Battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) in World War II

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) during operations at sea, in the 1920s.

U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain 

Entering service in 1917, USS Mississippi (BB-41) was the second ship of the New Mexico-class. After seeing brief service in World War I, the battleship later spent the majority of its career in the Pacific. During World War II, Mississippi took part in the US Navy's island-hopping campaign across the Pacific and repeatedly clashed with Japanese forces. Retained for several years after the war, the battleship found a second life as a test platform for the US Navy's early missile systems.

A New Approach

After designing and building five classes of dreadnought battleships (South Carolina-, Delaware-, Florida-, Wyoming-, and New York- classes), the US Navy decided that future designs should make use of a set of standardized tactical and operational characteristics. This would permit these ships to operate together in combat and would simplify logistics. Dubbed the Standard-type, the next five classes were powered by oil-fired boilers instead of coal, eliminated amidships turrets, and possessed an “all or nothing” armor scheme.

Among these changes, the shift to oil was made with the goal of increasing the vessel’s range as the US Navy felt that this would be critical in any future naval conflict with Japan. As a result, Standard-type ships were capable of cruising 8,000 nautical miles at an economical speed. The new "all or nothing" armor scheme called for key areas of the vessel, such as magazines and engineering, to be heavily armored while less important spaces were left unprotected. Also, Standard-type battleships were to be capable of a minimum top speed of 21 knots and have a tactical turn radius of 700 yards.


The characteristics of the Standard-type were first used in the Nevada- and Pennsylvania-classes. As a follow-on to the latter, the New Mexico-class at first was envisioned as the US Navy's first class to mount 16" guns. A new weapon, the 16"/45 caliber gun had been successfully tested in 1914. Heavier than the 14" guns used on previous classes, employment of the 16" gun would require a vessel with a larger displacement. This would significantly increase construction costs. Due to extended debates over designs and anticipated rising costs, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels decided to forgo using the new guns and instructed that the new type replicate the Pennsylvania-class with only minor changes.

As a result, the three vessels of the New Mexico-class, USS New Mexico (BB-40), USS Mississippi (BB-41), and USS Idaho (BB-42), each carried a main armament of twelve 14" guns placed in four triple turrets. These were supported by a secondary battery of fourteen 5" guns which were mounted in enclosed casemates in the vessel's superstructure. Additional armament came in the form of four 3" guns and two Mark 8 21" torpedo tubes. While New Mexico received an experimental turbo-electric transmission as part of its power plant, the other two vessels used more traditional geared turbines.


Assigned to Newport News Shipbuilding, the construction of Mississippi commenced on April 5, 1915. Work moved forward over the next twenty-one months and on January 25, 1917, the new battleship entered the water with Camelle McBeath, daughter of the Chairman of the Mississippi State Highway Commission, serving as sponsor. As work continued, the United States became embroiled in World War I. Finished late that year, Mississippi entered commission on December 18, 1917, with Captain Joseph L. Jayne in command.

USS Mississippi (BB-41) Overview

Basic Facts

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding
  • Laid Down: April 5, 1915
  • Launched: January 25, 1917
  • Commissioned: December 18, 1917
  • Fate: Sold for scrap

Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 32,000 tons
  • Length: 624 ft.
  • Beam: 97.4 ft.
  • Draft: 30 ft.
  • Propulsion: Geared turbines turning 4 propellers
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Complement: 1,081 men


  • 12 × 14 in. gun (4 × 3)
  • 14 × 5 in. guns
  • 2 × 21 in. torpedo tubes

World War I & Early Service

Finishing its shakedown cruise, Mississippi conducted exercises along the Virginia coast in early 1918. It then shifted south to Cuban waters for further training. Steaming back to Hampton Roads in April, the battleship was retained on the East Coast during the final months of World War I. With the end of the conflict, it moved through winter exercises in the Caribbean before receiving orders to join the Pacific Fleet at San Pedro, CA. Departing in July 1919, Mississippi spent the next four years operating along the West Coast. In 1923, it took part in a demonstration during which it sank USS Iowa (BB-4). The following year, tragedy struck Mississippi when on June 12 an explosion occurred in Turret Number 2 which killed 48 of the battleship's crew.

Interwar Years

Repaired, Mississippi sailed with several American battleships in April for war games off Hawaii followed by a goodwill cruise to New Zealand and Australia. Ordered east in 1931, the battleship entered the Norfolk Navy Yard on March 30 for an extensive modernization. This saw alterations to the battleship's superstructure and changes to the secondary armament. Completed in mid-1933, Mississippi resumed active duty and began training exercises. In October 1934, it returned to San Pedro and rejoined the Pacific Fleet. Mississippi continued to serve in the Pacific until mid-1941.

Directed to sail for Norfolk, Mississippi arrived there on June 16 and prepared for service with the Neutrality Patrol. Operating in the North Atlantic, the battleship also escorted American convoys to Iceland. Safely reaching Iceland in late September, Mississippi stayed in the vicinity for most of the fall. There when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7 and the United States entered World War II, it promptly departed for the West Coast and reached San Francisco on January 22, 1942. Tasked with training and protecting convoys, the battleship also had its anti-aircraft defenses enhanced.

To the Pacific

Employed in this duty for the early part of 1942, Mississippi then escorted convoys to Fiji in December and operated in the southwest Pacific. Returning to Pearl Harbor in March 1943, the battleship commenced training for operations in the Aleutian Islands. Steaming north in May, Mississippi participated in the bombardment of Kiska on July 22 and aided in compelling the Japanese to evacuate. With the successful conclusion of the campaign, it underwent a brief overhaul at San Francisco before joining forces bound for the Gilbert Islands. Supporting American troops during the Battle of Makin on November 20, Mississippi sustained a turret explosion that killed 43 people.

Island Hopping

Undergoing repairs, Mississippi returned to action in January 1944 when it provided fire support for the invasion of Kwajalein. A month later, it bombarded Taroa and Wotje before striking Kavieng, New Ireland on March 15. Ordered to Puget Sound that summer, Mississippi had its 5" battery expanded. Sailing for the Palaus, it aided in the Battle of Peleliu in September. After replenishing at Manus, Mississippi moved to the Philippines where it bombarded Leyte on October 19. Five nights later, it took part in the victory over the Japanese at the Battle of Surigao Strait. In the fighting, it joined five Pearl Harbor veterans in sinking two enemy battleships as well as a heavy cruiser. During the action, Mississippi fired the final salvos by a battleship against other heavy warships.

Philippines & Okinawa

Continuing to support operations in the Philippines through late fall, Mississippi then moved to take part in the landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. Steaming into the gulf on January 6, 1945, it pounded Japanese shore positions prior to the Allied landings. Remaining offshore, it sustained a kamikaze hit near the waterline but continued to strike targets until February 10. Ordered back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Mississippi remained out of action until May.

Arriving off Okinawa on May 6, it commenced firing on Japanese positions including Shuri Castle. Continuing to support Allied forces ashore, Mississippi took another kamikaze hit on June 5. This struck the ship's starboard side, but did not force it to retire. The battleship stayed off Okinawa bombarding targets until June 16. With the end of the war in August, Mississippi steamed north to Japan and was present in Tokyo Bay on September 2 when the Japanese surrendered aboard USS Missouri (BB-63).

Later Career         

Departing for the United States on September 6, Mississippi ultimately arrived at Norfolk on November 27. Once there, it underwent conversion into an auxiliary ship with the designation AG-128. Operating from Norfolk, the old battleship conducted gunnery tests and served as a test platform for new missile systems. It remained active in this role until 1956. On September 17, Mississippi was decommissioned at Norfolk. When plans to convert the battleship into a museum fell through, the US Navy elected to sell it for scrap to Bethlehem Steel on November 28.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) in World War II." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) in World War II. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) in World War II." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).