for I intend to go in harm’s way… Part III


After the Spanish-American War, the first Texas continued her western Atlantic operations and was flagship of the Coast Squadron in 1902-05. In 1908, she became the station ship at Charleston, South Carolina. Finally, renamed San Marcos in February 1911, struck from the Navy List the following October, she was sunk in gunnery tests in Chesapeake Bay. It might seem like an ignominious end to a gallant career of keeping the peace and winning the war but before her stripped hulk settled into the sand the new battleship Texas was being built at Newport News, Virginia and she would be bigger, faster and pack a punch that would be heard throughout the Atlantic and Pacific.

USS Texas (BB-35) Making 15.151 knots during the 9th run of her standardization trials on the 23rd of October 1913. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

U.S. Navy battleship construction began with the keel laying of the sister ship of the first battleship Texas, the Maine,  in 1888 and ended  in 1947. During this  era, 59 battleships of 23 different basic designs were completed for the Navy. Though the building rate averaged almost one per year, it was not a steady process, but was done in the first case as a deterrent force, corresponding to the rise of the United States to first-class naval power begun in 1888. This era  came to an abrupt halt with the signing of the Naval Limitations Treaty in 1922 during the age of Wilsonian diplomacy. This  in turn gave way to the to the second era from 1937 to 1943 when ships were being built as fast as possible to save us from the bitter fruits of these treaties.

Taking up where her predecessor had left off the U.S.S. Texas entering Havana Harbour from Malecon Photograph taken from Castillo de La Punta, Castillo del Morro visible on other side of channel. Crowd of people on site, automobiles on Malecon Drive… Library of Congress photo

These warships can be conveniently divided into four main groups:

  •    Two experimental second-class battleships, of about 6000 tons, begun in the late 1880s (Maine and Texas);
  •     Twenty-five battleships with mixed main batteries of large and medium caliber guns, ranging in size from about 10,000  to 16,000 tons, begun from 1891 to 1905;
  •     Twenty-nine battleships with “all-big-gun” main batteries, begun between 1906 and 1919 and ranging from 16,000 tons to over 42,000 tons
  •     Seventeen faster big-gun 35,000-60,500 ton battleships begun in 1937-41

USS Texas (BB-35)Firing her 14″/45 main battery guns, during long-range battle practice, February 1928. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Gun caliber, as well as ship size, grew steadily, from ten inches on the first Texas to sixteen inches on the last ships. The second Texas [BB-35], displaced 27,000 tons, was nearly 600 feet long and had a 95+ foot beam – the widest allowable by the Panama Canal. Her armor plating was 12 inches thick at the belt, 9 inches thick above the belt and 3 inches thick on the deck with watertight bulkheads 10 inches thick. She mounted ten 14 inch main guns arranged in five turrets of two, twenty smaller guns and four torpedo tubes. Effective gunnery range also increased, from a few thousand yards to about twenty miles.

USS Texas (BB-35)In the Gatun Locks, while transiting the Panama Canal en route to the U.S. east coast on the 21st of June 1937. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

With a draft of nearly 30 feet and able to achieve 21 knots with a 35,000 horsepower plant she carried nearly 3,000 tons of coal to carry her guns and her crew of over 1,000 to where ever they were needed. Texas was as heavily armored as it was armed and was intended primarily to steam in formation with other battleships and slug it out with similar opponents, using its powerful guns to settle the matter. In its day it was one the “Queens of the Sea”, the foundation of national strategic offense and defense. That “day” ended with the arrival, effectively just before the start of World War II, of aircraft that could not only out-range the big guns, but also deliver blows of equal or greater power however as they proved, with adequate air support – or in conditions where aircraft might not be effective – these floating gun platforms could be instrumental in support of troop landings.

USS Texas (BB-35)Dressed with flags for Navy Day, 27 October 1940. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Navy Day was established on October 27, 1922 by the Navy League of the United States as a tool to educate civilians about the Navy and increase their awareness of the Navy. Although it was not a national holiday, Navy Day received special attention from the President and in 1923 over 50 major cities participated, and the United States Navy sent a number of its ships to various port cities for the occasion. The 1945 Navy Day was an especially large celebration, with President Harry S. Truman reviewing the fleet in New York Harbor.

USS Texas (BB-35)Silhouetted against the sunset, while participating in North Atlantic convoy operations, circa summer 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Starting in 1939 – even before war was declared – the United States was supplying material to the British for their war against Germany. After the invasion of Poland and the opening of hostilities there would be hundreds of vessels crossing the North Atlantic and prior to overt American participation in the war the US was actively engaged in convoys with the British in the North Atlantic Ocean, primarily supporting British activities in Iceland. Since battleships were effective deterrents to surface raiders due to the larger size and longer range of the American guns the Texas found herself escorting HX [Halifax to Liverpool] convoys including 9-knot convoys for ships of sustained speeds less than 15 knots which had to be long and tedious duty – but it was duty and having a two ocean navy meant that we had battleships ready to fill the line even after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Bombardment of Cherbourg, June 1944 A heavy German coast artillery shell falls between USS Texas (BB-35) and USS Arkansas (BB-33), while the two battleships were engaging Battery Hamburg during the bombardment of Cherbourg, France,on the 25th of June 1944. Photographed from Arkansas. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Although she had been built for service in the first World War the Texas would find her moments of glory in World War II. The Bombardment of Cherbourg was undertaken by ships of the United States Navy on June 25, 1944 to support United States Army units engaged in the Battle of Cherbourg. The Allied force attacked the German fortifications near and in the city and engaged in repeated duels with coastal batteries while providing close infantry support. Twenty-two of twenty-four assigned Navy targets were neutralized and German batteries were eliminated as a threat to the infantry assaulting them. Rapid infantry containment ensured the guns could not be reactivated and, as a testimony to the big gun ships effectiveness, when the city fell the neutralized casemated guns, which could have turned from the ships towards troops advancing on land, were still pointed out to sea.  Shore-bombardment, in which the fire of heavy guns was precisely directed against enemy facilities ashore, to pave the way for invasion or to simply destroy war-making potential justified the retention of the big-gun ships in the post-war era and brought them back to active duty on three different occasions and we may need them again.

USS Texas (BB-35)At sea in the Hawaii area, while preparing for Pacific combat operations on the 6th of January 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

More than half way to Hell in the Pacific was the tiny island of Iwo Jima. Too small for army staging and unfit as a naval anchorage it was needed as a strategic point in delivering the atomic bombs that would end the war – although no one engaged in the battle knew that. The commander had requested ten days of heavy ship bombardment before landing troops and had been given three. Texas was part of the bombardment force but given the abundance of well-concealed strong points and deeply buried underground facilities, this was not nearly enough. Thus, when the Marines landed, they confronted intense opposing fire from the landing area and from flanking positions on Mount Suribachi in the south and the rugged terrain of northern Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945 USS Texas (BB-35) recovers a Vought OS2U “Kingfisher” floatplane in a light rain at 1700 Hrs. on the 16th of February 1945, the first day of the Iwo Jima pre-invasion bombardment. The OS2U’s radioman is riding the wing after hooking the plane to the recovery crane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

For the U.S. Marines, Iwo Jima was the most difficult of World War II’s many tough fights. It remains an enduring demonstration of the essential role of infantry when ground must be captured, even when seemingly overwhelming air and sea power is present. The abundant heroism of the attackers was recognized by the award of 27 U.S. military personnel with the Medal of Honor for …conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States…, 13 of them posthumously. Of the 27 medals awarded for the actions at Iwo Jima, 22 were presented to Marines and five were presented to United States Navy sailors; this was 28% of the 82 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in the entirety of World War II.

Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams Inspects the crew of USS Texas (BB-35), March 1931. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

The Texas, like all ships, is just so much hull and paint without a crew, and reviewing them here is Charles Francis Adams – descendent of John Adams etc. – who served as Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of the Navy from 1929 until 1933. A successful lawyer, business man, outstanding civic leader, and well-known yachtsman and ocean racer, he  vigorously promoted public understanding of the Navy’s indispensable role in international affairs, and worked strenuously to maintain naval strength and efficiency during a period of severe economic depression. He served at the London Naval Conference in 1930 where he successfully maintained the principle of United States naval parity with Great Britain.

USS Texas (BB-35)Boxing match held on board during Battle Fleet maneuvers off Panama in 1923. View looks aft toward the rear of Turret # 4, which bears a banner reading “U.S.S. Texas … Come On Texas”. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

From the time ship was christened on May 18, 1912 and a motion-picture camera took what was thought to be the first motion pictures of a United States Navy ship-launching through its service as a flagship, on convoy duty and support of the European and Pacific landings through 1945 until its retirement by the Navy in 1946 served the nation well for over a third of a century – all for an original price tag of $1,166,000.00.

Saved from the scrap yard on December 6, 1946, Texas governor Coke R. Stevenson accepted the USS Texas from the United States Navy to be used as a state shrine. In 1948, after more than thirty-four years of naval service, the USS Texas became the nation’s first memorial battleship and a national historic landmark. The ship was permanently moored at the San Jacinto Monument off the Houston Ship Channel.

The business end of the forward batteries as they appear today trained on the Mexican positions at San Jacinto and ready to support some new Houston.

 

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