Complete history of the Wee Vee
The second West Virginia (Battleship No. 48) was laid down on 12 April 1920 by the Newport News Shipbuilding
and Drydock Co. of Newport News, Va.; reclassified to BB-48 on 17 July 1920; launched on 17 November 1921;
sponsored by Miss Alice Wrigh t Mann, daughter of Isaac T. Mann, a prominent West Virginian; and
commissioned on 1 December 1923, Capt. Thomas J. Senn in command.
The most recent of the "super-dreadnoughts," West Virginia embodied the latest knowledge of naval architecture;
the water-tight compartmentation of her hull and her armor protection marked an advance over the design of
battleships built or on the d rawing boards before the Battle of Jutland.
In the months that followed, West Virginia ran her trials and shakedown and underwent post-commissioning
alterations. 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. Overhauling the troublesome gear thoroughly
while in Hampton Roads,
West Virginia put to sea on the morning of 16 June 1924. At 1010, while the battleship was steaming in the center of
Lynnhaven Channel, the quartermaster at the wheel reported that the rudder indicator would not answer. The
ringing of the emergency bell to the steering motor room produced no response; Capt. Senn quickly ordered all
engines stopped, but the engine room telegraph would not answer-it was later discovered that there was no power to
the engine room telegraph or the steering telegraph.
The captain then resorted to sending orders down to main control via the voice tube from the bridge. He ordered full
speed head on the port engine; all stop on the starboard. Efforts continued apace over the ensuing moments to steer
the ship with her engi nes and keep her in the channel and, when this failed, to check headway from the edge of the
channel. Unfortunately, all efforts failed; and, as the ship lost headway due to an engine casualty, West Virginia
grounded on the soft mud bottom. Fortuna tely, as Comdr. (later Admiral) Harold R: Stark, the executive officer,
reported: ". . . not the slightest damage to the hull had been sustained."
The court of inquiry, investigating the grounding, found that inaccurate and misleading navigational data had been
supplied the ship. The legends on the charts provided were found to have indicated uniformly greater channel width
than actually existed. Th e findings of the court thus exonerated Capt. Senn and the navigator from any blame.
After repairs had been effected, West Virginia became flagship for the Commander, Battleship Divisions, Battle
Fleet, on 30 October 1924, thus beginning her service as an integral part of the "backbone of the fleet"-as the
battleships were regarded . She soon proved her worth under a succession of commanding officers-most of whom
later attained flag rank. In 1926, for example, under Capt. A. J. Hepburn, the comparative newcomer to battleship
ranks scored first in competitive short range target pract ices. During Hepburn's tour, West Virginia garnered two
trophies for attaining the highest merit in the category.
The ship later won the American Defense Cup presented by the American Defense Society to the battleship
obtaining the highest merit with all guns in short-range firing-and the Spokane Cup, presented by that city's
Chamber of Commerce in recognition of the battleship's scoring the highest merit with all guns at short range. In
1925, West Virginia won the Battle Efficiency Pennant for battleships-the first time that the ship had won the
coveted "Meatball." She won it again in 1927, 1992, and 1933.
During this period; West Virginia underwent a cycle of training, maintenance, and readiness exercises, taking part
in engineering and gunnery competitions and the annual large-scale exercises, or "Fleet Problems." In the latter
the Fleet would be d ivided up into opposing sides, and a strategic or tactical situation would be played out, with the
lessons learned becoming part and parcel of the development of doctrine that would later be tested in the crucible of
During 1926, the battleship took part in the joint Army-Navy maneuvers to test the defenses of the Hawaiian
Islands and then cruised with the Fleet to Australia and New Zealand. In fleet exercises subsequent to the 1926
cruise, West Virginia ranged from Hawaii to the Caribbean and the Atlantic, and from Alaskan waters to Panama.
In order to keep pace with technological developments in ordnance, gunnery, and fire control-as well as engineering
and aviation-the ship underwent modifications designed to increase the ship's capacity to perform her designed
function. Some of the altera tions effected included the replacement of her initial 3-inch antiaircraft battery with
5-inch/25-caliber dual-purpose guns; the addition of platforms for .50-caliber machine guns at the foremast and
maintop; and the addition of catapults on her quarterde ck, aft, and on her number III, or "high" turret.
In the closing years of the decade of the 1930's, however, it was becoming evident to many that it was only a matter
of time before the United States became involved in yet another war on a grand scale. The United States Fleet thus
came to be considered a grand deterrent to the country's most probable enemy Japan. This reasoning produced the
hurried despatch of the Fleet to Pacific waters in the spring of 1939 and the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian
waters in 1940, following the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI in April.
As the year 1941 progressed, West Virginia carried out a schedule of intensive training, basing on Pearl Harbor and
operating in various task forces and groups in the Hawaiian operating area. This routine continued even through the
unusually tense period that began in late November and extended into the next month. Such at-sea periods were
usually followed by in-port upkeep, with the battleships mooring to masonry "quays" along the southeast shores of
Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor.
On Sunday, 7, December 1941, West Virginia lay moored outboard of Tennessee (BB-43) at berth F-6 with 40 feet
of water beneath her keel. Shortly before 0800, Japanese planes, flying from a six-carrier task force, commenced
their well-planned attack on the Fleet at Pearl Harbor. West Virginia took five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes in her port
side and two bomb hits those bombs being 15-inch armor-piercing shells fitted with fins. The first bomb penetrated
the superstructure deck, wreckin g the port casemates and causing that deck to collapse to the level of the galley
Four casemates and the galley caught fire immediately, with the subsequent detonation of the ready-service
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 4-inch
turret roof, wrecking one gun in the turret itself. Although the bomb proved a dud, burning gasoline from the
damaged aircraft caused some damage.
The torpedoes, though, ripped into the ship's port side; only prompt action by Lt. Claude V. Ricketts, the assistant
fire control officer who had some knowledge of damage control techniques, saved the ship from the fate that befell
Oklahoma (BB-37) moored ahead. She, too, took torpedo hits that flooded the ship and caused her to capsize.
Instances of heroic conduct on board the heavily damaged battleship proliferated in the heat of battle. The ship's
commanding officer, Capt. 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 "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 tenacious ly 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, Capt. Bennion was aw arded a Medal of Honor, posthumously.
West Virginia was abandoned, settling to the harbor bottom on an even keel, her fires fought from on board by a
party that volunteered to return to the ship after the first abandonment. By the afternoon of the following day, 8
December, the flames had been extinguished. The garbage lighter, YG-17, played an important role in assisting
those efforts during the Pearl Harbor attack, remaining in position alongside despite the danger posed by exploding
ammunition on board the battleship.
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 seven torpedo hits.
During the ensuing repairs, workers located 70 bodies of West Virginia sailors who had been trapped below when
the ship sank. In one compartment, a calendar was found, the last scratch-off date being 23 December. The task
confronting the nucleus cr ew and shipyard workers was a monumental one, so great was the damage on the
battleship's port side. Ultimately, however, West Virginia departed Pearl Harbor for the west coast and a complete
rebuilding at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wa sh.
Emerging from the extensive modernization, the battleship that had risen, Phoenix-like, 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 thr ee-tier fire-control tops, as well as the two funnels, the open-mount 5-inch/25's
and the casemates with the single-purpose 5-inch/51's. A streamlined superstructure now gave the ship a totally new
silhouette; dual-purpose 5-inch/38-caliber guns, in gunho uses, gave the ship a potent antiaircraft battery. In
addition, 40-millimeter Bofors and 20-millimeter Oerlikon batteries studded the decks, giving the ship a heavy
"punch" for dealing with close-in enemy planes.
West Virginia remained at Puget Sound until early July 1944. Loading ammunition on the 2d, the battleship got
underway soon thereafter to conduct her sea trials out of Port Townsend, Wash. She ran a full power trial on the
6th, continuing her worki ng-up until the 12th. Subsequently returning to Puget Sound for last- minute repairs, the
battleship headed for San Pedro 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 Hawaiian
Islands on 14 September. Escorted by two destroyers, she made landfall on Oahu on the 23d. Ultimately pushing on
for Manus, in the A dmiralties, 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 Ruddock shifted his flag from Maryland (BB-46) to the "Wee Vee" as Commander, BatDiv 4.
Underway on I2. October to participate in the invasion of the Philippine Islands, West Virginia sailed as part of
Task Group (TG) 77.2, under the overall command of Rear admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. On 18 October, the battle
line passed into Leyte G ulf, West Virginia steaming astern of California (BB-44).
At 1645, California cut loose a 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 ste amed into her assigned station in San Pedro Bay at 0700 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
On the 19th, West Virginia's gunners sent 278 16-inch and 1,586 5-inch shells against Japanese installations,
silencing enemy artillery and supporting the UDT (underwater demolition teams) preparing the beaches for the
assault that came on the 20th . 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 the 21st, 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. Meanwhi le, 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 fle et.
Four carriers and two "hermaphrodite" battleship-carriers (Ise and Hyuga) sailed toward the Philippine Sea from
Japanese home waters; a small surface force under Admiral Shima headed for the Sulu Sea; two striking forces
consisting of battle ships, cruisers, and destroyers sortied from Lingga Roads, Sumatra, before separating north of
Borneo. The larger of those two groups, commanded by Admiral Kurita, passed north of the island of Palawan to
transit the Sibuyan Sea.
American submarines Darter (SS-247) and Dace (SS-227) drew first blood in what would become known as the
Battle for Leyte Gulf on 29 October when they sank, respectively, two of Kurita's cruisers, Maya and Atago.
Undeterred, Ku rita continued the transit, his force built around the giant battleship Musashi.
The smaller of the two forces, under Admiral 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 p incer 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. The American men-of-war
steamed along their assigned courses, their bows cleaving through the smoo th sea.
At 2236 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 0300 on the 25 th, Nishimura took up battle formation when five American destroyers launched a
well-planned torpedo attack. Caught in the spread of torpedoes, the battleship FUSO took hits and dropped out of
the formation; other spreads of "fish" dispatched a pair of Ja panese destroyers and crippled a third.
Fuso's sistership Yamashiro, meanwhile, had taken one hit and was slowed down, only to be hit again within 15
minutes' time. Fuso herself, apparently ravaged by fires ignited by the torpedo hits, blew up with a tremendous
explosion at 0338.
West Virginia meanwhile, was maintaining her position ahead of Maryland, Mississippi (BB-41), Tennessee,
California, and Pennsylvania (BB-38)-four of these ships, like West Virginia, veterans of Pearl Harbo r. From 0021
on the 25th, the battleship had picked up reports on the PT boat and destroyer attacks; finally at 0316, West
Virginia's radar picked up Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yards. She tracked them as they approached in
the pitch bla ck night.
At 0352, West Virginia unleashed her 16-inch main battery; she fired 16 salvoes in the direction of Nishimura's
ships as Oldendorf crossed the Japanese "T" and thus achieved the tactical mastery of a situation that almost
every surface admiral drea ms of. At 0413, 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 a veraging 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 the 29th,
departed the Philippines for Ulithi, in company with Tennessee and Maryland. Subsequently heading for Espiritu
Santo, in t he 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.
The "Wee Vee" returned to the Philippines, via Manus, on 26 November, resuming her patrols in Leyte Gulf and
serving as part of the antiaircraft screen for the transports and amphibious ships. At 1139 on the 27th, West
Virginia's antiaircraft guns splashed a suicider and assisted in downing others while on duty the next day.
Rear Admiral Ruddock shifted back on board on the 30th, West Virginia maintaining her operations off Leyte until
2 December, when the battleship headed for the Palaus. The battlewagon was then made the flagship for the newly
formed TG 77.12 and pro ceeded 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 the 13th 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 the 19th. 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 Gul f 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 saw evi dence of that when a twin-engined "Frances" crashed the escort carrier Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) at
1712 on the 4th. Fires and explosions ultimately forced the "jeep carrier's" abandonment, her survivors being
picked up by other ships in the scre en. 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 a ir 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
Suiciders, 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-in addition to the Ommaney Bay sailors on board- soon took on board another group of survivors
from yet another ship: the men from the high-speed minesweeper Hovey (DMS-11) which had been sunk by a
Japanese torped o on the 6th. 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 rifles again hammered
Japanese positions ashore at San Fab ian on the 8th and 9th, 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 the 10th, 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 Vi rginia 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 mach ine gun positions and warehouses. During that time, the
ship expended 395 16-inch shells and over 2,800 5-inch projectiles. Underway again at 0707 on the 21st, West
Virginia commenced call-fire support duties at 0815, operating in readiness for coo peration with the 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, bo und 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 th e highest priority. The ship completed loading some 300 tons of stores by 0400 on the 17th. At 0730
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 "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
7th Fleet such a short time before.
West Virginia sighted Iwo Jima at a range of 82 miles at 0907 on 19 February. As she drew nearer, she saw several
ships bombarding the isle from all sides and the initial landings taking place. At 1125, she received her operations
orders, via dispa tch boat and, 20 minutes later, proceeded to her fire support station off the volcanic sand beaches.
At 1245, her big guns bellowed to lend support to the marines ashore-gun positions, revetments, blockhouses,
tanks, vehicles, caves and supply dumps-all c ame under her heavy guns. On 21 February, the ship returned and, at
0800, commenced her support duties afresh.
Her 16-inch 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 the 22d, a small-caliber shell hit
the battleship near turret II, w ounding one enlisted man. That same day, another significant event occurred
ashore-marines 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 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 from shore, opened fire wit h her secondary (5-inch) 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 batte ries. 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.
Joining TF 64 for the invasion of the Okinawa Gunto area, West Virginia sailed on 21 March, reaching her
objective four days later on the 25th. In fire support section one, West Virginia spent the ensuing days softening up
Okinawa for the Am erican landings slated to commence on 1 April. At 1029 on 26 March, lookouts reported a gun
flash from shore, followed by a splash in the water some 6,000 yards off the port bow. Firing her first salvoes of the
operation, West Virginia let fly 28 r ounds of 16- inch gunfire against the pugnacious Japanese batteries.
The following day, the "Wee Vee" fought against enemy air opposition, taking a "Frances" under fire at 0520. The
twin-engined bomber crashed off the battleship's port quarter-the victim of West Virginia's anti-aircraft guns. Over
the days that foll owed, enemy opposition continued in the form of suicide attacks by Japanese planes. Mines, too,
began making themselves felt; one sank the minesweeper Skylark (AM-68), 3,000 yards off West Virginia's port
bow at 0930 on the 28th.
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 0680, the battleshi p headed for her assigned zone off the Okinawa beaches. While en route, though, at 0455, 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 away. Four more
enemy planes passed within her vicinity soon thereafter-West Virginia claimed one of them.
Finally, at 0630, 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 off the beaches, could see the craft heading
shoreward like hundreds of tadpoles; at 0842, 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 la y to offshore, awaiting further orders. At 1903, however, an enemy plane brought the war down on West
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 super structure 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-reporting her damage as repairable by ship's force-carried on, rendering night illumination fire to the
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 a "Val" on the 6th.
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 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, 8
April, 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-any 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 w ith reports of ships under attack and damaged-Zellars (DD-777), Tennessee, Salt
Lake City (CA-24), Stanley (DD-478)-and others, all victims of the "divine wind," or kamikaze. Her shore
bombardments elicited nothin g but praise from those enjoying the benefits of the ship's firing; one spotter reported
happily on 14 April: "You're shooting perfectly, you could shoot no better, no change, no change," and, "Your
shooting is strictly marvelous. I cannot express just ho w good it is." She delivered sterling support fire for the 6th
Marines upon that occasion; later, she continued in that fine tradition for the 10th Army and the XXIVth Army
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 of Colorado's (BB-45) suffering damage when a powder charge
exploded while she w as loading powder at Kerama Retto. Returning to Hagushi beach, West Virginia fired night
harassment and interdiction fire for the 10th 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 en route 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. There were highlights of the tour-on 1 June, she sent her
spotting plane aloft to locate a troublesome enemy blockhouse reportedly h olding 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 suppo rt 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 Marines 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 re cover 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 l oading ammunition, West Virginia commenced training in the Philippine area, an activity she carried
out through the end of July.
Sailing on 3 August for Okinawa, West Virginia reached Buckner Bay on the 6th, the same day that the first atomic
bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb obliterated the greater part of the city
of Nagasaki. Those two events hastened Japan's collapse. On 10 August, at 2115, West Virginia picked up a
garbled report on radio that the Japanese government had agreed to surrender under the terms of the Potsdam
Declaration, provided that they could keep the Emper or as their ruler. The American ships in Buckner Bay soon
commenced celebrating-the indiscriminate use of antiaircraft fire and pyrotechnics (not only from the naval vessels
in the bay but from marines and Army troops ashore) endangering friendly planes. Such celebrations, however,
proved premature-at 2004 on 12 August, West Virginia sailors felt a heavy underwater explosion; soon thereafter,
at 2058, the battleship intercepted a radio dispatch from Pennsylvania (BB-38) reporting that she ha d been
torpedoed. West Virginia sent over a whaleboat at 0023 on the 13th with pumps for the damaged Pennsylvania.
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 the 24th 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
Missouri (BB-63) to play at the ceremonies.
West Virginia played her part in the occupation, remaining in Tokyo Bay into September of 1945, weathering a
storm on the 15th that had winds clocked at 65 knots at one point. On 14 September, she received on board 270
passengers for transportation to the west coast of the United States. She got underway at midnight on the 20th
bound for Okinawa as part of TG 30.4. Shifting to Buckner Bay on the 23d, the battleship sailed for Pearl Harbor
soon thereafter, reaching her destination on 4 October.
There, the crew painted ship and kept on board only those passengers slated for transportation to San Diego, Calif.
Bound for that port on the 9th, West Virginia moored at the Navy Pier at San Diego at 1328 on 22 October. Two
days later, Rear Admir al I. C. Sowell hauled down his flag as Commander, BatDiv 4.
On Navy Day-27 October-25,554 visitors (more the next day) came on board the ship. Three days later, on the
30th, she got underway for Hawaiian waters to take her place as part of the "Magic Carpet" operation 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, Calif .
After making yet another run between the west coast and Hawaii, West Virginia reached San Pedro Calif., on 17
December. There, she spent Christmas debarking her third draft of passengers. The veteran battlewagon
upped-anchor on 4 January 1946 and s ailed for Bremerton, Wash. She reached her destination on the 12th and
commenced inactivation soon thereafter, shifting to Seattle, Wash., on the 16th, where she moored alongside
West Virginia entered her final stages of inactivation in the latter part of February 1946 and was decommissioned
on 9 January 1947 and placed in reserve, as part of the Pacific Reserve Fleet. She never again received the call to
active duty, remai ning inactive until struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1959. On 24 August 1959, she was sold
for scrapping to the Union Minerals and Alloys Corp. of New York City.
West Virginia (BB-48), although heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor and missing much of the war, nevertheless
earned five battle stars.
Akagi was the queen of Japanese flattops, the flagship of First Air Fleet. A conversion from a battlecruiser hull (much like her contemporaries, the U.S. Lexington-class carriers), she still possessed the lean lines of her original design. She was scuppered at Midway.
It's the holidays again so have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
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