USS Mississippi Bb-41: Battleship Supreme

Article excerpt

She helped sink the UN's Yamashiro and earned commendations for the tenacity and accuracy of her achievements in big-gunfire support

As war clouds rumbled in far offEurope, a brand new class of American battleship began to take shape at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. in Newport News, Virginia. Partially financed by the sale of the old USS Idaho and Mississippi to Greece, the government's profit allowed three rather than two ships to be built in what became the New Mexioe-class vessels of 1914.

Heavily influenced by the design of Great Britain's HMS Dreadnought, the new battleships represented an appreciable improvement over the Pennsvivania-class battleships of 1913.

One of the new trio of behemoths was USS Mississippi (BB-41), the third ship of the US Navy named in honor of the 20th state, and the second battleship to carry that name. Boasting state-of-the-art advances in every area, the essential engineering improvement was the introduction of prototype electric drive machinery only to class leader New Mexico (BB-40). A highly innovative application of steam turbines driving generators which in turn provided current for four-shaft electric motors delivering 32,000-shp.

The new system unfortunately took up a lot of precious interior space but did improve watertight compartmentalization because of the elimination of much steam piping. To contain costs and remain reasonably close to her budgeted $5,995,000 price tag, Mississippi and sister Idaho (BB-42) were given standard geared steam turbines developing 40,000-shp.

Armed with a main battery of twelve improved 14-in/50 and 14 5-in/51 guns, her class represented the most advanced warships yet built in the United States. Alterations in the placement of secondary armament saw hull blisters almost completely eliminated in favor of placing these mounts on the main deck for better ranging and less salt water contamination. Belt armor varied from 8- to 14-in with 18-in armor on the three turrets. Deck armor was 3-in. Also introduced to battleship design were the sleek raked bows common to all three ships of the iVew Mexico-class.

TOO LATE FOR WORLD WAR ONE

Commissioned too late to serve in World War I, Mississippi joined the Fleet late in 1917 and extensively served in the Pacific in World War II, earning eight battle stars. Thankfully "Ole Miss" was on Atlantic convoy duty at the time of Pearl Harbor and avoided possible loss in that unfortunate calamity.

One of several pre-war battleships of the old cage-mast fleet, she participated in several actions that earned her official and unofficial commendations most of which centered on the manner in which her big guns pulverized enemy shore installations at critical times in a battle's evolution. She was a key player in history's last battleship engagement - the Battle of Surigao Strait where her powerful 14-in guns fired the broadside that helped sink the Japanese battleship Yamashiro.

She could also boast of being in combat longer and more often than most of her sisters. In addition, she also became one of the longest serving American battleships, remaining on active duty until 1955 after being converted into a postwar weapons test vessel (AG-128) to replace test ship USS Wyoming-(AG-17). After the war, her two sisters were quickly decommissioned and scrapped, but Mississippi continued to serve another full decade playing an important role in the development of several new weapons systems, most notably the RIM-2 Terrier missile. When the time came for her retirement, an attempt to acquire her as a museum ship failed and, sadly, she was sold for scrap in 1956.

Mississippi's keel was laid down on 5 April 1915 by Newport News Shipbuilding Company at Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on 25 January 1917 sponsored by Ms. Camelie McBeath, with Capt. J.L. Jayne in command. She commissioned on 18 December 1917. Following exercises off Virginia, Mississippi steamed on 22 March 1918 for training in the Gulf of Guacanayabo, Cuba. …