USS Tenessee BB-43


South Carolina

(BB-43: displacement 33,190; length 624'; beam 97'3"; draft 31'; speed 21 knots; complement 1,401; armament 12 14-inch guns, 14 6-inch guns, 4 3-inch AA guns, 2 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Tennessee)

The fifth Tennessee (BB-43) 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 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 significantly enhanced compared to 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 distinguished by two heavy cage masts supporting large fire control tops. This feature distinguished the "Big Five" from the rest of the battleship force until World War II. Tennessee's 14-inch turret guns could be elevated to 30 degrees, allowing an additional range of 10,000 yards, a significant advantage as battleships began to carry airplanes for long-range gunfire spotting.

After fitting out, Tennessee conducted trials in Long Island Sound from 15 to 23 October 1920. While at New York, one of her 300-kilowatt ship's service generators exploded on 30 October, injuring two men. The ship and yard crews worked diligently to rectify the engineering issues, enabling Tennessee to depart New York on 26 February 1921 for trials at Guantanamo. She then moved north to Hampton Roads on 19 March, conducted gunnery calibration at Dahlgren, Virginia, and underwent drydocking in Boston. After full-power trials off Rockland, Maine, and a stop in New York, she transited the Panama Canal, arriving at San Pedro, California, her home port for the next 19 years, on 17 June.

Here, she joined the Battleship Force, Pacific Fleet. In 1922, this fleet was redesignated the Battle Fleet (later renamed the Battle Force in 1931), United States Fleet. For the next two decades, Tennessee served here until World War II.

Tennessee's peacetime service involved annual training, maintenance, and readiness exercises. Her schedule included gunnery and engineering competitions and annual fleet problems, large-scale war games engaging most or all of the United States Fleet in strategic and tactical situations. From Fleet Problem I in 1923 to Fleet Problem XXI in April 1940, Tennessee actively participated in these exercises. Her proficiency was demonstrated by winning the "E" for excellence in gunnery in the competitive years 1922 and 1923, and the Battle Efficiency Pennant in 1923 and 1924. In 1925, she participated in joint Army-Navy maneuvers in Hawaii and then traveled to Australia and New Zealand. Subsequent fleet problems and exercises took Tennessee from Hawaii to the Caribbean and Atlantic, and from Alaskan waters to Panama.

Fleet Problem XXI in spring 1940 was conducted in Hawaiian waters. At its conclusion, rather than returning to San Pedro, the battleship force was shifted to Pearl Harbor at President Roosevelt's direction, hoping to deter Japanese expansion in the Far East. Following an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Tennessee arrived at Pearl Harbor on 12 August 1940. With the worsening global situation, Fleet Problem XXII, scheduled for spring 1941, was cancelled; Tennessee's activities were limited to smaller scale operations.

On the morning of 7 December 1941, Tennessee was moored on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, alongside West Virginia (BB-48). At about 0755, Japanese carrier planes began their attack. Tennessee went to general quarters, manned her anti-aircraft guns, and prepared to sortie. However, torpedo hits on Oklahoma and West Virginia trapped Tennessee in her berth. During the attack, Tennessee sustained bomb hits, one on the after mainyard and another on the barrel of a gun turret. Despite minor physical damage, Tennessee was threatened by oil fires from adjacent ships. The fires on Tennessee were brought under control by 1030, but she remained trapped for two more days.

The first priority post-attack was to free Tennessee from her berth. Demolishing the mooring quays and carefully navigating past Oklahoma's sunken hull, Tennessee moved to the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard on 16 December.

Temporary repairs were made, including rewelding and recaulking hull and weather deck seams, and patching Turret III's damaged top. Tennessee departed Pearl Harbor with Pennsylvania (BB-38) and Maryland on 20 December, arriving at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 29 December 1941 for permanent repairs.

During early 1942, Tennessee's after hull plating and electrical wiring were repaired, her cage mainmast was replaced by a tower, and fire control radars were installed. Her anti-aircraft armament was also upgraded. She departed Puget Sound with Maryland and Colorado on 25 February 1942, arriving in San Francisco for intensive training with Rear Admiral William S. Pye's Task Force 1.

Tennessee's role in the war shifted from conventional surface battles to naval shore bombardment and gunfire support for troops, as well as patrol duty in areas where firepower was more important than speed. In June 1943, after undergoing modernization at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, she appeared virtually transformed. New features included deep blisters for torpedo protection, rearranged internal compartmentation, a compact superstructure, and upgraded armaments, including 5"/38 twin mounts, quadruple 40-millimeter gun mounts, and 20-millimeter guns.

After training and rehearsals, Tennessee departed San Pedro on 31 May 1943 for patrol operations in the North Pacific with Task Force 16, the North Pacific Force. She participated in patrols and bombardments in the Aleutian Islands, including Kiska, during June and July 1943.

Tennessee then supported the invasions of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, including Betio in November 1943 and Kwajalein in January 1944. During these operations, Tennessee provided intense fire support, demonstrating the effectiveness of battleship gunfire in support of amphibious assaults.

In February 1944, Tennessee participated in the capture of Eniwetok Atoll, providing bombardment support and responding to requests for illumination and fire support from ground troops. The successful capture of Eniwetok demonstrated the value of pre-landing bombardment and the role of older battleships in providing fire support for amphibious operations.

After her significant contributions in the Marshall Islands Campaign in early 1944, USS Tennessee (BB-43) continued to play a vital role in several key operations in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In the Mariana and Palau Islands campaign, including the pivotal Battle of Saipan in June 1944, Tennessee provided crucial gunfire support, aiding the invasion and suppression of enemy defenses. Her firepower also supported the successful assaults on Tinian and Guam.

During the Philippines Campaign from 1944 to 1945, Tennessee was instrumental in the liberation of the Philippines, bombarding Leyte in October 1944 to support General Douglas MacArthur's historic return. She was part of the Battle of Surigao Strait, a component of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was one of the last battleship-versus-battleship actions in naval history and a decisive victory for the Allies.

In 1945, Tennessee's guns supported the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, proving essential in softening up defenses before the landings and providing direct fire support to troops ashore. As World War II drew to a close, Tennessee continued her active engagement, including bombarding the Japanese home islands in July 1945, just before the war's end.

After Japan's surrender, Tennessee participated in Operation Magic Carpet, the extensive operation to return American servicemen from the Pacific. She was later moved to the Atlantic Fleet and placed in reserve in February 1947. Tennessee was decommissioned on 14 February 1947, remaining in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet until being struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 March 1959. Her journey concluded when she was sold for scrap on 10 July 1959.