USS New Mexico (BB-40)

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USS New Mexico, 1943
USS New Mexico (BB-40), c. 1943
Career (US)
Name:USS New Mexico (BB-40)
Namesake:New Mexico
Builder:New York Navy Yard
Laid down:14 October 1915
Launched:13 April 1917
Sponsored by:Miss Margaret Cabeza De Baca
Commissioned:20 May 1918
Decommissioned:19 July 1946
Struck:25 February 1947
Nickname:"The Queen"
Honors and
awards:
6 battle stars, World War II
Fate:Sold 9 November 1947 and broken up for scrap in Newark, NJ
General characteristics [1]
Class & type:New Mexico-class battleship
Displacement:32,000 tons
Length:624 ft (190 m)
Beam:97 ft (30 m)
Draft:30 ft (9.1 m)
Propulsion:turbo-electric transmission
Speed:21 kn (24 mph; 39 km/h)
Complement:1,084 officers and men
Armament:
Armor:
  • Belt: 8–13.5 in (203–343 mm)
  • Barbettes: 13 in (330 mm)
  • Turret face: 18 in (457 mm)
  • Turret sides: 9–10 in (229–254 mm)
  • Turret top: 5 in (127 mm)
  • Turret rear 9 in (229 mm)
  • Conning tower: 11.5 in (292 mm)
  • Decks: 3.5 in (89 mm)
 
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USS New Mexico, 1943
USS New Mexico (BB-40), c. 1943
Career (US)
Name:USS New Mexico (BB-40)
Namesake:New Mexico
Builder:New York Navy Yard
Laid down:14 October 1915
Launched:13 April 1917
Sponsored by:Miss Margaret Cabeza De Baca
Commissioned:20 May 1918
Decommissioned:19 July 1946
Struck:25 February 1947
Nickname:"The Queen"
Honors and
awards:
6 battle stars, World War II
Fate:Sold 9 November 1947 and broken up for scrap in Newark, NJ
General characteristics [1]
Class & type:New Mexico-class battleship
Displacement:32,000 tons
Length:624 ft (190 m)
Beam:97 ft (30 m)
Draft:30 ft (9.1 m)
Propulsion:turbo-electric transmission
Speed:21 kn (24 mph; 39 km/h)
Complement:1,084 officers and men
Armament:
Armor:
  • Belt: 8–13.5 in (203–343 mm)
  • Barbettes: 13 in (330 mm)
  • Turret face: 18 in (457 mm)
  • Turret sides: 9–10 in (229–254 mm)
  • Turret top: 5 in (127 mm)
  • Turret rear 9 in (229 mm)
  • Conning tower: 11.5 in (292 mm)
  • Decks: 3.5 in (89 mm)

USS New Mexico (BB-40) was a battleship in service with the United States Navy from 1918 to 1946. She was the lead ship of a class of three battleships. New Mexico was extensively modernized between 1931 and 1933 and served in World War II in both the Battle of the Atlantic and the Pacific Theater. After her decommissioning she was scrapped in 1947. New Mexico was the first US Navy ship named for the U.S. state of New Mexico.

Construction[edit]

New Mexico was laid down on 14 October 1915 by the New York Navy Yard; launched on 23 April 1917; sponsored by Miss Margaret Cabeza De Baca, daughter of the recently deceased Governor of New Mexico, Ezequiel Cabeza De Baca (he had died on 28 February 1917); and commissioned on 20 May 1918, Captain Ashley Herman Robertson in command.

Unlike the other two battleships of this class which used geared turbines, New Mexico had turbo-electric transmission, in which the high-speed steam turbine drove a set of generators providing electricity to electric motors turning the propeller shafts. General Electric ran an advertisement titled "The "Constitution" of To-day — Electronically Propelled" with a drawing of the New Mexico next to USS Constitution. The ad touted the battleship as "the first of any nation to be electrically propelled". The electrical generating plant was said to put out 28,000 horsepower for a cruising speed of 10 knots. GE called it one of the most important achievements of the scientific age and related it to consumer products noting that "so general are the applications of electricity to the needs of mankind that scarcely a home or individual today need be without the benefits of General Electric products and service." An illustrated booklet titled "The Electric Ship" was offered free of charge upon request.[3]

A comparison of the turbo-electric propulsion with the more conventional direct-drive turbine design used on her sister ships showed that the conventional design generated 2.5x the power per ton of machinery and required 1/3 the floor area although at the cost of 20% greater fuel consumption, always a concern for the U.S. Navy given Pacific distances. The turbo-electric design allowed for the equipment to be split between smaller watertight compartments, which was a potential benefit should parts of the engine space be attacked and flooded. There was a design weakness in that all electrical connections went through a single switch room, which could entirely disable the ship were that room to be hit. Saratoga, which used a similar propulsion design, lost power for five minutes when it was hit by a torpedo in 1942. The scheme of watertight subdivisions was further weakened by large ventilation trunks passing through bulkheads and glass windows in the generator room bulkhead.[4]

The ship's main armament comprised twelve 14"/50 caliber guns mounted three guns in each of four turrets, each turret weighing 980 tons. The design was compact, but the barrels were so close that there was the possibility of interference between adjacent shells in flight, while the limits on the speed at which the guns could be loaded meant that contemporary British turret designs using two guns would probably be able to fire at the same rate.[5]

Inter-War period[edit]

After initial training, New Mexico departed New York on 15 January 1919 for Brest, France, to escort the transport George Washington carrying President Woodrow Wilson from the Versailles Peace Conference to the US, returning to Hampton Roads on 27 February.

New Mexico in 1921.

There on 16 July, she became flagship of the newly organized Pacific Fleet, and three days later sailed for the Panama Canal and San Pedro, California, arriving on 9 August. Two of the original 14 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal guns were removed in 1922.[2] The next 12 years were marked by frequent combined maneuvers with the Atlantic Fleet both in the Pacific and Caribbean which included visits to South American ports and a 1925 cruise to Australia and New Zealand. In 1924 the New Mexico was used in the early development of PID controllers for automated ship steering by Russian American naval engineer Nicolas Minorsky;[6] PID controllers have subsequently become ubiquitous in control engineering.

New Mexico was modernized and overhauled at Philadelphia from March 1931 – January 1933, including replacement of the turbo-electric drive with conventional geared turbines, and an anti-aircraft battery of eight 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal guns,[2] New Mexico returned to the Pacific in October 1934 to resume training exercises and tactical development operations.

World War II[edit]

1940–43[edit]

As war threatened, her base was Pearl Harbor from 6 December 1940 to 20 May 1941. Then she sailed to join the Atlantic fleet at Norfolk on 16 June for duty on neutrality patrol.

On 10 December, while headed to Hampton Roads (en route to the west coast after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor), New Mexico rammed and sank US freighter Oregon south of the Nantucket Lightship.[7][page needed]

The original secondary battery of 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal guns was removed beginning in May 1942 to make room for additional anti-aircraft machine guns.[2] On 1 August, she steamed from San Francisco to Hawaii to prepare for action. From 6 December to 22 March 1943, she sailed escort for troop transports to the Fijis, then patrolled the southwest Pacific, returning to Pearl Harbor to prepare for the campaign against the Japanese in the Aleutians. On 17 May, she arrived Adak, her base while serving on the blockade of Attu, and on 21 July, she joined in the massive bombardment of Kiska that forced its evacuation a week later.

After refitting at Puget Sound Navy Yard, New Mexico returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 October to rehearse the assault on the Gilbert Islands. During the invasion, begun on 20 November, she pounded Makin atoll, guarded transports during their night withdrawals from the islands, and provided antiaircraft cover during unloading operations, as well as screening aircraft carriers. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 5 December.

1944[edit]

Underway with the Marshall Islands assault force on 12 January 1944, New Mexico bombarded Kwajalein and Ebeye on 31 January – 1 February, then replenished at Majuro. She blasted Wotje on 20 February and Kavieng, New Ireland on 20 March, then visited Sydney before arriving in the Solomons in May to rehearse the Marianas operation.

New Mexico bombarded Tinian on 14 June, Saipan on 15 June, and Guam on 16 June, and twice helped drive off enemy air attacks on 18 June. She protected transports off the Marianas while the carrier task force spelled the doom of Japanese naval aviation in its great victory, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, on 20 June. New Mexico escorted transports to Eniwetok, then sailed on 9 July guarding escort carriers until 12 July, when her guns opened on Guam in preparation for the landings on 21 July. Until 30 July, she blasted enemy positions and installations on the island.

Overhauled at Bremerton, Washington August to October, New Mexico arrived in Leyte Gulf on 22 November to cover the movement of reinforcement and supply convoys, firing in the almost daily air attacks over the Gulf, as the Japanese posed desperate resistance to the reconquest of the Philippines. She left Leyte Gulf on 2 December for the Palaus, where she joined a force covering the Mindoro-bound assault convoy. Again she sent up antiaircraft fire as invasion troops stormed ashore on 15 December, providing cover for two days until sailing for the Palaus.

New Mexico, with Mt. Fuji in the background, August 1945.

1945[edit]

Her next operation was the invasion of Luzon, fought under a sky full of would-be suicide planes, against whom she was almost continually at general quarters. She fired pre-landing bombardment on 6 January 1945, and that day took a kamikaze hit on her bridge which killed her commanding officer, Captain Robert Walton Fleming, British Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden (Winston Churchill's personal military representative to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur), and 29 others of her crew, with 87 injured. Commander-designate of the British Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral Bruce Fraser, another passenger, narrowly escaped injury whilst on the New Mexico's bridge, while his secretary was killed. Her guns remained in action as she repaired damage, and she was still in action as troops went ashore.

After repairs at Pearl Harbor, New Mexico arrived at Ulithi to stage for the invasion of Okinawa, sailing on 21 March with a heavy fire support group. Her guns opened on Okinawa on 26 March, and they were not silent until 17 April, on which she had given aid to troops engaged ashore. Again on 21 and 29 April, she opened fire, and on 11 May she destroyed eight Shinyo suicide boats. While approaching her berth in Hagushi anchorage just after sunset on 12 May, New Mexico was attacked by two kamikazes; one plunged into her, the other managed to hit her with his bomb. She was set on fire, and 54 of her men were killed, with 119 wounded. Swift action extinguished the fires within 30 minutes, and on 28 May, she departed for repairs at Leyte, followed by rehearsals for the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. Word of the war's end reached her at Saipan on 15 August, and next day she sailed for Okinawa to join the occupation force. She entered Sagami Wan on 27 August to support the airborne occupation of Atsugi Airfield, then next day passed into Tokyo Bay to witness the surrender on 2 September.

New Mexico was homeward bound on 6 September, calling at Okinawa, Pearl Harbor, and the Panama Canal before arriving at Boston on 17 October.

Post-War[edit]

New Mexico was decommissioned in Boston on 19 July 1946, and was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 25 February 1947. On 9 November 1947, she was sold for scrapping to Lipsett Division of Luria Bros, for $381,600.[8]

"Battle of Newark Bay"[edit]

Lipsett decided to tow New Mexico for scrapping at Newark, New Jersey. The proximity of Newark to rail lines made it an ideal location for dismantling the ship and hauling away the steel. In early November 1947 New Mexico departed Boston, towed by two tugs. On 12 November, while off the coast of New York, the tugs pulling the battleship encountered heavy weather and were forced to cut the tow lines. Running lights were kept on aboard New Mexico along with three crewmembers, but the tugs eventually lost sight of the battleship.[9] New Mexico then drifted as a derelict until spotted by a Coast Guard plane the next day, 35 miles off the coast. The two tugs then secured tow lines and continued the journey to the scrapyard.[10][11]

Newark city officials decided it did not want any more ships scrapped along the city's waterfront. Newark was implementing a beautification plan for the waterfront, and had allocated $70 million for improvements.[10] As such, the city declared that any attempt to bring New Mexico to Newark would be blocked. Two city fireboats, the Michael P. Duffy and the William T. Brennan, were dispatched and were prepared to use their fire hoses and chemical sprayers to halt Lipsett and New Mexico.[10] In response, Lipsett organized its own force of four tugs, and the US Coast Guard declared it would guarantee safe passage of New Mexico, provided legal entry was permitted. This showdown was dubbed by the press as the "Battle of Newark Bay". To complicate things further, the Santa Fe, New Mexico Chamber of Commerce announced it would protest Newark's "slur" of New Mexico's namesake, through its refusal to admit the battleship.[9]

As New Mexico awaited suitable tidal conditions to make the final tow into Newark, the Navy Department sent Under Secretary W. John Kenney to negotiate. After several sessions, he arranged a tenuous agreement between the City of Newark and Lipsett. Newark would allow New Mexico and two other battleships, Idaho and Wyoming, to be scrapped at Newark, but there would be no permanent ship dismantling facility. Lipsett had nine months to dispose of the three ships, or would be subjected to a fine of $1,000 per day after the deadline.[10]

New Mexico finally entered Newark Channel on 19 November, and was greeted by the same Newark fireboats, that had earlier been sent to oppose the ship. Newark also arranged to have school children honor the old battleship dockside, with a marching band. New Mexico was subsequently joined by Idaho and Wyoming, where all three were finally dismantled.[12] Scrapping of New Mexico began on 24 November and was completed by July 1948.[13]

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gardiner & Gray 1985, p. 117.
  2. ^ a b c d Breyer 1973, p. 219.
  3. ^ "The "Constitution" of To-day — Electronically Propelled" (pdf). Cornell Alumni News XXII (5): 58. 23 October 1919. 
  4. ^ Brown 1997, p. 50.
  5. ^ Brown 1997, p. 51.
  6. ^ Bennett 1986, p. 142–148.
  7. ^ Cressman 2000.
  8. ^ Bonner 1997, p. 109.
  9. ^ a b Staff Writer (13 November 1947). "Two Tugs Lose, Then Find New Mexico En Route. City Would Stop Salvage of Vessel In City's Harbor". The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Florida). Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  10. ^ a b c d Bonner 1997, p. 114.
  11. ^ Staff Writer (13 November 1947). "Pact To Stave Off Battle In Newark Sought". Ellensburg Daily Record (Ellensburg, Washington). Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  12. ^ "BB-40 USS New Mexico". Battleship Photo Archive. Retrieved 2009-10-15. 
  13. ^ Breyer 1970, p. 217.

Bibliography

External links[edit]