USS Arkansas 1919
Note: This is the second of my series on US Battleships of World War Two. The First was the essay The Battleships of Pearl Harbor and I will follow this with essays on the New Mexico class, the North Carolina class, the South Dakota class and the Iowa Class. I have published other series on US Aircraft Carriers, the Treaty Cruisers, the Alaska Class Battle Cruisers and the German Battle Bruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.
Arkansas Passing through the Kiel Canal on Midshipman Training Cruise June 6th 1937
When the United States entered the Second World War the average age of its battleship fleet was over years, an age that if the new North Carolina and Washington were omitted would have been well over 23 years old. Two former battleships, the Utah and Wyoming had been demilitarized and were serving as gunnery training ships. The oldest of these ships, the Arkansas, the second ship of the Wyoming class was commissioned well before the First World War and was typical of ships built in that era comparable to the Italian battleships Conti de Cavour, Giulio Caesar. The Two ships of the New York Class were improved Wyoming’s with a heavier main battery and better protection and were comparable to the Japanese Fuso class and British Royal Sovereign class ships.
The oldest and also the smallest battleship in service in 1941 was the USS Arkansas. Displacing 26,000 tons and sporting a main battery of twelve 12”/50 guns in twin turrets she was launched on 14 January 1911 and commissioned on 17 September 1912 she first saw service in the Mexican crisis of 1914 and served with the British Home Fleet following the entry of the United States into the war. Between the wars Arkansas severed in both the Atlantic and Pacific and was modernized in 1925 receiving oil fired boilers to replace her coal fired plant. During the inter-war years she was engaged as were most battleships of the era in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve cruises, goodwill visits and in the case of Arkansas work with the Fleet Marine force as it began to develop its amphibious doctrine.
Operation Crossroad, Baker Test note Arkansas standing on end on right side of blast
When war came to Europe in 1939 Arkansas was serving with the Atlantic Fleet and conducted training operations and neutrality patrols. In April 1941 she escorted the first convoy of Marines to Iceland and following that sailed to Argentia Newfoundland where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill concluding the Atlantic Charter. Following Pearl Harbor she would primarily serve as a convoy escort and midshipman training vessel until June 6th 1944 where she provided naval gunfire support at Omaha Beach and subsequent support to land operations in Normandy. In August she took part in the invasion of southern France, Operation Anvil before returning the US for repairs and modifications before sailing to the Pacific. The elderly ship then took part in the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa again providing naval gunfire support to Marines and soldiers ashore. She also was introduced to the Kamikaze at Okinawa. When the war ended she carried returning troops home in “Operation Magic Carpet” and in 1946 she was earmarked for her last mission, Operation Crossroads, the first of the Bikini atomic bomb tests where she was sunk during test Baker on July 25th 1946. She was anchored very close to the underwater blast and was violently sucked up into the blast where she can be seen standing on end it the picture below.
New York 1932 leading the Battle Line
The New York and her sister Texas were the first US Navy battleships armed with 14” guns. The ships displaced 27,000 tons and mounted ten 14”/45 guns in twin turrets. Launched 30 October 1912 and commissioned April 15th 1914 the New York deployed with the Atlantic battle ship squadrons to Mexico during the crisis at Vera Cruz. Like Arkansas she joined the American battleship squadron serving with the British Home Fleet in 1917 and served in convoy escort and deterrence missions until the end of the war. Between the wars New York undertook various training missions and modernizations and was the sole US ship at the 1937 Grand Naval Review for the coronation of King George VI of England.
New York in 1944 departing for the Pacific
As war drew near New York remained engaged in training missions and took part in neutrality patrols and convoy escort missions in the Atlantic. Following the outbreak of hostilities she would continue these missions and take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. She continued the vital convoy escort mission until she was withdrawn for service as a gunnery training ship for sailors being assigned to battleships and destroyer escorts. In November 1944 she was sent to the Pacific where in February 1945 she provided naval gunfire support to the Marines at Iwo Jima. During pre-invasion bombardment she fired more rounds that any of the ships present.
New York at Iwo Jima
Her next action came at Okinawa where she provided 76 straight days of support to Marines and soldiers ashore while fending off kamikaze attacks and taking one minor hit. She had her guns replaced at Pearl Harbor in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan. After the cessation of hostilities New York took part in Operation Magic Carpet and took part in Fleet Week in New York.
New York receiving anti-radiation wash down after Baker. She has survived the blast in good condition
New York was then assigned to be a target ship in Operation Crossroads where she survived both Test Able and Test Baker. Towed back to Pearl Harbor for extensive study she was finally expended as a target on July 8th 1948 by the Navy 40 miles off Oahu taking the punishment of a number of ships before sinking after 8 hours under fire.
Texas in 1919 note the Battle “E” on her funnel
The Texas was launched on May 18th 1912 and commissioned on March 12th 1914 and within two months was in action with the Atlantic Fleet off Mexico without the benefit of the normal shakedown cruise.
During World War One Texas joined Battleship Division 9 serving alongside the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. In this capacity she took part in convoy escort missions and operations in the North Sea including one where the Home Fleet nearly met the German High Seas Fleet in action.
Texas firing her main battery 1927 after her modernization
Between the wars Texas served on both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and received a major overhaul in 1925. Like other ships she engaged in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve training cruises and operations with the Fleet Marine Force. With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe Texas joined the neutrality patrol. When the US entered the war Texas served as a convoy escort and participated in Operation Torch. Her convoy escort duties remained unchanged until she took part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of France and provided gunfire support to Rangers at Point du Hoc and soldiers on Omaha Beach. Closing to within 3000 yards of the beach Texas guns provided direct support to troops on the beach and interdiction fire on German troop concentrations further inland. She continued this following D-Day and while engaged in a duel with heavy German guns near Cherbourg was struck by two 280mm (11.2 inch) shells, one of which struck her on the navigation bridge killing the helmsman and wounding nearly everyone else. She then sailed into the Mediterranean where she again supported troops ashore lending her weight to the invasion of south France. With that mission completed Texas returned to New York for repairs and to have her main battery guns replaced.
Texas under German Fire off Cherbourg
Reassigned to the Pacific Texas would support the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she would remain in action for almost two months. She finished the war in the Philippines and like so many other ships took part in Operation Magic Carpet. She arrived at Norfolk on February 13th 1946 to prepare for inactivation, but unlike so many other ships was spared the ignominious fate of the scrap yard or that of the New York and Arkansas. She was towed to Texas to serve as a permanent memorial at the San Jacinto battlefield and decommissioned there on April 21st 1948. She was dry-docked and received a major overhaul in from 1988-90 which restored her to her 1945 appearance and in which major structural repairs were made. Continual restoration is conducted on the ship and there are plans for another major overhaul. She is the last surviving “Dreadnaught” battleship in the world, a singular example of the great ships that once dominated the seas.
Texas at San Jacinto, the last of the Dreadnaughts
Though obsolete the Arkansas, New York and Texas rendered commendable service throughout the war and took part in some of the key invasions of the war. Their guns inflicted considerable damage on Vichy French, German and Japanese forces in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. New York and Arkansas trained thousands of sailors for service aboard other ships. They performed admirably and their availability to do the less glamorous missions of naval gunfire support, convoy escort and training sailors for the fleet enabled other ships to be available for other missions. They and the proud Sailors and Marines who served aboard them should never be forgotten.