World War II: USS Colorado (BB-45)

USS Colorado (BB-45) during World War II
USS Colorado (BB-45) fires on Okinawa, March 29, 1945. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Colorado (BB-45) was the lead ship of the US Navy's Colorado-class of battleships (USS Colorado, USS Maryland, and USS West Virginia). Constructed by New York Shipbuilding Corporation (Camden, NJ), the battleship entered service in 1923. The Colorado-class was the the first class of American battleship to mount 16-inch guns as a main battery. With the US entry into World War II, Colorado saw service in the Pacific Theater. Initially helping to defend the West Coast, it later took part in the Allies' island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. The battleship was decommissioned following the war and sold for scrap in 1959.


The fifth and final class of Standard-type battleship (Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Tennessee-classes) designed for the US Navy, the Colorado-class was an evolution of its predecessors. Devised prior to the building of the Nevada-class, the Standard-type concept called for vessels that had similar operational and tactical traits. This would allow all battleship units in the fleet to operate together without concern for issues of speed and turning radius. As the Standard-type ships were intended to be the backbone of the fleet, earlier dreadnought classes ranging from the South Carolina- to the New York-classes were increasingly moved to secondary duties.

Among the characteristics found in the Standard-type battleships were the use of oil-fired boilers instead of coal and the employment of an “all or nothing” armor arrangement. This protection scheme called for important areas of the battleship, such as magazines and engineering, to be heavily protected while less critical spaces were left unarmored. It also saw the armored deck in each ship raised a level so that its edge was in line with the main armor belt. In terms of performance, Standard-type battleships were to possess a tactical turn radius of 700 yards or less and a minimum top speed of 21 knots. 


Though largely identical to the preceding Tennessee-class, the Colorado-class instead carried eight 16" guns in four twin turrets as opposed to the earlier ships which mounted twelve 14" guns in four triple turrets. The US Navy had been discussing the use of 16" guns for several years and following successful tests of the weapon, debate ensued regarding their use on the earlier Standard-type designs. This did not occur due to the cost involved in altering these designs and increasing their tonnage to accommodate the new guns. 

Battleship USS Colorado at sea with black smoke coming from funnels.
USS Colorado (BB-45) steaming at high speed in 1923, probably during sea trials.  US Naval History and Heritage Command

In 1917, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels finally authorized the use of 16" guns on the condition that the new class not incorporate any other major design changes. The Colorado-class also mounted a secondary battery of twelve to fourteen 5" guns and an anti-aircraft armament of four 3" guns. 

As with the Tennessee-class, the Colorado-class utilized eight oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers supported by a turbo-electric transmission for propulsion. This type of transmission was preferred as it allowed the vessel's turbines to operate at optimum speed regardless of how fast the ship's four propellers were turning. This led to an increase in fuel efficiency and improved the ship's overall range. It also permitted a greater subdivision of the vessel's machinery which enhanced its ability to withstand torpedo strikes.


The lead ship of the class, USS Colorado (BB-45) commenced construction at New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, NJ on May 29, 1919. Work progressed on the hull and on March 22, 1921, it slid down the ways with Ruth Melville, daughter of Colorado Senator Samuel D. Nicholson, serving as sponsor. Following another two years of work, Colorado reached completion and entered commission on August 30, 1923, with Captain Reginald R. Belknap in command. Finishing its initial shakedown, the new battleship conducted a European cruise which saw it visit Portsmouth, Cherbourg, Villefranche, Naples, and Gibraltar before returning to New York on February 15, 1924.

USS Colorado (BB-45)


  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, NJ
  • Laid Down: May 29, 1919
  • Launched: March 22, 1921
  • Commissioned: August 20, 1923
  • Fate: Sold for scrap

Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 32,600 tons
  • Length: 624 ft., 3 in.
  • Beam: 97 ft., 6 in.
  • Draft: 38 ft.
  • Propulsion: Turbo-electric transmission turning 4 propellers
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Complement: 1,080 men

Armament (as built)

  • 8 × 16 in. gun (4 × 2)
  • 12 × 5 in. guns
  • 8 × 3 in. guns
  • 2 × 21 in. torpedo tubes

Interwar Years

Undergoing routine repairs, Colorado received orders to sail for the West Coast on July 11. Reaching San Francisco in mid-September, the battleship joined the Battle Fleet. Operating with this force for the next several years, Colorado engaged in a goodwill cruise to Australia and New Zealand in 1925. Two years later, the battleship ran aground on Diamond Shoals off Cape Hatteras. Held in place for a day, it was eventually refloated with minimal damage.

Battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) at anchor.
USS Colorado (BB-45), 1930s. US Naval History and Heritage Command

A year later, it entered the yard for enhancements to its anti-aircraft armament. This saw the removal of the original 3" guns and the installation of eight 5" guns. Resuming peacetime activities in the Pacific, Colorado periodically shifted to the Caribbean for exercises and aided the victims of an earthquake in Long Beach, CA in 1933. Four years later, it embarked a contingent of NROTC students from the University of Washington and the University of California-Berkeley for a summer training cruise.

While operating off Hawaii, the cruise was interrupted when Colorado was ordered assist in search efforts following the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Arriving in the Phoenix Islands, the battleship launched scout planes but could not locate the famed pilot. Arriving in Hawaiian waters for Fleet Exercise XXI in April 1940, Colorado remained in the area until June 25, 1941 when it departed for Puget Sound Navy Yard. Entering the yard for a major overhaul, it was there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7.

World War II

Returning to active operations on March 31, 1942, Colorado steamed south and later joined USS Maryland (BB-46) to aid in the defense of the West Coast. Training through the summer, the battleship shifted to Fiji and the New Hebrides in November. Operating in this vicinity until September 1943, Colorado then returned to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. Sailing in November, it made its combat debut by providing fire support for the landings on Tarawa. After aiding troops ashore, Colorado traveled to the West Coast for a brief overhaul.

Looking aft on battleship USS Colorado with 16 inch guns firing.
USS Colorado (BB-45) fring its aft 16 inch guns, during preparations for the Tarawa invasion, late November 1943.  US Naval History and Heritage Command

Island Hopping

Arriving back in Hawaii in January 1944, it sailed for the Marshall Islands on the 22nd. Reaching Kwajalein, Colorado pounded Japanese positions ashore and aided in the invasion of the island before fulfilling a similar role off Eniwetok. Overhauled at Puget Sound that spring, Colorado departed on May 5 and joined Allied forces in preparing for the Marianas Campaign. Beginning on June 14, the battleship commenced striking targets on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.

Supporting the landings on Tinian on July 24, Colorado sustained 22 hits from Japanese shore batteries which killed 44 of the ship's crew. Despite this damage, the battleship continued to operate against the enemy until August 3. Departing, it underwent repairs on the West Coast before rejoining the fleet for operations against Leyte. Arriving in the Philippines on November 20, Colorado provided naval gunfire support for Allied troops ashore. On November 27, the battleship took two kamikaze hits which killed 19 and wounded 72. Though damaged, Colorado struck targets on Mindoro in early December before withdrawing to Manus for repairs.

With the completion of this work, Colorado steamed north to cover the landings in Lingayen Gulf, Luzon on January 1, 1945. Friendly fire struck the battleship's superstructure nine days later killing 18 and injuring 51. Colorado retired to Ulithi next saw action in late March as it hit targets on Okinawa prior to the Allied invasion.

Battleship USS Colorado passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.
USS Colorado (BB-45) arrives at San Francisco, CA, on October 25, 1945, following the end of World War II.  US Naval History and Heritage Command

Holding a position offshore, it continued to attack Japanese targets on the island until May 22 when it departed for Leyte Gulf. Returning to Okinawa on August 6, Colorado moved north later in the month following the end of hostilities. After covering the landing of occupation forces at Atsugi Airfield near Tokyo, it sailed for San Francisco. Following a brief visit, Colorado moved north to participate in Navy Day festivities at Seattle. 

Final Actions

Ordered to take part in Operation Magic Carpet, Colorado made three voyages to Pearl Harbor to transport American servicemen home. In the course of these trips, 6,357 men returned to the United States aboard the battleship. Colorado then moved to Puget Sound and left commission on January 7, 1947. Retained in reserve for twelve years, it was sold for scrap on July 23, 1959.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Colorado (BB-45)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 28). World War II: USS Colorado (BB-45). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS Colorado (BB-45)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).