USS California (BB 44)

USS California (BB 44) was the second Tennessee class battleship and despite being sunk at Pearl Harbor was repaired in time to take part in the last year of fighting in the Pacific.

USS California (BB-44) at high speed, 1921
USS California (BB-44) at high speed, 1921

The California was launched in 1919 and completed in 1921. She joined the Pacific Fleet and served as that fleet's flagship from 1921 until 1941 (during that period the Pacific Fleet was renamed the Battle Fleet and then the Battle Force). The California underwent a refit in 1929-30 when she was given catapults to launch her own scout aircraft and an improved anti-aircraft battery. A major modernization had been planned for 1939 but was cancelled as war threatened in Europe.

On 7 December 1941 the California was docked along at quay F-3 at the southern end of Battleship Row. She was hit by two torpedoes and one bomb and suffered a second near miss. The first bomb caused an explosion in an anti-aircraft ammunition magazine that killed fifty while the near miss ruptured the bow plates. She didn't sink immediately and efforts were made to save her, but the forward engine room had to be evacuated at around 10am. Without power the pumps couldn't work. At 11am smoke from floating oil fires forced her crew to abandon ship. They returned later in the day when the risk of fire had been reduced but by then it was too late and over the next three days the California slowly settled in the water, ending on the bottom with only her superstructure above water. 

It was quickly clear that the California could be refloated and repaired. She was successfully refloated on 25 March, three months after the attack. She was made water tight at Pearl Harbor before on 7 June setting sail for Puget Sound Navy Yard.

Landing Force on USS California (BB-44)
Landing Force on USS California (BB-44)

California and her sister ship Tennessee both underwent major modifications at this time. The California had her cage masts replaced with modern tower masts, carrying a Mk 34 main battery director. The armoured conning towers were replaced with lighter models taken from Brooklyn class cruisers. 3in of extra armour was added over the magazines and 2in elsewhere. The superstructure was largely rebuilt. The two funnels were channelled into a single larger one located behind the foremast. Many of these changes were made to improve the range of fire of the anti-aircraft guns. At the same time all existing 5in guns were removed and replaced with eight twin 5"/38 turrets. By the end of the war the California was also armed with fourteen quad 40mm gun mounts and forty twin 20mm guns.

The refitted ship departed for the war front on 5 May 1944. She joined TG 52.17 (Admiral Odendorf) where she served alongside Tennessee, Maryland and Colorado. She was used during the pre- and post- invasion bombardments of Saipan (14 June-9 July 1944). On 14 June she was hit by a shell from a Japanese shore battery. One man was killed and nine wounded by the ship remained in action.

On 19 July TG 52.17 merged with TG 52.10 to form TG 53.5. The new task group took part in the invasions of Guam, then from 24 July of Tinian. She then suffered damage in a collision with the Tennessee and had to go for repairs.

Foremast of USS California (BB-44)
Foremast of USS California (BB-44)

She returned in time to take part in the invasion of the Philippines. California, Tennessee and Pennsylvania formed the First Support Group for the southern task force, TF 79, under Admiral Oldendorf. She took part in the bombardment of the Leyte beaches from 20 October, and then took part in the battle of Surigao Strait (25 October 1944), the last clash between battleships. The California fired 63 14in guns during this battle in which the Japanese lost all but one ship from Admiral Nishimura's Force C.

On 1 January 1945 the California sailed to join the fleet supporting the invasion of Luzon, Operation Mike I. California, Pennsylvania and Colorado formed Unit 2 of Task Group 77.2 (Vice Admiral Oldendorf). Once again the battleship's big guns played a major part in the battle, but this time success came at a cost. On 5 January California was hit by a kamikaze. Forty four of her crew were killed and 155 wounded. Temporary repairs allowed her to remain in action until 23 January when she finally departed for Puget Sound and a month and a half of repairs (starting in mid-February). 

Fire Room on USS California (BB-44)
Fire Room on USS California (BB-44)

The California next joined the battleship for supporting the last phase of the battle of Okinawa, arriving on 15 June. A month later she became part of Task Force 95 (Oldendorf), alongside Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arkansas, Texas and the battlecruisers Alaska and Guam. The task force operated in the East China Sea, supporting mine sweepers and attacking the Japanese in China.

After the end of the war the California supported the occupation forces as they landed at Wakanoura Wan on Honshu. She remained in Japanese waters until 15 October and then began a slow journey to Philadelphia. The California became part of the 'mothball fleet' of reserve ships in 1947 and was sold for scrap in 1959.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



8,000nm at 10kts

Armour – belt


 - deck


 - turret faces

18in or 16in

 - turret sides


 - turret top


 - turret rear


 - barbettes


 - coning tower


 - coning tower top





97ft 5in


Twelve 14in guns in four triple turrets
Fourteen 5in guns
Four 3in guns
Two 21in submerged beam torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

25 October 1916


20 November 1919


10 August 1921


Stricken 1959

US Standard Type Battleships 1941-45 (2): Tennessee, Colorado and Unbuilt Classes, Mark Stille. Looks at the 'Big Five', the last standard-type battleships built for the US Navy, and the most powerful ships in the US Navy for much of the interwar period. Covers their design, original purpose and actual Second World War service, where their limited speed meant they could no longer serve with the battle fleet. Despite that limit they played a major part in the Pacific War, and four fought in the last battleship action of the war. [read full review]
cover cover cover


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 April 2012), USS California (BB 44) ,

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