USS West Virginia (BB 48)

USS West Virginia (BB 48) was a Colorado Class battleship that was the most seriously damaged of the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor to return to combat duties, taking part in the last year of the war in the Pacific.

The West Virginia was laid down in 1920, launched in 1921 and was completed in 1923, at which date she was one of the most modern battleships in the world. She became the flagship of the Battleship Division of the Battle Fleet (Pacific fleet) in 1924. During the inter-war years her anti-aircraft guns were modified and her 3in guns were replaced with 5in/25 guns, giving her two different types of 5in gun as well as space for .50in calibre machine guns.

Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor:
Rescuing survivor
near USS West Virginia

On 7 December 1941 the West Virginia was moored in position F-6 at Pearl Harbor, with the Tennessee inboard (between her and the quay). The West Virginia was hit by six 18in torpedoes and two bombs. The torpedo hits caused massive flooding but she was saved from capsizing partly by two seamen in Repair III who began to counterflood before receiving orders and partly by Lt. Claude V. Ricketts, the assistant fire control officer. The captain, Mervyn S. Bennion was mortally wounded by a bomb fragment from a hit on the Tennessee, and died just before fires forced the crew to abandon ship. Later in the day fire control parties volunteered to come back on board and the fires were out by the afternoon of 8 December. The West Virginia sank, but thanks to the efforts of her crew she didn't capsize.

USS West Virginia (BB-48) from the right
USS West Virginia (BB-48) from the right

Despite the heavy damage it was decided to try and save the ship. The holes in her side were patched, she was pumped out and on 17 May 1942 she was refloated. She reached dry dock on 9 June and underwent enough repairs to allow her to sail to Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington State, under her own power.

The repairs took nearly three years to compete and amounted to a near-total rebuild. Her superstructure was almost totally rebuilt. The cage masts were replaced by shorter tower masts. The two funnels were gathered into one. Both the 5in/25 and 5in/51 guns were removed and replaced with dual purpose 5in/38 guns. A large number of 40mm Bofors guns and 20mm Oerlikon guns were added for close-in anti-aircraft fire.

USS West Virginia after repairs, c.1944-45
USS West Virginia
after repairs, c.1944-45

The West Virginia finally re-joined the fleet in September 1944, in time to take part in the invasion of the Palau Islands. She then joined the Northern Attack Force Fire Support Group (FG78, Rear Admiral Weyler) for the return to the Philippines. The bombardment of targets on Leyte began on 19 October, and the troops landed on 20 October.

This meant that the West Virginia was present at the Battle of Surigao Strait (25 October 1944), the last clash between battleships. This was part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese surface fleet's last battle of the war. The Japanese hoped to draw the main American carriers and fast battleships away from Leyte Gulf. Other Japanese forces would then get into the gulf and cause havoc in the vulnerable invasion shipping.

USS West Virginia (BB-48) moving at speed
USS West Virginia (BB-48) moving at speed

Part of the plan worked. Admiral Halsey took his fast carriers north to intercept the Japanese carriers. This meant that the invasion fleets were protected by escort carriers and old battleships. The battleships were involved in the one-sided battle of Surigao Strait. Admiral Nishimura's Force C with two battleships, one cruiser and four destroyers came up against Admiral Kincaid's six old battleships, eight cruisers and a large force of destroyers and torpedo boats. By the time the Japanese came within gun range they were down to one battleship, one cruiser and one destroyer. The West Virginia's radar guided 16in guns were able to open fire at long range. The three more modernised battleships, West Virginia, Tennessee and California fired 225 rounds of 14in and 16in shells, with the West Virginia responsible for 93 shells. The second Japanese battleship, Yamashiro, was sunk and the cruiser limped away only to be sunk later. The destroyer was the only Japanese ship to escape and she was sunk soon afterwards.

40mm Guns on USS West Virginia (BB-48)
40mm Guns on USS West Virginia (BB-48)

In November West Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Maryland formed Task Group 77.2 (Rear Admiral Weyler). This group operated in Leyte Gulf in support of the ground troops. After Maryland was damaged the remaining three ships became TG 77.12 (Read Admiral Ruddock). This group took part in the invasion of Mindoro (December 1944).

At the start of 1945 the battleship force was reorganised, ready for the invasion of Luzon via Lingayen Gulf (Operation Mike I). The West Virginia formed part of Unit 1, TG 77.2 (Oldendorf), along with Mississippi and New Mexico. The West Virginia spent most of January and the first half of February supporting the fighting on Luzon.

The West Virginia joined the fleet supporting the invasion of Iwo Jima on 19 February, just as the first landings were being made. She remained there until 4 March.

All ten active 'old' battleships came together to form Task Force 54 (Rear Admiral Deyo) for the invasion of Okinawa. This task force was split into five pairs. West Virginia and Idaho formed Group 4. The pre-invasion bombardment began on 26 March. The American battleships came under attack from coastal batteries and more dangerously from kamikaze aircraft. The West Virginia was hit by one kamikaze aircraft on 1 April but the damage was minor (although four men were killed). The ship's crew were able to repair the damage and the ship stayed with the bombardment force. On 17 June the West Virginia was hit by another kamikaze, becoming the last battleship to be damaged in that way.

USS West Virginia (BB-48) after being rebuilt
USS West Virginia (BB-48) after being rebuilt

The West Virginia entered Tokyo Bay at the end of August and witnessed the surrender ceremony. She remained at Tokyo until 20 September and then began the journey back to the US. Three 'magic carpet' trips followed, taking troops from Pearl Harbor back to the US. After that the ship entered the mothball fleet, remaining in reserve until she 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


Eight 16in guns in four twin turrets
Fourteen 5in guns
4 3in guns
Two 21in submerged beam torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

14 April 1920


19 November 1921


1 December 1923


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 (27 April 2012), USS West Virginia (BB 48) ,

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