USS Tennessee Battleship

The USS Tennessee was the third ship in the U.S. Navy to be named after the 16th state to enter the union. Launched on April 30, 1919, and sponsored by Miss Helen Lenore Roberts, daughter of Tennessee governor Albert H. Roberts, the battleship was commissioned into the Navy on June 3, 1920. The ship was built in the “post-Jutland” hull design, giving it more hull protection. It had heavy masts and a large fire-control top, and along with the other few “Tennessee-class” ships, it was considered to be in the “Big Five” of the pre-WWII battleships.

While the USS Tennessee was conducting trials in New York City on October 30, 1920, one of its generators exploded, completely destroying the turbine end of the machine and injuring two sailors. After repairs, the battleship ran trials in Guantanamo Bay and Virginia and transited the Panama Canal. On June 19, 1921, it sailed to San Pedro, California, its home base for the next 19 years.

As part of Battle Fleet, the USS Tennessee partook in a series of fleet problems and gunnery and engineering competitions and joint Army-Navy maneuvers over the next twenty years. After an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington State, the battleship was sent to its new base at Pearl Harbor on August 12, 1940.

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the USS Tennessee was moored at Battleship Row. The battleship was able to open fire on the enemy planes, but was struck by two bombs which entered turrets 2 and 3 and made all the ship’s guns inoperable. In addition, when the magazine of the neighboring USS Arizona exploded, burning debris flew onto the USS Tennessee and destroyed its entire stern. The battleship found itself stuck between the sunken USS West Virginia and two mooring quays and was freed ten days later and sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for repairs.

After repairs and modernization, which included fire control radars, the USS Tennessee headed to San Francisco in February 1942 for intensive training with Task Force 1. It again returned to Puget Sound in August for modernization, and by the time it reemerged on May 7, 1943, it had been completely overhauled and bore no resemblance to its earlier self. It was rebuilt, like the USS West Virginia and USS California, to resemble the South Dakota-class battleships and was fully-loaded with the latest anti-aircraft machinery and guns.

In 1943, the USS Tennessee fought in the Aleutian Islands, as well as in the Battle of Tarawa, where it helped to sink the Japanese submarine, I-35. After an intense rehearsal bombardment session in December, the battleship joined the invasion of the Marshall Islands on January 31, 1944, where it helped ground forces destroy Japanese shore batteries and ammunition dumps. In February, the USS Tennessee headed to the Bismarck Archipelago and attacked ships operating near Rabaul, a crucial operating base for the Japanese.

On June 10, 1944, during Operation Forager in the Mariana Islands, the USS Tennessee lost eight men and sustained considerable damage to its deck and hull when Japanese field guns opened fire. Still the ship managed to send a call for help before heading out for emergency repairs. In the early evening, four Japanese dive bombers attacked the USS Tennessee and send premature words to Tokyo, saying they had managed to sink the battleship. The supposedly “sunken” USS Tennessee returned to the Saipan Channel in the morning and lent supporting fire as the U.S. Marine Corp tried to organize and consolidate its beach troops.

After a quick repair, the battleship next headed to Guam on June 22, 1944, where it succeeded in taking the island. The USS Tennessee scored decisive wins at the important Battles of Leyte and of Surigao Strait, in which it fought alongside four other battleships that had been resurrected from the Pearl Harbor bombing to sink the Japanese battleship Yamashiro. The Battle of Surigao Strait was the last battle fought by line-of-battleships and was considered by many to be the U.S. Navy’s retaliation for Pearl Harbor. On October 29, 1944, the USS Tennessee headed to the Puget Sound Naval Yard for repairs.

By February 1945, the ship was again newly born and ready for battle. It fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, suffering 22 casualties in Iwo Jima. The ship served in post-war efforts in Japanese waters and then headed back to the U.S., where it was moored at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. Decommissioned on February 14, 1947, the USS Tennessee remained in the inactive fleet for another twelve years. On March 1, 1959, the battleship was taken off the Naval Vessel Registrar and sold on July 10 to the Bethlehem Steel Company for scrapping.


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