USS West Virginia (BB-48)

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 was sponsored 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 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 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 post-modernization shakedown.

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 (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 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 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 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 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 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 sea.

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 1.

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 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 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 her objective.

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 28.

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 June.

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 July.

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 4.

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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