How the Wee Vee Was Born
(BB-48: displacement. 33,590 (f.); length. 624'0"; beam. 94' 3
1/2"; draft. 30'6" (mean); speed. 21.0 k.; complement. 1,407;
armament. 8 16", 12 6", 8 3", 4 6-pdrs., 2 21" tt.; class. Colorado)
The hull of the second West Virginia (Battleship No. 48 to the Navy
and Hull 211 to the builders) was laid down on April 12, 1920 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. of Newport News,
Va. The Navy reclassified to BB-48 on July 17, 1920. At the time of launch
on November 19, 1921, the ship was nearly 65 percent complete. The ship
by Miss Alice Wright Mann of Mercer County, daughter of millionaire coalmine
operator Isaac T. Mann, a prominent West Virginian. At noon on December 1,
1923, the USS West Virginia was commissioned under command of Capt. Thomas J. Senn.
This was the last American Battleship to be launched prior to the restrictions
imposed by the 1922 Washington Conference on Limitation of Naval Armament.
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
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 June 16, 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 Comdr. (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 October 30, 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
1926, 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 1933.
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 1926, 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 1926 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 1930's, 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, December 7, 1941, West Virginia lay moored outboard of 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 deck below. Four casemates and the galley
caught fire immediately, with the subsequent detonation of the ready-service
projectiles stowed in the casemates.
The second bomb hit further aft, wrecking one Vought OS2U Kingfisher
floatplane 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
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.
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,
December 8, 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 area of her hull, the
battleship was pumped out and ultimately refloated on May 17, 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 December 23. 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 December 7, 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/25's and the casemates with the
single-purpose 5-inch/51's. 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 September 14. Escorted
by two destroyers, she made landfall on Oahu on the 23rd. Ultimately pushing on
for Manus, in the Admiralties, in company with the fleet carrier Hancock
(CV-19), West Virginia, as a unit of Battleship Division (BatDiv) 4,
reached Seeadler Harbor on 5 October. The next day, she again became a flagship
when Rear Admiral Ruddock shifted his flag from Maryland (BB-46) to the
"Wee Vee" as Commander, BatDiv 4.
Underway on October 12 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 California
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 October
19, 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 the 21st, 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
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 Darter (SS-247) and Dace (SS-227) drew
first blood in what would become known as the Battle for Leyte Gulf on October
29 when they sank, respectively, two of Kurita's cruisers, Maya and Atago.
Undeterred, Kurita continued the transit, his force built around the giant
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 sizable 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 smooth
At 2236 on October 24 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 sistership 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 Maryland,
Mississippi (BB-41), Tennessee, California, and 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 dry-dock, ABSD-1, for her damaged screws.
The "Wee Vee" returned to the Philippines, via Manus, on November
26, 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 December 2, 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 December 12, 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 78.3.
She subsequently covered the retirement of the transports on December 16,
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 January 3, 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 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. Burns (DD-588)
dispatched the blazing CVE with torpedoes.
Taking on board survivors from Ommaney Bay from the destroyer Twiggs
(DD-591), West Virginia entered the South China Sea on the morning of the
following day, January 5, 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 rifles.
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 California and 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 Hovey (DMS-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 January 9 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 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
February 10, bound for Leyte Gulf. Before her departure, she received 79 bags of
United States mail--the first she had received since the day before Christmas.
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 Izard
(DD-589) and 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 82 miles at 0907 on
February 19. 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 February 21, the ship returned and, at 0800, commenced her support
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 February 27, she spotted a Japanese shore battery firing upon
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 February 28, 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, the ship set sail for the Caroline
Islands, reaching Ulithi on 6 March.
Joining TF 64 for the invasion of the Okinawa Gunto area, West Virginia
sailed on March 21, 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 April l. At 1029 on
March 26, lookouts reported a gun flash from shore, followed by a splash in the
water some 6,000 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-engined
bomber crashed off the battleship's port quarter--the victim of West
Virginia's anti-aircraft 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 Skylark (AM-68), 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 0680, 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 collision.
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 them.
Finally, at 0630, West Virginia opened fire as landing craft dotted
the sea as far as the eye could reach, 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 was underway.
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 April 1, 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 April 1 and resumed her gun-fire support duties soon thereafter. In
the course of her tour off shore 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 April 7 and 8, 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 68, 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--any 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--Zellars
(DD-777), Tennessee, Salt Lake City (CA-24), 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 April 14:
"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 April 20, at
which point she headed for Ulithi, only to turn back to Okinawa, hurriedly
recalled because of Colorado's (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 San Francisco (CA-38) and Hobson
(DD-464), reaching her destination--this time without a recall en route on April
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 June 1, 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, June 2, 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 before.
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 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 Tennessee,
West Virginia kept up her gunfire support activities for the balance of
Shifting to San Pedro Bay, Leyte, at the end of June, the battleship reached
her destination on July 1, escorted by Connolly (DE-306). There, on the
morning of July 5, 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 of
Sailing on August 3 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. Three days later, a second bomb obliterated the greater part of the
city of Nagasaki. Those two events hastened Japan's collapse. On August 10, 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 August 12, West Virginia sailors
felt a heavy underwater explosion; soon thereafter, at 2058, the battleship
intercepted a radio dispatch from 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 August 15, 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 September 2, 1945. For that occasion, five musicians from West
Virginia's band were transferred temporarily to 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 September 14, 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 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 October 22. Two
days later, Rear Admiral I. C. Sowell hauled down his flag as Commander, BatDiv
On Navy Day--October 27--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 Francisco, Calif.
After making yet another run between the west coast and Hawaii, West
Virginia reached San Pedro Calif., on December 17. There, she spent
Christmas debarking her third draft of passengers. The veteran battlewagon
upped-anchor on January 4, 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 sistership Colorado.
West Virginia entered her final stages of inactivation in the latter
part of February 1946 and was decommissioned on January 7, 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 March 1, 1959. On
August 24, 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 stars.
from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
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