"Ole Miss": The BATTLESHIP That Ushered in the Missile Age

By Pater, Alan F. | Sea Classics, March 2006 | Go to article overview

"Ole Miss": The BATTLESHIP That Ushered in the Missile Age


Pater, Alan F., Sea Classics


Although her 14-in guns wrought terrifying havoc on the enemy, the USS Mississippi (BB-41) ended her days as a pioneering experimental gunship which helped introduce the Navy to the Missile Age

In the colorful history of America's century-long romance with battleships, few vessels match the accomplishments and long service of the USS Mississippi (BB-41), the second ship to bear the name of that most illustrious southern State.

Mississippi was not only one of the longest-serving American battleships -1917 to 1956 - but, in flying her commission pennant for nearly 40-years, she managed to write an enviable history in both peace and war. Earning a reputation as one or the most reliable and accurate bombardment ships in the war years, Mississippi went on to earn further distinguished laurels as a pioneering missile test ship during the 1950s. Her service history indeed mirrors much of the nation's most tumultuous decades of the Twentieth Century.

The second Mississippi (BB-41) was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Her keel was laid 5 April 1915 and she launched 25 January 1917 under the sponsorship of Miss Camelle McBeath, daughter of the Chairman of the Mississippi State Highway Commission. The battleship commissioned in the Norfolk Navy Yard 18 December 1917, Capt. J.L. Jayne, USN, in command.

Mississippi (BB-41) had a length overall of 624-ft; extreme beam 97-ft 5-in; normal displacement 32,000-tons; mean draft 30-ft; designed speed 21-kts; and a designed complement of 55 officers and 1026 men. She was originally armed with twelve 14-in/.50-cal guns; 14 5-in/.51-cal guns; four 3-in/.50-cal guns and two 21-in submerged torpedo tubes. The maximum thickness of her armor was 18-in.

Following exercises in the Virginia Capes area, Mississippi departed Hampton Roads, 22 March 1918, for battle practice in the Gulf of Guacanayabo, Cuba, until 19 April. During these operations, three small gunboats of the Cuban Navy guarded the entrance to the Gulf against possible penetration by German U-boats. The ship returned to Hampton Roads, 23 April, where she also trained Naval Academy midshipmen (6-28 August). After the signing of the WWI Armistice, Mississippi trained up the eastern seaboard to Boston and New York. She left New York, 31 January 1919, for fleet winter maneuvers, ranging from Cuba to Trinidad, and returned to New York, 14 April.

The battleship sailed from New York, 29 April, this time for Hampton Roads, and from there she stood out to sea, 19 July, as a unit of the newly-organized Pacific Fleet, bound for the western seaboard in company with battleships New Mexico, New York, Texas and Wyoming. Transiting the Panama Canal, she came off Coronado, California, 6 August. Following tactics from her base at San Pedro, she sailed north to Seattle, where she formed as a unit of the Naval review by President Woodrow Wilson, 13 September. The ship sailed two days later, basing at San Pedro until 1 July 1920, when she returned to Seattle for overhaul in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. After concluding exercises out of ports of Washington and Oregon, Mississippi resumed training on the coast of California, again out of San Pedro. On 7 January 1921, she departed to rendezvous with the combined Atlantic-Pacific Fleets at Panama Roads, conducting war games and problems down the seaboard south to Callao, Peru, and Valparaiso, Chile. She came back to San Pedro from these winter maneuvers, 8 March.

Mississippi continued operations along the western seaboard for the next nine years. During that period, she entered the Caribbean Sea almost every winter for combined maneuvers with the US Fleet, and carried out fleet problems and tactics as far as the Hawaiian Islands. While engaged in gunnery practice, 12 June 1924, three officers and 45 men were killed as the result of an explosion in her Number Two gun turret. Nine men were injured. About four hours later, the left gun of the same turret was accidentally discharged and ten additional men were injured. …

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