USS Tennessee BB-43
The fifth Tennessee was laid down on 14 May 1917 at the New York Navy Yard; launched on 30 April 1919; sponsored by Miss Helen Lenore Roberts, daughter of the governor of Tennessee; and commissioned on 3 June 1920, Capt. Richard H. Leigh in command.
Tennessee and her sister ship, California (BB-44), were the first American battleships built to a "post-Jutland" hull design. As a result of extensive experimentation and testing, her underwater hull protection was much greater than that of previous battleships; and both her main and secondary batteries had fire-control systems. The Tennessee class, and the three ships of the Colorado-class which followed, were identified by two heavy cage masts supporting large fire-control tops. This feature was to distinguish the "Big Five" from the rest of the battleship force until World War II. Since Tennessee's 14-inch turret guns could be elevated to 30 degrees-rather than to the 15 degrees of earlier battleships-her heavy guns could reach out an additional 10,000 yards. Because battleships were then beginning to carry airplanes to spot long-range gunfire, Tennessee's ability to shoot "over the horizon" had a practical value.
After fitting out, Tennessee conducted trials in Long Island Sound from 15 to 23 October 1920. While Tennessee was at New York, one of her 300-kilowatt ship's-service generators blew up on 30 October, "completely destroying the turbine end of the machine" and injuring two men. Undaunted, the ship's force, navy yard craftsmen, and manufacturers' representatives labored to eliminate the "teething troubles" in Tennessee's engineering system and enabled the battleship to depart New York on 26 February 1921 for standardization trials at Guantanamo. She next steamed north for the Virginia Capes and arrived at Hampton Roads on 19 March. Tennessee carried out gunnery calibration firing at Dahlgren, Va., and was drydocked at Boston before full-power trials off Rockland, Maine. After touching at New York, she steamed south; transited the Panama Canal; and, on 17 June, arrived at San Pedro, Calif., her home port for the next 19 years.
Here, she joined the Battleship Force, Pacific Fleet. In 1922, the Pacific Fleet was redesignated the Battle Fleet (renamed the Battle Force in 1931), United States Fleet. For the next two decades, the battleship divisions of the Battle Fleet were to include the preponderance of the Navy's surface warship strength; and Tennessee was to serve here until World War II.
Peacetime service with the battleship divisions involved an annual cycle of training, maintenance, and readiness exercises. Her yearly schedule included competitions in gunnery and engineering performance and an annual fleet problem, a large- scale war game in which most or all of the United States Fleet was organized into opposing forces and presented with a variety of strategic and tactical situations to resolve. Beginning with Fleet Problem I in 1923 and continuing through Fleet Problem XXI in April 1940, Tennessee had a prominent share in these battle exercises. Yet her individual proficiency was not neglected. During the competitive year 1922 and 1923, she made the highest aggregate score in the list of record practices fired by her guns of various caliber and won the "E" for excellence in gunnery. In 1923 and 1924, she again won the gunnery "E" as well as the prized Battle Efficiency Pennant for the highest combined total score in gunnery and engineering competition. During 1925, she took part in joint Army-Navy maneuvers to test the defenses of Hawaii before visiting Australia and New Zealand. Subsequent fleet problems and tactical exercises took Tennessee from Hawaii to the Caribbean and Atlantic and from Alaskan waters to Panama.
Fleet Problem XXI was conducted in Hawaiian waters during the spring of 1940. At the end of this problem, the battleship force did not return to San Pedro; but, at President Roosevelt's direction, its base of operations was shifted to Pearl Harbor in the hope that this move might deter Japanese expansion in the Far East. Following an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard after the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI, Tennessee arrived at her new base on 12 August 1940. Due to the increasing deterioration of the world situation, Fleet Problem XXII- scheduled for the spring of 1941-was canceled; and Tennessee's activities during these final months of peace were confined to smaller scale operations.
On the morning of 7 December 1941, Tennessee was moored starboard side to a pair of masonry "mooring quays" on Battleship Row, the name given to a line if these deep water berths located along the southeast side of Ford Island. West Virginia (BB-48) was berthed alongside to port. Just ahead of Tennessee was Maryland (BB-46), with Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard. Arizona (BB-39), moored directly astern of Tennessee, was undergoing a period of upkeep from the repair ship Vestal (AR- 4), berthed alongside her. The three "nests" were spaced about 75 feet apart.
At about 0755, Japanese carrier planes began their attack. As the first bombs fell on Ford Island, Tennessee went to general quarters and closed her watertight doors. In about five minutes, her antiaircraft guns were manned and firing. Sortie orders were received, and the battleship's engineers began to get steam up. However, this quickly became academic as Oklahoma and West Virginia took crippling torpedo hits. Oklahoma capsized to port and sank, bottom up. West Virginia began to list heavily, but timely counterflooding righted her. She, nevertheless, also settled on the bottom but did so on an even keel. Tennessee, though her guns were firing and her engines operational, could not move. The sinking West Virginia had wedged her against the two massive concrete quays to which she was moored, and worse was soon to come.
As the Japanese torpedo bombers launched their weapons against Battleship Row, dive bombers were simultaneously coming in from above. Strafing fighters were attacking the ships' antiaircraft batteries and control positions as high-level horizontal bombers dropped heavy battleship-caliber projectiles modified to serve as armor-piercing bombs. Several bombs struck Arizona; and, at about 0820, one of them penetrated her protective deck and exploded in a magazine detonating black-powder saluting charges which, in turn, set off the surrounding smokeless-powder magazines. A shattering explosion demolished Arizona's foreport, and fuel oil from her ruptured tanks was ignited and began to spread. The torpedo hits on West Virginia had also released burning oil, and Tennessee's stern and port quarter were soon surrounded by flames and dense black smoke. At about 0830, horizontal bombers scored two hits on Tennessee. One bomb carried away the after mainyard before passing through the catapult on top of Turret III, the elevated after turret, breaking up as it partially penetrated the armored turret top. Large fragments of the bomb case did some damage inside the turret and put one of its three 14-inch guns out of operation. Instead of exploding, the bomb filler ignited and burned, setting an intense fire which was quickly extinguished.
The second bomb struck the barrel of the center gun of Turret II, the forward "high" turret, and exploded. The center gun was knocked out of action, and bomb fragments sprayed Tennessee's forward superstructure. Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion, the commanding officer of West Virginia, had stepped out on to the starboard wing of his ship's bridge only to be mortally wounded by one of these fragments.
While her physical hurts were relatively minor, Tennessee was still seriously threatened by oil fires raging around her stern. when Arizona's magazines erupted, Tennessee's after decks were showered with burning oil and debris which started fires that were encouraged by the heat of the flaming fuel. Numerous blazes had to be fought on the after portion of the main deck and in the officers' quarters on the deck below. Shipboard burning was brought under control by 1030, but oil flowing from the tanks of the adjacent ships continued to flame.
By the evening of 7 December, the worst was over. Oil was still blazing around Arizona and West Virginia and continued to threaten Tennessee for two more days while she was still imprisoned by the obstacles around her. Although her bridge and foremast had been damaged by bomb splinters, her machinery was in full commission; and no serious injury had been done to ship or gunnery controls. Ten of her 12 14-inch guns and all of her secondary and antiaircraft guns were intact. By comparison with most of the battleships around her, Tennessee was relatively unscathed.
The first order of business was now to get Tennessee out of her berth. Just forward of her, Maryland -- similarly wedged into her berth when Oklahoma rolled over and sank -- was released and moved away on 9 December. The forwardmost of Tennessee's two concrete mooring quays was next demolished-- a delicate task since the ship's hull was resting against it -- and had been cleared away by 16 December. Tennessee carefully crept ahead, past Oklahoma's sunken hull, and moored at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.
Temporary repairs were quickly made. From Turret III to the stern on both sides of the ship, Tennessee's hull gave mute evidence of the inferno that she had survived. Every piece of hull plating above the waterline was buckled and warped by heat; seams had been opened and rivets loosened. These seams had to be rewelded and rivets reset, and a considerable amount of recaulking was needed to make hull and weather decks watertight. The damaged top of Turret III received a temporary armor patch.
On 20 December, Tennessee departed Pearl Harbor with Pennsylvania (BB-38) and Maryland -both superficially damaged in the Japanese attack-and a screen of four destroyers. From the moment the ships put to sea, nervous lookouts repeatedly sounded submarine alarms, making the voyage something more than uneventful. Nearing the west coast, Pennsylvania headed for Mare Island while Maryland and Tennessee steamed north, arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 29 December 1941, and commenced permanent repairs.
Working around the clock during the first two months of 1942, shipyard craftsmen repaired Tennessee's after hull plating and replaced electrical wiring ruined by heat. To allow her antiaircraft guns a freer field of fire, her tall cage mainmast was replaced by a tower similar to that later installed in Colorado (BB-46) and Maryland. An air-search radar was installed; fire-control radars were fitted to Tennessee's main- battery and 5-inch antiaircraft gun directors. Her three-inch and .50-caliber antiaircraft guns were replaced by 1.1-inch and 20-millimeter automatic shell guns, and her 5-inch antiaircraft guns were protected by splinter shields. Fourteen-inch Mark-4 turret guns were replaced by improved Mark-11 models. Other modifications improved the battleship's habitability.
On 26 February 1942, Tennessee departed Puget Sound with Maryland and Colorado. Upon arriving at San Francisco, she began a period of intensive training operations with Rear Admiral William S. Pye's Task Force 1, made up of the Pacific Fleet's available battleships and a screen of destroyers.
However, her role in the war was not to be in the line of battle for which she had trained for two decades. Most of the great battles of the conflict were not conventional surface-ship actions, but long-range duels between fast carrier striking forces. Fleet carriers, with their screening cruisers and destroyers, could maintain relatively high force speeds; and a new generation of fast battleships-beginning with the North Carolina (BB-55)-class and continuing into the South Dakota (BB- 57)-and IOWA (BB-61)-classes-were coming into the fleet and were to prove their worth in action with the fast carrier force. But the older battleships-Tennessee and her kin-simply could not keep up with the carriers. Thus, while the air groups dueled for the approaches to Port Moresby and the Japanese naval offensive reached its zenith in the waters west of Midway, the battleship force found itself steaming restlessly on the sidelines.
On 31 May, Admiral Pye sent two of his battleships to search for a Japanese carrier erroneously reported approaching the California coast. reports of the battle of Midway came in, and Pye sortied from San Francisco on 6 June with the rest of his battleships and destroyers and the escort carrier Long Island (AVG-1). The battleship force steamed to an area some 1,200 miles west of San Francisco and about the same distance northeast of Hawaii in the expectation that part of the Japanese fleet might attempt an "end run" raid on our Pacific coast. On 14 June, after it had become clear that Admiral Yamamoto's fleet-reeling from its loss of four carriers 10 days before-had returned to Japanese waters, Pye ordered his force back to San Francisco.
On 1 August, Tennessee again sailed from an Francisco with Task Force 1. After a week of exercises the battleships joined Hornet (CV-8)-on her way to the South Pacific to support the Guadalcanal operation -and escorted the carrier as far as Hawaii. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on the 14th, Tennessee returned to Puget Sound on the 27th for modernization. California, Tennessee's sister ship, had been sunk. in shallow water during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Refloated, and her hull temporarily patched, she returned to Puget Sound in June for permanent repairs which included a thorough modernization. It was decided to include Tennessee in this program as well.
By the time Tennessee emerged from the navy yard on 7 May 1943, she bore virtually no resemblance to her former self. Deep new blisters increased the depth of her side protection against torpedoes by eight feet-three inches on each side, gradually tapering toward bow and stern. Internal compartmentation was rearranged and improved. The most striking innovation was made in the battleship's superstructure. The heavy armored conning tower, from which Tennessee would have been controlled in a surface gunnery action, was removed, as were masts, stacks, and other superstructure. A new, compact, superstructure was designed to provide essential ship and gunnery control facilities while offering as little interference as possible to the fields of fire of the ship's increasingly essential anti- aircraft guns. A low tower foremast supported a main-battery director and bridge spaces; boiler uptakes were trunked into a single fat funnel which was faired into the after side of the foremast. Just abaft the stack, a lower structure accommodated the after turret-gun director. Tennessee's old 5-inch battery, and combination of 5"/25 antiaircraft guns and 5"/51 single- purpose "anti-destroyer" guns, was replaced by eight 5"/38 twin mounts. Four new directors, arranged around the superstructure, could control these guns against air or surface targets. All of these directors were equipped with fire-control radars; antennas for surface- and air-search radars were mounted at the mastheads. Close-in antiaircraft defense was the function of 10 quadruple 40-millimeter gun mounts, each with its own optical director, and of 43 20-millimeter guns.
Thus revitalized, and her battleworthiness greatly increased, Tennessee ran trials in the Puget Sound area and, on 22 May 1943, sailed for San Pedro. The days of seeming purposelessness were over. Though the slow battleships were still incapable of serving with the carrier striking force, their heavy turret guns could still hit as hard as ever. Naval shore bombardment and gunfire support for troops ashore-then coming to be a specialty in its own right-was well suited for this the earlier generation of battleships which were also still quite usable for patrol duty in areas where fire-power was more important than speed. The refurbished Tennessee's first tour of duty combined both of these missions.
Tennessee departed San Pedro with the cruiser Portland (CA-33) on 31 May, bound for the North Pacific, and arrived at Adak, Alaska, on 9 June to begin patrol operations with Task Force 16, the North Pacific Force. During the Midway operation, the Japanese had occupied the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. Attu was recaptured in May 1943; but Kiska was still in hostile hands; and Japanese air and naval forces still operated in the Aleutians area from bases in the Kurile Islands. Tennessee plied back and forth through the legendary fogs and foul weather of the Aleutians, with her crew heavily bundled in Arctic clothing for protection against intense cold and freezing rain as her radars probed for some sign of the enemy. There was still much to be learned about radar and its pit-falls; on several occasions, convincing images on the radar screens sent patrolling forces to general quarters. During one patrol in July, radio messages reported a force of nine surface ships 160 miles away, steaming rapidly to intercept Tennessee and her consorts. Tension grew as the unknown enemy drew closer, and all hands intently prepared for their first action. The radar images were only 46 miles away, and Tennessee's crew were at battle stations when the enemy suddenly disappeared. Where the screens had been displaying what seemed to be a hostile squadron, there was nothing. The hostile fleet had been a mere electronic mirage. During this same period, another surface force fought a brief, but energetic, gunnery action with the same kind of electronic "ghost" force south of Kiska. Distant land masses had appeared on ships' early radar sets as ship contacts at much closer ranges.
At about noon on 1 August, Tennessee was out on what all thought another routine patrol when the word was passed to prepare to bombard Kiska. At 1310, she began a zigzag approach through the usual murk to the island with Idaho (BB-42) and three destroyers. As the water grew more shallow, the ship slowed down and streamed mine-cutting paravanes from her bows. Tennessee approached the island from the east, closing to a range from which she could open fire with her 5-inch secondary battery. Her two OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes were catapulted to observe fire; and, at 1610, the battleship commenced firing from 7,000 yards. Though the island's shoreline could be seen, the target area- antiaircraft gun sites on high ground-were shrouded in low- hanging clouds and were invisible from the ship. Tennessee's aerial spotters caught an occasional glimpse of the impact area and reported the ship's fire as striking home.
The task group continued along Kiska's southern coast. Tennessee's 14-inch guns chimed in at 1624, hitting the location of a submarine base and other areas with 60 rounds before firing ceased at 1645. Visibility had dropped to zero, and results could not be seen. The battleship recovered her floatplanes, and the force turned back toward Adak.
In the early morning hours of 15 August, Tennessee again approached Kiska as troops prepared to assault the island. At 0500, the ship's turret guns began to fire at coastal-battery sites on nearby Little Kiska as the 5-inch guns struck antiaircraft positions on that island. The 14-inch guns then shifted their fire to antiaircraft sites on the southern side of Kiska, while the secondary battery turned its attention to an artillery observation position on Little Kiska and set it on fire. The landing force then went ashore, only to discover that nobody was home.
After the loss of Attu, the Japanese, knowing that Kiska's turn would soon come, decided to save the island's garrison. A small surface force closed the island in dense fog and tight radio silence and, on 27 and 28 July 1948, succeeded in evacuating 6,188 troops from Kiska.
Arriving at San Francisco on 31 August, Tennessee began an intensive period of training and carried out battle exercises off the southern California coast before provisioning and shoving off for Hawaii. After a week's exercises in the Pearl Harbor operating area, the ship headed for the New Hebrides to rehearse for the invasion of the Gilberts.
The Japanese had occupied Betio on Christmas Day 1941. In nearly two years, with the help of conscripted Korean laborers, they had done a thorough job of digging themselves in. Americans still had a great deal to learn about pre-landing bombardment. Air attacks and naval gunfire damaged, but did not knock out, the beach defenses; and the landing marines met an intense fire from artillery, mortars, and machine guns. Casualties mounted rapidly, and the landing force asked for all possible fire support: At 1084, Tennessee's 14-inch and 5-inch guns reopened fire. The battleship continued to shoot until 1138, resuming fire at 1224 and firing until a ceasefire order was issued at 1300. The desperately contested struggle went on until dark, with close support being provided by destroyers which closed the beach to fire their 5-inch guns at short range and by waves of carrier planes which bombed and strafed. To reduce the chance of submarine or air attack, Tennessee and Colorado withdrew for the night to an area south-west of Betio and returned to their fire-support area the next morning to provide antiaircraft protection for the transports and to await a call for gunfire.
The battleships retired to their night area again at dusk. By this time, the battle for the island, its outcome uncertain for the first day and one-half of fighting, had taken a definite turn for the better. By 1600, the Marine commander ashore, Colonel David Shoup, could radio back that "we are winning." Tennessee was back in position south of Betio on the morning of the 22d. At 0907, she began to deliver call fire on Japanese defenses at the eastern tip of Betio, dropping 70 rounds of 14- inch and 322 rounds of 5-inch ammunition on gun positions in 17 minutes of shooting.
During the afternoon, the screening destroyers Frazier (DD-607) and Meade (DD-602) made a sonar contact. Depth charging drove I- 35, a Japanese long-range submarine, to the surface. Her position was hopeless, but the enemy crew scrambled to man the undersea boat's single 5.5-inch deck gun as Tennessee's secondary guns joined Frazier and Meade in hurling 5-inch projectiles. Tennessee swung clear as Frazier rammed the submarine; four minutes later, I-35 went to the bottom.
Betio was secured by the afternoon of 23 November. Tennessee operated in the general area of Tarawa and Abemama atolls, alert for possible counterattacks by air or sea. At dusk on 3 December, Tennessee departed the area for Pearl Harbor and, on the 16th, headed for the United States with Colorado and Maryland. On arrival at San Francisco, four days before Christmas, she was quickly repainted in a "dazzle" camouflage scheme designed to confuse enemy observers. On 29 December, Tennessee be an intensive bombardment practice, pounding San Clemente Island in rehearsal for the invasion of the Marshall Islands.