LAST OF THE Dreadnoughts

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1 LAST OF THE Dreadnoughts USS TEXAS (BB-35) ~ nns Hull #147 ~ INTRODUCTION ~ The term dreadnought symbolized early twentieth century battleships which featured an 'all-big-gun' armament scheme and dreaded nothing. Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) constructed two battleships of this type. The first was one of the earliest dreadnoughts; the DELAWARE (BB-28); NNS Hull #86; delivered in The other was the TEXAS (BB-35); NNS Hull #147; shown above on her high speed trial run off the coast of Maine before delivery in The latter of these two dreadnoughts became the most famous of all the fourteen battleships built at Newport News. Now a memorial ship berthed at the San Jacinto Battleground in her namesake state, TEXAS is the last surviving U.S. Navy battleship that fought in both world wars. When BB-35 was commissioned, she was hailed as the most powerful naval weapon in the world. Even today, her century-old design is impressive, albeit modernized several times over the span of her 32 years of active duty service.

2 ~ THE ORIGINAL DESIGN ~ Congress authorized the construction of two battleships in June They were to be the first U.S. Navy battleships to be fitted with 14-inch guns. Their design was dominated by the concept of providing a potent broadside of firepower. Ten 14-inch naval rifles were fitted in five turrets; all positioned on the vessel s centerline and capable of firing to either side with unusually clear fields of fire for warships of that era. Each of her ten 14- inch guns could hurl a 3/4-quarter-ton shell twelve-plus miles. As designed, BB-35 measured 565 feet long, with a beam of almost 95 feet. Before the contract for her construction was issued, a major change to the ship's design was implemented. Because of a concern with the fuel efficiency and reliability of early 20 th century steam turbines, triple expansion reciprocating engines were substituted for the steam turbines originally specified for the ship s main propulsion. This change included a reduction in the number of main propulsion engines and propellers from four to two. These were the largest reciprocating engines ever installed in an American warship. Because of the relatively low steam pressure (295 psig) which her boilers produced, each engine s dual low pressure cylinders measured almost seven feet in diameter. The pistons travel (stroke) was four feet. To generate the 30,000 SHP needed to meet her designated speed of 21 knots; fourteen coal-fired boilers were required. At a design displacement of 27,000 tons, this multiple boiler installation resulted in BB-35 and her sister ship becoming the largest coal-fired vessels in the fleet. In addition to her main battery of 14-inch guns, TEXAS was originally designed and built to accommodate a secondary armament of twenty-one 5-inch guns; housed in casemates integral with her hull. She also had four 21-inch torpedo tubes that fired underwater from compartments near her bow. Storage space was also provided for a dozen torpedoes. Her initial complement numbered 1,072 officers and enlisted men. TEXAS not only introduced the concept of all-electric galleys to the fleet, she also was the first U.S. Navy battlewagon to have a laundry installed. 2

3 ~ CONSTRUCTION ~ NNS bid of $5,830,000 (excluding armor and armament) was the lowest offer tendered to the Navy to build BB-35. The total cost to the Navy for a fully equipped ship was roughly double that amount, when all the government-furnished items, such as her armament were included. A construction contract was signed on December 17, 1910 and the Navy s plans were delivered to the Newport News shipyard just seven days later. Assigned NNS Hull #147, the keel for BB-35 was laid in mid-april, 1911, on one of the yard s sliding shipways. Her all-riveted construction progressed rapidly, and by late spring of the next year she was being prepared for launching. The following image clearly shows her starboard side underwater torpedo tube hull openings, ram-like bow and wooden sheathing on her mid-body where armor plating furnished by the government was fitted after she became waterborne. TEXAS was christened on May 18, 1912 by Miss Claudia Lyon, daughter of the Republican national committeeman from Texas. Towed to the yard s south side following launching, it was over a year before the battleship was ready for her sea trials. The Navy s acceptance trials took place off the coast of Maine in late October, 1913, where she ran the Navy s measured mile course. There TEXAS made her highest speed ever; knots, which was 6% above the contractually-specified minimum. Returning to the Newport News shipyard for finishing touches, she was delivered to the Navy and commissioned on March 12,

4 ~ THIRTY-TWO YEARS OF NAVAL SERVICE ~ NOTE: The detailed service record of the USS TEXAS (BB-35) is lengthy. What follows is a brief synopsis of the highlights of her thirty-two years of active duty. For more information, see: In May of 1914, trouble in the Western Hemisphere kept the nation s newest battleship from making a normal shakedown cruise. Instead, TEXAS was immediately assigned to the Atlantic Special Service Squadron and steamed to Vera Cruz to support an American temporary occupation of that Mexican city. Regular operations with the Atlantic Fleet began in mid-year and continued until January In May of 1915, she participated in the rescue of 230 passengers from an ocean liner that had collided with another vessel off Nantucket Island. BB-35 was supposed to deploy to England at the beginning of World War I, but she ran aground on Block Island in September Following repairs, she crossed the Atlantic the following January to join Britain s Grand Fleet in the North Sea, where she remained until the end the war. TEXAS service with the Grand Fleet consisted of convoy escort missions and occasional forays to reinforce British warships on blockade duty in the North Sea whenever German heavy naval units threatened. However, she never fulfilled her intended purpose; to engage and defeat enemy battleships. Two days after hostilities ended on November 11, 1918, she accompanied the Grand Fleet to meet the surrendering Imperial German Fleet. Shortly thereafter, BB-35 provided an escort for President Wilson s voyage to France to attend the Paris Peace Conference. TEXAS and other American battleships departed Brest on December 14th and arrived in America on Christmas Day, In March 1919, she became the first American battleship to launch an aircraft from an improvised platform affixed to one of her gun turrets. That summer, TEXAS was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet and made the first of what eventually totaled eighteen Panama Canal passages. TEXAS rejoined the Atlantic Fleet in mid In early 1925, she entered the Norfolk Navy Yard for an extensive overhaul and major modernization. Her distinctive cage masts were replaced with tripod masts, and she received the latest in fire control equipment, plus the first antiaircraft weapons installed in any American battleship. During that same overhaul period, her torpedo tubes were removed, along with some of her casemated secondary armament. A catapult for launching aircraft was added atop her #3 main gun turret. 4

5 Thicker side armor and anti-torpedo blisters were added below the waterline, which increased her beam by approximately twelve feet. Her increased beam allowed her to barely squeeze through the Panama Canal. Internally, the changes were equally extensive. Her original fourteen coal-fired boilers were replaced with six much larger oil-fired units and her coal bunkers replaced by fuel oil tanks. One fire room was eliminated, providing space for the installation of improved combat systems. Uptakes for her new boilers were terminated in a single funnel; replacing her original pair of stacks. The result of all these modifications transformed her outward appearance. In addition, these changes resulted in an increase in displacement to 34,000 tons and a corresponding slight decrease in her top speed. That major overhaul required 25 months to complete. Afterwards, TEXAS operations alternated between the Atlantic and the Pacific. In 1931, her base of operations was shifted to California. For the next six years, she served as a fleet and division flagship during regular U.S. Fleet exercises and often participated in national celebrations. She returned to the Atlantic side of the United States in 1937 for service that would last until late in When Europe became involved in another world war in September 1939, she joined other Atlantic Squadron ships in maintaining a Neutrality Patrol. That same year, TEXAS received the first radar unit to be installed in a battleship. Her patrol duties became increasingly warlike when the U.S. Navy began convoying western Atlantic shipping half-way across the Atlantic in After the attack on Pearl Harbor, TEXAS escorted convoys to Panama, West Africa and the British Isles. A change in mission took place in late 1942, when she provided heavy gunfire support during Operation Torch; the code name for the invasion of North Africa. Embarked in the battleship at the time was a young war correspondent. On the return voyage to America, he somehow managed to talk his way into being catapulted off TEXAS in one of the ship's spotter aircraft; once Norfolk was within flying distance. By doing so, he beat a rival correspondent aboard another battleship back to the United States and filed the first uncensored story published about the Operation Torch landings. That success launched the career of Walter Cronkite. 5

6 TEXAS continued her Atlantic convoy escort duties through 1943 and until mid At dawn on June 6, 1944, she was at the Normandy beachhead, supporting the D-Day landings. While the situation was still in doubt for the allies at Omaha Beach, TEXAS steamed parallel to the rocky shore only 3,000 yards off the beach and fired her main battery at point-blank range at the enemy; her 14-inch naval rifles lowered to a nearly horizontal position. Days later, allied troops moved inland, beyond the normal range of the battleship s naval rifles. When asked if he could provide long-range fire support, the captain of BB-35 ordered the vessel s starboard side anti-torpedo void to be temporarily flooded. The resultant list allowed the ship s 14-inch guns to be trained to port and raised past their maximum design elevation point. That enabled them to fire far enough further inland to help the ground troops advance. American ingenuity at work! Later that month, she participated in a bombardment of Cherbourg, France. There she was straddled by enemy large caliber coastal artillery fire. Sixty-five near misses were recorded. During this engagement, BB-35 was struck twice. The first shell hit her fire control tower, killing one sailor and wounding thirteen others. Those were the only casualties TEXAS crew ever suffered in combat. The second shell penetrated her port bow but failed to explode. The unexploded shell was later disarmed by a Navy bomb disposal officer and is currently on display aboard the ship. Her heavy guns were again active in August, this time in the Mediterranean Sea in support of allied landings in Southern France. After returning to the United States for a much-needed overhaul, TEXAS underwent a 36-day repair period during which time the barrels on her main battery were replaced. In addition, antiaircraft weaponry was added in every conceivable position possible on her weather decks. TEXAS then headed for the Pacific, passing through the Panama Canal and reached Hawaii in time to celebrate Christmas there. From Pearl Harbor she proceeded further westward, arriving in the Western Pacific war zone in February

7 In mid-february TEXAS commenced three days of around-the-clock pounding of the enemy defenses in preparation for the allied invasion of Iwo Jima. After troops stormed ashore, BB-35 switched roles and began delivering support fire upon individual request. She remained off Iwo Jima for almost a fortnight, supporting the Marines ashore and fighting off kamikaze attacks. In early March, 1945, TEXAS began preparing for the Okinawa operation. On the 26th of that month, she began six days of pre-landing bombardment. During this time period, the invasion fleet s bombardment group was harassed by several kamikaze raids, but TEXAS escaped damage during those attacks. For almost two months, TEXAS remained in Okinawan waters providing gunfire support for the troops ashore. In late May, BB-35 moved to the Philippines where forces were gathering for a planned invasion of the Japanese homeland. Still there when the war ended in August, she spent the next three months transporting veterans home. Returning to the Atlantic coast in February 1946, TEXAS was deactivated. For a time, she was tied up at her birthplace. TEXAS remained in inactive status until April 1948, when she was towed to the San Jacinto State Park in Texas and placed out of commission. Donated to the State of Texas, she became the first of several U.S. battleships to become floating museums. 7

8 ~ MEMORIAL SHIP PRESERVATION ~ The Battleship TEXAS Commission was established by the state legislature to care for the ship. For over sixty years, various state agencies and patriotic support groups, and especially The Battleship Texas Foundation have worked tirelessly to maintain this last remaining example of early 20th Century battleship design. One area of preservation includes the vessel s vintage engine room gauges that date back to the vessel s creation. In the early years of the twentieth century, the craftsmen of Newport News Shipbuilding manufactured almost everything that went into their well-built ships. Volunteers have given freely of their time and talents for decades. Many previously served in the Navy and quite a few were BB-35 crewmembers in World War II. Thanks to their efforts, the TEXAS is well-maintained and filled with exhibits of all kinds for the education and enjoyment of the visiting public. 8

9 But there was a grim chapter in her existence as a museum ship. Over time, the funding provided by the Commission was not up to the task of adequately maintaining the ship. The result was significant deteriorion, both internally and externally. By 1968, the illmaintained wooden sheathing on her main deck of the ship had rotted. Rainwater had leaked and pooled in various compartments, causing her to settle deep in her dredged berth. The solution at the time was to remove the wooden deck and replace it with concrete. When the concrete eventually cracked, leakage through the main deck resumed. Nevertheless, the ship s unique main engines were designated as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1975, and the entire ship was named a National Historic Landmark the next year. In 1983, the Texas State Legislature turned control of the ship over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. That Department s immediately hired naval architects to recommend appropriate preservation action. The architects determined that the ship needed to be dry docked for major hull repairs, along with other preservation work. After a five-year-long fund-raising campaign, $15 million was collected. On December 13, 1988, TEXAS was pulled with great difficulty from where she had settled into the accumulated silt of her berth by a small fleet of tugs, then towed to a shipyard in Galveston, Texas. There she underwent a 14-month refit to restore the ship to her 1945 condition, including replacing her main deck s wooden sheathing. In 1990 the ship returned to her berth at the San Jacinto Battlefield where repairs were completed and vintage anitaircraft guns were installed. TEXAS was reopened to the public on September, ; painted in the Measure 21 Blue Camouflage color scheme utilized during her last year of service in World War II. Still leaking in places, growing concern about her almost century-old hull s ability to resist serious flooding prompted a marine survey in The survey results indicated that her keel and main supporting internal structures were still sufficiently strong enough to support the weight of the ship in a proposed unique dry berth that would preclude the real risk of sinking, if moving her again for drydocking were attempted. 9

10 Plans are underway to permanently cradle the ship in a huge dry berth to be constructed at her current location. A state bond issue has been approved, and additional funding has been privately raised to make this plan a reality. Preliminary design work and a federally mandated environmental assessment, which is expected to take two years, are now underway. Actual construction of that multi-million dollar dry berth project is expected to commence in mid-2014, when the battleship TEXAS will mark it s centennial. Completion of the facility is contemplated by the summer of If all goes well, TEXAS will then become the first vessel of her size to be permanently dry-docked; thus insuring many more years of service as a museum ship. ~ OTHER NNS-BUILT SHIPS NAMED TEXAS ~ In addition to BB-35, three other vessels constructed at Newport News Shipbuilding have carried the proud name of the Lone Star State. A tanker of modest size named TEXAS (NNS Hull #82) was the first; completed in A nuclear-powered, guided missile cruiser, TEXAS (CGN-39), built as NNS Hull #606, was delivered to the Navy in She was one of the last warships to be launched from a sliding shipway at NNS. Most recently, the NNS-built, nuclear-powered submarine TEXAS (SSN-775) was commissioned on September 9, That ceremony took place in Galveston, Texas; just a few miles from the battleship s berth. Four days before the newest NNS-built warship named in honor of the state of Texas joined the fleet, a contigent of SSN- 775 crew members visited the museum ship TEXAS. In a somber ceremony held at dusk on the venerable vessel s bow, a wreath was placed in the water in remembrance of all those who sailed in harm s way and gave the ultimate sacrifice. 10

11 ~ POSTSCRIPT ~ Last of the Dreadnaughts is the last in a series of five stories about vintage vessels built by NNS in the early 20 th century that are known to be afloat and still being put to good use. There may be even more such vessels When she becomes one hundred years old in 2014, the battleship TEXAS will join four other NNS-built vessels that have attained that mark while remaining afloat and in service. Three of them, including TEXAS, still retain their original names. Hull #49 - the ferry BINGHAMTON - delivered in after 62 years of service, she became a floating restaurant in the Hudson River where she is today. Hull #84 - the tugboat BATH - delivered in still in service and currently operating in the Caribbean under her original name. Hull #114 - originally the cable ship JOSEPH HENRY, now named THALIS O. MILISSIOS - delivered in 1909, in service as a cable ship in Greece until fully restored in now serving as a floating museum near Athens. Hull #176 - originally the freighter MEDINA, now named DOULOS PHOS - delivered in 1914, converted to other purposes and escaped being scrapped four times - currently being renovated in Singapore to become a static display, celebrating her long life and service. And, as every Newport News shipbuilder knows, the Company s Hull #1, the tug DOROTHY, built 120 years ago and restored in 1976 is on permanent display in front of the company s main office building. Always good ships indeed! Bill Lee September

12 ~ A SHIPBUILDER S PILGRIMAGE ~ In 1975, while on a six months temporary assignment at Tenneco headquarters in Houston, I made my way one weekend to the nearby San Jacinto State Park. Once there, I clambered all over the TEXAS. I even found my way into one of her engine rooms which may or may not have been open to the public at that time. Dogging, but not padlocking hatches is no deterrent to a persistent shipbuilder! I regret to this day not taking a camera. Aside from being overwhelmed by the sheer size of one of the ship s main propulsion units, I noted a number of similarities with naval ship design of the 1970 s. Here s a few of photos I recently found on the Internet that represent some of what I saw in the basement. Readers who are not propulsion plant people are not expected to understand my interest and enthusiasm about such things Engine Room Gage Board Burner Face; Oil-Fired Boiler Electrical Distribution Center Engine Room Control Station 12

13 The ship s living, working and operational spaces were in better shape than her machinery spaces. I thoroughly enjoyed touring those areas. One that fascinated me was a casemate that still housed a 5-inch gun that once comprised TEXAS secondary battery. I had not seen this aspect of naval architecture before, except in photos and on drawings. I was amazed by the obvious limited arc of fire of this weapon. Before departing, I discovered that the date on her builder s plate (and also her ship s bell) is While she was essentially completed that year and underwent successful acceptance trials in October, for some unknown reason(s) her commissioning did not occur until March of the following year. I m guessing, based on personal experience that was probably due to some late physical changes the Navy insisted be incorporated, or the necessity to delay the ceremony so some now-long-forgotten VIP could attend. 13

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