West Virginia , veterans of Pearl Harbor. From 0021
on the 25th, the battleship had picked up reports on the PT boat
and destroyer attacks; finally at 0316, West Virginia 's radar
picked up Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yards. She
tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night.
At 0352, West Virginia unleashed her 16-inch main battery; she
fired 16 salvoes in the direction of Nishimura's ships as
Oldendorf crossed the Japanese "T" and thus achieved the
tactical mastery of a situation that almost every surface
admiral dreams of. At 0413, the "Wee Vee" ceased fire; the
Japanese remnants proceeded in disorder down the strait from
whence they had come. Several burning Japanese ships littered
the strait; West Virginia had contributed to Yamashiro's demise,
thus averaging her own crippling in the Pearl Harbor attack.
West Virginia had thus taken part in the last naval engagement
fought by line-of-battle ships and, on the 29th, departed the
Philippines for Ulithi, in company with Tennessee and Maryland.
Subsequently heading for Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides,
after Admiral Ruddock had shifted his flag back from West
Virginia to Maryland, the former underwent a period of upkeep in
the floating drydock, ABSD-1, for her damaged screws.
The "Wee Vee" returned to the Philippines, via Manus, on 25
November, resuming her patrols in Leyte Gulf and serving as part
of the antiaircraft screen for the transports and amphibious
ships. At 1139 on the 27th, West Virginia 's antiaircraft guns
splashed a suicider and assisted in downing others while on duty
the next day.
Rear Admiral Ruddock shifted back on board on the 30th, West
Virginia maintaining her operations off Leyte until 2 December,
when the battleship headed for the Palaus. The battlewagon was
then made the flagship for the newly formed TG 77.12 and
proceeded toward the Sulu Sea to cover the landings made by the
Southwest Pacific Force on the island of Mindoro. Entering Leyte
Gulf late on the evening of 12 December, West Virginia transited
the Surigao Strait on the 13th and steamed into the Sulu Sea
with a carrier force to provide cover for the transports in TG
She subsequently covered the retirement of the transports on 15
December, later fueling in Leyte Gulf before she returned to
Kossol Roads, Palaus, at mid-day on the 19th. There, West
Virginia spent the Christmas of 1944.
There was more work to be done, however, for the battleship, as
the "return" to the Philippines continued apace. On New Year's
Day, Rear Admiral Ingram C. Sowell relieved Rear Admiral Ruddock
as Commander, BatDiv 4, and the ship got underway for Leyte Gulf
as part of TG 77.2.
Entering the gulf during the pre-dawn hours of 3 January 1945,
West Virginia proceeded into the Sulu Sea. Japanese air
opposition, intensifying since the early part of the Philippine
campaign, was becoming more deadly. West Virginia 's men saw
evidence of that when a twin-engined "Frances" crashed the
escort carrier USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) at 1712 on the 4th. Fires
and explosions ultimately forced the "jeep carrier's"
abandonment, her survivors being picked up by other ships in the
screen. USS Burns (DD-588) dispatched the blazing CVE with
Taking on board survivors from Ommaney Bay from the destroyer
USS Twiggs (DD-591), West Virginia entered the South China Sea on
the morning of the following day, 5 January 1945, defending the
carriers during the day from Japanese air attacks. Subsequently,
the battleship moved close inshore with the carriers outside to
carry out a bombardment mission on San Fernando Point. West
Virginia hammered Japanese installations ashore with her 16-inch
Suiciders, however, kept up their attacks in the face of heavy
antiaircraft barrages and combat air patrol (CAP) fighters.
Losses among Allied shipping continued to mount; kamikazes
claimed damage to HMAS Australia and the battleships USS California
and USS New Mexico (BB-40) on the 5th. West Virginia participated in
putting up volumes of antiaircraft fire during those attacks,
emerging unscathed herself.
West Virginia, in addition to the Ommaney Bay sailors on board,
soon took on board another group of survivors from yet another
ship: the men from the high-speed minesweeper USS Hovey (DM5-11)
which had been sunk by a Japanese torpedo on the 6th. Before she
could transfer the escort carrier's and minesweeper's sailors
elsewhere, though, she had to carry out her assigned tasks
first. Accordingly, West Virginia 's 16-inch rifles again
hammered Japanese positions ashore at San Fabian on the 8th and
9th, as troops went ashore on the latter day. It was not until
the night of 9 January that the battleship finally transferred
her passengers off the ship.
After providing call fire support all day on the 10th, West
Virginia patrolled off Lingayen Gulf for the next week before
proceeding to an anchorage where she replenished her ammunition.
During her shore bombardment tours off San Fabian, West Virginia
had proved herself most helpful, covering UDT operations,
destroying mortar positions, entrenchments, gun emplacements,
and leveling the town of San Fabian. In addition, "Wee Vee"
destroyed ammunition dumps, railway and road junctions, and
machine gun positions and warehouses. During that time, the ship
expended 395 16-inch shells and over 2,800 5-inch projectiles.
Underway again at 0707 on the 21st, West Virginia commenced
call-fire support duties at 0815, operating in readiness for
cooperation with the Army units ashore in the vicinity of the
towns of Rosario and Santo Tomas. After a few more days of
standing ready to provide call-fire support when needed, West
Virginia anchored in Lingayen Gulf on 1 February.
Subsequently, as part of TG 77.2, West Virginia protected the
shipping arriving at the Lingayen beachheads and stood ready to
provide call-fire for the Army when needed. She later departed
Lingayen Gulf, her duty completed there, on 10 February 1945, bound
for Leyte Gulf. Before her departure, she received 79 bags of
United States mail — the first she had received since the day
After touching first at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, West Virginia
arrived at Ulithi on 16 February, reporting for duty with the
5th Fleet upon arrival. Ordered to prepare in all haste for
another operation, the battleship provisioned and refueled with
the highest priority. The ship completed loading some 300 tons
of stores by 0400 on the 17th. At 0730 on the 17th, West
Virginia got underway, bound for Iwo Jima in company with the
destroyers USS Izard (DD-589) and USS McCall (DD-400). As she headed off
to Iwo Jima to join TF 51, West Virginia received a "Well Done"
from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz for the manner in which she had
readied herself for her new duty after being released from the
7th Fleet such a short time before.
West Virginia sighted Iwo Jima at a range of 32 miles at 0907 on
19 February 1945. As she drew nearer, she saw several ships
bombarding the isle from all sides and the initial landings
taking place. At 1125, she received her operations orders, via
dispatch boat and, 20 minutes later, proceeded to her fire
support station off the volcanic sand beaches. At 1245, her big
guns bellowed to lend support to the Marines ashore — gun
positions, revetments, blockhouses, tanks, vehicles, caves and
supply dumps – all came under her heavy guns. On 21 February, the
ship returned and, at 0800, commenced her support duties afresh.
Her 16-inch shells sealed caves, destroyed antiaircraft gun
positions and blockhouses; one salvo struck an ammunition or
fuel dump, explosions occurring for about two hours thereafter.
On the 22d, a small-caliber shell hit the battleship near turret
II, wounding one enlisted man. That same day, another
significant event occurred ashore — Marines took Mount
Suribachi, the prominent landmark on one end of Iwo Jima. From
their position offshore, West Virginia 's sailors could see the
flag flying from the top.
For the remainder of February, West Virginia continued her daily
fire-support missions for the Marines ashore. Again, Japanese
positions felt the heavy blows of the battleship's 16-inch
shells. She hit troop concentrations and trucks, blockhouses,
trenches, and houses. During the course of that time spent off
the beaches on 27 February, she spotted a Japanese shore battery
firing upon USS Bryant (DD-665). West Virginia closed the range and,
when about 600 yards from shore, opened fire with her secondary
(5-inch) battery, silencing the enemy guns.
Replenishing her depleted ammunition stocks early on 28
February, West Virginia was back on the line again that
afternoon, firing continuous night harassing and interdiction
rounds, silencing enemy batteries with air bursts from her
secondary batteries. For the first three days of March, West
Virginia continued her fire-support missions, primarily off the
northeastern shore of Iwo Jima. Finally, on 4 March 1945, the
ship set sail for the Caroline Islands, reaching Ulithi on 6
Joining TF 54 for the invasion of the Okinawa Gunto area, West
Virginia sailed on 21 March, reaching her objective four days
later on the 25th. In fire support section one, West Virginia
spent the ensuing days softening up Okinawa for the American
landings slated to commence on 1 April. At 1029 on 26 March,
lookouts reported a gun flash from shore, followed by a splash
in the water some 5,000 yards off the port bow. Firing her first
salvoes of the operation, West Virginia let fly 28 rounds of 16-
inch gunfire against the pugnacious Japanese batteries.
The following day, the "Wee Vee" fought against enemy air
opposition, taking a "Frances" under fire at 0520. The twin-
engine bomber crashed off the battleship's port quarter, the
victim of West Virginia 's antiaircraft guns. Over the days that
followed, enemy opposition continued in the form of suicide
attacks by Japanese planes. Mines, too, began making themselves
felt; one sank the minesweeper USS Skylark (AM-63), 3,000 yards off
West Virginia's port bow at 0930 on the 28th.
After taking on ammunition at Kerama Retto, the island seized to
provide an advance base for the armada massing against Okinawa,
West Virginia sailed for Okinawa to give direct gunfire support
to the landings. Scheduled to fire at 0630, the battleship
headed for her assigned zone off the Okinawa beaches. While en
route, though, at 0455, she had to back down, all engines when
an unidentified destroyer stood across her bow, thus avoiding a
As she prepared to commence her bombardment, West Virginia
spotted a Japanese plane off her port quarter; her antiaircraft
batteries tracked the target and opened fire, downing the enemy
aircraft 200 yards away. Four more enemy planes passed within
her vicinity soon thereafter. West Virginia claimed one of
Finally, at 0630 1 April 1945, West Virginia opened fire as
landing craft dotted the sea as far as the eye could see, all
heading for the shores of Okinawa. West Virginia 's sailors, some
900 yards off the beaches, could see the craft heading shoreward
like hundreds of tadpoles; at 0842, lookouts reported seeing
some of the first troops going ashore. The battle for Okinawa
West Virginia continued her bombardment duties throughout the
day, on the alert to provide counter-battery fire in support of
the troops as they advanced rapidly inland. There appeared to be
little resistance on 1 April, and West Virginia lay to offshore,
awaiting further orders. At 1903, however, an enemy plane
brought the war down on West Virginia .
The battleship picked up three enemy planes on her radar and
tracked them as they approached; flak peppered the skies but
still they came. One crossed over the port side and then looped
over and crash-dived into West Virginia , smashing into a
superstructure deck just forward of secondary battery director
number two. Four men were killed by the blast, and seven were
wounded in a nearby 20-millimeter gun gallery. The bomb carried
by the plane broke loose from its shackle and penetrated to the
second deck. Fortunately, it did not explode and was rendered
harmless by the battleship's bomb disposal officer. Although her
galley and laundry looked hard-hit, West Virginia , reporting her
damage as repairable by ship's force, carried on, rendering night
illumination fire to the Marines ashore.
West Virginia buried her dead at sea in the wake of the kamikaze
attack of 1 April and resumed her gunfire support duties soon
thereafter. In the course of her tour offshore in early April,
she shot down a "Val" on the 6th.
In early April, the Japanese attempted to strike at the invasion
fleet in a last-gasp offensive formed around the super-
battleship Yamato. On the night of 7 and 8 April 1945, West
Virginia steamed north and south in the waters west of Okinawa
ready to intercept and engage the Japanese surface force headed
her way. The next morning, 8 April, Commander, TF 58, reported
that most of the ships in that enemy force had been sunk,
including Yamato, whose last sortie had been made with enough
fuel to get her to Okinawa, but not to return. Thus, the
Japanese Navy's largest kamikaze perished, many miles short of
For West Virginia , however, her duties went on, providing
illumination and counterbattery fire with both main and
secondary batteries and giving her antiaircraft gunners a good
workout due to the heavy presence of many suiciders. Her TBS
crackled with reports of ships under attack and damaged: USS Zellars
(DD-777), USS Tennessee, USS Salt Lake City (CA-24), USS Stanley (DD-478,
and others, all victims of the "divine wind," or kamikaze. Her
shore bombardments elicited nothing but praise from those
enjoying the benefits of the ship's firing; one spotter reported
happily on 14 April: "You're shooting perfectly, you could shoot
no better, no change, no change," and, "Your shooting is
strictly marvelous. I cannot express just how good it is."
She delivered sterling support fire for the 6th Marines upon
that occasion; later, she continued in that fine tradition for
the 10th Army and the XXIVth Army Corps.
West Virginia continued fire support for the Army until 20
April, at which point she headed for Ulithi, only to turn back
to Okinawa, hurriedly recalled because of USS Colorado (BB-45)
suffering damage when a powder charge exploded while she was
loading powder at Kerama Retto. Returning to Hagushi beach, West
Virginia fired night harassment and interdiction fire for the
10th Army and the XXIVth Army Corps. Ultimately, West Virginia
sailed for Ulithi, in company with USS San Francisco (CA-38) and
USS Hobson (DD 464), reaching her destination, this time without a
recall en route, on 28 April 1945.
Returning to Okinawa after a brief sojourn at Ulithi, West
Virginia remained in support of the Army and the Marines on the
embattled island into the end of June. There were highlights of
the tour: on 1 June, she sent her spotting plane aloft to
locate a troublesome enemy blockhouse reportedly holding up an
Army advance. A couple of rounds hurled in the enemy's direction
produced no results; she had to settle for obliterating some of
the enemy's motor transport and troop concentrations during the
day instead. The next day, 2 June, while in support of the
Army's XXIVth Corps, West Virginia scored four direct hits and
seven near-misses on the blockhouse that had been hit the day
West Virginia then operated off the southeast coast of Okinawa,
breaking up Japanese troop concentrations and destroying enemy
caves. She also disrupted Japanese road traffic by scoring a
direct hit on a road intersection and blasted a staging area. On
16 June, she was firing an assignment for the 1st Marines off
southwestern Okinawa when her spotting plane, a Vought OS2U
Kingfisher, took hits from Japanese antiaircraft fire and headed
down in flames, her pilot and observer bailing out over enemy-
held territory. Within a short time, aided by USS Putnam (DD-757)
and an LCI, West Virginia closed and blasted enemy guns in an
attempt to rescue her plane crew who had "dug in for the day" to
await the arrival of the rescuers. The attempt to recover her
aircrew, however, was not successful. Loaned a Kingfisher from
USS Tennessee, West Virginia kept up her gunfire support activities
for the balance of June.
Shifting to San Pedro Bay, Leyte, at the end of June, the
battleship reached her destination on 1 July, escorted by
USS Connolly (DE-306). There, on the morning of 5 July, she received
her first draft of replacements since Pearl Harbor in 1944.
After loading ammunition, West Virginia commenced training in
the Philippine area, an activity she carried out through the end
Sailing on 3 August 1945 for Okinawa, West Virginia reached
Buckner Bay on the 6th, the same day that the first atomic bomb
was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Thee days later, a second
bomb obliterated the greater part of the city of Nagasaki. Those
two events hastened Japan's collapse. On 10 August, at 2115,
West Virginia picked up a garbled report on radio that the
Japanese government had agreed to surrender under the terms of
the Potsdam Declaration, provided that they could keep the
Emperor as their ruler. The American ships in Buckner Bay soon
commenced celebrating, the indiscriminate use of antiaircraft
fire and pyrotechnics (not only from the naval vessels in the
bay but from Marines and Army troops ashore) endangering
friendly planes. Such celebrations, however, proved premature.
At 2004 on 12 August, West Virginia sailors felt a heavy
underwater explosion; soon thereafter, at 2058, the battleship
intercepted a radio dispatch from USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) reporting
that she had been torpedoed. West Virginia sent over a whaleboat
at 0023 on the 13th with pumps for the damaged Pennsylvania.
The war ended on 15 August 1945. West Virginia drilled her
landing force in preparation for the upcoming occupation of the
erstwhile enemy's homeland and sailed for Tokyo Bay on the 24th
as part of TG 35.90. She reached Tokyo Bay on the last day of
August and was thus present at the time of the formal surrender
on 2 September 1945. For that occasion, five musicians from West
Virginia's band were transferred temporarily to USS Missouri (BB-63)
to play at the ceremonies.
West Virginia played her part in the occupation, remaining in
Tokyo Bay into September of 1945, weathering a storm on the 15th
that had winds clocked at 65 knots at one point. On 14
September, she received on board 270 passengers for
transportation to the west coast of the United States. She got
underway at midnight on the 20th, bound for Okinawa as part of
TG 30.4. Shifting to Buckner Bay on the 23d, the battleship
sailed for Pearl Harbor soon thereafter, reaching her
destination on 4 October.
There, the crew painted the ship and kept on board only those
passengers slated for transportation to San Diego, Calif. Bound
for that port on the 9th, West Virginia moored at the Navy Pier
at San Diego at 1328 on 22 October 1945. Two days later, Rear
Admiral I. C. Sowell hauled down his flag as Commander, BatDiv
On Navy Day, 27 October, 25,554 visitors (more the next day)
came on board the ship. Three days later, on the 30th, she got
underway for Hawaiian waters to take her place as part of the
"Magic Carpet" operation returning veteran soldiers, sailors,
Marines, and airmen home to the states. After one run between
San Diego and Pearl Harbor, West Virginia made another, the
second time embarking Rear Admiral William W. Smith, who broke
his flag in the battleship for the return voyage to San
After making yet another run between the west coast and Hawaii,
West Virginia reached San Pedro, Calif., on 17 December. There,
she spent Christmas debarking her third draft of passengers. The
veteran battlewagon upped-anchor on 4 January 1946 and sailed
for Bremerton, Wash. She reached her destination on the 12th and
commenced inactivation soon thereafter, shifting to Seattle,
Wash., on the 16th, where she moored alongside sister ship
USS Colorado (BB 45).
West Virginia entered her final stages of inactivation in the
latter part of February 1946 and was decommissioned on 9 January
1947 and placed in reserve, as part of the Pacific Reserve
Fleet. She never again received the call to active duty,
remaining inactive until struck from the Navy list on 1 March
1959. On 24 August 1959, she was sold for scrapping to the Union
Minerals and Alloys Corp. of New York City.
West Virginia (BB-48), although heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor
and missing much of the war, nevertheless earned five battle
Updated: 30 July 2009