USS Massachusetts BB59

The USS Massachusetts BB59 was a South Dakota class battleship that first saw combat during Operation Torch late in 1942 before spending the rest of the Second World War serving in the Pacific.

The Massachusetts was laid down in July 1939, launched in September 1941 and commissioned on 12 May 1942. The Massachusetts wasn't greatly modified during the war, but her anti-aircraft armament was increased to eighteen quad 40mm mountings and 31 single, one twin and one quad 20mm mountings.

The Massachusetts went into action during of Operation Torch, where she clashed with the French battleship Jean Bart on 8 November 1942. The French ship was incomplete and only had one operational 15in turret, but she still attempted to fire on the American troops landing at Casablanca. The Massachusetts hit her with five 16in shells, knocking the Jean Bart's single turret out of use. Later on the same day a force of Vichy destroyers and light cruisers sortied against the Allied fleet. The Massachusetts sank the destroyer Fougeaux with a single 16in shell (along with 8in hits from the Tuscaloosa). One 16in hit knocked the destroyer Milan out of the battle. The Massachusetts was then hit by a 5.1in shell from the destroyer Boulonnais, responding by sinking the French destroyer (along with the Brooklyn). Another 16in shell hit the light cruiser Primaquet after which the French flotilla returned to harbour. 

On 12 November 1942 the Massachusetts departed for the Pacific, reaching Noumea in New Caledonia on 4 March 1943. For the next few months she operated in the Solomons, supporting land operations and escorting convoys. 

In November 1943 Washington, South Dakota and Massachusetts formed part of TG50.1, protecting the carriers Yorktown, Lexington and Cowpens. Starting on 19 November aircraft from this force attacked the Japanese positions on Mili, in the Marshalls, preventing the strong garrison from interfering in the invasions of Tawara and Makin.

USS Massachusetts (BB-59) enters Boston Harbour, 1942
USS Massachusetts (BB-59) enters Boston Harbour, 1942

In December 1943 Washington, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Indiana and North Carolina formed TF50.7 under the command of Rear Admiral Lee. This task force, covered by the carriers Bunker Hill and Monterey took part in a heavy bombardment of Kwajelein on 8 December, firing 810 16in shells. 

Eight of the fast battleships took part in Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshalls (29 January 1944). Washington, Indiana and Massachusetts formed part of TG58.1, providing an escort for the carriers Enterprise, Yorktown and Belleau Wood. This task group took part in the invasion of Kwajelein and was positioned off Roi and Namur.

On 17-18 February 1944 six of the fast battleships took part in a raid on Truk. Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina and South Dakota provided the close escort for the carriers as part of TG 58.3.

In April 1944 the Massachusetts helped cover the invasion of Hollandia, before attacking Truk.

On 1 May New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota and the newly repaired Indiana took part in a bombardment of Ponape in the Caroline Islands. The Massachusetts then returned to Puget Sound to have her guns relined.

In September-October 1944 the fast battleships New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Washington, Massachusetts and Indiana formed part of Task Force 38 during Admiral Halsey's series of raids on targets around the Philippine Sea. Alabama, Washington, Massachusetts and Indiana formed part of TG 38.3 under Admiral Lee.

This powerful US fleet attacked Palau (6-8 September), Mindinao (10 September), the Visayas (12-14 September) and Luzon (21-22 September). Japanese resistance to this raid was so weak that the Americans decided to bring the invasion of the Philippines forward from December to 20 October and to skip the southern islands and begin with an invasion of Leyte.

The fleet then carried out a second set of raids, this time hitting Okinawa (10 October), Luzon (11 October and 15 October) and Formosa (12-14 October). This time the Japanese responded in some force, but the resulting battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944) was a crushing defeat for them. The Americans shot down over 600 Japanese aircraft, crippling their air power just before the battle of Leyte Gulf.

The fast battleships had a frustrating time during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944). At first they were split into three pairs. Iowa and New Jersey formed TG38.2. South Dakota and Massachusetts formed TG38.3. Washington and Alabama formed TG38.4. Each of these groups protected part of Halsey's carrier force, which was spread out to the north of Leyte Gulf. They faced two of the four Japanese fleets approaching for the 'decisive battle' - Kurita's powerful battleships, approaching from the west, and Ozawa's empty carriers, coming from the north. On 24 October Kurita's fleet came under constant air attack, and the super-battleship Musashi was sunk. Halsey was convinced that Kurita no longer posed a threat, and so when Ozawa's carriers were detected late in the day he decided to take his entire fleet north to deal with them. The six fast battleships were formed into Task Force 34, and were sent north to act as the vanguard of a dash towards the Japanese carriers.

Admiral Lee, commanding the battleships, protested against this move, believing correctly that it would allow Admiral Kurita to pass unopposed through the San Bernardino Strait and potentially attack the weaker US 7th Fleet in Leyte Gulf. Halsey overruled Lee's protests and the battleships headed north. During the morning of 25 October the fast battleships moved ever further to the north, away from Kurita's powerful force, which was now engaged in a desperate battle with a group of escort carriers (Battle of the Samar Sea). During the morning Halsey received a series of increasingly desperate calls for help from the south, but it was a message from Nimitz at Hawaii that eventually convinced him to send the battleships south.

At 10.55 Lee was ordered to head south at top speed, at which point he was only 42 nautical miles from the Japanese carriers (all of Ozawa's carriers were sunk by American aircraft in the battle of Cape Engano). By this time the worst of the crisis to the south was over, but Kurita was still in a potentially dangerous position off the east coast of the Philippines. Once again Lee missed the chance for a surface battle. Kurita retreated through the San Bernardino Strait at 10pm on 25 October and Lee arrived off the straits at 1am on 26 October. This was the last occasion on which US and Japanese battleships were close enough for a possible surface battle. For the rest of the war the fast battleships would perform a valuable role, mainly providing anti-aircraft fire to protect the carriers along with some shore bombardment, but they would never again have a chance to perform their main role of surface warfare.

In December 1944 the Massachusetts supported the invasion of Mindoro. In January 1945 she took part in an attack on Formosa and helped support the landings at Lingayen.

During February she protected the carriers raiding Honshu and Iwo Jima. In March she supported an attack on Kyushu and bombarded Okinawa. In April and June she was off Okinawa, providing anti-aircraft fire.

In July 1945 the fast battleships accompanied the US carriers as they raided the Japanese mainland. South Dakota, Indiana and Massachusetts bombarded the Kamaishi steel works on 14 July and 9 August and an aircraft factory at Hamamatsu in 29-30 July.

The Massachusetts departed for the US on 1 September. She transferred to the East Coast in 1946. She was decommissioned on 27 March 1947 and struck off the Navy List in 1962. She was preserved as a monument and now serves as Massachusetts's memorial to the dead of the Second World War.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



15,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

12.2in on .875in STS

 - lower belt

12.2in-1in on 0.875in STS

 - armour deck

5.75in-6in with 1.5in weather deck and 0.625in splinter deck

 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turrets

18in face, 7.25in roof, 9.5in side, 12in rear, 16in CT




108ft 2in

Armaments as designed

Nine 16in/45 guns in triple turrets
Twenty 5in/38 guns in twin turrets
Twelve 1.1in guns in quadruple turrets
Twelve 0.5in guns
Three aircraft

Crew complement


Laid Down

20 July 1939


23 September 1941


12 May 1942



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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 June 2012), USS Massachusetts BB59 ,

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