World War II: USS Nevada (BB-36)

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USS Nevada (BB-36), 1916. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Nevada (BB-36) Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Fore River Shipbuilding Company
  • Laid Down: November 4, 1912
  • Launched: July 11, 1914
  • Commissioned: March 11, 1916
  • Fate: Sunk as target on July 31, 1948

Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 27,500 tons
  • Length: 583 ft.
  • Beam: 95 ft., 3 in.
  • Draft: 28 ft., 6 in.
  • Propulsion: Geared Curtis turbines turning 2 x propellers
  • Speed: 20.5 knots
  • Range: 9,206 miles at 10 knots
  • Complement: 864 men

Armament

Guns

  • 10 × 14 in. gun (2 × 3, 2 × 2 superfiring)
  • 21 × 5 in. guns
  • 2 or 4 × 21 in. torpedo tubes

Aircraft

  • 3 x aircraft

Design & Construction

Authorized by Congress on March 4, 1911, the contract for constructing USS Nevada (BB-36) was issued to the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, MA. Laid down on November 4 of the following year, the battleship’s design was revolutionary for the US Navy as it incorporated several key characteristics that would become standard on future ships of the type. Among these was the inclusion of oil-fired boilers instead of coal, the elimination of amidships turrets, and the use of an “all or nothing” armor scheme. These features became sufficiently common on future vessels that Nevada was considered the first of the “Standard” class of US battleship. Of these changes, the shift to oil was made with the goal of increasing the ship’s range as the US Navy felt that would be critical in any potential naval conflict with Japan.

In designing Nevada’s armor protection, naval architects pursued an “all or nothing” approach which meant that critical areas of the ship, such as magazines and engineering, were heavily protected while less vital spaces were left unarmored. This type of armor arrangement later became commonplace in both the US Navy and those abroad.

While previous American battleships had featured turrets located fore, aft, and amidships, Nevada’s design placed the armament at the bow and stern and was first to include the use of triple turrets. Mounting a total of ten 14-inch guns, Nevada’s armament was placed in four turrets (two twin and two triple) with five guns at each end of the ship. In an experiment, the ship’s propulsion system included new Curtis turbines while its sister ship, USS Oklahoma (BB-37), was given older triple-expansion steam engines.

Commissioning

Entering the water on July 11, 1914 with Eleanor Seibert, the niece of the Governor of Nevada, as sponsor, Nevada’s launch was attended by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. Though Fore River completed work on the ship in late 1915, the US Navy required an extensive series of sea trials before commissioning due to the revolutionary nature of many of the ship’s systems. These commenced on November 4 and saw the ship conduct numerous runs along the New England coast. Passing these tests, Nevada put into Boston where it received additional equipment before being commissioned on March 11, 1916, with Captain William S.

Sims in command.

World War I

Joining the US Atlantic Fleet at Newport, RI, Nevada conducted training exercises along the East Coast and Caribbean during 1916. Homeported at Norfolk, VA, the battleship was initially retained in American waters following the United States’ entrance into World War I in April 1917. This was due to a shortage of fuel oil in Britain. As a result, the coal-fired battleships of Battleship Division Nine were dispatched to augment the British Grand Fleet instead. In August 1918, Nevada received orders to cross the Atlantic. Joining USS Utah (BB-31) and Oklahoma at Berehaven, Ireland, the three ships formed Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers’ Battleship Division 6. Operating from Bantry Bay, they served as convoy escorts in the approaches to the British Isles.

Interwar Years

Remaining in this duty until the end of the war, Nevada never fired a shot in anger.

That December, the battleship escorted the liner George Washington, with President Woodrow Wilson aboard, into Brest, France. Sailing for New York on December 14, Nevada and its compatriots arrived twelve days later and were greeted by victory parades and celebrations. Serving in the Atlantic during the next few years Nevada travelled to Brazil in September 1922 for the centennial of that nation’s independence. Later transferring to the Pacific, the battleship conducted a goodwill tour of New Zealand and Australia in late summer 1925. In addition to the US Navy’s desire to accomplish diplomatic goals, the cruise was intended to show the Japanese that the US Pacific Fleet was capable of conducting operations far from its bases. Arriving at Norfolk in August 1927, Nevada began a massive modernization program.

While in the yard, engineers added torpedo bulges as well as increased Nevada’s horizontal armor. To compensate for the added weight, the ship’s old boilers were removed and fewer new, but more efficient, ones installed along with new turbines. The program also saw Nevada’s torpedo tubes removed, anti-aircraft defenses increased, and a rearrangement of its secondary armament. Topside, the bridge structure was altered, new tripod masts replaced the older lattice ones, and modern fire control equipment installed. Work on the ship was completed in January 1930 and it soon rejoined the US Pacific Fleet. Remaining with that unit for the next decade, it forward deployed to Pearl Harbor in 1940 as tensions with Japan increased. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Nevada was single-moored off Ford Island when the Japanese attacked.

Pearl Harbor

Granted a degree of maneuverability due to its location that its compatriots on Battleship Row lacked, Nevada was the only American battleship to get underway as Japanese struck. Working its way down the harbor, the ship’s anti-aircraft gunners fought valiantly but the ship quickly sustained a torpedo hit followed by two or three bomb strikes.

Pushing forward, it was hit again as it neared the channel to open water. Fearing that Nevada might sink and block the channel, its crew beached the battleship on Hospital Point. With the end of the attack, the ship had suffered 50 killed and 109 wounded. In the weeks after, salvage crews commenced repairs on Nevada and on February 12, 1942, the battleship was refloated. After additional repairs were made at Pearl Harbor, the battleship moved to Puget Sound Navy Yard for additional work and modernization.

World War II

Remaining in the yard until October 1942, Nevada’s appearance was dramatically altered and when it emerged it looked similar to the newer South Dakota-class. Gone were ship’s tripod masts and its anti-aircraft defenses had been dramatically upgraded to include new dual-purpose 5-inch guns, 40 mm guns, and 20 mm guns. After shakedown and training cruises, Nevada took part in Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s campaign in the Aleutians and supported the liberation of Attu. With the end the fighting, the battleship detached and steamed for further modernization at Norfolk. That fall, Nevada began escorting convoys to Britain during the Battle of the Atlantic. The inclusion of capital ships such as Nevada was intended to provide protection against German surface raiders such as Tirpitz.

Serving in this role into April 1944, Nevada then joined Allied naval forces in Britain to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. Sailing as Rear Admiral Morton Deyo’s flagship, the battleship’s guns pounded German targets on June 6 as Allied troops began landing. Remaining offshore for most of the month, Nevada’s guns provided fire support for forces ashore and the ship earned praise for the accuracy of its fire. After reducing the coastal defenses around Cherbourg, the battleship transferred to the Mediterranean where it provided fire support for the Operation Dragoon landings in August. Striking German targets in southern France, Nevada reprised its performance in Normandy. During the course of operations, it famously dueled the batteries defending Toulon. Steaming for New York in September, Nevada entered port and had its 14-inch guns relined. In addition, the guns in Turret 1 were replaced with tubes taken from the wreck of USS Arizona (BB-39.)

Resuming operations in early 1945, Nevada transited the Panama Canal and joined Allied forces off Iwo Jima on February 16. Taking part in the invasion of the island, the ship’s guns contributed to the pre-invasion bombardment and later provided direct support ashore. On March 24, Nevada joined Task Force 54 for the invasion of Okinawa. Opening fire, it attacked Japanese targets ashore in the days before the Allied landings. On March 27, Nevada sustained damage when a kamikaze struck the main deck near Turret 3. Remaining on station, the battleship continued to operate off Okinawa until June 30 when it departed to join Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s Third Fleet which was operating off Japan. Though near the Japanese mainland, Nevada did not strike targets ashore.

Later Career

With the end of World War II on September 2, Nevada returned to Pearl Harbor after brief occupation duty in Tokyo Bay. One of the oldest battleships in the US Navy’s inventory, it was not retained for use postwar. Instead, Nevada received orders to proceed Bikini Atoll in 1946 for use as a target ship during the Operation Crossroads atomic testing. Painted bright orange, the battleship survived both Able and Baker tests that July. Damaged and radioactive, Nevada was towed back to Pearl Harbor and decommissioned on August 29, 1946. Two years later, it was sunk off Hawaii on July 31, when USS Iowa (BB-61) and two other vessels used it gunnery practice.

Selected Sources