Friday, December 7, 2018

Remembering Pearl Harbor - the USS Tennessee

Today is December 7th and at the time I am typing this 77 years ago, the first bombs from the Japanese aircraft would be landing in Pearl Harbor.  The Japanese intended it as a strike to keep the US Fleet bottled up for a while as they consolidated their gains in the Pacific.  They had hoped that they would find the US aircraft carriers but they were all out doing other things.  However, this post is about one of the ships that was involved in the attack.
The picture above is from the U.S. Navy Historical Center.  If you are looking for historical pictures of the U.S. Navy, it is a pretty good resource.  On the left is the USS Tennessee and on the right is the USS West Virginia and this picture was taken in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
The USS Tennessee was built at the New York Navy Yard.  She was a 32,000 ton battleship and was the lead ship of her class.  Her main armament consisted of 12 14" guns.  Her secondary armament was 14 5" guns.  She was commissioned in June of 1920 and spent her first year in the Atlantic.  After that, she was transferred to the Pacific where she served for 20 years.
She was moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940 on the rumblings of war in the Pacific.  On the morning of December 7th, 1941, she was moored to the inside of the USS West Virginia and received two bomb hits but little other damage.  Her commanding officer was killed when debris from a hit on the USS West Virginia hit him.  He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on that morning.  Fourteen days later after receiving temporary repairs at Pearl Harbor, she would find herself underway to Puget Sound for more extensive repairs.  After two months at Puget Sound, she would find herself underway again.  She was a participant in the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Guadalcanal.
In August of 1942, she would make her way to Puget Sound again.  This time for extensive modernization that included improved torpedo armor, changed superstructures, upgraded anti-aircraft guns and improved fire control.  This work was completed in May of 1943.
After these modifications were completed, she found herself heading to the Aleutian Islands where  she would support the campaign there.  After that, she was off to Tarawa.  In February of 1944, she would find herself on her way to the Bismarck Archipelago.  There she would be used to fire at Japanese positions.  She was used in the same role in the Marianas and Palau.
In October of 1944, she set course for the Leyte Gulf.  During the battle of Surigao Strait, the Tennessee and five of her sisters who were survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack participated in the last battleship battle ever.  At this time, the superiority of the US fire control radar gave them the edge.  They were able to start engaging the Japanese before they could respond.  When the battle was finished, six of the seven Japanese ships would find their way to the bottom including the battleship Yamashiro.
After a brief refit, the Tennessee would find herself in action off the coast of Iwo Jima, there she would be use as fire support.  At the battle of Okinawa, the Tennessee would find herself under attack by Kamikaze aircraft.  That only briefly delayed her mission.  Her final action was to act as support for the landing of troops on Japan.
On December 7, 1945, she would find herself at the Philadelphia Naval Yard awaiting her fate.  She was put in the mothball fleet just in case.  In February of 1947, she was taken out of commission.  She remained in the inactive fleet for another 12 years until she was scrapped in 1959.  Her ship's bell is on display in Huntsville, Tennessee.
For her service in World War II, she received 10 battle stars and a Naval Unit Citation.
A picture of her after her modernization.  Again from the Naval Historical Center.

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