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USS Tennessee (BB-43)

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.
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Laid down:14 May 1917
Launched:30 April 1919
Commissioned:3 June 1920
Fate:sold for scrap
Struck:1 March 1959
General Characteristics
Displacement:33,190 tons
Length:624 feet
Beam:97.3 feet
Draft:31 feet
Speed:21 knots
Complement:some officers, 1,401 men
Armament:12 14-inch guns, 14 five-inch guns, four three-inch anti-aircraft guns, two 21-inch torpedo tubes
USS Tennessee (BB-43), the lead ship of her class of battleship, was the third ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the 16th state. Her keel was laid down on 14 May 1917 at the New York Navy Yard. She was launched on 30 April 1919 sponsored by Miss Helen Lenore Roberts, daughter of the governor of Tennessee and commissioned on 3 June 1920 with Captain 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 only 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 October to 23 October 1920. While Tennessee was at New York City, 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 Bay. She next steamed north for the Virginia Capes and arrived at Hampton Roads on 19 March. Tennessee carried out gunnery calibration firing at Dahlgren, Virginia, 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, California, 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 of the United States Franklin 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 USS Vestal (AR-4), berthed alongside her. The three "nests" were spaced about 75 feet apart.

At about 0755, Japanese carrier planes began their attack on Pearl Harbor. 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 counter-flooding 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. Captain 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. Maryland, just forward of her and 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, California, 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 class and continuing into the South Dakota and Iowa 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 1200 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 Isoroku Yamamoto's fleet -- reeling from its loss of four carriers ten days before -- had returned to Japanese waters, Pye ordered his force back to San Francisco.

On 1 August, Tennessee again sailed from San 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 14 August, 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.

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5