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What caused the USS Nevada to sink?

What caused the USS Nevada to sink?

Running trials, circa early 1916. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The career of the USS Nevada (the ship that refused to die) USS Nevada served in both World Wars.

USS Nevada

During the last few months of World War I, Nevada was based in Bantry Bay, Ireland. With the mission of protecting supply convoys that were sailing to and from Great Britain. See our piece: US Navy’s Contribution To World War 1

In Dry Dock Number 1 at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, Hawaii, circa 1935. Note men painting her boot topping from stages rigged over the side, and outline of her anti-torpedo blister where it merges with her forward hull. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph…Catalog #: NH 50102

In World War II, she was one of the battleships trapped when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941: Torpedo planes attack “Battleship Row” at about 0800 on 7 December. Seen from a Japanese aircraft. Ships are, from lower left to right: USS Nevada (BB-36) with flag raised at stern; USS Arizona (BB-39) with USS Vestal (AR-4) outboard. In addition, USS Tennessee (BB-43) with USS West Virginia (BB-48) outboard; USS Maryland (BB-46) with USS Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard. USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS California (BB-44). West VirginiaOklahoma and California have been torpedoed, as marked by ripples and spreading oil. Furthermore, the first two are listing to port. Grey smoke in the center middle distance is from the torpedoed USS Helena (CL-50), at the Navy Yard’s 1010 dock.
Nevada was the only battleship to get underway during the Japanese attack.
80-G-32457: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. USS Nevada (BB-36) afire off the Ford Island seaplane base, with her bow pointed up-channel. USS Shaw (DD-373) is burning in the floating dry dock YFD-2 in the left background. Photographed from Ford Island, with a dredging line at left. Also at NHHC. (9/15/15).

As a result, making the ship “the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal and depressing morning” for the United States.

Still, the ship was hit by one torpedo and at least six bombs while steaming away from Battleship Row, forcing the crew to beach the stricken ship on a coral ledge.

Nevada beached at Hospital Point

The ship continued to flood and eventually slid off the ledge and sank to the harbor floor.

Nevada leaving Pearl Harbor, April 1942
Division of Naval Intelligence identification sheet depicting Nevada after her 1942 repair and modernization

Nevada was subsequently salvaged and modernized at Puget Sound Navy Yard, allowing her to serve as a convoy escort in the Atlantic and as a fire-support ship in five amphibious assaults (the invasions of Attu, Normandy, Southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa).

After completion, in mid-1943 Nevada went on Atlantic convoy duty.

Aerial view of Nevada, sometime after her 1942 modernization.

Old battleships such as Nevada were attached to many convoys across the Atlantic to guard against the chance that a German capital ship might head out to sea on a raiding mission. After completion, in mid-1943 Nevada went on Atlantic convoy duty. Old battleships such as Nevada were attached to many convoys across the Atlantic to guard against the chance that a German capital ship might head out to sea on a raiding mission.

After completing more convoy runs, Nevada set sail for the United Kingdom to prepare for the Normandy Invasion, arriving in April 1944, with Powell M. Rhea 21 July 1943 – 4 October 1944) in command.

Forward 14/45 guns of Nevada fire on positions ashore. During the landings on “Utah” Beach, 6 June 1944.

Her float plane artillery observer pilots were temporarily assigned to VOS-7 flying Spitfires from RNAS Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus). She was chosen as Rear Admiral Morton Deyo’s flagship for the operation. During the invasion, Nevada supported forces ashore from 6–17 June, and again on 25 June; during this time, she employed her guns against shore defenses on the Cherbourg Peninsula she would hurl salvo after salvo at the shore batteries.

A view looking down at one of Nevada‘s 5in/38cal and quad 40mm Bofors guns, at Normandy on 6 June 1944. The main deck is covered with spent shell casings from intense gunfire support.

Shells from her guns ranged as far as 17 nmi (20 mi; 31 km) inland in attempts to break up German concentrations and counterattacks, even though she was straddled by counterbattery fire 27 times (though never hit). Nevada was later praised for her “incredibly accurate” fire in support of beleaguered troops, as some of the targets she hit were just 600 yd (550 m) from the front line.

Moreover, Nevada was the only battleship present at both Pearl Harbor and the Normandy landings!

Nevada bombarding shore targets in Southern France during Operation Dragoon.

After D-Day, the Allies headed to Toulon for another amphibious assault, codenamed Operation Dragoon. To support this, many ships were sent from the beaches of Normandy to the Mediterranean, including five battleships (the United States’ Nevada, Texas, Arkansas, the British Ramillies, and the Free French Lorraine), three US heavy cruisers (Augusta, Tuscaloosa and Quincy), and many destroyers and landing craft were transferred south.

Nevada supported this operation from 15 August to 25 September 1944, “dueling” with “Big Willie”: a heavily reinforced fortress with four 340 mm (13.4 in) guns in two twin turrets.

These guns had been salvaged from the French battleship Provence after the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon; the guns had a range of nearly 19 nautical miles (35 km) and thus they commanded every approach to the port of Toulon. In addition, they were fortified with heavy armor plate embedded into the rocky sides of the island of Saint Mandrier.

Due to these dangers, the fire-support ships assigned to the operation had orders to level the fortress.

Beginning on 19 August, and continuing on subsequent days, one or more heavy warships bombarded it in conjunction with low-level bomber strikes. On the 23rd, a bombardment force headed by Nevada struck the “most damaging” blow to the fort during a 6½ hour battle, which saw 354 salvos fired by Nevada.

Nevada bombarding Iwo Jima, 19 February 1945

After re-fitting, and with Homer L. Grosskopf (4 October 1944 – 28 October 1945) commanding, she sailed for the Pacific, arriving off Iwo Jima on 16 February 1945 to prepare the island for invasion with heavy bombardment which she did through 7 March. During the invasion, she moved to be within 600 yd (550 m) from shore to provide maximum firepower for the troops that were advancing.

Then, on 24 March 1945, Nevada joined Task Force 54, the “Fire Support Force.” Which took place off Okinawa as bombardment began prior to the invasion.

The ships of TF 54 then moved into position on the night of the 23rd, beginning their bombardment missions at dawn on the 24th. Along with the rest of the force, Nevada shelled Japanese airfields, shore defenses, supply dumps, and troop concentrations. However, after the fire support ships retired for the night, at dawn seven kamikazes attacked the force while it was without air cover.

One plane, though, despite repeatedly hit by antiaircraft fire from the force, crashed onto the main deck of Nevada, next to turret No. 3.

As a result, killing 11 and wounded 49 and knocking out both 14 in (360 mm) guns in that turret and three 20 mm anti-aircraft weapons.

Until 30 June, she was stationed off Okinawa; afterwards, she departed to join the 3rd Fleet from 10 July to 7 August. Allowing Nevada to come within range of the Japanese home islands during the closing days of the war, though she did not bombard them.

At the end of the war Nevada returned to Pearl Harbor after a brief stint of occupation duty in Tokyo Bay.

Nevada was surveyed and, at 32 years old, was deemed too old to be kept in the fleet.

As a result, she was assigned to be a target ship in the first Bikini atomic experiments called Operation Crossroads in July 1946.

The experiment consisted of detonating two atomic bombs to test their effectiveness against ships. Nevada was the bombardier’s target for the first test, codenamed ‘Able’, which used an air-dropped weapon. Thus, to help distinguish the target from surrounding vessels, Nevada was painted a reddish-orange.

Battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) painted in orange as target ship. For the Operation Crossroads Able Nuclear weapons test.

However, even with the high-visibility color scheme, the bomb fell about 1,700 yd m off-target, exploding above the attack transport Gilliam instead.

Due in part to the miss, Nevada survived the atomic blast.
Map showing Nevada in red, and the actual detonation point.

The ship also remained afloat after the second test—’Baker’. A detonation some 90 ft below the surface of the water but was damaged and extremely radioactive from the after spray.

Nevada was later towed to Pearl Harbor and decommissioned on 29 August 1946.

Aerial view of mushroom cloud from atomic bomb Able, Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.

After the test she was thoroughly examined, Iowa and two other vessels used Nevada as a practice gunnery target of Pearl Harbor on 31 July 1948.

Nevada under fire as a target ship, 31 July 1948

In conclusion, the ships still did not sink Nevada. So, lastly, she would become finished off with an aerial torpedo.

Nevada sinking after serving as a target ship, 31 July 1948.

What caused the USS Nevada to sink? By Harry Gillespie

See Harry’s other works:

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