Great White Fleet: USS Virginia (BB-13)

USS Virginia (BB-13)
USS Virginia (BB-13), 1906-1907. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Virginia (BB-13) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company
  • Laid Down: May 21, 1902
  • Launched: April 6, 1904
  • Commissioned: May 7, 1906
  • Fate: Sunk as a target on September 1923

USS Virginia (BB-13) - Specifications:

  • Displacement: 14,980 tons
  • Length: 441 ft., 3 in.
  • Beam: 76 ft., 3 in.
  • Draft: 23.8 ft.
  • Propulsion: 12 × Babcock boilers, 2 × triple-expansion engines, 2 × propellers
  • Speed: 19 knots
  • Complement: 916 men


  • 4 × 12 in./40 cal guns
  • 8 × 8 in./45 cal guns
  • 12 × 6-inch guns
  • 12 × 3-inch guns
  • 24 × 1 pdr guns
  • 4 × 0.30 in. machine guns
  • 4 × 21 in. torpedo tubes

USS Virginia (BB-13) - Design & Construction:

Laid down in 1901 and 1902, the five battleships of the Virginia-class were meant as a follow-on the Maine-class (USS Maine, USS Missouri, and USS Ohio) which was then entering service. Though intended to be the US Navy's latest design, the new battleships saw a return to some features that had not been incorporated since the earlier Kearsarge-class (USS Kearsarge and USS ). These included the mounting of 8-in. guns as a secondary armament and the placing of two 8-in. turrets on top of the vessels' 12-in. turrets. Supporting the Virginia-class' main battery of four 12 in. guns were eight 8-in., twelve 6-in., twelve 3-in., and twenty-four 1-pdr guns. In a change from previous classes of battleships, the new type utilized Krupp armor instead of the Harvey armor that had been placed on earlier vessels. Power for the Virginia-class came from twelve Babcock boilers which drove two vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines.

The lead ship of the class, USS Virginia (BB-13) was laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company on May 21, 1902. Work on the hull proceeded over the next two years and on April 6, 1904, it slid down the ways with Gay Montague, daughter of Virginia Governor Andrew J. Montague, serving as sponsor. A further two years passed before work on Virginia ended. Commissioned on May 7, 1906, Captain Seaton Schroeder assumed command. The battleship's design differed slightly from its subsequent sisters in that its two propellers turned inward rather than outward. This experimental configuration was intended to improve steering by increasing prop wash on the rudder.

USS Virginia (BB-13) - Early Service:

After fitting out, Virginia departed Norfolk for its shakedown cruise. This saw it operate in the Chesapeake Bay before steaming north for maneuvers near Long Island and Rhode Island. Following trials off Rockland, ME, Virginia anchored off Oyster Bay, NY on September 2 for an inspection by President Theodore Roosevelt. Taking coal at Bradford, RI, the battleship moved south to Cuba later in the month to protect American interests in Havana during a revolt against the regime of President T. Estrada Palma. Arriving on September 21, Virginia remained in Cuban waters for a month before returning to Norfolk. Moving north to New York, the battleship entered drydock to have its bottom painted.

With the completion of this work, Virginia steamed south to Norfolk to receive a series of modifications. En route, the battleship sustained minor damage when it collided with the steamer Monroe. The accident occurred when the steamer was pulled towards Virginia by the inward action of the battleship's propellers. Leaving the yard in February 1907, the battleship installed new fire control equipment at New York before joining the Atlantic Fleet at Guantanamo Bay. Conducting target practice with the fleet, Virginia then steamed north to Hampton Roads to take part in the Jamestown Exposition in April. The remainder of the year was spent conducting routine operations and maintenance on the East Coast.

USS Virginia (BB-13) - Great White Fleet:

In 1906, Roosevelt became increasingly concerned about the US Navy's lack of strength in the Pacific due to the growing threat posed by Japan. To impress upon the Japanese that the United States could easily move its main battle fleet to the Pacific, he began planning a world cruise of the nation's battleships. Designated the Great White Fleet, Virginia, still commanded by Schroeder, was assigned to the force's Second Division, First Squadron. This group also contained its sister ships USS Georgia (BB-15), USS (BB-16), and USS (BB-17). Leaving Hampton Roads on December 16, 1907, the fleet turned south making visits in Brazil before passing through the Straits of Magellan. Steaming north, the fleet, led by Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, arrived at San Diego on April 14, 1908.

Briefly stopping in California, Virginia and the rest of the fleet then transited the Pacific to Hawaii before reaching New Zealand and Australia in August. After taking part in elaborate and festive port calls, the fleet steamed north to the Philippines, Japan, and China. Completing visits in these countries, the American battleships crossed the Indian Ocean before passing through the Suez Canal and entering the Mediterranean. Here the fleet parted to show the flag in several ports. Sailing north, Virginia made a visit to Smyrna, Turkey before the fleet rendezvoused at Gibraltar. Crossing the Atlantic, the fleet arrived at Hampton Roads on February 22 where it was met by Roosevelt. Four days later, Virginia entered the yard at Norfolk for four months of repairs.

USS Virginia (BB-13) - Later Operations:

While at Norfolk, Virginia received a forward cage mast. Leaving the yard on June 26, the battleship spent the summer on the East Coast before departing for Brest, France and Gravesend, United Kingdom in November. Returning from this excursion it rejoined the Atlantic Fleet at Guantanamo Bay for winter maneuvers in the Caribbean. Undergoing repairs at Boston from April to May, 1910, Virginia had a second cage mast installed aft. The next three years saw the battleship continue to operate with the Atlantic Fleet. As tensions with Mexico increased, Virginia spent an increasing amount of time in the vicinity of Tampico and Veracruz. In May 1914, the battleship arrived at Veracruz to support the US occupation of the city. Remaining on this station until October, it then spent two years in routine duty on the East Coast. On March 20, 1916, Virginia entered reserve status at Boston Navy Yard and commenced a significant overhaul.

Though still in the yard when the US entered World War I in April 1917, Virginia played an early role in the conflict when boarding parties from the battleship seized several German merchant ships that were in the Port of Boston. With the completion of the overhaul on August 27, the battleship departed for Port Jefferson, NY where it joined the 3rd Division, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet. Operating between Port Jefferson and Norfolk, Virginia served as a gunnery training ship for much of the next year. After a brief overhaul in the fall of 1918, it commenced duty as a convoy escort that October. Virginia was preparing for its second escort mission in early November when word arrived that the war was over.

Converted to a temporary troopship, Virginia sailed on the first of five voyages to Europe to return American troops home in December. Completing these missions in June 1919, it was decommissioned at Boston the following year on August 13. Struck from the Navy List two years later, Virginia and New Jersey were transferred to the War Department August 6, 1923 for use as bombing targets. On September 5, Virginia was placed offshore near Cape Hatteras where it came under "attack" by Army Air Service Martin MB bombers. Struck by a 1,100 lb. bomb, the old battleship sunk a short time later.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "Great White Fleet: USS Virginia (BB-13)." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). Great White Fleet: USS Virginia (BB-13). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Great White Fleet: USS Virginia (BB-13)." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 31, 2023).