Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Revenge Of The Battleships

On December 8, 1941, the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was a flurry of activity. The previous day’s attack by the Japanese had left more than 2400 dead, and nearly 1300 wounded. Eight battleships had been damaged in the attack, four of them resting on Pearl Harbor’s shallow bottom. Seven smaller warships were sunk or damaged and nearly 200 aircraft were destroyed. But still up and running was the naval base’s shipyard, power station, and maintenance sheds. These last had not even been on the attacking plane’s target lists, a mistake the Japanese would have cause to regret later. Despite the (even today) oft-repeated claim that the attack crippled the US fleet, all but two of the battleships would get a chance to shoot back later in the war.

The battleship USS Pennsylvania was in dry dock during the attack, but suffered relatively minor damage. After repairs, she helped re-take the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu from the Japanese, and then moved to the South Pacific campaign. Hit by a Japanese bomb on August 12, 1945, she was the last major US warship damaged in World War II. She was decommissioned in 1948 following her role in the Bikini Atoll atomic test in 1946.

The USS Maryland was also quickly repaired and fought in the South Pacific. She was damaged at Okinawa in April 1945, and was being repaired when the war ended. She was decommissioned in 1947.

The more heavily damaged USS Tennessee followed the Pennsylvania to Alaska, then the South Pacific, and was part of the US occupation forces in Japan following the war. She was decommissioned in 1947.

The USS Nevada was heavily damaged in the attack and intentionally beached. Following extensive repairs, she supported the 1944 Normandy invasion, and then returned to the Pacific, where she finished the war. She was decommissioned following the Bikini test.

The heavily damaged USS California required extensive repairs, but was back in action for the last year of the South Pacific campaign, then the occupation. She was decommissioned in 1947.

Also heavily damaged, USS West Virginia was repaired and sent back into action. She took part in the Battle of Surigao Strait, the last gun battle between battleships in world history, and Operation Magic Carpet, transporting wounded and discharged servicemen home to the US. She was decommissioned in 1947.

The USS Oklahoma took one of the worst beatings at Pearl Harbor; nearly 400 of her crew died and others were rescued only because shipyard personnel cut escape holes on her upturned bottom. She was subsequently righted (see photo above), but was judged too badly damaged to return to service. She was decommissioned in 1944.

Two battleships never left Pearl Harbor: the USS Utah and the USS Arizona. Both remain there to this day, both with memorial facilities nearby. Although it is commonly believed that one or both are still US Navy-commissioned vessels, both were decommissioned during the war.


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