The USS California was the fifth naval battleship to be named after the 31st state of the union. Sponsored by Miss R.T. Zane, daughter of California governor William D. Stephens, the ship was launched on November 20, 1919, and commissioned on August 10, 1921, as the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, a position it held for 20 years. It participated in joint Army-Navy exercises and twice won the Battle Efficiency Pennant (in 1921 and 1922) for stellar performance.
In late 1929, the USS California was modernized, with an upgraded anti-aircraft battery and an addition of eight 5’’/25 cal guns. In the 1930s, the ship, along with all 14 battleships of the US Navy, was stationed in San Pedro California and ran many exercise missions which took it along the West Coast, to the Panama Canal, Cuba, Hawaii and even to New York City for the 1939 World Fair. During these years, the USS California many times won the coveted Iron Man Trophy, an excellence award administered by the U.S. Navy.
Due to growing concerns about potential war with the Japanese, the USS California, along with many other battleships, was reassigned to Hawaiian waters in May 1940. On the fateful day of December 7, 1941, the battleship was moored with its compatriots on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, when it was struck by two torpedoes and a 551-lb bomb, which set off an ammunition magazine on the second deck and killed 50 men. Before the attack, the USS California had been preparing for a material inspection, which comprised its watertight integrity and led to extensive flooding damage when the torpedoes hit. The bomb blasts caused fires aboard the ship, which then had to be abandoned. After days of burning fires and flooding, the USS California sank into the mud, with only its superstructure above water. 100 crew members had died and 62 had been injured.
In March of 1942, the battleship was raised and a few months later was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington State for repairs and further modernization. The battery was again upgraded with the newest technology and the 5’’/25 cal guns were replaced with 5’’/38 cal guns. In May 1944, the USS California participated in the invasion of the Marianas and in June was hit by a battery shell from an enemy ship, which killed one man and wounded nine. On August 24, the ship was sent to Espiritu Santu to repair damage done to its bow during an accidental collision with the USS Tennesesee.
On September 17, the battleship sailed to Manus, in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines, and from October to November it played a vital role in the Battle of Leyte, in which four U.S. battleships (all of which had been attacked at Pearl Harbor), destroyed a Japanese fleet in the last naval engagement fought by line-of-battleships. On January 6, 1945, the USS California was hit by a kamikaze while bombarding the shore at Lingayen Gulf. 44 crew members were killed and 155 wounded, but still, after some quick temporary repairs, the ship continued undeterred in its bombardment mission. In February, the ship returned to Puget Sound for crucial repairs and by June departed again for battle, this time to Okinawa to join Task Force 95. After Okinawa, the USS California sailed to Honshu, Japan’s largest island, to help sustain American occupation forces there.
After several months more of service in Japanese waters, the battleship sailed to Pennsylvania, arriving on December 7, 1945. On August 7, 1946, it was placed on reserved commission, and then on out of commission reserve on February 14, 1947. 12 years later, on July 10, 1959, the USS California, which had received 7 battle stars for World War II service, was sold for scrapping to the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation of Maryland.