World War II: USS New Mexico (BB-40)

USS New Mexico (BB-40) after World War I
USS New Mexico (BB-40), 1921. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS New Mexico (BB-40) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Navy Yard
  • Laid Down: October 14, 1915
  • Launched: April 13, 1917
  • Commissioned: May 20, 1918
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, 1947

USS New Mexico (BB-40) - Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 32,000 tons
  • Length: 624 ft.
  • Beam: 97 ft.
  • Draft: 30 ft.
  • Propulsion: Electric drive turbines turning 4 propellers
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Complement: 1,084 men

Armament

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

USS New Mexico (BB-40) - Design & Construction:

After commencing construction of five classes of dreadnought battleships (, , , Wyoming, and New York), the US Navy concluded that future designs should utilize a set of common tactical and operational characteristics.  This would allow these ships to operate together in combat and would simplify logistics.  Designated the Standard-type, the next five classes made use of oil-fired boilers instead of coal, eliminated amidships turrets, and utilized an “all or nothing” armor scheme.  Among these alterations, the change to oil was made with the goal of increasing the vessel’s range as the US Navy felt that this would be required in any future naval conflict with Japan.  The new "all or nothing" armor arrangement called for key areas of the ship, such as magazines and engineering, to be heavily protected while less vital spaces were left unarmored.

  Also, Standard-type battleships were to have a minimum top speed of 21 knots and a tactical turn radius of 700 yards. 

The concepts of the Standard-type were first employed in the Nevada- and Pennsylvania-classes.  As a follow-on to the latter, the New Mexico-class originally was conceived as the US Navy's first class to mount 16" guns.

  Due to arguments over designs and rising costs, the Secretary of the Navy elected forgo using the new guns and directed that the new type replicate the Pennsylvania-class with only minor modifications.  As a result, the three ships of the New Mexico-class, USS New Mexico (BB-40), USS Mississippi (BB-41), and USS Idaho (BB-42), each mounted a main armament consisting of twelve 14" guns placed in four triple turrets.  These were supported by a secondary battery of fourteen 5" guns.  In an experiment, New Mexico received a turbo-electric transmission as part of its power plant while the other two vessels used more traditional geared turbines.          

Assigned to the New York Navy Yard, work on New Mexico began on October 14, 1915.  Construction advanced over the next year and a half and on April 13, 1917, the new battleship slid into the water with Margaret Cabeza De Baca, daughter of the late Governor of New Mexico, Ezequiel Cabeza De Baca, serving as sponsor.  Launched a week after the United States entered World War I, work moved forward over the next year to complete the vessel.  Finished a year later, New Mexico entered commission on May 20, 1918, with Captain Ashley H. Robertson in command.

USS New Mexico (BB-40) - Interwar Service:

Conducting initial training through the summer and fall, New Mexico departed home waters in January 1919 to escort President Woodrow Wilson, aboard the liner George Washington, back from the Versailles peace conference.  Completing this voyage in February, the battleship received orders to join the Pacific Fleet as flagship five months later.  Transiting the Panama Canal, New Mexico reached San Pedro, CA on August 9.  The next dozen years saw the battleship move through routine peacetime exercises and various fleet maneuvers.  Some of these required New Mexico operate in conjunction with elements of the Atlantic Fleet.  A highlight of this period was a long-distance training cruise to New Zealand and Australia in 1925.  

In March 1931, New Mexico entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for an extensive modernization.

 This saw the replacement of the turbo-electric drive with conventional geared turbines, the addition of eight 5" anti-aircraft guns, as well as major alterations to the ship's superstructure.  Completed in January 1933, New Mexico departed Philadelphia and returned to the Pacific Fleet.  Operating in the Pacific, the battleship remained there and in December 1940 was ordered to shift its home port to Pearl Harbor.  That May, New Mexico received orders to transfer to the Atlantic for service with the Neutrality Patrol.  Joining this force, the battleship worked to protect shipping in the western Atlantic from German U-boats.

USS New Mexico (BB-40) - World War II:

Three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and American entry into World War IINew Mexico accidentally collided with and sank the freighter SS Oregon while steaming south of Nantucket Lightship.  Proceeding on to Hampton Roads, the battleship entered the yard and had alterations made to its anti-aircraft armament.  Departing that summer, New Mexico passed through the Panama Canal and stopped at San Francisco en route to Hawaii.  In December, the battleship escorted transports to Fiji before shifting to patrol duty in the southwest Pacific.  Returning to Pearl Harbor in March 1943, New Mexico trained in preparation for the campaign in the Aleutian Islands.  

Steaming north in May, New Mexico arrived at Adak on the 17th.  In July, it took part in the bombardment of Kiska and aided in forcing the Japanese to evacuate the island.

 With the successful conclusion of the campaign, New Mexico underwent a refit at Puget Sound Navy Yard prior to returning to Pearl Harbor.  Reaching Hawaii in October, it began training for the landings in the Gilbert Islands.  Sailing with the invasion force, New Mexico provided fire support for American troops during the Battle of Makin Island on November 20-24.  Sortieing in January 1944, the battleship took part in the fighting in the Marshall Islands including the landings on Kwajalein.  Rearming at Majuro, New Mexico then steamed north to strike Wotje before turning south to attack Kavieng, New Ireland.  Proceeding on to Sydney, it made a port call prior to commencing training in the Solomon Islands.       

This complete, New Mexico moved north to participate in the Marianas Campaign.  Bombarding Tinian (June 14), Saipan (June 15), and Guam (June 16), the battleship defeated air attacks on June 18 and guarded American transports during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.  After spending the beginning of July in an escort role, New Mexico provided naval gunfire support for the liberation of Guam on July 12-30.  Returning to Puget Sound, it underwent an overhaul from August to October.  Complete, New Mexico proceeded to the Philippines where it protected Allied shipping.  In December, it aided in the landings on Mindoro before joining the bombardment force for an attack on Luzon the following month.  While firing as part of the pre-invasion bombardment at Lingayen Gulf on January 6, New Mexico sustained damage when a kamikaze struck the battleship's bridge.

  The hit killed 31, including the battleship's commanding officer, Captain Robert W. Fleming.

USS New Mexico (BB-40) - Final Actions:

Despite this damage, New Mexico stayed in the vicinity and supported the landings three days later.  Quickly repaired at Pearl Harbor, the battleship returned to action in late March and aided in bombarding Okinawa.  Commencing fire on March 26, New Mexico engaged targets ashore until April 17.  Remaining in the area, it fired on targets later in April and on May 11 sunk eight Japanese suicide boats.  The following day, New Mexico came under attack from kamikazes.  One struck the ship and another succeeded in scoring a bomb hit.  The combined damage saw 54 killed and 119 wounded.   Ordered to Leyte for repairs, New Mexico then began training for the invasion of Japan.  Operating in this capacity near Saipan, it learned of the war's end on August 15.  Joining the occupation force off Okinawa, New Mexico steamed north and arrived in Tokyo Bay on August 28.  The battleship was present when the Japanese formally surrendered aboard USS Missouri (BB-63).

Ordered back to the United States, New Mexico ultimately arrived at Boston on October 17.  An older ship, it was decommissioned the following year on July 19 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on February 25, 1947.  On November 9, the US Navy sold New Mexico for scrap to the Lipsett Division of Luria Brothers.  Towed to Newark, NJ, the battleship was a centerpiece of a dispute between the city and Lipsett as the former did not wish to have additional ships scrapped on its waterfront.  The dispute eventually was resolved and work began on New Mexico later in the month.  By July 1948, the ship was completely dismantled.

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