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USN July 1944
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 and grounded. After repairs, West Virginia became flagship for the Commander, Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet, on October 30, 1924 and participated in fleet exercises and was modernized. During 1941, West Virginia was based at Pearl Harbor and underwent intensive training.
The torpedoes impacted the port side. Immediate action by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts, the assistant fire control officer who had some knowledge of damage control techniques, saved the ship from capsizing.
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 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 four inch (102 mm) turret roof, wrecking one gun in the turret itself. Although the bomb was a dud, burning gasoline from the damaged aircraft caused some damage.
Instances of heroic conduct on board the heavily damaged battleship proliferated in the heat of battle. The ship's commanding officer, Captain 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 (381 mm) 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, Captain Bennion earned a Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously. Afro-American, Dorie Miller, a cook, helped carry Captain Bennion to a safer place and then manned an antiaircraft gun, despite having no previous experience, and shot down at least one airplane, for which he was awarded a Navy Cross. Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.
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 17 May 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 nine torpedo hits.
Salvage and Repair
Emerging from the extensive modernization, the battleship that had risen from the destruction at Pearl Harbor looked totally different from the way she had appeared prior to 7 December 1941. Gone were the "cage" masts that supported the three-tier fire-control tops, as well as the two funnels, the open-mount 5 in (127 mm) / 25 caliber guns and the casemates with the single-purpose 5" / 51 caliber guns. A streamlined superstructure now gave the ship a totally new silhouette; dual-purpose 5" / 38 caliber guns, in gunhouses, gave the ship a potent antiaircraft battery. In addition, 40mm Bofors and 20mm Oerlikon batteries for anti-aircraft defense.
West Virginia remained at Puget Sound until early July 1944. Loading ammunition on 2 July, the battleship got underway soon thereafter to conduct her sea trials out of Port Townsend, Washington. She ran a full power trial on 6 July, continuing her working-up until 12 July. Subsequently returning to Puget Sound for last-minute repairs, the battleship headed for San Pedro, California, 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 Hawaii on 14 September. Escorted by two destroyers, she made landfall on Oahu on 23 September and the departed for Manus, 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 Theodore Ruddock shifted his flag from Maryland (BB-46) to the "Wee Vee" as Commander, BatDiv 4.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
At 16:45, California cut loose a naval 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 19 October, West Virginia steamed into her assigned station in San Pedro Bay at 07:00 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 (406 mm) and 1,586 five inch (127 mm) shells against Japanese installations, silencing enemy artillery and supporting the UDT (underwater demolition teams) preparing the beaches for the assault that came on 20 October. 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 21 October, 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 "hybrid" battleship-carriers (Ise and Hy?ga) sailed toward the Philippine Sea from Japanese home waters; a small surface force under Admiral Kiyohide 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 Takeo Kurita, passed north of the island of Palawan to transit the Sibuyan Sea.
American submarines Darter (SS-227) and Dace (SS-247) drew first blood in what would become known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 29 October 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 Shoji 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.
At 22:36 on 24 October 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 03:00 on 25 October, Nishimura took up battle formation when five American destroyers launched a well-planned torpedo attack. Caught in the spread of torpedoes, the battleship Fus? took hits and dropped out of the formation; other spreads of "fish" dispatched a pair of Japanese destroyers and crippled a third.
Fus?'s sistership Yamashiro, meanwhile, had taken one hit and was slowed down, only to be hit again within 15 minutes' time. Fus? herself, apparently ravaged by fires ignited by the torpedo hits, blew up with a tremendous explosion at 03:38.
West Virginia meanwhile, was leading the battle line of USS Maryland, USS Mississippi, USS Tennessee BB-43, USS California, USS Pennsylvania; four of these ships, like West Virginia, veterans of Pearl Harbor. From 00:21 on 25 October, the battleship had picked up reports on the PT boat and destroyer attacks; finally at 03:16, West Virginia's radar picked up Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yards (38 km) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yards (33 km). She tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night.
At 03:52, West Virginia unleashed her eight 16 inch (406 mm) guns of the main battery at a range of 22,800 yards (25 km), striking the leading Japanese battleship with her first salvo. Of the first six salvos West Virginia fired, five had struck the target and in all she fired 16 salvoes in the direction of Nishimura's ships as Oldendorf crossed the T of the Japanese fleet and thus achieved the tactical mastery of a situation that almost every surface admiral dreams of. At 04:13, 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 avenging 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 29 October, 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 drydock ABSD-1, for her damaged screws.
Rear Admiral Ruddock shifted back on board on 30 November, West Virginia maintaining her operations off Leyte until 2 December, when the battleship headed for the Palau Islands. 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 12 December, West Virginia transited the Surigao Strait on 13 December 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 16 December, later fueling in Leyte Gulf before she returned to Kossol Roads, Palaus, at mid-day on 19 December. 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 3 January, 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 observed a Yokosuka P1Y Frances crashed in USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) at 17:12 on 4 January. Fires and explosions ultimately forced the abandonment of the "jeep carrier", 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, 5 January 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 (406 mm) rifles.
Kamikazes, 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, took on board another group of survivors: the crew of the high-speed minesweeper Hovey (DMS-11) which had been sunk by a Japanese torpedo on 6 January. 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 (406 mm) rifles again hammered Japanese positions ashore at San Fabian on 8 January and 9 January, as troops went ashore on the latter day. It was not until the night of 9 January that the battleship finally transferred her passengers off the ship.
After providing call fire support all day on 10 January, 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 (406 mm) shells and over 2,800 5 in (127 mm) projectiles. Underway again at 07:07 on 21 January, West Virginia commenced call-fire support duties at 08:15, operating in readiness for cooperation with the United States 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 1 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 10 February, 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 04:00 on 17 February. At 07:30 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 Bravo Zulu "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 Seventh Fleet such a short time before.
Her 16 inch (406 mm) 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 22 February, a small-caliber shell hit the battleship near turret II, wounding one enlisted man. That same day, another significant event occurred ashore—the United States Marine Corps 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 (406 mm) shells. She hit troop concentrations and trucks, blockhouses, trenches, and houses. During the course of that time spent off the beaches on 27 February, she spotted a Japanese shore battery firing upon Bryant (DD-665). West Virginia closed the range and, when about 600 yards (550 m) from shore, opened fire with her secondary 5 in (127 mm) battery, silencing the enemy guns.
Replenishing her depleted ammunition stocks early on 28 February, 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.
The following day, the "Wee Vee" fought against enemy air opposition, taking a "Frances" under fire at 05:20. 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. Naval mines, too, began making themselves felt; one sank the minesweeper Skylark (AM-68), 3,000 yards (2.7 km) off West Virginia's port bow at 09:30 on 28 March.
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 06:30, the battleship headed for her assigned zone off the Okinawa beaches. While en route, though, at 04:55, 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 (180 m) away. Four more enemy planes passed within her vicinity soon thereafter, and West Virginia claimed one of them.
Finally, at 06:30, 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 (820 m) off the beaches, could see the craft heading shoreward like hundreds of tadpoles; at 08:42, 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 1 April, and West Virginia lay to offshore, awaiting further orders. At 19:03, 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 reported her damage as repairable by ship's force and 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 1 April and resumed her gun-fire support duties soon thereafter. In the course of her tour off shore in early April, she shot down an Aichi D3A "Val" on 6 April.
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 7 April and 8 April, 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, 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 many 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, USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), Stanly (DD-478), and others, were victims of kamikaze attacks.
Her shore bombardments elicited nothing but praise from those enjoying the benefits of the ship's firing; one spotter reported on April 14, 1945: "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 Marine Division 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 20 April, at which point she headed for Ulithi, only to turn back to Okinawa, hurriedly recalled because Colorado (BB-45) suffered 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 Tenth 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, on 28 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. On 1 June, 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, 2 June, 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 MarDiv 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 1 July, escorted by Connolly (DE-306). There, on the morning of 5 July, 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.
The war ended on 15 August 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 24 August 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 2 September 1945. For that occasion, five musicians from West Virginia's band were transferred temporarily to USS Missouri to play at the ceremonies. West Virginia (BB-48) earned five battle stars for her World War II service.
There, the crew painted ship and kept on board only those passengers slated for transportation to San Diego, California. Bound for that port on 9 October, West Virginia moored at the Navy Pier at San Diego at 13:28 on 22 October. Two days later, Rear Admiral I. C. Sowell hauled down his flag as Commander, BatDiv 4.
On Navy Day, 25,554 visitors (more the next day) came on board the ship. Three days later, on 30 October, she got underway for Hawaiian waters to take her place as part of Operation Magic Carpet 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, California.
After making yet another run between the West Coast and Hawaii, West Virginia reached San Pedro, California, on 17 December. There, she spent Christmas debarking her third draft of passengers. The veteran battlewagon upped-anchor on 4 January 1946 and sailed for Bremerton, Washington. She reached her destination on 12 January and commenced inactivation soon thereafter, shifting to Seattle, Washington, on 16 January, where she moored alongside sistership Colorado.
During late February 1946, West Virginia was decommissioned and on January 9, 1947 placed in reserve as part of the Pacific Reserve Fleet. Officially, struck from the Naval Registry on March 1, 1959.
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