USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)

USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)

USS "Pennsylvania" (BB-38) was the lead ship of her class of United States Navy "super-dreadnought" battleships. She was the third Navy ship named for the state of Pennsylvania.

She was laid down 27 October 1913, by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on 16 March 1915, sponsored by Elizabeth Kolb of Philadelphia, Pa.), and commissioned 12 June 1916, with Captain Henry B. Wilson in command.

In the Atlantic Fleet

Upon commissioning, "Pennsylvania" was attached to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. On 12 October 1916. She became flagship of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, when Admiral Henry T. Mayo shifted his flag from "Wyoming" (BB-32) to "Pennsylvania". In January 1917, "Pennsylvania" steamed for Fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea. She returned to her base at Yorktown, Virginia, 6 April 1917, the day of the American declaration of war against Germany. She did not sail to join the British Grand Fleet since she burned fuel oil rather than coal, and tankers could not be spared to carry additional fuel to the British Isles. In the light of this circumstance, only coal-burning battleships were selected for this mission. Based at Yorktown, she kept in battle trim with Fleet maneuvers, tactics, and training in the areas of the Chesapeake Bay, intervened by overhaul at Norfolk and New York, with brief maneuvers in Long Island Sound.

While at Yorktown, on 11 August 1917, "Pennsylvania" manned the rail and rendered honors as "Mayflower", with President of the United States Woodrow Wilson aboard, stood in and anchored. At 12:15 President Wilson returned the call of Commander, Battle Force, aboard "Pennsylvania" and was given full honors.

On 2 December 1918, "Pennsylvania" steamed to anchor off Tompkinsville, New York. On 4 December, she got underway for Brest, France. At 11:00, the transport "George Washington", flying the flag of the President of the United States, stood out with an escort of ten destroyers. "Pennsylvania" manned the rail and fired a salute of 21 guns. She took position ahead of "George Washington" as guide for the President's escort. Arriving in Brest, 13 December, the crew manned the rail and cheered as "George Washington" passed and proceeded to her anchorage. On 14 December "Pennsylvania" departed for New York, arriving 25 December.

In February 1919, "Pennsylvania" steamed for Fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea, returning to New York in the late spring. While at New York on 30 June 1919, Admiral Mayo was relieved as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, by Vice Admiral Henry B. Wilson, the first captain of the ship.

At Tompkinsville, 8 July 1919, "Pennsylvania" embarked Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, Cabinet Secretaries Daniels, Glass, Wilson, Baker, Lane, and Senator Champ Clark, and then put to sea. At 10:00 "Oklahoma" was sighted with "George Washington" flying the President's flag and accompanied by her ocean escort. "Pennsylvania" fired a presidential salute, then took position ahead of "Oklahoma" and steamed to New York, stopping en route to disembark her distinguished guests before proceeding to her berth.

On 7 January 1920, she departed New York for Fleet maneuvers, in the Caribbean Sea, returning to New York 26 April 1920. She resumed a schedule of local training operations until 17 January 1921 when she departed New York for the Panama Canal. She arrived at Balboa, Panama on 20 January to join units of the Pacific Fleet and become flagship of the combined fleets, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet assuming command of the U.S. Battle Fleet on orders of the Navy Department.

On 21 January 1921, the Fleet sailed from Balboa, en route to Callao, Peru, arriving 31 January 1921. Departing 2 February, "Pennsylvania" returned to Balboa, 14 February, and then conducted brief exercises while based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Upon her return to Hampton Roads, 28 April 1921, she rendered a 21-gun salute as she passed "Mayflower". The Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy came aboard for a reception for the President of the United States. At 11:40 President Warren Harding came aboard and his flag was broken at the main mast.

In the Pacific Fleet

On 22 August 1922, "Pennsylvania" departed Lynhaven Roads to join the Pacific Fleet. Arriving at San Pedro, California, on 26 September 1922, her principal area of operations until 1929 was along the coast of California, Washington, and Oregon, with periodic maneuvers and tactics off the Panama Canal, in the Caribbean Sea, and Hawaiian operating areas. She departed with the Fleet from San Francisco, California, 15 April 1925, and after war games in the Hawaiian area, departed Honolulu, Hawaii, on 1 July, en route to Melbourne, Australia. After a visit to Wellington, New Zealand, she returned to San Pedro on 26 September 1925.

In January 1929, "Pennsylvania" cruised to Panama, and after training maneuvers while based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, steamed to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving 1 June 1929, to undergo overhaul and modernization. She remained in the yard for nearly two years. The secondary battery was reduced to twelve 5"/51 caliber guns and the 3-inch anti-aircraft guns were replaced by eight 5"/25 caliber guns. On 8 May 1931, she departed for a refresher training cruise to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and then returned. On 6 August 1931, she again sailed for Guantanamo, and later continued on to San Pedro, where she again joined the Battle Fleet.

From August 1931 to 1941, "Pennsylvania" engaged in Fleet tactics and battle practice along the west coast and participated in Fleet problems and maneuvers which were held periodically in the Hawaiian area as well as the Caribbean Sea. "Pennsylvania" was one of fourteen ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 RADAR. After overhaul in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (increasing the number of 5"/25 caliber guns to twelve), on 7 January 1941, she again sailed for Hawaii where she carried out scheduled operations with units of Task Forces 1 and 5, throughout that year, making one brief voyage to the west coast with Task Force 18.

World War II

At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, "Pennsylvania" was in drydock in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. She was one of the first ships in the harbor to open fire as enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes roared out of the high overcast. They did not succeed in repeated attempts to torpedo the caisson of the drydock, but "Pennsylvania" and the surrounding dock areas were severely strafed. The crew of one five-inch gun mount was wiped out when a bomb struck the starboard side of her boat deck and exploded inside Casemate Nine. Destroyers "Cassin" and "Downes", just forward of "Pennsylvania" in the drydock, were seriously damaged by bomb hits. "Pennsylvania" was pockmarked by flying fragments. A part of a torpedo tube from the destroyer "Downes", about 1000 pounds in weight, was blown onto the forecastle of "Pennsylvania". She had 15 men killed (including her executive officer), 14 missing in action, and 38 wounded.


On 20 December 1941, "Pennsylvania" sailed for San Francisco, arriving 29 December 1941. She underwent repairs until 30 March 1942. From 14 April to 1 August 1942, "Pennsylvania" conducted extensive training operations and patrol along the coast of California, punctuated by overhauls at San Francisco. During this duty, 4 June 1942, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of the United States Navy, held brief ceremonies aboard "Pennsylvania" to present the Distinguished Service Medal to Admiral Chester W. Nimitz for exceptionally meritorious service as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet since 31 December 1941. She then sailed as one of 7 battleships under Vice-Admiral William S. Pye to intercept Japanese forces should they try to attack the West Coast of the United States. After the Battle of Midway ended in an American victory, the force sailed to San Pedro.


On 1 August 1942, "Pennsylvania" departed San Francisco for Pearl Harbor, arriving 14 August. She conducted gunnery exercises and took part in carrier task force guard tactics in the Hawaiian area. On 4 October, "Pennsylvania" returned to San Francisco, remaining for an overhaul which was completed by 5 February 1943. The 5"/51 caliber guns and 5"/25 caliber guns were replaced by sixteen 5"/38 caliber guns in new twin mounts. She then conducted refresher training and air defense patrol off the coast of California. On 23 April "Pennsylvania" left for Alaska to take part in the Aleutian Campaign.


On 30 April 1943, "Pennsylvania" arrived at Cold Bay, Alaska. During 11 May and 12 May, she engaged in a shore bombardment of Holtz Bay, Attu and Chicago Harbor, in support of the landings. As she retired from Attu on 12 May, a patrol plane warned that a torpedo wake was headed for "Pennsylvania". She maneuvered at full speed as the torpedo passed safely astern. Destroyer "Edwards" teamed with "Farragut" to hunt down the attacker. After ten hours of relentless depth charge attack, the Japanese submarine "I-31" was forced to the surface and was shelled by gunfire from "Edwards". Severely damaged, the enemy survived until 13 June, then was sunk by the destroyer "Frazier". Torpedo wakes were again sighted on the morning of 14 May, and destroyers conducted a fruitless search for the enemy. That same morning, "Pennsylvania"'s seaplanes were launched to operate from seaplane tender "Casco" in making strafing attacks on enemy positions on Attu.

On the afternoon of 14 May, "Pennsylvania" conducted her third bombardment mission, this time in support of the infantry attack on the west arm of Holtz Bay. She then operated to the north and east of Attu until 19 May when she steamed for Adak. She departed Adak 21 May and arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, 28 May. She returned to Adak, 7 August, and departed 13 August as the flagship of Rear Admiral Francis W. Rockwell, commanding the Kiska Attack Force. On 15 August, assault troops landed without opposition on the western beaches of Kiska. By the evening of 16 August, it became apparent that the Japanese had evacuated under cover of fog prior to the landing. She patrolled off Kiska for a time then returned to Adak on 23 August.

On 16 August "Pennsylvania" steamed for Pearl Harbor, arriving 1 September. There she took aboard 790 passengers and departed 19 September for San Francisco where she arrived 25 September. She returned to Pearl Harbor, 6 October, and, after debarking passengers, took part in rehearsal and bombardment exercises in the Hawaiian area. She became the flagship of Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Commander Fifth Amphibious Force, and formed part of the Northern Attack Force, departing Pearl Harbor, 10 November, for the assault on Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

The Task Force, comprising four battleships, four cruisers, three escort carriers, transports, and destroyers, approached Makin Atoll from the southeast on the morning of 20 November. "Pennsylvania" opened fire on Butaritari Island with her main battery at the initial range of 14,200 yards and then opened with her secondary battery.

Just before general quarters on the morning of 24 November, a tremendous explosion took place off the starboard bow as "Pennsylvania" was returning to a screening sector off Makin. At almost the same instant, a screening destroyer reported sound contact and disposition, and immediately executed a course change. For several minutes after the explosion, a large fire lighted up the entire area. Word soon came that escort carrier "Liscome Bay" had been torpedoed. She sank with tremendous loss of life, including the commander of the squadron, Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix. Determined night air attacks were made by enemy torpedo planes on the nights of 25 November and 26 November but were repelled without damage to ships of the Task Force.


On 31 January 1944, "Pennsylvania" commenced a bombardment of Kwajalein Island which was continued throughout the day. Landings were made 1 February, with "Pennsylvania" joining in bombardment support before and after the landing operations. On the evening of 3 February, she anchored in the lagoon near Kwajalein. The success of the Kwajalein operation was ensured and "Pennsylvania" retired to Majuro Atoll to replenish her ammunition.

On 12 February "Pennsylvania" got underway for operations against Eniwetok. On 17 February, "Pennsylvania" steamed boldly through the deep entrance into Eniwetok Lagoon with her batteries blazing away. She steamed up a swept channel in the lagoon to a position off Engebi Island and commenced a bombardment of enemy installations. On the morning of 18 February, "Pennsylvania" bombarded Engebi before and during the approach of the assault waves to the beach. When Engebi had been secured, "Pennsylvania" steamed southward through the lagoon to the vicinity of Parry Island, where she took part in a bombardment 20 February through 21 February, preparatory to the landing assaults. At the commencement of the bombardment, the island had been covered with a dense growth of palm trees extending to the waters edge. At conclusion of the bombardment, not a single tree remained standing. On the morning of 22 February, she gave bombardment support prior to the landing on Parry Island.

"Pennsylvania" retired to Majuro, 1 March, and then steamed south to Havannah Harbor, Efate, New Hebrides. She remained at Efate until late April. On 29 April, "Pennsylvania" arrived in Sydney, Australia. She returned to Efate, 11 May, and then sailed to Port Purvis, Florida Islands, from which she operated to conduct bombardment and amphibious assault exercises. She returned to Efate 27 March, and after replenishment of her ammunition, departed, 2 June, arriving at Roi, 3 June.

On 10 June, "Pennsylvania" formed with a force of battleships, cruisers, escort carriers, and destroyers en route for the assault and occupation of the Marianas Islands. That night, a destroyer in the screen reported sound contact and an emergency turn left 90 degrees was ordered. As a result of this maneuver, "Pennsylvania" collided with the high-speed transport "Talbot" and sustained minor damage. "Talbot" put into Eniwetok for emergency repairs.

On 14 June, "Pennsylvania" took part in the bombardment of Saipan preparatory to the assault landings made the next day while she cruised off the northeastern shore of Tinian, conducting heavy bombardment of that island to neutralize any enemy batteries which might have opened fire on the landing beaches of Saipan. On 16 June she conducted a bombardment of targets on Orote Point, Guam, and then retired to cover the Saipan area. "Pennsylvania" departed the Marianas, 25 June, and, after a brief stay at Eniwetok, departed 9 July to resume support of the Marianas Campaign.

From 12 July though 14 July, "Pennsylvania" conducted a bombardment of Guam in preparation for the assault and landings on that island. On completion of firing the evening of 14 July, she returned to Saipan to replenish ammunition. She returned to Guam on 17 July, and delivered protective fire support for demolition parties. At the same time she continued deliberate destructive fire on designated targets through 20 July.

On the early morning of 21 July, "Pennsylvania" took a position between Agat Beach and Orote Peninsula, and commenced a bombardment of beach areas in immediate preparation for the assault while troops and equipment were loaded into landing craft and landing waves were being formed. After the beachhead was established, she stood by for fire support missions as might be called for by shore fire control parties, continuing this duty until 3 August. She steamed to Eniwetok, then to the New Hebrides Islands, and after rehearsal of landing assaults on Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal, arrived at Port Purvis, Florida Island. She departed 6 September as part of the Palau Bombardment and Fire Support Group. From 12 September through 14 September, "Pennsylvania" took part in the intensive bombardment of targets on the island of Peleliu. On 15 September, she also furnished gunfire support for the landings on that island. She then delivered a devastating fire on enemy gun emplacements among the rocks and cliffs flanking Red Beach on Angaur Island.

On 25 September "Pennsylvania" steamed for emergency repairs at Manus, Admiralty Islands, entering a floating drydock on 1 October 1944. She departed on 12 October, one of six battleships in Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's Bombardment and Fire Support Group which formed a part of the Central Philippine Attack Force under command of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, en route to the Philippine Islands.

"Pennsylvania" reached fire support station on the eastern coast of Leyte on 18 October, and commenced a covering bombardment for beach reconnaissance, underwater demolition teams, and minesweeping units operating in Leyte Gulf and San Pedro Harbor. She conducted bombardment missions the next day and supported the landings on Leyte, 20 October. Gunfire support missions continued through 22 October, including harassing and night illumination fire.

On 24 October, all available United States vessels prepared for action as units of the Japanese Fleet closed the Philippines, preliminary to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. "Pennsylvania" and five other battleships, with cruisers and destroyers of Rear Admiral Oldendorf's force, steamed south and by nightfall were steaming slowly back and forth across the northern entrance of Surigao Strait, awaiting the approach of the enemy. That night, American motor torpedo boats stationed well down in Surigao Strait made the first encounter with torpedo attacks. Destroyers of the force, on either flank of the enemy's line of approach, followed with torpedo and gun attacks. At 03:53, 26 October, "West Virginia" opened fire, joined shortly thereafter by other battleships and cruisers. The Japanese had run head on into a perfect trap. Rear Admiral Oldendorf had executed the dream of every naval tactician by crossing the enemy's T. The Japanese lost two battleships, "Yamashiro" and "Fusō", and three destroyers in the Battle of Surigao Strait. The cruiser "Mogami" in company with a destroyer were the only ships that managed to escape. Rear Admiral Oldendorf's Force did not suffer the loss of a single vessel. "Mogami" was sunk the next day by aircraft carrier planes.

On 26 October 1944, ten enemy planes made a simultaneous attack on a destroyer close aboard "Pennsylvania" which assisted in shooting down four planes and driving off the others. On the night of 28 October, she shot down a bomber as it attempted a torpedo run.


"Pennsylvania" remained on patrol in Leyte Gulf until 25 November, and then steamed to Manus, Admiralty Islands, and thence to Kossol Passage where she loaded ammunition. She departed 1 January 1945 with Vice Admiral Oldendorf's Lingayen Bombardment and Fire Support Group, steaming for Lingayen Gulf. The Group came under heavy air attacks 4 January through 5 January, and the escort carrier "Ommaney Bay" was hit by a suicide plane and destroyed by the resulting fire. Many other ships were damaged.

On the morning of 6 January, "Pennsylvania" commenced a bombardment of target areas on Santiago Island at the mouth of Lingayen Gulf. That afternoon she entered the Gulf to conduct counter-battery fire in support of minesweeping forces, retiring at night. At daybreak, 7 January, the entire bombardment force entered Lingayen Gulf to deliver supporting and destructive fire. Preliminary assault bombardment was continued the next day. On 9 January, "Pennsylvania" provided gunfire support for the protection of the waves of landing troops. Enemy aircraft attacked the force in Lingayen Gulf on 10 January. Four bombs landed close by, but "Pennsylvania" was not hit. That afternoon she executed her last call fire mission in support of the operation by firing twelve rounds to destroy a concentration of enemy tanks which had been located inland by a shore fire control party.

Patrol and overhaul

From 10 January to 17 January 1945 "Pennsylvania" conducted a patrol in the South China Sea, off Lingayen Gulf, with other ships of the task group. On 17 January, she anchored in Lingayen Gulf, where she remained until 10 February when she sailed for temporary repairs at Manus, Admiralty Islands. Departing 22 February, she steamed via the Marshall Islands and Pearl Harbor to San Francisco arriving 13 March. She entered the Hunter's Point Shipyard and underwent a thorough overhaul. Her main battery turrets and secondary battery mounts were regunned; some of the new 14 inch guns that she received were salvaged off of the battleship "Oklahoma" that was sunk at Pearl Harbor. Additional anti-aircraft weapons as well as improved radar and fire control equipment were installed.

Upon completion of this overhaul, "Pennsylvania" conducted trial runs out of San Francisco, followed by refresher training while based at San Diego, California. She departed San Francisco 12 July for Pearl Harbor, arriving 18 July. She sailed for Okinawa on 24 July. En route she took part in the bombardment of Wake Island on 1 August; and, after loading ammunition at Saipan the next day, resumed her voyage. She anchored in Buckner Bay alongside "Tennessee". On 12 August, a Japanese torpedo plane slipped in over Buckner Bay without detection and launched a torpedo at "Pennsylvania" which lay at anchor. Hit well aft, "Pennsylvania" suffered extensive damage. The torpedo's impact caused a hole of approximately 30 feet in diameter in her stern. Twenty men were killed and ten injured. Many compartments were flooded and "Pennsylvania" settled heavily by the stern. The flooding was brought under control by efforts of "Pennsylvania"'s repair parties and with the prompt assistance of two salvage tugs. The following day, she was towed to shallower water where salvage operations continued.

On 18 August, "Pennsylvania" departed Buckner Bay, Okinawa, under tow by two tugs. She arrived Apra Harbor, Guam, on 6 September and entered drydock where a large sheet steel patch was welded over the torpedo hole and repairs to permit her to return to the United States under her own power were made. On 4 October, she sailed for home in company with the destroyer "Walke" and the cruiser "Atlanta". On 17 October, number 3 shaft suddenly carried away inside the stern tube and the shaft slipped aft. It was necessary to send divers down to cut through the shaft, letting the shaft and propeller drop into the sea. Shipping water and with only one screw turning, "Pennsylvania" limped into Puget Sound Navy Yard, 24 October.

Repairs were made to enable "Pennsylvania" to steam to the Marshall Islands where she was used as a target ship in the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll during July 1946. She was then towed to Kwajalein Lagoon where she decommissioned on 29 August 1946. She remained in Kwajalein Lagoon for radiological and structural studies until 10 February 1948 when she was sunk stern first off Kwajalein. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 19 February 1948.

"Pennsylvania" received eight battle stars for World War II service.




External links

* [ Comprehensive "Pennsylvania" website]
* [ Navy photographs of "Pennsylvania" (BB-38)]
* [ Maritimequest USS Pennsylvania BB-38 Photo Gallery]
* [ WWII Battleship Site Entry for USS "Pennsylvania"]
* [ NavSource Online: Battleship Photo Archive BB-38 USS PENNSYLVANIA 1914 - 1929]

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