The 14″ Guns of USS Nevada in action at Normandy
On June 6th 1944 Allied Forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. Six American, British and Canadian Infantry Divisions, three Airborne Divisions and numerous supporting units came ashore in landing craft or were airdropped into Normandy. Backing them was an immense Naval Task Force which provided naval gunfire support, screened the force from German U-Boat or surface naval forces and transported the massive ground force. It was an amazing armada.
HMS Rodney bombarding German positions off Caen
It was an armada that also is forgotten by many who read about Normandy or whose only exposure to the landings are films such as Saving Private Ryan. Today I think it is fitting to remember Battleships that served at Normandy, USS Arkansas, USS Texas, USS Nevada, HMS Warspite, HMS Ramillies and HMS Rodney.
USS Arkansas off Omaha Beach
The naval gunfire support force included Battleships, Cruisers and Destroyers as well as specialized gunfire support ships. The largest and most powerful ships were the six American and British Battleships. These ships were important in providing the heavy firepower needed to destroy the strongest fortifications and shore batteries and to fire at targets far beyond the shoreline that were vital for German reinforcements.
However the ships involved were not the modern behemoths which were built in the 1930s and since the beginning of the war but rather among the oldest ships still active in either the United States or the British Royal Navy. At one time they had all been the hearts for their navies but now old, slow and with less than modern armament and fire control systems they were regulated to supporting amphibious forces or escorting convoys.
USS Arkansas BB-33
The oldest of these venerable ships was the USS Arkansas BB-33 which was commissioned in 1912. A Wyoming Class Battleship she mounted twelve 12” guns in six twin turrets, two forward, two aft and two midships. She displaced just over 27,000 tons. She had spent most of the war escorting convoys in the Atlantic before being assigned to the Normandy landings. She stood off Omaha Beach dueling with German shore batteries and pounding the German troops who were making Omaha a living hell for the men of the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions. She would continue her valuable service off of Normandy and would do the same in to support the landings in Southern France before steaming to the Pacific where she would do the same at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
USS Texas BB-35
The USS Texas, BB-35 of the New York class had been in commission since 1914. She mounted ten 14” guns in 5 twin turrets, two forward, two aft and one midships and was slightly larger than the Arkansas. More modern she was more extensively modernized between the wars than was Arkansas and was one of the first US ships to carry experimental radar sets. She also conducted convoy operations but was used to bombard Vichy French troops and positions during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. At D-day she was in the western sector of Omaha and bombarded Point Du Hoc and cruised to within 3000 yards of the beach to clear the western exits of the beach near Vierville. She remained in the area a number of days and would subsequently support the attack on Cherbourg, the invasion of South France and then serve in the Pacific at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
USS Nevada BB-36
The USS Nevada BB-36 was the first of a new class of battleships which set the basic pattern of US Battleship design through the ratification of the Washington Naval Treaty. Her main battery of ten 14” guns was mounted in four turrets, mounted fore and aft two triple and 2 twin turrets. She was he powered by oil fired boilers as opposed to coal and was designed with a longer cruising radius to meet the demands of War Plan Orange. Nevada received major upgrades between the wars and on December 7th 1941 was moored on Battleship Row when Peal Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. The only Battleship to get underway during the attack Nevada was set upon by Japanese aircraft as she steamed toward the harbor entrance. Heavily damaged she was grounded off Hospital Point. She was re-floated and sailed to the United States where she was heavily modernized with a modern AA battery of twin 5” 38 caliber guns, and fire direction radars. She was modernized to the point that she no longer resembled the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor. After her repair and modernization she participated in the invasion of Attu Island and did convoy escort duty before reporting for the invasion of Normandy. Nevada supported the US 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach and subsequently served with Texas and Arkansas in South France before going to the Pacific to support the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Had the war continued she would have been involved in the invasion of the Japanese Mainland.
The Royal Navy Battleships of D-Day were also elderly veterans. The eldest was the heroic HMS Warsipte commissioned in 1915 and a veteran of the Battle of Jutland and numerous actions during the Second World War including the slaughter of the German Destroyers at Narvik, the Battle of Cape Matapan and the invasion of Sicily and Italy. The Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship mounted eight 15” guns in twin turrets and was extensively modernized between the wars. At Salerno Warspite was hit by three of the earliest guided missiles, the Fritz-X type launched by Luftwaffe Aircraft. She was heavily damaged and required major repairs before returning to service at Normandy. She supported British troops at Sword Beach and later Gold Beach. She again was heavily damaged by a magnetic mine and received temporary repairs to allow her to continue bombardment duties against German positions France and Belgium before being placed in reserve in January 1945.
The HMS Ramillies was a Revenge Class Battleship commissioned in 1917. These ships were a compromise design that was smaller, slower and cheaper than the Queen Elizabeth Class but had the same main battery of eight 15” guns. The compromises prevented them from receiving significant upgrades between the wars and limited their employment. Ramillies operated as a convoy escort and was also involved in action in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. She participated in the hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee and shielded Convoy HX-106 from the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and later took part in the hunt for the Bismarck. However she but was not engaged against any of the German ships but her presence prevented Admiral Lutjens from risking Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to attack the convoy. She took part in the initial battle between the Royal Navy and the Italians at the Battle of Cape Spartivento getting off several salvos before her slow speed forced her out of the action. She was heavily damaged by a torpedo from a Japanese mini-submarine in Diego Suarez harbor during the invasion of Madagascar in May 1942. Following repairs and the addition of extra deck armor and modern anti-aircraft guns she returned to action at Normandy were she supported British troops ashore and drove off an attack by German Destroyers. She stayed in action firing over 1000 shells at Normandy before supporting the invasion of Southern France. Too slow to be of use in the Pacific she was placed in Reserve in January 1945.
The youngest of the Battlewagons at Normandy on June 6th was the HMS Rodney which was commissioned in 1927. She and her sister ship HMS Nelson were to be the first of the post WWI super battleships and was designed as a larger and more powerful ship. With the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty the ships were “cut down” and reduced in size and speed. Her armament made her one of the most powerful battleships of period but her engineering plant was not always reliable. Since she was relatively modern she did not receive any major refits before the war and apart from a repairs to her engines in Boston in 1941 (before the US entry into the war) and a brief refit in 1942 she received no further refits during the war. With the HMS King George V she helped sink the Bismarck and would escort convoys and participate in the Allied invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Salerno before being assigned to the Normandy invasion force attacking targets near Caen. Her sister HMS Nelson was held in reserve and joined the battle on June 10th but she was not present on D-Day.
Warspite aground and Rodney being scrapped (below)
Despite their age and limitations all of these ships and their performed heroically during the war. The post war period was not as kind to the ships. Arkansas and Nevada were used in the Atomic Bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. Nevada survived and was expended as a target in 1948. All of the British ships were scrapped following the war due to their age, wear and damage incurred during the war. Warspite was being towed to the breakers when she broke a tow line and went aground. She ended up being partially scrapped in place. Mementos of all these ships remain including a gun from Ramillies at the Imperial War Museum. The lone survivor was the USS Texas which became a museum ship and memorial at the San Jacinto battlefield in 1948. She is the last of the Dreadnought ships remaining. Other more modern US Battleships have been preserved but only Texas remains from those ships that at one time ruled the waves and pounded the Germans at Normandy.
The author aboard USS Texas in March 2011
The fire support provided by these proud ships and their consorts ensured the success of the Normandy landings. Without them it is very possible that the landings would not have succeeded and many more Allied soldiers would have died and the war extended.
To these great ships and all their heroic crews…
28 responses to “The Battleships of D-Day”
A great post on six grand old ladies. It’s interesting to note that each ship represented cutting edge technology in her day – a search for the most guns (USS Arkansas), our first 14-incher (USS Texas, truly an old friend), our first triple turrets (USS Nevada), the first fast battleships (HMS Warspite), the UK’s answer to the Washington treaty (HMS Rodney), and even a “bargain battleship” (HMS Ramillies). Though outshone by their late-30s and early-40s descendants, they proved that even old battlewagons had a role in WW2. (And far more beautiful than the cramped Washington Treaty designs, especially USS Texas, but I’m biased that way – she was the first WW2 museum machine I ever met.)
They were all fascinating ships and interesting since they were all important in the development of the battleship as a type. Interesting to see the compromises as well as advances embodied in each and how those played into their combat service during the war. Hope you are doing well and blessings, Steve+
It has always seeemed to me that the “old” battleships were the hardest working battleships in the Allied navies. They couldn’t face off with the newer, more heavily armed, and faster battleships, but they still managed to provide services that were enormously useful in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
I am so proud that the USA at least saved one of these goliaths of the sea from the first world war and D-Day. At least you save some reminder of these events other than one cruiser and a couple of battleships and a submarine or two this country keeps nothing. my dream would be to get one off our old type twenty one destroyers from the pakistan navy when they get rid of them and have a falklands museum for them but that wont happen. thanks i visited the texas when i was over there a few years ago thanks for the truly professional experience.
I enjoyed this post, as I’m a big fan of the USS Texas but didn’t know much about the other battleships at Normandy. I just wanted to comment that while the Texas was built with coal boilers, during her 1927-28 refitt they were replaced with oil-fired boilers. Where her powerplant did differ dramatically from the earlier Arkansas and later Nevada was the engines. The New York class (NY and TX) returned to reciprocating piston engines temporarily whereas the state of the art was already geared turbines. I’ve read this was due to a contract dispute between the Navy and the turbine builder. The Texas’s engines are national engineering historic landmarks, if you can believe such a registry exists.
I’ve always wondered why MORE battleships, (and perhaps heavier and newer battleships-16inch class N.Carolina, S Dakota class) were not used for prelanding bombardment at Omaha. The navy used lots more in the previous Pacific landings. Would the German emplacements have been impervious to 16″ guns lake the sub pens were to air bombardment? Just seems like two older 14″ battleships (Arkansas and Texas) wasn’t much for the most important landing of all. (Europe First?)
CC, the other battleships were used primarily as aircraft carrier escorts in the Pacific Theater and facing the primary surface navy opponent (Japan) were probably deemed too important to transfer to the Atlantic Theater, while the older battleships were likely deemed sufficient for the mission and operational environment.
Again the battle ships needed to be bigger ( much wider)and longer. It also needed smaller and more numerous water tight compartments and deeper draft so even multiple bombs would never reach the magazine. If this had happened we would of seen the entire US fleet engaging one ship and it would of escaped. The design flaws made it fail.
Operation Neptune was by no means a sure thing. The Navy planners detailed three of the oldest battleships in the US Navy because they were considered the ones they could afford to lose should things go wrong. The orders to the USS Nevada, USS Arkansas and USS Texas were that if they were hit and sinking that they beach themselves and continue to support the Normandy Landings. This was one of only a few times an order to be victorious or do not come back was issued to US Forces. USS Nevada had the furthest gun range and distinguished herself with exemplary fire support.
True, and an excellent point. Nothing about any of the Normandy operations was a sure thing. The variables were considerable and the fact that Ike had a “failure” message prepared is abundant proof of that. Likewise no one had made a successful cross channel invasion since William the Conqueror. Had the German command not been lulled into complacency by the weather there is no telling what a fully alert and ready force of U-Boats, E-Boats, and Lutfwaffe attack aircraft could have done to the invasion armada. The attack of the E-Boats on the practice landings in England demonstrated that.
Dad was on USS Sturtevant DE-239. Can’t find out where she was on D-Day. Can anyone help?
She was not at D-Day according to the official Dictionary of Naval Fighting Ships entry on her. She was escorting Atlantic Convoys.
There has been so little told of the battleships of day and so much of the everything else!.
The only detailed account of the battle wagons of dday l have come across is the book – HMS RODNEY
Surely there must be more accounts of the battlwagons out there?.
Sad that they and most of the Navy components of all the allied nations at D-Day are forgotten.
It is truly sad these Great here’s have been so easily forgotten. Warspite may have been old but she is my favorite warship of all time for a reason. She further in D-Day aided American soldiers at Utah beach, she bombarded countless German troops without the aid of radar, impressing the American soldiers significantly.
Warspite has always been one of my favorite warships. I wish that the government of Britain had preserved this great ship.
minor grammar correction: strike ‘regulated’ replace with ‘relegated’
Relegated was what I meant, thank you for pointing it out.
Here is some additional information on the USS Nevada 14” guns shown firing at Normandy in your photo. The center gun barrel (41L3) of the three gun turret pictured is currently on display in Phoenix, Arizona.
Of the guns firing, the top four were originally mounted on the USS Oklahoma when she was commissioned on May 2, 1916. The fifth gun barrel (lowest in the photo) was originally mounted on the USS New York when she was commissioned on April 15th, 1914. They were all removed for relining and all five were mounted on the USS Arizona when she was re-gunned in 1925.
Barrel/gun 41L3 was originally mounted on USS Oklahoma in 1916 and removed in 1925. It was relined and placed aboard USS Arizona in 1925 as center gun of Turret I, and removed in 1938. It was relined and placed aboard the USS Nevada as center gun of Turret I, and went to War against the Japanese in Alaska and then the D-Day invasion and invasion of Southern France. The barrels of these guns were completely shot out at the end of the Liberation of France which prevented the Nevada BB-36 from obeying her orders to proceed at once, via the Suez Canal, to the Pacific Fleet.
The all the 14” guns of USS Nevada were replaced in 1944. Barrel 41L3 languished until Arizona decided to grab it for display. Very disappointedly, the Arizona display only states in one line of their exhibit that the gun was aboard USS Nevada during WWII and gives no other details. I fear they think that would detract from the image of the barrel being on the USS Arizona during peacetime only.
Great piece, thank you.
My Father (Chief Petty Officer Electrical Artificer) served in the RN from 1938 to 1960. His WWII ships included HMS Furious (Carrier), HMS Hardy (Destroyer, sunk on Arctic Convoy protection duty Jan 30th 1944) and HMS Capetown (an old 1917 Light Cruiser) which was stripped out of most equipment and assigned, under joint USN and RN staffing, to landing control and coordination duties off Utah beach. My Father was adamant (he was there!) that the ship was in position on DDay, but official records say 7th June.
Sometimes official records in such operations have mistakes in them. The mission of the ship would have necessitated her being there on June 6th.
Dear Padre, The strangest battleships I have ever been aware of has to be the HMS Rodney, with her configuration of 3 bow turrets and none in the stern. Do you have any idea why this configuration was chosen? One other weird fact about the Rodney – she was equipped with torpedo tubes (I am not aware of any other battleships being so equipped). Evidently she fired them off at the Bismarck, marking the only time one battleship fired torpedoes at another.
I must say, I’ve never seen such an eclectic Blog as yours before.
Thank you Bob, a lady at work told me that I was a Renaissance Man a few weeks ago, it it really surprised me. This blog is quite eclectic because I have so many interests. Now the Rodney was unusual, she was actually supposed to be a bigger and more heavily armed ship. But that was stopped by the Washington Naval Treaty which placed severe limits on the numbers of Battleships and the total tonnage allowed to the signatory nations. The Royal Navy had planned a 48,000 ton ship armed with nine 18” guns in tripple turrets mounted in the same configuration as Rodney and her sister ship Nelson, designated as the N3 Class. However, the treaty limited battleships to 35,000 tons and 16” guns, and would have been over 100 longer. The arrangement of the guns was to allow a heavier all or nothing main armor belt concentrated around a smaller citadel. They were pretty much a cut down version of the N3s. The torpedo tubes were not unusual, every US class up to the modern North Carolina Class, all the Japanese battleships built before Yamato carried multiple torpedo tubes, all the French Dreadnaught ships until the Dunkerque and Richelieu classes, and every Italian Dreadnaught until the Vittorio Veneto Class. But Rodney was the only one to fire a torpedo in anger and get a hit. Thank you for your comments.
Peace and blessings, Steve+
My dad Walter McDonald served on the Nevada at Pearl Harbor and Normandie.
What an honor and legacy. He must have been an amazing man.
It has been written that after the advent of the aircraft carrier the role of the battleship disappeared. In your opinion with the D-Day landings have been possible without the six battleships which pounded the German defenses. Yes, for the analysis, leave the cruises destroy us and other forces in place. I’m only referring to the role of the allegedly redundant battleship.
Thank you for your question and comment to which I will provide a lengthy response. Yes the six battleships that provided Naval Gunfire Support to the D-Day landing played an invaluable role in the landings until the breakout. Their heavy guns were used with great effect on those beaches and against German reinforcements further inland. Battleships also provided good support to other invasions in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, but in all cases including Normandy they were a part of the puzzle and not the key. Without air power and anti-submarine warfare escorts they would have been as vulnerable as the French and British battleships were in effort to force the Bosporus in WWI. Likewise it is unlikely that any major amphibious operation in a contested environment will be attempted meaning that Battleships would have little role today, but I digress… now to the really long part.
I loved everything about battleships. After the carrier, the carrier air group, and the advent of the Fast Carrier Task Forces the role of the Battleship was reduced because of their vulnerability to Naval air power. Likewise, when within range, well trained, properly equipped and coordinated land based air assets could prove deadly to battleships operating without adequate air cover or independently of carrier based Combat Air Patrols. The same was true for other surface ships but the amount of economic and military investment in a Battleship made them a significantly higher value target and loss if sunk.
Not counting the battleships or battlecruisers operated by Turkey, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, or the remaining pre-Dreadnaught ships remaining, those serving as target ships or depot ships, or sunk while building a total of 81 Battleships and Battlecruisers served during the war. 31 of these were sunk or damaged beyond repair, or other causes including scuttling or being removed from service during the war due to battle damage. Of the 50 remaining 5 were sunk, raised and returned to service during the war missing 1-2 years of action due to damage from air attack making a total of 36 battleships lost in the war.
Of the 36 lost 18 were sunk by aircraft or aircraft played a leading role in their subsequent sinking or scuttling, 4 sunk by submarines, 6 in surface actions where other battleships participated, 1 decommissioned during the war, 5 scuttled in order to avoid capture or used as Mulberry or Gooseberry harbor breakwater ships, 1 sunk by accidental explosion, and 1 the Bismarck crippled by an aircraft, destroyed by surface gunfire, and scuttled by her crew. So aircraft were involved in sinking half of the battleships lost during the war.
Because of airpower battleships were used to escort the Fast Carriers, to engage in night surface actions where aircraft were not a threat. Fast Battleships were used in fast bombardment attacks on the Japanese Home Islands at night. Older and slower battleships provided Naval Gunfire Support to invasion forces in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, South France and throughout the Pacific Campaign. Finally, British and American Battleships provided convoy escort in the Atlantic while the Kriegsmarine had the capability using its heavy ships to attack Atlantic and Arctic Oceans which led to the sinking SOF Bismarck and Scharnhorst. The Royal Navy did the same in the Mediterranean against the Regina Marina, and in the Indian Ocean against threats by Japanese surface groups and German raiders. With the exception of the Guadalcanal campaign and the Battle of Leyte Gulf did the Japanese commit battleships to actions without carrier support, keeping them close to home due to the submarine threat and lack of fuel as U.S. Navy submarines sank huge numbers of Japanese oil tankers strangling the Empire. After the loss of Bismarck Germany seldom risked its capital ships on the high seas. The Italians took the greatest risks with their battleships between June 1940 to their capitulation in 1943, sending them against the Royal Navy in surface actions and attempts to disrupt convoys to Malta, Crete and Egypt despite little air support. The Japanese used carriers to great effect they could not keep pace with their losses in carriers or trained pilots and aircrews and by the Battle of Leyte Gulf their carriers posed no threat and were used as a decoy force. The German and Italian carriers were never completed and the aircraft designed for their air groups turned over to their Air Forces.
Battleships served in important roles but only once in their designed role as the main battle force engaging the enemy main battle force of battleships. After the war jets and missiles further transformed air power at the tactical and strategic levels further reduced the roles for battleships. Likewise advances in submarine design posed a greater threat to the remaining behemoths.
Thanks for writing and commenting, you actually made me articulate the reasons that battleships are not only redundant but so expensive and vulnerable that they are now obsolete. That began in WWII with carrier aviation and submarines. The threats have continued unabated and have increased. While my romantic heart years for battleships I wonder if the end of the Super Carrier era is coming to an end with the advances in hypersonic missiles and torpedoes. Every weapons system eventually meets its match and as it does is either replaced or regulated to secondary missions.
Anyway, thank you again.
I have a question. Were battleships used to ferry troops across the English Channel on D-Day? I can’t find any information on whether they did or didn’t. There’s lots of other facts available, but not about this.
Thanks, for taking an interest in our history.