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USS Washington (BB-56)

USS Washington (BB-56) was the second and final member of the North Carolina class of fast battleships, and the first vessel of the type built for the United States Navy.

Recognition drawing of the North Carolina class

The ship was laid down in 1938 and completed in May 1941 while the US was still neutral in WW2.

The keel for Washington was laid down on the 14th of June 1938 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Her completed hull was launched on 1 June 1940, and after completing fitting-out work, she was commissioned into the fleet on the 15th of May 1941.

Launching on 1 June 1940

She began builder’s sea trials on 3 August, but like her sister ship North Carolina, she suffered from excessive vibration while running at high speed from her original three-bladed screws. Tests with North Carolina produced a workable solution although the problem was never fully corrected, two four-bladed screws on the outer shafts and two five-bladed propellers on the inboard shafts. Tests continued during her shakedown cruise and subsequent initial training, which were conducted along the East Coast of the United States.

She conducted high speed tests in December, during which she failed to reach her designed speed due to the persisting vibration problems.
Illustration of North Carolina‘s main battery turret and barbette structure

During this period, the United States was still neutral in World War II. Washington frequently trained with North Carolina and the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, with Washington serving as the flagship of Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox Jr., the commander of the Battleship Division part of the Atlantic Fleet. Her initial working up training continued into 1942, by then the US had entered the war as the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and then Germany declared war. Modifications to the ship’s screws continued as late as February 1942, but these also proved unsuccessful.

With the country now at war, Washington was assigned as the flagship of Task Force 39, still under Wilcox’s command, which departed for Britain on the 26th of March. The unit, which included the USS Wasp and the heavy cruisers Wichita and Tuscaloosa, were to reinforce the British Home Fleet based in Scapa Flow. The Home Fleet had been weakened by the need to detach units, particularly Force H, to take part in the invasion of Madagascar, and the American battle group was needed to help counter the German heavy surface units based in occupied Norway. The next day, while crossing the Atlantic, Wilcox was swept overboard. Tuscaloosa and a pair of destroyers searched for the admiral, and Wasp sent aircraft aloft to assist the effort, but lookouts on the destroyer Wilson spotted him, face down in the water, having already drowned. The search was called off and the task force continued on to its destination. Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen, aboard Wichita, took command of the unit, which was met at sea by the British cruiser HMS Edinburgh on the 3rd of April. The ships arrived in Scapa Flow two days later, where it came under the command of Admiral John Tovey, the commander of the Home Fleet.

For the rest of the month, Washington and the other American ships were occupied with battle practice and familiarization training with the Home Fleet to prepare the different countries’ ships for joint operations. TF 39 was redesignated TF 99 in late April, Washington still serving as the flagship. The ships embarked on their first operation on the 28th of April to conduct a sweep for German warships ahead of the supply convoy PQ 15 to the Soviet Union. The ships of TF 99 operated with elements of the Home Fleet, including the battleship HMS King George V and the carrier Victorious. During the operation, King George V accidentally rammed and sank the destroyer Punjabi, Washington was following too closely to avoid the wreckage, and as she passed over the sinking destroyer, Punjabi’s depth charges exploded. The shock from the blast damaged some of Washington’s radars and fire-control equipment and caused a small leak in one of her fuel tanks. King George V had to return to port for repairs, but Washington and the rest of TF 99 remained at sea until the 5th of May. The ships stopped at Hvalfjörður, Iceland, where they took on supplies from the supply ship Mizar.

The ships remained in Iceland until the 15th of May, when they got underway to return to Scapa Flow, arriving there the next day, Admiral Harold Rainsford Stark, the Commander of Naval Forces Europe, visited the ship and made her his temporary headquarters. On the 7th of June, King George VI came aboard to inspect Washington, and after Stark left, she resumed escorting convoys in the Arctic; these included convoys QP 12, PQ 16, and PQ 17. The first two occurred at the same time, with QP 12 returning from the Soviet Union while PQ 16 carrying another load of supplies and weapons. Washington, Victorious, and the battleship Duke of York provided distant support but was not directly engaged by the Germans and passed without significant incident.

The PQ 17 operation resulted in disaster when reconnaissance incorrectly reported Tirpitz, the heavy cruisers Admiral Hipper, Admiral Scheer, and Lützow, and nine destroyers to be approaching to attack the convoy, when in reality the Germans were still off the coast of Norway, their progress having been hampered by several of the vessels running aground. The reports of German heavy units at sea prompted the convoy commander to order his ships to scatter, which left them vulnerable to U-boats and Luftwaffe attacks that sank twenty-four of the thirty-five transport ships. While in Hvalfjörður on the 14th of July, Giffen moved his flag back to Wichita and Washington, escorted by four destroyers, got underway to return to the United States. She arrived in Gravesend Bay on the 21st of July and moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard two days later for an overhaul.

Washington off New York in August 1942, en route to the Pacific

After completing the refit, Washington got underway on the 23rd of August, she arrived in Nukuʻalofa in Tonga on the 14th of September. There, she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Willis Lee, then the commander of Task Group 12.2. On the 15th of September, Washington sailed to meet the ships of TF 17, centered on the carrier Hornet, the ships thereafter operated together and went to Nouméa in New Caledonia to begin operations in support of the campaign in the Solomon Islands. The ships, based out of Nouméa and Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, covered convoys bringing supplies and reinforcements to the marines fighting on Guadalcanal all the into early November.

During one of these convoy operations in mid-October, Washington, a pair of cruisers, and five destroyers provided distant support but were too far away to take part in the Battle of Cape Esperance on the night of the 11–12 October. Shortly thereafter, Washington was transferred to TF 64, the surface combatant force assigned to the Guadalcanal area, still under Lee’s command. At this time, the unit also included one heavy and two light cruisers and six destroyers. Over the course of 21–24 October, Japanese land-based reconnaissance aircraft made repeated contacts with TF 64 as a Japanese fleet approached the area, but in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands that began on the 25th, the Japanese concentrated their air attacks on the American carriers of TF 17 and 61. On the 27th of October, the Japanese submarine I-15 attempted to torpedo Washington but missed.

By early November, the US fleet had been reduced considerably in offensive power, the carriers Wasp and Hornet had been sunk, leaving just the carrier Enterprise, Washington, and the new battleship South Dakota as the only capital ships available to Allied forces fighting in the campaign. Washington joined the other two ships in TF 16, which also included the heavy cruiser Northampton, and nine destroyers. The ships sortied on the 11th of November to return to the fighting off Guadalcanal. The cruiser Pensacola and two more destroyers joined them the following day. On the 13th of November, after learning that a major Japanese attack was approaching, Halsey detached South Dakota, Washington, and four of the destroyers as Task Group 16.3, again under Lee’s command. Enterprise’s forward elevator was damaged from the action at Santa Cruz and she was kept to the south as a reserve and to prevent the sole operational American carrier in the Pacific from being lost. The ships of TG 16.3 were to block an anticipated Japanese bombardment group in the waters off Guadalcanal.

As Lee’s task group approached Guadalcanal, his Japanese counterpart, Admiral Nobutake Kondō steamed to meet him with his main bombardment force, consisting of the battleship/battlecruiser Kirishima, the heavy cruisers Takao and Atago, and a destroyer screen. While en route, TG 16.3 was re-designated as TF 64 on the 14th of November the ships passed to the south of Guadalcanal and then rounded the western end of the island to block Kondō’s expected route. Japanese aircraft reported sighting Lee’s formation, but identification of the ships ranged from a group of cruisers and destroyers to aircraft carriers, causing confusion among the Japanese commanders. That evening, American reconnaissance aircraft spotted Japanese warships off Savo Island, prompting Lee to order his ships to general quarters. The four destroyers were arrayed ahead of the two battleships. The American task force, having been thrown together a day before, had not operated together as a unit, and both of the battleships had very limited experience shooting their main battery, particularly at night.

The Japanese battleship KirishimaWashington‘s opponent off Guadalcanal

At around 23:00 on the 14th of November, the leading Japanese destroyers in a screening force commanded by Shintarō Hashimoto sent ahead of Kondō’s main force spotted Lee’s ships and turned about to warn Kondō, while Washington’s search radar picked up a Japanese cruiser and a destroyer at about the same time. The ships’ fire control radars then began tracking the Japanese vessels and Lee ordered both of his battleships to open fire when ready. Washington fired first with her main battery at 23:17 at a range of 18,000 yards while her secondary guns fired star shells to illuminate the targets, followed shortly by South Dakota. One of the Japanese destroyers, Ayanami, revealed her position by opening fire on the American destroyer screen, allowing Washington to target her, inflicting serious damage that disabled her propulsion machinery and started a major fire on board her.

Shortly thereafter, at about 23:30, an error in the electrical switchboard room knocked out power aboard South Dakota, disabling her radar systems and leaving the ship all but blind to the Japanese vessels approaching the force. By this time, Hashimoto’s ships had inflicted serious damage on the American destroyer screen, two of the destroyers were torpedoed, one of which the USS Benham survived until the following morning and a third was destroyed by gunfire. Washington was now left essentially alone to engage the Japanese squadron, though they had yet to actually detect her presence. While Washington’s captain, Glenn B. Davis, kept his ship on the disengaged side of the flaming wrecks of the destroyer screen, South Dakota was forced to turn in front of one of the burning destroyers to avoid a collision, which backlit her to the Japanese ships, drawing their fire and allowing Washington to engage them undisturbed.

Washington engaged in night firing; note the low elevation of the gun barrels

At 23:35, Washington’s radar detected Kondō’s main force and tracked them for the next twenty minutes. At 23:58, South Dakota’s power was restored, and her radar picked up the Japanese ships less than 3 nautical miles ahead. Two minutes later, the leading Japanese ship, Atago, illuminated South Dakota with her searchlights and the Japanese line promptly opened fire, scoring twenty-seven hits. Washington, still undetected, opened fire, allocating two of her 5-inch guns to engage Atago and two to fire star shells, while the rest joined her main battery in battering Kirishima at a range of 8,400 yards. Washington scored probably nine 16-inch hits and as many as forty 5-inch hits, inflicting grievous damage. Kirishima was badly holed below the waterline, her forward two turrets were knocked out, and her rudder was jammed, forcing her to steer in a circle to port with an increasing starboard list.

Washington then shifted fire to Atago and Takao, and though straddled the former, failed to score any significant hits; the barrage nevertheless convinced both cruisers to turn off their search lights and reverse course in an attempt to launch torpedoes. At 00:13, the two cruisers fired a spread of sixteen Long Lance torpedoes at Washington, then about 4,000 yards away, though they all missed. At 00:20, Lee turned his sole surviving combatant to close with Kondō’s cruisers. Atago and Takao briefly engaged with their main batteries and the former launched three more torpedoes, all of which missed. Kondō then ordered the light forces of his reconnaissance screen to make a torpedo attack, but Hashimoto’s ships were far out of position and were unable to comply. Rear Admiral Raizō Tanaka, who was escorting a supply convoy to Guadalcanal and had thus far not participated in the action, detached two destroyers to aid Kondō. When these ships arrived on the scene, Lee ordered Washington to reverse course at 00:33 to avoid a possible torpedo attack from the destroyers.

Tanaka’s two destroyers closed to launch their torpedoes while Washington was disengaging, prompting her to take evasive maneuvers while withdrawing to the south, Lee kept Washington far west of the damaged American warships so that any Japanese vessels pursuing him would not be drawn onto the damaged vessels. An hour later, Kondō canceled the bombardment and attempted to contact Kirishima, but after failing to receive a response he sent destroyers to investigate the crippled battleship. She was found burning furiously, still turning slowly to port as progressively worsening flooding disabled her boilers. At 03:25, she capsized and sank; by this time, Ayanami had also been abandoned and sank as a result of the damage inflicted by Washington. By 09:00, Washington had formed back up with South Dakota and the destroyers Benham and Gwin to withdraw from the area. In addition to blocking Kondō’s planned bombardment, Lee had delayed Tanaka’s convoy late enough that the transports could not unload under cover of darkness, and so they were forced to beach themselves on the island, where they were repeatedly attacked and badly damaged by aircraft from Enterprise and Henderson Field, field artillery, and the destroyer Meade later that morning.

Washington returned to screening the carriers Saratoga and Enterprise, while the South Dakota departed for repairs. By late November, Lee’s command was reinforced by North Carolina, followed later by the battleship Indiana. These battleships were grouped together as TF 64, still under Lee’s command, and they covered convoys to support the fighting in the Solomons into the next year. These operations included covering a group of seven transports carrying elements of the 25th Infantry Division to Guadalcanal from 1 to 4 January 1943. During another of these convoy operations later that month, Lee’s battleships were too far south to be able to reach the American cruiser force during the Battle of Rennell Island. Washington remained in the south Pacific until 30th of April, when she departed Nouméa for Pearl Harbor.

For the next twenty days, Washington operated as the flagship of TF 60, which conducted combat training off the coast of Hawaii. On the 28th of May, she went into dry dock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for repairs and installation of new equipment. This included a new set of screws that again failed to remediate the vibration problems. Once this work was completed, she resumed training exercises in the area until 27th of July, when she got underway with a convoy bound for the south Pacific. For the voyage, she was attached to TG 56.14, and was detached on 5 August to proceed independently to Havana Harbor at Efate in the New Hebrides. Washington spent the next two months conducting tactical training with the carrier task forces in the Efate area in preparation for the upcoming campaigns in the central Pacific.

Now part of TG 53.2, which included three other battleships and six destroyers, Washington got underway on the 31st of October. The ships met TG 53.3, centered on the carriers Enterprise, Essex, and Independence, the next day, for extensive training exercises that lasted until the 5th of November. The groups then dispersed, and Washington left with escorting destroyers for Viti Levu in the Fiji Islands, which she reached on the 7th of November.

Washington, still Lee’s flagship, sortied on the 11th of November in company with the ships of Battleship Divisions 8 and 9, and four days later they joined TG 50.1, centered on the carrier Yorktown. The fleet proceeded on to the Gilbert Islands, where marines were preparing to land on Tarawa. The carriers of TF 50 launched their strikes on the 19th of November, continuing into the next day as the marines went ashore on Tarawa and Makin. The attacks continued through 22 November, when the fleet steamed to the north of Makin to patrol the area. On the 25th of November, the groups of TF 50 were reorganized and Washington was transferred to TG 50.4, along with the carriers Bunker Hill and Monterey and the battleships South Dakota and Alabama.

From the 26th to the 28th of November, the carrier groups operated off Makin to cover the landing of troops and supplies on the island. Japanese aircraft attacked the groups on the 27 and 28 November, but they inflicted little damage on the American ships. On the 6th of December, with the fighting in the Gilberts over, Washington was detached to create TG 50.8 along with North Carolina, South Dakota, Alabama, Indiana, and Massachusetts, covered by Bunker Hill, Monterey, and eleven destroyers. The battleships were sent to bombard the island of Nauru two days later, thereafter, returning to Efate on 12 December. The ships remained there only briefly before departing on 25 December for gunnery training with North Carolina and four destroyers. The ships returned to port on the 7th of January 1944, at which time Washington was assigned to TG 37.2, along with Bunker Hill and Monterey. The ships got underway on the 18th of January bound for the next target in the campaign.

The ships stopped briefly in Funafuti in the Ellice Islands on the 20th of January before departing three days later to meet the rest of what was now TF 58. Washington’s unit was accordingly re-numbered as TG 58.1. Having arrived off the main target at Kwajalein by late January, Washington screened the carriers while they conducted extensive strikes on the island and neighboring Taroa. On the 30th of January, Washington, Massachusetts, and Indiana were detached from the carriers to bombard Kwajalein with an escort of four destroyers. After returning to the carriers the next day, the battleships resumed guard duty while the carriers resumed their air strikes.

While patrolling off the island in the early hours of the 1st of February, Indiana cut in front of Washington to refuel a group of destroyers, causing the lndiana to ram them and significantly damaging both ships. Washington had some 200 feet of bow plating torn from her bow, causing it to collapse. The two vessels withdrew to Majuro for temporary repairs, Washington’s crumpled bow was reinforced to allow her to steam to Pearl Harbor for further temporary repairs. After arriving there, she was fitted with a temporary bow before continuing on to the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington, for permanent repairs.

Another new set of screws was installed and in April, Washington conducted vibration tests that revealed a partial solution, the ship could now steam at high speed without significant issues, but vibration was still excessive at high speeds.
Washington off Hawaii in mid-1943

Once the work was completed, the ship joined BatDiv 4 and took on a group of 500 passengers before departing for Pearl Harbor. She arrived there on 13 May and disembarked the passengers and proceeded back to the fleet at Majuro. On arrival on 7 June, she resumed her service as now-Vice Admiral Lee’s flagship.

Shortly after Washington arrived, the fleet got underway to begin the assault on the Mariana Islands, the carriers struck targets on Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Rota, and Pagan to weaken Japanese defenses before ground forces went ashore. At the time, she was assigned to TG 58.7, which consisted of seven fast battleships, distributed between the four carrier task groups. On the 13th of June, Washington and several other battleships were detached to bombard Saipan and Tinian before being relieved by the amphibious force’s bombardment group the next day. On the 15th of June, the fast carrier task force steamed north to hit targets in the Volcano and Bonin Islands, including Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, and Haha Jima. At the same time, marines stormed the beaches on Saipan, the landing was a breach of Japan’s inner defensive perimeter that triggered the Japanese fleet to launch a major counterthrust with the 1st Mobile Fleet, the main carrier strike force.

The Japanese departure was observed by the American submarine USS Redfin, other submarines, including Flying Fish and Cavalla, tracked the Japanese fleet as it approached, keeping Admiral Raymond Spruance, the Fifth Fleet commander, informed of their movements. As the Japanese fleet approached, Washington and the rest of TF 58 steamed to meet it on the 18th of June, leading to the Battle of the Philippine Sea on the 19–20 June. Washington and the other battleships, with four cruisers and thirteen destroyers, were deployed some 15 nautical miles west of the carrier groups to screen the likely path of approach. The Japanese launched their aircraft first, and as they probed the American fleet’s defenses, Washington and North Carolina were the first battleships to open fire on the attacking Japanese aircraft. During the action, which was fought primarily by the carriers, the US fleet inflicted serious losses on the Japanese, destroying hundreds of their aircraft and sinking three carriers.

With the 1st Mobile Fleet defeated and withdrawing, Washington and the rest of TF 58 returned to the Marianas. She continued to screen the carriers during the Battle of Guam until the 25th of July, when Washington steamed with the carriers of TG 58.4 to raid the Palau Islands. The attacks lasted until the 6th of August, when Washington, Indiana, Alabama, the light cruiser Birmingham, and escorting destroyers were detached as TG 58.7 to proceed to Eniwetok. After arriving there on the 11th of August, the ships refueled and replenished ammunition and other supplies, remaining there for most of the month. On the 30th of August, the task group got underway with the rest of the fast carrier strike force, which by now had been transferred to Third Fleet command and renumbered TF 38. At this time, Washington was assigned to TG 38.3. The ships sailed first south to the Admiralty Islands and then west, back to the Palaus. There, the carriers began a series of strikes from the 6th to 8th of September on various targets in the Palaus; Washington contributed her heavy guns to the bombardment of Peleliu and Anguar before the marines assaulted both islands that month.

A Douglas SBD Dauntless flying over Washington off the Gilberts

On the 9th and 10th of September, task groups 38.1, 38.2, and 38.3 left the Palaus to raid Japanese airfields on Mindanao in the southern Philippines, part of the standard practice to neutralize nearby positions that could interfere with the upcoming assault on the Palaus. Finding few Japanese forces on the island, the carriers shifted north to the Visayas in the central Philippines from the 12th to 14th of September. The carrier groups then withdrew to refuel at sea before returning to the Philippines to attack airfields on Luzon from the 21st and 22nd of September before making further attacks on installations in the Visayas on the 24th of September. The carrier groups then proceeded north to make a series of strikes on airfields in Okinawa, Formosa, and Luzon in preparation for the upcoming invasion of the Philippines.

TF 38 embarked on the raids to isolate the Philippines and suppress the units of the 1st Air Fleet on the 6th of October attached to TG 38.3. The first operation was a major strike on Japanese air bases on the island of Okinawa the next day, the ships of TG 38.3 refueled at sea before joining the other three task groups for major raids on Formosa that took place from the 12th to 14th of October. As the fleet withdrew the next day, it defended itself against heavy Japanese air attacks, though the ships of TG 38.3 were not directly engaged as the Japanese attacks concentrated on task groups 38.1 and 38.4. On the 16th, a submarine reported observing a Japanese squadron consisting of three cruisers and eight destroyers searching for damaged Allied warships, and TG 38.3 and TG 38.2 steamed north to catch them, but the aircraft were only able to locate and sink a torpedo boat.

On the 17th of October, the two task groups withdrew to the south to cover the invasion of Leyte with the rest of TF 38, the same day that elements of Sixth Army went ashore, the raids on Luzon continued into the 19th of October. By this time, Washington had been reassigned to TG 38.4, screening Enterprise, the fleet carrier Franklin, and the light carriers San Jacinto and Belleau Wood. On the 21st of October, TG 38.4 withdrew to refuel, during which time they also covered the withdrawal of ships that had been damaged during the Formosa raid, which were still on their way to Ulithi. TG 38.4 was recalled to Leyte the next day.

The landing on Leyte led to the activation of Operation Shō-Gō 1, the Japanese navy’s planned riposte to an Allied landing in the Philippines. The plan was a complicated operation with three separate fleets: The 1st Mobile Fleet, now labeled the Northern Force under Jisaburō Ozawa, the Center Force under Takeo Kurita, and the Southern Force under Shōji Nishimura. Ozawa’s carriers, by now depleted of most of their aircraft, were to serve as a decoy for Kurita’s and Nishimura’s battleships, which were to use the distraction to attack the invasion fleet directly. Kurita’s ships were detected in the San Bernardino Strait on 24 October, and in the ensuing Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, American carrier aircraft sank the world’s most powerful battleship Musashi, causing Kurita to temporarily reverse course. This convinced Admiral William F. Halsey, the commander of Third Fleet, to send the fast carrier task force to destroy the 1st Mobile Fleet, which had by then been detected. Washington steamed north with the carriers, and on the way, Halsey established TF 34, under Lee’s command, consisting of Washington and five other fast battleships, seven cruisers, and eighteen destroyers.

On the morning of the 25th of October, Mitscher began his first attack on the Northern Force, initiating the Battle off Cape Engaño; over the course of six strikes on the Japanese fleet, the Americans sank all four carriers and damaged two old battleships that had been converted into hybrid carriers. Unknown to Halsey and Mitscher, Kurita had resumed his approach through the San Bernardino Strait late on 24 October and passed into Leyte Gulf the next morning. While Mitscher was occupied with the decoy Northern Force, Kurita moved in to attack the invasion fleet, in the Battle off Samar, he was held off by a group of escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts, TU 77.4.3, known as Taffy 3. Frantic calls for help later that morning led Halsey to detach Lee’s battleships to head south and intervene.

However, Halsey waited more than an hour after receiving orders from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, to detach TF 34 still steaming north during this interval, the delay added two hours to the battleships’ voyage south. A need to refuel destroyers further slowed TF 34’s progress south. Heavy resistance from Taffy 3 threw Kurita’s battleships and cruisers into disarray and led him to break off the attack before Washington and the rest of TF 34 could arrive. Halsey detached the battleships Iowa and New Jersey as TG 34.5 to pursue Kurita through the San Bernardino Strait while Lee took the rest of his ships further southwest to try to cut off his escape, but both groups arrived too late.

After the battle, the units of TF 38 withdrew to Ulithi to replenish fuel and ammunition for further operations in the Philippines. The carrier task forces got underway again on the 22nd of November for more strikes on the airfields on Luzon and the Visayas that continued until the 14th of November, when they withdrew again to Ulithi, arriving there three days later. On the 18th of November, Lee exchanged flagships with Rear Admiral Edward Hanson, the commander of Battleship Division 9, who had used South Dakota as his flagship. At the same time, Washington was transferred to TG 38.3, in company with South Dakota and North Carolina. The ships sortied on the 22nd of November for gunnery training while the carriers conducted strikes independently against targets in the Philippines over the next three days. She arrived back in Ulithi on the 2nd of December, where the crew made repairs and loaded ammunition and stores for the future operations.

Washington with other ships of Task Group 38.3 operating off Okinawa in May 1945

The units of TF 38 got underway again on the 11th of December for more attacks on Luzon to suppress Japanese aircraft as the amphibious force prepared for its next landing on the island of Mindoro in the western Philippines. The raid lasted from the 14th to the 16th of December, and while the fleet withdrew to refuel on the 17th of December, Typhoon Cobra swept through the area, battering the fleet and sinking three destroyers. The damage inflicted on the fleet delayed further support of ground troops for two days and the continuing bad weather led Halsey to break off operations and the ships arrived back in Ulithi on the 24th of December.

On the 30th of December, the fleet got underway to make preparatory strikes for the landing on Luzon, Washington remained with TG 38.3 for the operation. The carriers struck Formosa again on the 3rd and 4 January 1945 after refueling at sea on the 5th of January, the carriers attacked kamikazes massed at airfields on Luzon on the 6th and 7 January to neutralize them before the invasion of Lingayen Gulf. Further attacks on Formosa and Okinawa followed on the 9th of January. The next day, the carrier groups entered the South China Sea, where it refueled and then struck targets in French Indochina on the assumption that significant Japanese naval forces were present, but only merchant ships and a number of minor warships were caught and sunk there. During these raids, other elements of the Allied fleet invaded Lingayen Gulf on Luzon.

Washington passing through the Panama Canal with Enterprise in October 1945

In February, she escorted carriers during attacks on the Japanese island of Honshu to disrupt Japanese air forces that might interfere with the planned invasion of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands. Fifth Fleet had re-assumed command of the fast carrier task force by this point, and Washington was now part of TG 58.4. The fleet sortied from Ulithi on 10 February, and after conducting training exercises off Tinian on the 12th, refueled at sea on 14 February and continued on north to launch strikes on the Tokyo area two days later. The raids continued through 17 February and the next day, the fleet withdrew to refuel and TG 58.4 was sent to hit other islands in the Bonin chain to further isolate Iwo Jima. During the preparatory bombardment for that attack, Washington, North Carolina, and the heavy cruiser Indianapolis were detached from the task group to reinforce TF 54, the assault force for the invasion remained on station during the marine assault and provided fire support as they fought their way across the island. The next day, the carrier groups reassembled and refueled on the 24th of February for further operations against the Japanese mainland.

Washington anchored at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in April 1944

After leaving Iwo Jima, the fleet resumed air attacks on the Home Islands to prepare for the next amphibious assault on Okinawa in the Ryukyus. The first of these, on the 25th and 26th of February hit targets in the Tokyo area, followed by another attack on Iwo Jima the next day. The fleet refueled on the 28th of February and on the 1st of March raided Okinawa, thereafter, returning to Ulithi on 4 March. While in Ulithi, the fleet was reorganized, and Washington was transferred to TG 58.3. The fleet sortied on the 14th of March for additional attacks on Japan, the ships refueled on 16 March on the way, and they launched their aircraft two days later to hit targets in Kyushu. The attacks caused significant damage to Japanese facilities on the island and sank or damaged numerous warships. The task groups withdrew to refuel and reorganize on the 22nd of March, as several carriers and other ships had been damaged by kamikaze and air attacks.

Washington off the coast of its namesake state in April 1944

On the 24th of March, Washington bombarded Japanese positions on Okinawa as the fleet continued to pummel defenses before the invasion. By this time, Washington had been transferred to TG 58.2. Carrier raids on the Home Islands and the Ryukyus continued after landing on Okinawa on the 1st of April. While operating off the island, the fleet came under heavy and repeated kamikaze attacks, one of the largest of which took place on the 7th of April in concert with the sortie of the battleship Yamato. Washington was not damaged in these attacks; however, they were largely defeated by the carriers’ combat air patrols. On the 19th of April, the battleship again closed with Okinawa to bombard Japanese positions as the Marines fought their way south. Washington remained off the island until late May, when she was detached for an overhaul. Her refit continued into September, by which time Japan had surrendered on the 15th of August and formally ended on the 2nd of September.

She would finally go on to be decommissioned on the 27th of June 1947. The ship remained in the inventory until the 1st of June 1960, when the ship was finally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. She was sold for scrap on the 24th of May 1961.

USS Washington (BB-56) Written by Harry Gillespie

Harry Gillespie is a naval historian who resides with his wife in the United Kingdom.

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