Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pearl Harbor Battleships, Part I

New York Times announces
contract awards to Newport News
for West Virgina and Maryland.
Despite its physical distance from Pearl Harbor, the Hampton Roads area has long been known for its strong ties to many ships stationed in the Pacific.  When Japan launched its surprise attack against the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the enemy targeted the eight battleships moored near one another.  Many of those battleships were either stationed, built, or overhauled in Hampton Roads before being sent out to the Pacific Fleet in the late 1930s.  Today and tommorow, we will be featuring photographs of those ships in remembrance of their sacrifice.

First are USS Maryland (BB-46) and West Virginia (BB-48).  Newport News Shipbuilding constructed and launched the 33,000-ton Maryland on March 20, 1920, and West Virginia on November 19, 1921. Observers considered them technological wonders of the age.  Not only did they come equipped with the most powerful guns in the Navy's inventory (Mk 6 16-inch/45), but they also came equipped with an all-electric drive that more efficiently linked the ships' fire rooms and boilers with the shaft and propellers.  This resulted in a savings in space and additional control over the speed of the ship. 

Maryland on Newport News'
building ways.
However, like all state-of-the-art technology, the ships were expensive.  Each vessel cost the American taxpayers about $40,000,000 (the Navy's total budget between 1920 and 1922 averaged about $700,000,000 a year, with major reductions on the horizon).  Because of the naval arms limitations talks taking place in Washington, many people feared that both ships would never actually make it to the fleet.  One reporter wrote, "West Virginia (BB-48), the newest addition to Uncle Sam's navy and the seventh of the electric battleships, launched at Newport News last Saturday and destined to grace the scrap pile within a few months under the naval reduction program. If the American plan is agreed to, the new $40,000,000 dreadnought, now 60 percent complete, will never be finished."

But the Navy spared both ships from the Washington Naval Treaty axe and commissioned them into the fleet.  After spending the 1920s in Hampton Roads, the Navy redeployed both vessels to the Pacific Fleet in the 1930s. 

West Virginia (at left) at Newport News Shipbuilding, 1923.  The larger ship at right is
 the giant 54,000-ton SS Leviathan

USS Nevada in Hampton Roads, 1927, during a Naval Review
The third ship to mention is USS Nevada (BB-36).  Built in 1914, Nevada was based in Hampton Roads for much of World War I. Under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, the U.S. Navy needed to decide whether to build new battleships and scrap the old ones, or upgrade the old ones and scrap battleships under construction.  It chose the second option.

Nevada arrived at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) in 1929 and received a major technological upgrade.  Workers added two inches of deck armor; ten new five-inch guns for anti-aircraft (this was found to be seriously inadequate in the days after Pearl Harbor); retrofitted 14-inch guns to allow them to increase their elevation to 30 degrees; and received new geared turbines that had been originally slated for North Dakota (BB-29).  NNSY workers completed the job by the spring of 1930 and the ship immediately headed for the Pacific.

USS Nevada (far side of picture) at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, 1930.  
The ship on the near side is USS Arizona (BB-39). 

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