U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 Gender: Male Birth Date: 13 Apr 1922 Death Date: 17 Aug 1973 SSN: 454283756 Enlistment Date 1: 1 Jul 1943 Branch 2: UNK Enlistment Date 2: 15 Mar 1944 Release Date 2: 9 Mar 1946
QM3 Chester Loren Gensman Navy
U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File
USS West Virginia (BB-48)
U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death FileUSS West Virginia (BB-48) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Jump to: navigation, search For other ships of the same name, see USS West Virginia.
USS West Virginia in San Francisco Bay, c. 1934 Career (US) Ordered: 5 December 1916 Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding Laid down: 12 April 1920 Launched: 17 November 1921 Commissioned: 1 December 1923 Decommissioned: 9 January 1947 Struck: 1 March 1959 Nickname: "Wee Vee" Honors and
awards: Five battle stars Fate: sold for scrap General characteristics  Class & type: Colorado-class battleship Displacement: 33,590 tons Length: 624 ft (190 m) Beam:
- 97.3 ft (29.7 m) (original)
- 114 ft (35 m) (rebuilt)
- 8 × 16 in (410 mm)/45 cal guns
- 12 × 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal guns
- 4 × 3 in (76 mm)s
- 2 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes
- 8 × 16 in (410 mm)/45 cal guns
- 16 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal guns
- 40 × Bofors 40 mm guns
- 50 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
- 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)
Her keel was laid down on 12 April 1920 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company of Newport News, Virginia. She was launched on 17 November 1921 sponsored by Miss Alice Wright Mann, daughter of Isaac T. Mann, a prominent West Virginian; and commissioned on 1 December 1923, Captain Thomas J. Senn in command.
As the most recent of the "super-dreadnoughts", West Virginia embodied the latest knowledge of naval architecture; the watertight compartmentation of her hull, and the scale of her armor protection, marked an advance over the design of battleships built, or on the drawing boards before the Battle of Jutland.
- 1 Inter-War period
- 2 World War II
- 3 Post-war
- 4 Awards
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Related works
- 7 References
- 8 External links
In the months that followed, West Virginia ran her trials and shakedown and underwent post-commissioning alterations. After a brief period of work at the New York Navy Yard, the ship made the passage to Hampton Roads, although experiencing trouble with her steering gear while en route. Overhauling the troublesome gear thoroughly while in Hampton Roads, West Virginia put to sea on the morning of 16 June 1924. At 1010, while the battleship was steaming in the center of Lynnhaven Channel, the quartermaster at the wheel reported that the rudder indicator would not answer. The ringing of the emergency bell to the steering motor room produced no response; Captain Senn quickly ordered all engines stopped, but the engine room telegraph would not answer. It transpired that there was no power to the engine room telegraph or the steering telegraph.
The captain then resorted to sending orders down to main control via the voice tube from the bridge. He ordered full speed ahead on the port engine; all stop on the starboard. Efforts continued apace over the ensuing moments to steer the ship with her engines and keep her in the channel and, when this failed, to check headway from the edge of the channel. Unfortunately, all efforts failed; and, as the ship lost headway due to an engine casualty, West Virginia grounded on the soft mud bottom. Fortunately, as Commander (later Admiral) Harold R. Stark, the executive officer, reported: "...not the slightest damage to the hull had been sustained."
The court of inquiry, investigating the grounding, found that inaccurate and misleading navigational data had been supplied to the ship. The legends on the charts were found to indicate uniformly greater channel width than actually existed. The findings of the court thus exonerated Captain Senn and the navigator from any blame.
After repairs had been effected, West Virginia became flagship for the Commander, Battleship Divisions, Battle Fleet, on 30 October 1924, thus beginning her service as an integral part of the "backbone of the fleet" as the battleships were regarded. She soon proved her worth under a succession of commanding officers, most of whom later attained flag rank. In 1926, for example, under Captain A.J. Hepburn, the comparative newcomer to battleship ranks scored first in competitive short range target practices. During Hepburn's tour, West Virginia garnered two trophies for attaining the highest merit in the category.
The ship later won the American Defense Cup presented by the American Defense Society to the battleship obtaining the highest merit with all guns in short-range firing, and the Spokane Cup, presented by that city's Chamber of Commerce in recognition of the battleship's scoring the highest merit with all guns at short range. In 1925, West Virginia won the Battle Efficiency Pennant for battleships. This was the first time that the ship had won the coveted "Meatball", but she won it again in 1927, 1932, and 1933.
During this period; West Virginia underwent a cycle of training, maintenance, and readiness exercises, taking part in engineering and gunnery competitions and the annual large-scale exercises, or "Fleet Problems". In the latter the Fleet would be divided up into opposing sides, and a strategic or tactical situation would be played out, with the lessons learned becoming part and parcel of the development of doctrine that would later be tested in the crucible of combat.
During 1926, the battleship took part in the joint Army-Navy maneuvers to test the defenses of the Hawaiian Islands and then cruised with the Fleet to Australia and New Zealand. In fleet exercises subsequent to the 1926 cruise, West Virginia ranged from Hawaii to the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic, and from Alaskan waters to Panama.
In order to keep pace with technological developments in ordnance, gunnery, and fire control, as well as engineering and aviation, the ship underwent modifications designed to increase her capacity to perform her design function. Some of the alterations effected included the replacement of her initial 3 in (76 mm) anti-aircraft battery with 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal guns; the addition of platforms for .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns at the foremast and maintop; and the addition of catapults on her quarterdeck, aft, and on her number III, or "high" turret.
In the closing years of the 1930s, however, it was becoming evident to many that it was only a matter of time before the United States became involved in yet another war on a grand scale. The United States Fleet thus came to be considered a deterrent to the country's most probable enemy, Japan. This reasoning produced the hurried dispatch of the Fleet to Pacific waters in the spring of 1939 and the retention of the Fleet in Hawaiian waters in 1940, following the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI in April.
As the year 1941 progressed, West Virginia carried out a schedule of intensive training, basing on Pearl Harbor and operating in various task forces and groups in the Hawaiian operating area. This routine continued even through the unusually tense period that began in late November and extended into the next month. Such at-sea periods were usually followed by in-port upkeep, with the battleships mooring to masonry "quays" along the southeast shores of Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. West Virginia was one of 14 ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 RADAR.
On Sunday, 7 December 1941, West Virginia lay moored outboard of Tennessee at berth F-6 with 40 ft (12 m) of water beneath her keel. Shortly before 0800, Japanese planes, flying from a six-carrier task force, commenced a well-planned attack on Pearl Harbor. Several 18 in (460 mm) aerial torpedoes struck the port side of West Virginia. One torpedo hit the steering gear and knocked off the rudder. At least three struck below the armor belt, and one or more struck the armor belt requiring replacement of seven armor plates. One or possibly two torpedoes entered the ship through holes made by the first torpedoes while the ship was listing and exploded on the armored second deck. Recent evidence indicates that at least one of the hits may have come from a midget submarine. Photographic analysis performed by four professors writing in the December, 2009 issue of Naval History, published by the United States Naval Institute in 1999 may indicate that one Japanese midget submarine managed to enter the harbor and fired a torpedo into West Virginia, but this research is refuted by others. The final disposition of this submarine is unknown.
West Virginia was also hit by two bombs made from 16 in (410 mm) armor-piercing shells fitted with fins. The first bomb hit the foretop, penetrated the superstructure deck, and was found unexploded in the debris on the second deck. The second bomb hit further aft, wrecking one Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane atop the "high" catapult on Turret III and pitching the second one on her top on the main deck below. The projectile penetrated the 4 in (100 mm) turret roof, wrecking one gun in the turret itself. Although the bomb was another dud, burning gasoline from the damaged aircraft caused some damage. West Virginia was then seriously damaged by being engulfed in an oil fire started by Arizona and sustained for 30 hours by fuel leaking from both ships.
The torpedoes caused two large holes extending from Frames 43 to 52 and from Frames 62 to 97. Prompt action by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts (Claude V. Ricketts later had a ship named after him, the USS Claude V. Ricketts (DDG-5), formerly the USS Biddle), the assistant fire control officer who had some knowledge of damage control techniques, saved the ship from the fate that befell Oklahoma moored ahead. Oklahoma also took several torpedo hits that, in her case, flooded the ship and caused her to capsize.
Instances of heroic conduct on board the heavily damaged battleship proliferated in the heat of battle. The ship's commanding officer, Captain Mervyn S. Bennion, arrived on his bridge early in the battle, only to be struck down by a bomb fragment hurled in his direction when a bomb hit the center gun in Tennessee's Turret II, spraying that ship's superstructure and West Virginia's with fragments. Bennion, hit in the abdomen, crumpled to the deck, mortally wounded, but clung tenaciously to life until just before the ship was abandoned, involved in the conduct of the ship's defense up to the last moment of his life. For his "conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life", Captain Bennion was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously. Doris Miller, a mess attendant, helped carry Captain Bennion to a safer place and then manned an antiaircraft gun despite having no previous experience. He was the first African-American recipient of the Navy Cross.
West Virginia was abandoned, settling to the harbor bottom on an even keel, her fires fought from on board by a party that volunteered to return to the ship after the first abandonment. By the afternoon of the following day, 8 December, the flames had been extinguished. The garbage lighter YG-17 played an important role in assisting those efforts during the Pearl Harbor attack, remaining in position alongside despite the danger posed by exploding ammunition on board the battleship. With a patch over the damaged area of her hull, the battleship was pumped out and ultimately refloated on 17 May 1942 and docked in Drydock Number One on 9 June. This gave the opportunity for a more detailed damage assessment and it became clear that there had been not six, but seven torpedo hits.
During the ensuing repairs, workers located 66 bodies of West Virginia sailors who had been trapped below when the ship sank. Several bodies were found lying on top of steam pipes within the air bubble existing in flooded areas. Three bodies were found in a store room compartment where the sailors had lived on emergency rations and fresh water from a battle station. A calendar found with them indicated they had lived through 23 December. The task confronting the nucleus crew and shipyard workers was a monumental one, so great was the damage on the battleship's port side. Ultimately, however, West Virginia departed Pearl Harbor on 7 May 1943 for the west coast and a complete rebuilding at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington.
Emerging from the extensive modernization, the battleship that had risen from the destruction at Pearl Harbor looked significantly different from the way she had appeared prior to 7 December 1941. Her appearance was nearly identical to that of Tennessee and California, differentiated from those ships by her twin-gun main battery turrets.
Gone were the hyperboloid cage masts that supported the three-tier fire-control tops, as well as the two funnels, the open-mount 5"/25 caliber guns and the casemates with the single-purpose 5"/51 caliber guns. A streamlined superstructure with a single funnel faired into the tower now gave the ship a new silhouette; dual-purpose 5"/38 caliber guns, in gunhouses, gave the ship a potent antiaircraft battery. In addition, 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikon batteries studded the decks, giving the ship a heavy punch for dealing with close-in enemy planes.
As part of the two ocean navy policy, U.S. battleships had been designed within a beam constraint of 108 feet (33 m) in order to transit the Panama Canal; after their similar rebuilds, Tennessee, California and West Virginia were widened to 114 feet (35 m) feet, in effect limiting deployment to the Pacific theater.
West Virginia remained at Puget Sound until early July 1944. Loading ammunition on 2 July, the battleship got underway soon thereafter to conduct her sea trials out of Port Townsend, Washington. She ran a full power trial on 6 July, continuing her working-up until 12 July. Subsequently returning to Puget Sound for last-minute repairs, the battleship headed for San Pedro, California, and her post-modernization shakedown.
Finally ready to rejoin the Fleet from which she had been away for two years, West Virginia sailed for the Hawaiian Islands on 14 September. Escorted by two destroyers, she made landfall on Oahu on 23 September. Ultimately pushing on for Manus, in the Admiralty Islands, in company with the fleet carrier Hancock, West Virginia, as a unit of Battleship Division 4 (BatDiv 4), reached Seeadler Harbor on 5 October. The next day, she again became a flagship when Rear Admiral Theodore Ruddock shifted his flag from Maryland to the "Wee Vee" as Commander, BatDiv 4.
Underway on 12 October to participate in the invasion of the Philippine Islands, West Virginia sailed as part of Task Group 77.2 (TG 77.2), under the overall command of Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf. On 18 October, the battle line passed into Leyte Gulf, West Virginia steaming astern of California.
At 16:45, California cut loose a naval mine with her paravanes; West Virginia successfully dodged the explosive, it being destroyed a few moments later by gunfire from one of the destroyers in the screen. On 19 October, West Virginia steamed into her assigned station in San Pedro Bay at 07:00 to stand by off shore and provide shore bombardment against targets in the Tacloban area of Leyte. Retiring to sea that evening, the battleship and her consorts returned the next morning to lay down heavy gunfire on Japanese installations in the vicinity of the town of Tacloban.
On the 19th, West Virginia's gunners sent 278 16 in (410 mm) and 1,586 5 in (130 mm) shells against Japanese installations, silencing enemy artillery and supporting the UDT (underwater demolition teams) preparing the beaches for the assault that came on 20 October. On the latter day, enemy planes made many appearances over the landing area. West Virginia took those within range under fire but did not down any.
On 21 October, as she was proceeding to her fire support area to render further gunfire support for the troops still pouring ashore, West Virginia touched bottom, slightly damaging three of her four screws. The vibrations caused by the damaged blades limited sustained speeds to 16 kn (18 mph; 30 km/h), or 18 kn (21 mph; 33 km/h) in emergencies.
For the next two days, West Virginia, with her augmented antiaircraft batteries, remained off the beachhead during the daylight hours, retiring to seaward at night, providing anti-aircraft covering fire for the unfolding invasion operations. Meanwhile, the Japanese, seeing that American operations against Leyte were on a large scale, decided to strike back. Accordingly, the enemy, willing to accept the heavy risks involved, set out in four widely separated forces to destroy the American invasion fleet.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
Four carriers and two "hybrid" battleship-carriers (Ise and Hy?ga) sailed toward the Philippine Sea from Japanese home waters; a small surface force under Admiral Kiyohide Shima headed for the Sulu Sea; two striking forces consisting of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers sortied from Lingga Roads, Sumatra, before separating north of Borneo. The larger of those two groups, commanded by Admiral Takeo Kurita, passed north of the island of Palawan to transit the Sibuyan Sea.
American submarines Darter and Dace saw first action on 23 October 1944 in what would become known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf when they sank, respectively, two of Kurita's cruisers, Maya and Atago. Undeterred, Kurita continued the transit, his force built around the giant battleships Yamato and Musashi with three other battleships, plus cruisers and destroyers.
The smaller of the two forces, under Admiral Shoji Nishimura, turned south of Palawan and transited the Sulu Sea to pass between the islands of Mindanao and Leyte. Shima's forces obediently followed Nishimura's, heading for Leyte Gulf as the southern jaw of a pincer designed to hit the assemblage of amphibious ships and transports unloading off the Leyte beachhead.
Detailed to deal with the force heading in his direction, Admiral Oldendorf accordingly deployed his powerful task group, with its six battleships, eight cruisers and 28 destroyers, in Surigao Strait.
At 2236 on 24 October, the American PT boats deployed in the strait and its approaches made radar contact with Nishimura's force, conducting a harassing attack that annoyed, but did not stop, the oncoming enemy. Well into the strait by 0300 on 25 October, Nishimura took up battle formation when five American destroyers launched a well-planned torpedo attack. Caught in the spread of torpedoes, the battleship Fus? took hits and dropped out of the formation; other spreads of "fish" dispatched a pair of Japanese destroyers and crippled a third.
Fus?'s sister ship Yamashiro, meanwhile, had taken one hit and was slowed down, only to be hit again within 15 minutes. Fus? herself, apparently ravaged by fires ignited by the torpedo hits, blew up with a tremendous explosion at 0338.
West Virginia, meanwhile, was leading the battle line of USS Maryland (BB-46), USS Mississippi (BB-41), USS Tennessee (BB-43), USS California (BB-44), USS Pennsylvania (BB-38); four of these ships, like West Virginia, veterans of Pearl Harbor. From 0021 on 25 October, the battleship had picked up reports on the PT boat and destroyer attacks; finally at 03:16, West Virginia's radar picked up Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yd (38,000 m) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yd (27,000 m). She tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night.
At 03:52, West Virginia unleashed her eight 16 inch (406 mm) guns of the main battery at a range of 22,800 yd (20,800 m), striking the leading Japanese battleship with her first salvo. Of the first six salvos West Virginia fired, five had struck the target and in all she fired 16 salvos in the direction of Nishimura's ships as Oldendorf "crossed the T" of the Japanese fleet and thus achieved the tactical mastery of a situation that almost every surface admiral dreams of. At 04:13, the "Wee Vee" checked fire; the Japanese remnants proceeded in disorder down the strait whence they had come. Several burning Japanese ships littered the strait; West Virginia had contributed to Yamashiro's demise, thus avenging her own crippling in the Pearl Harbor attack.