USS Tennessee (BB-43) 1944

USS Tennessee (BB-43) 1944

This article is about the USS "Tennessee" (BB-43), a U.S. Navy battleship, during the year 1944.


Marshall Islands

In the early morning of 13 January 1944, "Tennessee" set her course for Hawaii with Task Unit 58.5.1 and anchored in Lahaina Roads off Maui on 21 January. That day, the ship was inspected by a group headed by Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal. On 29 January,"Tennessee", with Forrestal on board, headed for the Marshalls.

D-Day was set for 31 January 1944. As one attack force landed on the unoccupied Majuro Atoll, the major force approached Kwajalein. "Tennessee", "Pennsylvania" (BB-38), and two destroyers took up their stations 2,900 yards (2.7 km) to the east of the atoll. At 0625, "Tennessee" catapulted off her observation floatplanes; and, at 0701, she began throwing 14 inch (356 mm) salvoes at Japanese pillboxes on Roi Island. Her two forward turrets were busily engaged when fire had to be checked to allow carrier dive bombers to strike the island. Japanese antiaircraft guns opened up on the planes. As soon as the attackers were clear of the area, the ship demolished the enemy guns with two three-gun salvoes, The five inch (127 mm) battery then opened up on beach defenses. Main and secondary guns continued to pound Roi and adjacent Namur until noon, the high point of the morning coming when the guns of "Mobile" (CL-63) detonated a Japanese ammunition dump on Namur and sent an enormous mushroom of thick black smoke into the air. At midday, "Tennessee" retired from the firing area to recover and service her spotting planes. Following a welcome midday meal served to the crew at their battle stations, the battleship returned to the fighting and shelled Roi and Namur through the afternoon. At 1700, "Tennessee" turned away to screen supporting escort carriers for the night.

While the fire support ships pounded Roi and Namur on 31 January, marines captured five small nearby islands; and the northern passage into Kwajalein lagoon was cleared for ships to pass in. On 1 February, "Tennessee" and "Colorado", with "Mobile" and "Louisville" (CA-28), were back in their assigned area to be eastward and commenced firing at 0708. The ships pounded Namur through the morning; marines began to land on both islands at about noon; and "Tennessee" and her unit continued supporting fire until 1245. Roi fell quickly, but Namur's defenders were well dug in and fought fiercely until the early afternoon on 2 February.

Later that day, the battleship entered Kwajalein lagoon. Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance and Rear Admiral Richard Conolly, commander of the Roi-Namur invasion force, visited Mr. Forrestal on board "Tennessee"; the Undersecretary and his party then went ashore to inspect the newly seized islands and departed the following day by seaplane.

Useful lessons were learned from this operation. Since the Navy had won command of the surface and in the air around the landing area, gunfire support ships could close their objective and fire at what was, for a battleship, virtually point blank ranges. The heavy, short range fire of the supporting gunfire ships "met the most sanguine expectations" of the assaulting marines and foretold the shape of operations to come.

By 7 February, the whole Kwajalein atoll was in American hands; and preparations began for the capture of Eniwetok atoll, at the northwest end of the Marshalls group in the direction of the Mariana Islands. Pre-war Japanese security had been tight, and little was known about the atoll, but aerial photographs and a Japanese chart found in a beached enemy ship on one of Kwajalein's small islets gave planners enough to work with.

"Tennessee" arrived at Majuro on 7 February to take on ammunition and supplies before returning to Kwajalein. On the afternoon of 16 February, she sailed for Eniwetok with "Colorado", "Pennsylvania", and transports carrying Army troops and marines. Ships of the fast carrier force screened their approach and cruisers and destroyers opened the action on the morning of 17 February by bombarding Eniwetok island, on the southwest side of the circular atoll, and the smaller islands flanking the selected entry to the lagoon, Deep Passage. Minesweepers cleared Deep Passage and the nearby, though shallower, Wide Passage; and, at 0915 "Tennessee" led the transport convoy into the lagoon and headed for the atoll's northern island of Engebi. The battleship bombarded Engebi while landing forces went ashore on neighboring islets to site artillery pieces. Her five inch (127 mm) guns were active during the early evening in support of a marine reconnaissance company which approached Engebi to plant marker buoys for the next day's assault waves and to acquaint themselves with the beaches. During the night, "Tennessee" drew off into the lagoon as light field pieces from the newly captured ground harassed Engebi's defenders. The pre-landing bombardment began at 0700 the next morning, and "Tennessee" joined in at 0733. The first wave went ashore at 0844 and, with the help of supporting ships and planes, had Engebi in their hands by late afternoon.

The atoll was not yet secure. Japanese defenders on Eniwetok and Parry Island had carefully dug in and camouflaged their positions. Transports and landing vehicles carried a force of soldiers and marines to the southern end of the lagoon and, after a preparatory bombardment, the troops went ashore on Eniwetok. There had not been enough time to give the island a satisfactory softening, and progress was slow.

"Tennessee" spent the day anchored 5,500 yards (5.0 km) north of the island, but her services were not called for until night fell. During the night, Army troops called several times for illumination. Destroyers played their searchlights over Japanese-held areas, while "Tennessee" 's five inch (127 mm) guns fired large numbers of star shells. The fight for Eniwetok went on into the afternoon of 21 February, but "Tennessee" 's efforts had, by then, been diverted to Parry Island.

Parry, at the mouth of Deep Channel, was defended by more than 1,300 well-trained, carefully-entrenched Japanese troops. The assault plan called for a careful preliminary working-over with bombs and gunfire, and marine light howitzers began to shell Parry from a nearby islet in the evening of 20 February while carrier planes carried out repeated attacks. "Tennessee" 's and "Pennsylvania" took up positions 900 yards (820 m) off Parry during the morning of 20 February and, at 1204, began to blast the island.

The bombardment continued through 21 February, ships and planes taking their turns. Gun crews paused for a "breather" while planes from the escort carriers unloaded their ordnance, then resumed their work. "Colorado" 's 16 inch (406 mm) rifles added to the weight of "Tennessee" and "Pennsylvania" 's 14 inch (356 mm) fire, and "Louisville" and "Indianapolis" (CA-35) joined in with their eight inch (203 mm) turret guns. "Tennessee" was firing at so short a range that, during the afternoon of 20 February, she was able to take on beach defenses with her 40 mm guns.

The final shelling, on the morning of 22 February, kicked up a dense mixture of smoke and dust as the landing craft went in. "Tennessee"'s heavy guns checked fire at 0852 when the first amphibian tractors were 300 yards (270 m) from the beach, and her 40 mm took up the fire until the vehicles landed. Ships' guns continued to provide support during the first two hours of land fighting but ceased firing as the troops expanded their foothold and advanced across the island. By afternoon, Parry was secured, and Eniwetok atoll was securely in American hands.

On 23 February 1944, "Tennessee" sailed for Majuro. Here, she joined "New Mexico" (BB-40), "Mississippi" (BB-41), and "Idaho" (BB-42). Under the command of Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin, the battleships sortied from Majuro on 15 March with two escort carriers and a screen of 15 destroyers.

Their objective was the Japanese air and naval base at Kavieng, at the northern end of New Ireland. The Bismarck Archipelago, the two large islands of New Britain and New Ireland, lie just to the east of New Guinea. Rabaul, the by-now legendary Japanese operating base, is at the eastern end of New Britain, just across a narrow channel from New Ireland. About 240 miles (386 km) northwest of Rabaul, across the Bismarck Sea, is the small Admiralty Islands group. Another small island, Emirau, lies northwest of New Ireland and east of the Admiralties. Southeast from Rabaul, the Solomon Islands chain extended for more than five hundred miles (800 km). Since the first landing on Guadalcanal in August 1942, the chain had been slowly climbed in a series of strongly contested actions by sea, land, and air. By the end of 1943, American forces held a strong foothold on Bougainville, little more than 200 miles (320 km) from Rabaul.

The final steps in Rabaul's encirclement and isolation were planned for the spring of 1944. Kavieng was to have been captured early in April, but the success of the land-based air offensive against Rabaul convinced Admiral Chester Nimitz that it would be more profitable to occupy undefended Emirau instead, sending the bombardment ships against Kavieng to convince the Japanese that a landing on New Ireland was planned.

Admiral Griffin, accordingly, headed for Kavieng and, on the morning of 20 March 1944, approached the harbor. Rain squalls and low hanging clouds shrouded the area as "Tennessee" and the other gunfire ships zigzagged toward New Ireland. The island appeared through the overcast at about 0700."Tennessee" launched her spotting planes an hour later, and they were soon out of sight in the rain and mist. By 0905, the range to the target was within 15,000 yards (13.7 km), and the battleships opened a deliberate fire. Steaming at 15 knots (28 km/h), "Tennessee" dropped single 14 inch (356 mm) rounds and two- or three-gun salvoes on Kavieng as the bombardment force slowly closed the range. Poor visibility made gunfire spotting difficult, and the pace of firing was held down to avoid wasting ammunition.

"Tennessee" was about 7,500 yards (6.9 km) from the island when her lookouts reported gun flashes from the beach, quickly followed by shell splashes just off the starboard bow and close to one of her screening destroyers. At 0928, "Tennessee"'s port five-inch (127 mm) guns opened rapid continuous fire at the coastal battery, estimated to consist of four to six four-inch (102 mm) guns. A 180 degree turn brought the battleship's starboard secondaries to bear, and the duel continued. The Japanese gunners began to get the range, and some projectiles hit close aboard on the starboard beam while others came similarly close to "Idaho". "Tennessee" was straddled several times and drew away from the shore at 18 knots (33 km/h) before checking fire at 0934. Reducing speed to 15 knots (28 km/h) and turning back to firing position, "Tennessee" reopened fire at 0936. Her main and secondary batteries pounded the enemy guns for ten minutes, and nothing more was heard from the Japanese guns. For the next three hours, the ships steamed back and forth off Kavieng, shelling the Japanese airfield and shore facilities. Other coastal gun positions were sighted, but the battleship's 14 inch (356 mm) fire silenced them before they could get off a round. Visibility continued to be a problem; observers in the ships' floatplanes could not get a clear view of the targets. When the five inch (127 mm) guns were firing at targets in wooded areas, spotters in the ship's gun directors could not observe hits in the heavy foliage. More than once, rounds had to be dropped in the water to obtain a definite point of reference before "walking" fire onto the desired target.

The bombardment ended at 1235. "Tennessee" turned away and made rendezvous with the covering escort carriers as Admiral "Bull" Halsey wired his "congratulations on your effective plastering of Kavieng." This diversion had had its effect. While Admiral Griffin's battleships blasted Kavieng, Emirau had been seized without opposition. Pausing at Purvis Bay and Efate, "Tennessee" arrived at Pearl Harbor on 16 April to refurbish and prepare for her next task: Operation Forager, the assault on the Marianas.

Mariana Islands

Operation Forager, the assault on the Mariana Islands, was planned as a two-pronged thrust. Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner's Task Force 51 was organized into a Northern Attack Force (TF 52), under his command, and a Southern Attack Force (TF 53) under Rear Admiral Richard Conolly. While TF 52 attacked Saipan and nearby Tinian, Conolly's TF 52 was aimed at Guam. The bombardment and fire support force arrayed for this operation included "Tennessee" and seven other older battleships, 11 cruisers, and about 26 destroyers. These ships were divided into two fire support groups, "Tennessee", with "California" (BB-44), "Maryland" (BB-46), and "Colorado" (BB-45), was assigned to Fire Support Group One (TG 52.17) under Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf.

The Northern Attack Force assembled at Hawaii in mid-May 1944. After rehearsals off Maui and Kahoolawe, Fire Support Group One sailed for Kwajalein while the transports staged at Eniwetok. On 10 June 1944, "Tennessee" and her task group departed Kwajalein, bound for Saipan.

Early on 13 June, as the force approached the Marianas, signs of Japanese activity began to appear. A patrol plane reported sighting a surfaced submarine some convert|20|mi|km|-1 ahead and attacked it. Another plane shot down a landbased Mitsubishi G4M Betty which had been trailing along ten miles (16 km) astern of the ships. Another submarine contact was reported to port of the formation, and screening destroyers dropped depth charges. During the 13th, Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee's Task Group 68.7, seven new fast battleships of the "North Carolina", "South Dakota", and "Iowa" classes temporarily detached from Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 68, hurled a furious bombardment at Saipan.

Throughout the following night, lookouts reported gun flashes on the horizon, and escorting destroyers attacked suspected submarines. General quarters was sounded at 0400 on 14 June as the old battleships drew near to Saipan. Near the horizon, a Japanese cargo ship, set afire by the guns of "Melvin" (DD-680), burned brightly. Shortly before dawn, Oldendorf's battleships passed to the north of Saipan as the second fire-support group steamed through Saipan Channel at the southern end of the island. The southern group opened fire at 0539. Nine minutes later, "Tennessee" began a methodical bombardment of the selected landing area, the southern portion of Saipan's west coast, in support of minesweepers carrying out an assault sweep on the landing zone. Enemy coastal guns had fired a few shots at Oldendorf's ships as they rounded the northern tip of the island, and attacking carrier planes as well as the ships' observation floatplanes encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. "Maryland" drew fire from a battery concealed on a tiny islet off Tanapag harbor. She and "California" turned on this foe and soon silenced it.

Released from this duty, "Tennessee" sailed southward to the area of Agingan Point, at the southwest corner of Saipan and the southern end of the designated landing area. Underwater demolition teams (UDT) approached the beach in small craft to reconnoiter the landing beaches and to plant radar beacons which would provide reference points to the next day's landing. "Tennessee" closed to convert|3000|yd|m|-3 of Agingan Point and, at 0831, opened up with 14 inch, five-inch, and 40 millimeter batteries. Some smoldering powder grains from the five-inch (127 mm) guns fell on the port side of the battleship's quarterdeck and burst into flame, but were quickly extinguished. Japanese guns dropped shells near the UDTs as mortars and machine guns joined in; at about 0920, projectile splashes began to appear near the supporting ships as batteries on nearby Tinian opened fire. "Cleveland" (CL-56) was straddled, and "California" and "Bramie" (DD-630) took hits. "Tennessee" aimed counterbattery fire at the defenders who were opposing the UDTs, and her turret guns fired at Tinian. Shortly before noon, she moved to the northwest to bombard Japanese fortifications on Afetna Point, near the center of the landing zone. At 1331, the ship ceased fire and withdrew from the firing area to recover her seaplanes, later closing "Wadleigh" (DD-689) and "Brooks" (APD-10) to take on board five wounded UDT men for treatment. She joined the rest of her fire support group and took up night stations to the west of Saipan.

D-Day on Saipan was 15 June 1944. Circling to the north of the island, well out of sight from shore during the last hours of darkness, the assault force was off the landing beaches by day. Reserve landing forces staged an elaborate feint off Tanapag harbor, hoping to induce the Japanese to reinforce its defenses before the actual landing took place further south. At 0430, the pre-landing bombardment began. "Tennessee" joined in at 0640 with a heavy barrage from her main, secondary and 40 millimeter guns from convert|3000|yd|m|-3 west of Agingan Point. At 0642, the landing craft and amphibian tractors of the landing force began to load and assemble for the movement to shore. Gunfire was lifted at 0630 to allow carrier planes to bombard the island's defenses, resuming at 0700. At 0812, the assault waves headed for the beach. The first went ashore at 0844 and met heavy opposition. The pre-landing bombardment, though prolonged and intense, had left much of the Japanese defenses still able to fight; and, as the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions landed on a four-mile (6 km) front south of Garapan, they found that much still remained to be done.

"Tennessee"'s assault station was off the southern end of the landing beach. During the first wave's approach, her guns enfiladed that end of the objective to prepare the way for the right-hand elements of the 4th Division. She checked fire as the troops neared the beach, resuming it a few minutes later as the Marines fought to establish themselves ashore. Japanese 4.7 inch field guns, emplaced in a cave on Tinian, opened on "Tennessee". The battleship commenced counterbattery fire, but the third enemy salvo scored three hits, all of which burst on impact. One projectile knocked out a five-inch twin gun mount; the second struck the ship's side, while the third tore a hole in the after portion of main deck and sprayed fragments into the wardroom below. An intense fire inside the disabled gun mount was subdued in two minutes by repair parties and men from nearby gun crews; the hit to the hull damaged external blister plating, but was prevented from inflicting further damage by the battleship's heavy belt armor. Eight men were killed by projectile fragments, while 26 more were wounded by fragments and flash burns. "Tennessee"'s damages did not prevent her from delivering call fire to help break up a developing Japanese counterattack near Agingan Point before leaving the firing line to make emergency repairs. During the afternoon and night, she took station to screen assembled transports. Four Japanese dive bombers attacked nearby ships at 1846, and "Tennessee"'s six-inch (152 mm) guns briefly engaged them but claimed no hits. That evening, "Tennessee" buried her dead. Tokyo radio claimed victory in the battle for Saipan, stating that they had sunk a battleship which they identified as "probably the "New Jersey"."

The "sunken" "Tennessee" returned to Saipan Channel early the next day. Several Japanese counterattacks had been stopped during the night, and "Tennessee"'s supporting fire assisted the marines in organizing and consolidating their beachhead. During the evening, the first troops of the Army's 27th Infantry Division began to come ashore; another counterattack, this one involving tanks, was turned back during the night of 16 June.

The original plan laid called for landings on Guam on 18 June. However, during the afternoon of the 16th and the early hours of the 16th, Admiral Raymond Spruance was advised that Japanese warships were at sea, off the Philippines, heading for the Marianas. The Japanese plan for the defense of these vital islands called for their garrison to hold out while a naval force mounted a counterstroke to destroy the American invasion fleet. By the morning of the 16th, Spruance decided to cancel the attack on Guam while continuing the fight for Saipan and disposing his naval forces for battle. The fast carrier force was sent to counter the Japanese thrust, while the fire-support battleships were to be deployed to the west of Saipan in case the Japanese should evade Task Force 58 and direct a surface thrust at the island. "Tennessee" held station west of Saipan with the other elderly battleships as the two fleets groped toward each other about convert|150|mi|km|-1 away.

On 19 June, Mitscher's task force clashed with Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's Mobile Fleet in what was to be called the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot." By this time, American carrier operations had attained a high level of excellence while the Japanese air arm, its experienced airmen mostly lost during the long campaigns of 1942 and 1943, had to make do with unskilled pilots. The result was striking. In more than eight hours of intense aerial combat, more than 300 Japanese planes were knocked down, most of these by carrier fighters. By 20 June, counterattacking American planes and submarines had sent carriers "Hiyō", "Shōkaku", and "Taihō" to the bottom. Thus, Japan's last serious carrier offensive operation ended in disaster.

Ozawa's fleet never got close enough to Saipan for "Tennessee" and her cousins to be called upon. On the 20th, she fueled east of Saipan as the Japanese carrier force headed westward. The next day, she was back on the gun line to blast gun positions on Manigassa Island, off Tanapag harbor. Call fire occupied the afternoon, as she took on several targets near Garapan. "Tennessee"'s convert|14|in|mm|0|sing=on guns commenced firing at 0555 the next day, pounding Garapan from convert|6000|yd|m|-3. Shell hits on the battered town raised clouds of smoke and dust, reminding the battleship's gunners of the Aleutian murk. Fire was shifted onto Mount Tapotchau, east of Garapan, before being returned to Garapan to assist the American troops who were working their way into the southern part of town.

On the night of 22 June, "Tennessee" got underway for Eniwetok where "Hector" (AR-7) repaired her battle damage as the fight for Saipan ground to its end on 9 July. Her next destination was Guam. Departing Eniwetok on 16 July with "California", she joined Rear Admiral Ainsworth's Southern Fire Support Group (TG 53.5) off Guam in the afternoon of 19 July. The next day, she joined in a systematic bombardment begun on 8 July which was carefully planned to soften up the enemy's defenses while avoiding harm to the island's friendly Chamorro population. "Tennessee" launched her planes, and, at 0742, her turret guns opened fire while the five-inch battery raked nearby Cabras Island. The ship slowly maneuvered to a position north of Asan Point, several miles north of Apra harbor, where one of two landing beaches was sited. UDTs scouted the beaches while planes laid smoke screens to cover their movements, and the ships' guns kept the Japanese defenders occupied. Firing ceased at midday and resumed late in the afternoon, as "Tennessee" continued to hammer Japanese positions north of Apra.

Shortly after dawn on 21 July, the bombardment ships again took up their work. "Tennessee" renewed her attentions to Cabras Island as the assault waves formed and headed for shore and continued to provide support during the first stage of the landing. At 1003, she ceased firing. Late that day, she put to sea with "California" and "Colorado" and returned to Saipan on 22 July.

"Tennessee" anchored in Tanapag harbor to replenish ammunition before taking up her night position to the west of Tinian. At 0607 on 23 July, she opened fire on the waterfront area of Tinian Town, as part of a deception scheme intended to convince the strong Japanese garrison that the landing would take place at Sunharon Bay, on the southwest coast of the island. A UDT even made a daylight reconnaissance of the beaches to strengthen the impression, and "Tennessee"'s guns supported the frogmen. Fire paused around midday and resumed again in the afternoon before the ship retired to her night position off the island.

Early in the morning of 24 July, "Tennessee" took up her position off Tinian's northwest coast with "California", "Louisville" (CA-28), and several destroyers. From convert|2500|yd|m|-2 offshore, the ships opened fire at 0532 ceasing fire as the first wave closed the beach at 0747. For the rest of the day, the ship stood by to deliver fire if needed, then retired for the night. In the morning of 26 July, "Tennessee" relieved "California" as the "duty ship" to furnish call fire upon request from the beach. Through 26 July, "Tennessee" delivered supporting fire by day and star shell by night. After returning briefly to Saipan to replenish on 27 July, the battleship was back on the firing line on 28 July, and her fire supported the advancing marines through the afternoon. Following replenishment at Saipan on 29 July, "Tennessee" began 30 July in support of Marines advancing southward through Tinian Town. In the early morning, one of her observation planes collided in midair with a landbased Marine OY-I spotting plane. Both aircraft plummeted to earth behind Japanese lines and burst into flames; the crews of both were killed.

Firing continued through that day and into 31 July, as the Marines crowded the last defenders into the southern tip of the island. At 0830 on 31 July, "Tennessee"'s guns fell silent, and she returned to Saipan with her task accomplished. On the evening of 2 August, she arrived off Guam to resume fire-support duty. Rejoining Ainsworth's gunfire task group, she delivered call fire and illumination until 8 August when she joined "California" and "Louisville" for the voyage to Eniwetok and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. The ships arrived at Espiritu Santo on 24 August. On 2 September, "Tennessee" arrived at Tulagi for a brief period of amphibious support training.

Meanwhile, decisions had been made which would reshape the Allied offensive in the western Pacific. Meeting at Pearl Harbor in July 1944, President of the United States Franklin Roosevelt, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and General Douglas MacArthur had finally reached an agreement that the Philippines were to be liberated, not merely bypassed. After further discussions, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved landings beginning at Mindanao, continuing north through Leyte, then taking either Luzon or Formosa and Amoy. During early September, Task Force 38 hit Japanese bases from the Palau Islands to the Visaya Islands, inflicting considerable damage. Surprisingly little resistance was encountered by the roving carriers, leading to a conclusion that enemy air strength was virtually nonexistent. Nimitz, MacArthur, and William Halsey, Jr. agreed that this eliminated any need for a network of southern air bases to support the capture of the Philippines. Proposed landings on Yap and Mindanao were scrapped, although Morotai was invaded in September and preparations were made for an assault on the Palau Islands before bypassing the southern Philippines and going into Leyte.

Palau Islands

The Palaus were to be "Tennessee"'s next objective. This group was not an atoll, but an elongated cluster of islands just north of the equator and at the western end of the Caroline Islands. The group is about convert|110|mi|km|-1 long from small islands and reefs to the north through the large island of Babelthuap to the small southern islands of Peleliu and Angaur.

The objectives of the assault force were Kossol Roads, a reef-sheltered anchorage at the northern end of the chain, and the two southern islands; the large Japanese garrison on Babelthuap was to be isolated and left to its own devices. Planes and gunfire ships took turns pounding Peleliu from the morning of 12 September until the assault waves went ashore on 15 September. The battle for that island was to be one of the most bitter of the Pacific war, and organized resistance was not eliminated until November, at a heavy cost in lives. "Tennessee"'s target was the smaller island of Angaur, a few miles south of Peleliu. On the morning of 12 September, "Tennessee" and "Pennsylvania", with four light cruisers and five destroyers, began a prolonged bombardment as carrier aircraft did their share.

The flash and roar of bombs and gunfire from ships and planes attacking Peleliu were plain on the horizon as "Tennessee" closed Angaur early on 12 September. The battleship opened fire at 0682, hurling 14 inch shells at targets ashore from convert|14000|yd|m|-3. Through the morning and afternoon, her guns hit coast-defense positions and antiaircraft sites. During the afternoon, minesweepers cleared the approaches to the beaches. By this time, "Tennessee" was only convert|8760|yd|m|-1 from shore, and her 40 millimeters had joined in. A prominent masonry lighthouse on the west coast of Angaur was ordered destroyed to keep the Japanese from using it as a gunfire observation point. Twelve 14 inch rounds were aimed at it, scarring the area and scoring three hits, but the tower remained standing. Other targets absorbed "Tennessee"'s attention for the next three days. "Tennessee" stood by off Peleliu during the morning of 15 September in case her guns should be needed to assist the assault landing. When this work was completed, she returned on the evening of 16 September to finish off the stubborn tower before the next morning's scheduled landings. As the ship's turret guns trained out on the target, a six-inch projectile from "Denver" (CL-58) screamed in from the far side of the island and sent the lighthouse crashing down in a cloud of smoke and dust.

Ships and carrier planes pounded the island for five days before Army troops of the 81st Infantry Division went ashore on Angaur on the morning of 17 September. "Tennessee"'s guns supported the soldiers through 19 September. By the morning of 20 September, organized resistance was at an end; and the battleship steamed away from the island to Kossol Roads to refuel and to take on ammunition. On 28 September, she arrived at Manus to prepare for her next operation.

"Tennessee" weighed anchor on 12 October and set her course for Leyte Gulf, Under the supreme command of General MacArthur, Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet carried two Army corps toward the invasion area. Their objectives were two landing zones on the eastern coast of Leyte. A Northern Attack Force (TF 78) under Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey was aimed at Tacloban, while Vice Admiral Theodore Wilson command TF 79, the Southern Attack Force whose target was Dulag. The old battleships were divided between two fire-support units. "Tennessee", with "California" and "Pennsylvania", sailed with the Dulag attack force under Rear Admiral Oldendorf.

During its approach to the Philippines, the invasion force was alert for air and submarine attack, but none came. As the ships steamed under hot, clear skies, their radios brought news of Task Force 38 as the fast carriers ranged an arc from the Ryukyu Islands to Formosa before turning on Japanese air bases in Luzon and the central Philippines. Preliminary minesweeping and bombardment, to clear the way into Leyte Gulf, began on the morning of 17 October 1944. The entrance to the gulf was secured, but the approaches to the objective area were partially swept when Oldendorf, to avoid delaying the operation, decided to order his ships into the gulf. At 0609 on the morning of 18 October, "Tennessee", with her fire-support unit, entered the channel between Homonhon and Dinagat islands. Paravanes streamed from her bows, and Marines were stationed in her upperworks to sink or explode floating mines. The minesweepers continued their work as the heavy ships moved slowly up Leyte Gulf.

"Tennessee" took up her position off Dulag before dawn on 19 October and, at 0645, began to bombard the landing area north of the town. Her main battery opened up from convert|8300|yd|m|-2, and her secondaries chimed in a few minutes later as she aimed at fortifications and antiaircraft gun emplacements. Catmon Hill, a convert|1000|ft|m|-2|sing=on elevation just inland, received particular attention from the ships. Japanese planes were reported in the offing, but the only attack came from a horizontal bomber which dropped one bomb into the water near "Honolulu" (CL-48) before being knocked down by gunfire. Heavy shelling continued through the afternoon, and the bombardment ships took up night cruising stations off the mouth of Leyte Gulf.

The landings were scheduled for 20 October, and at 0600 "Tennessee" opened neutralization fire on the beaches. As the northern force pounded Tacloban and went in to the attack, transports assembled off Dulag and put the landing force into the water. Infantry landing craft armed with heavy mortars, LCI(M)s, began dropping shells on reverse slopes at 0915; and, at 0930, the landing waves crossed the line of departure and moved for the beach. At 0945, rocket-firing landing craft, LCI(R)s, began to hurl their masses of explosive bombardment rockets at the beach defenses, and the first troops went ashore 15 minutes later. Naval gunfire was shifted inland and to the flanks to assist the landing troops as they began to carve out a beachhead. The landing went well. During the afternoon, "Honolulu" was again attacked, this time by a torpedo bomber which scored a hit and forced the cruiser to withdraw. Night air attacks were feared; a screen of destroyers was placed around the ships in the gulf, smoke was generated, and much nervous firing flared up in the darkness and caused some casualties.

"Tennessee" continued her work off the beachhead until her fire support was no longer required and the increasing tempo of Japanese air activity in the area required her to place herself where her antiaircraft guns could assist in the defense of the assembled transports and cargo ships. In the evening of 21 October, while lying dead in the water in a smoke screen laid to protect the shipping from attacking planes, "Tennessee" was rammed near the stern by the transport "USS War Hawk" (AP-168). No one was injured, and the battleship's tough hull was little harmed, but her orders for a night fire-support mission were canceled.

Matters continued to go well ashore, where the town of Tacloban was captured and declared a temporary seat of the Philippine government. Air defense, rather than shore bombardment, was still "Tennessee"'s mission; on the morning of 24 October, enemy planes sank an LCI(L) and damaged a cargo ship before being driven off. A larger raid came in from several directions before noon, hitting American positions on Leyte. The afternoon was mostly quiet. A third attack occurred at 1700. As the enemy aircraft drew away, the battleship's executive officer passed the electrifying word that a Japanese naval task force was expected to try to enter Leyte Gulf that night. The six old battleships of the fire support groups formed columns and moved south to take up positions at the mouth of Surigao Strait, the body of water between Leyte and Dinagat which formed a southern entrance to Leyte Gulf.

Battle of Leyte Gulf

They were in place for the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

While "Tennessee" had been working Leyte, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters had noted the scale of the operation being mounted and had decided to make that island the focus of a decisive naval counterstroke — the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The principal surface strength of the Combined Fleet had gone to Lingga Roads, an anchorage in the Lingga Archipelago off Sumatra at the southwest end of the South China Sea, to be near their fuel supply since American submarines had made it increasingly difficult to get oil through to Japan. The surviving carriers had returned to the Inland Sea to train aircrews. Under the Japanese plan, dictated by a combination of geography, logistics, and the lack of adequate carrier aviation, four widely separated forces were to converge on the area of Leyte Gulf in an effort to destroy, at whatever cost, the American invasion force.

The Japanese forces set in motion some days earlier were now approaching their objective. A force of four carriers and two converted hermaphrodite "battleship-carriers" was steaming south from Japan toward the Philippine Sea, while a small surface force under Vice-Admiral Kiyohide Shima had sailed from Japanese waters heading for the Sulu Sea. Two striking forces of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers had sailed from Lingga Roads; north of Borneo they separated. The larger force, under Admiral Takeo Kurita, passed north of Palawan (losing three cruisers to submarine attack) to transit the Sibuyan Sea and emerge to the north of Samar. A smaller force, commanded by Vice-Admiral Shoji Nishimura, turned to the south of Palawan and crossed the Sulu Sea to pass between Mindanao and Leyte. Shima's orders directed him to support Nishimura, and his force followed some miles behind Nishimura's.

If the Sho Plan, as it was called, worked properly, Kurita would approach Leyte Gulf from the north while Nishimura and Shima came up from the south, catching the massed amphibious shipping in the jaws of a vise and destroying it. Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's force was toothless since prolonged heavy casualties and an inadequate pilot training program had left the Imperial Navy with few experienced carrier pilots. The carrier force advancing southward from Japan carried only enough planes to make a convincing decoy; its job was to lure Admiral "Bull" Halsey's Third Fleet to the north while the converging surface forces did their job.

During the morning of 24 October, carrier planes sighted the three Japanese groups in the Sulu and Sibuyan seas. Recognizing Kurita's as the most powerful, Halsey directed the fast carriers' air groups against him as the Japanese ships steamed across the Sibuyan Sea. With no air cover, Kurita had to endure repeated bomb and torpedo attacks which forced one of his cruisers to turn back with serious damage and, as the day ended, sank the giant battleship "Musashi". Complaining of the lack of air support, Kurita turned back in midafternoon; and this movement was reported to Halsey by his pilots.

Early on the 24th, a Japanese scout plane from Luzon had spotted Task Force 38 east of that island. All available landbased planes were sent against it, mortally wounding the light carrier "Princeton" (CVL-23). Halsey concluded that the attackers were carrier-based. During the morning, Ozawa's reconnaissance planes sighted Halsey's carriers; and an unproductive air strike was launched against Task Force 38 at 1145. In the afternoon, the Japanese carriers were sighted and, in the evening of 24 October, Halsey ordered the fast carrier force to go after them. Shortly before sunset, Kurita had again reversed course and was heading back in the direction of Leyte Gulf; Halsey had been informed of this, but exaggerated reports of damage inflicted by his planes led him to believe that the Japanese force had been more grievously hurt than was the case. Judging that Kurita was too badly crippled to do any harm to the ships in Leyte Gulf, Halsey continued north through the night. By midnight the Japanese Center Force, as the American commanders referred to it, was pushing, unobserved, toward San Bernardino Strait before turning south toward Leyte Gulf.

Halsey had not sent his planes against the surface forces of Nishimura and Shima, believing that Kinkaid's warships would be able to deal with them. This was to be Oldendorf's job; and, in the evening of the 24th, he deployed his six battleships across the northern end of Surigao Strait. Besides his capital ships, Oldendorf had available eight cruisers and 28 destroyers. These were arranged toward the flanks, the destroyers placed in suitable position to launch torpedo attacks. A great deal of shooting in support of the landing operation had already occurred, and most of the shells remaining in the battleship's magazines were thin-walled, high-capacity bombardment ammunition rather than armor-piercing projectiles. Their handling-room crews carefully arranged the projectile supply so that high-capacity shells would be ready for use against anything smaller than a battleship. The big ships were directed to hold their fire until the enemy was within convert|20000|yd|m|-4 to insure as many hits as possible.

The sea was smooth and the moonless night intensely dark as the ships steamed slowly to and fro along their assigned lines of position. "Tennessee" quietly awaited her first action against her own kind.

All available Seventh Fleet patrol torpedo boats had been stationed in Surigao Strait and along its approaches. At 2286, the first PTs made radar contact with Nishimura. Successive torpedo attacks were launched as Nishimura entered Surigao Strait and steamed north, with Shima trailing well behind; Nishimura was annoyed but not injured, though one of Shima's cruisers took a torpedo and had to drop out of the running. Shortly before 0800, Nishimura was well into the strait and taking up battle formation when he was hit by a well-planned torpedo attack by five American destroyers. The battleship "Fusō" was hit and dropped out of formation; other torpedo spreads sank two Japanese destroyers and crippled a third. Another torpedo struck, but did not stop, "Fusō"’s sistership "Yamashiro". Ten minutes later, another destroyer attack scored a second hit on "Yamashiro". The disabled "Fusō" had apparently been set afire by the torpedo that had hit her; her magazines exploded at 0888 as "Arizona"’s had on the morning of 7 December; and the two shattered halves of the battleship slowly drifted back down the strait before sinking.

On board "Tennessee", observers had seen distant flashes of gunfire, star shells, and searchlights as the torpedo boats and destroyers engaged the Japanese. Soon explosions could be heard. At 0302, the battleship's radar picked up Nishimura'a approach at nearly convert|44000|yd|m|-3 and began to track the lead ship. This was the flagship, "Yamashiro". With the cruiser "Mogami" and destroyer "Shigure", she was all that remained of the first Japanese force. At 0351 Oldendorf ordered the flanking cruisers to open fire; and, at 0356, the battleships let fly from convert|20600|yd|m|-2.

"Tennessee"’s forward turret fired a three-gun salvo, and the rest of her 14 inch battery joined in. In this duel, "Tennessee", "California", and the recently arrived "West Virginia" had a considerable advantage over the other battleships. During their wartime modernization, all three had received new Mark 34 main-battery directors provided with Mark 8 fire-control radars and associated modern gunfire computing equipment. The main batteries of the other ships were still controlled by systems developed 20 years or more before and were using earlier Mark 3 radars. This handicap showed in their shooting. Firing in six-gun salvos to make careful use of her limited supply of armor-piercing projectiles, "Tennessee" got off 69 of her big 14 inch bullets before checking fire at 0408. The battle line had increased speed to convert|16|kn|mph km/h|0 before opening fire, and, as it drew near the eastern end of its line of position, simultaneous turns brought the ships around to a westward heading. "California" miscalculated her turn and came sharply across "Tennessee"’s bow, narrowly avoiding a collision and fouling "Tennessee"’s line of fire for about five minutes.

The effect of this intense bombardment was awesome. As one of "Tennessee"’s crew described it, "when a ship fired there would be a terrific whirling sheet of golden flame bolting across the sea, followed by a massive thunder, and then three red balls would go into the sky; up, arch over, and then down. When the salvoes found the target there would be a huge shower of sparks, and after a moment a dull orange glow would appear. This glow would increase, brighten, and then slowly dull." Little of the enemy could be seen from "Tennessee". Occasionally, the vague outline of a ship could be seen against the glare of an explosion; and, at one point, the single stack and high "pagoda" foremast of "Yamashiro" could be seen. Nishimura's three ships found themselves at the focus of a massive crossfire of battleship and cruiser fire. By 0400, both of the larger Japanese ships had been hit repeatedly as they gallantly attempted to return fire; "Mogami", sorely damaged and her engineering plant crippled, had turned back, and "Yamashiro", burning intensely, came about to follow. Oldendorf ordered gunfire to cease at 0409, after hearing that flanking destroyers were being endangered by American gunfire. "Yamashiro", still able to make convert|16|kn|mph km/h|0 after her frightful beating, was fatally hurt and, at 0419, rolled over and sank with all but a few of her crew. "Mogami" was able to draw out of radar range but had been slowed to a crawl."Shigure", more or less over-looked and relatively undamaged, escaped southward.

Shima's force, following along in Nishimura's wake, was unaware of what had befallen. When they were about halfway up Surigao Strait, they sighted what seemed to be two flaming ships; these were the broken halves of "Fusō". Shima's two cruisers made a radar torpedo attack on what they believed to be American ships but was, in fact, Hibuson Island. "The island," as historian Samuel Eliot Morison later remarked, "was not damaged."

The Japanese admiral decided that Nishimura's force had met with disaster and decided on a retreat. As his ships turned to steam back, cruiser "Nachi" collided with limping, burning "Mogami", but both vessels were able to continue southward. Collecting "Shigure", the only other survivor of Nishimura's attack, Shima retired back through the strait. Oldendorf sent some of his cruisers and destroyers after him, and the patrolling PTs joined in. Fire was engaged with the stubborn "Mogami", but she continued on her way only to be sunk by carrier planes shortly afterward. Destroyer "Asagumo", her bow blown off by destroyer torpedoes during Nishimura's approach, was sighted and sent to the bottom with her guns still firing. Oldendorf now received reports that Kurita's "crippled" force had emerged from San Bernardino Strait and joined action east of Samar with some of the supporting escort carrier force stationed there. Plans were hurriedly drawn for another surface battle, and Oldendorf's ships turned toward the northern entrance to Leyte Gulf to defend the landing area.

Their services were, however, not needed. In an epic action off Samar, the escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts of Rear Admiral C.A.F. Sprague's "Taffy Three" put up so desperate a fight that Kurita judged the odds against him hopeless and turned back. Halsey's carrier planes and surface ships sank all four of Ozawa's decoy carriers, and a submarine finished off a damaged cruiser.

The Battle for Leyte Gulf was over. The last major Japanese naval counterstroke had been defeated, and "Tennessee" had had a share in the last naval action fought by a battle line.


The next several days were quiet ones for "Tennessee", though the Japanese sent numerous land-based air strikes against Leyte Gulf. On 29 October, the battlewagon's crew was told that their next destination was to be the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Late that day, she got underway for Ulithi with "West Virginia", "Maryland", and four cruisers. From there, she proceeded to Pearl Harbor and thence to Bremerton, Washington, where she entered the shipyard on 26 November.

Unlike her last Yard overhaul, this refit made no remarkable changes in "Tennessee"’s appearance. She retained her battery of ten 40 millimeter quadruple anti-aircraft mounts and 43 20 millimeter guns, but her main battery directors received improved models of the Mark 8 radar, and the Mark 4 radars used with the five-inch (127 mm) gun directors were replaced by the newer combination of paired Mark 12 and Mark 22 dual-purpose equipment. "Tennessee"’s usefulness as an anti-aircraft ship was enhanced by the addition of a model SP height-finding radar. Her pattern camouflage scheme was replaced by a dark gray finish which was calculated to provide a less conspicuous aiming point for kamikaze suicide planes, introduced during the recapture of the Philippines and becoming more and more of a fact of naval life during the winter of 1944 and 1945.

ee also

*USS Tennessee (BB-43) 1941-1943
*USS Tennessee (BB-43) 1945
*Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign
*Mariana and Palau Islands campaign
*Battle of Leyte Gulf

External links

* [ Navy photographs of "Tennessee" (BB-43)]
* [ Maritimequest USS Tennessee BB-43 Photo Gallery]
* [ NavSource Online: Battleship Photo Archive BB-43 USS TENNESSEE 1917 - 1929]

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