BATTLESHIP USS ALABAMA (BB-60)
The keel of the USS ALABAMA (BB-60) was laid at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, on 1 February 1940, the sixth vessel to bear the name of ALABAMA. At the outbreak of hostilities, her hull construction was nearing completion. Some two years later (16 February 1942), the new South Dakota Class battleship was launched in a colorful ceremony attended by many national figures. Sponsoring the vessel was Mrs. Lister Hill, wife of Alabama's Senator Hill. On 16 August 1942, in ceremonies at Portsmouth, Virginia, the new ship was placed in full commission and Captain George B. Wilson, USN, assumed command. The name ALABAMA was first assigned to the 74-gun ship-of-the-line, whose keel was laid in June 1819, at Portsmouth Navy Yard. Work proceeded slowly until the outbreak of the Civil War when "Almost Alabama" was renamed the NEW HAMPSHIRE.
The first ALABAMA, a 56-ton Revenue Cutter built at New York and acquired on 22 June 1819 at a cost of $ 4,500, was active in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in the 1820s. She was responsible for the capture of more than one dozen pirate vessels and slave traders, and sold in 1833.
The second and third ALABAMA, both U.S. Steamers, also pre-date the American Civil War. The second was a 700-ton ship, which was transferred to the Navy Department from the War Department under Act of Congress of 3 March 1849. Being unfit for Naval purposes, the troop carrier was sold at auction in October 1849 after the war with Mexico. The third ALABAMA, a sidewheel steamer of 1,261 tons, was commissioned on 30 September 1861. She served in the Navy as a troop and cargo transport until 14 July 1865, at which time she was placed out of commission and sold on 10 August 1865.
The Legendary Confederate Commerce Raider, CSS ALABAMA, captured or sank 69 Union vessels during the War Between the States. Commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes (whose great grandson later served on BB-60), the 1,050-ton screw sloop was built in Liverpool, England, in 1862. She was sunk by the USS KEARSARGE off Cherbourg, France, in 1864.
The fifth ALABAMA, BB-8, was a battleship of the 1st Rate Class. She was commissioned on 16 October 1900, and was a member of the Great White Fleet. She was the flagship for Division 1, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, during World War I. She was placed out of commission, and on 15 September 1921 was transferred to the War Department for use as a target in experiments in aircraft bombing. Her hulk, after lying on the bottom of Chesapeake Bay, where she had been sunk on 27 September 1921, was sold on 19 March 1924.
Commissioned in 1985, the sixth USS ALABAMA, SSBN-731, a fleet ballistic missile submarine, was assigned to Commander Submarine Force Pacific in early 1986. She is currently still on patrol in the world's seas as a deterrent to nuclear attack.
With a fighting name to live up to, USS ALABAMA (BB-60) Battleship commenced her shakedown training on 11 November 1942. This series of trials, exercises, and drills was conducted in the Chesapeake Bay area and the operating area of Casco Bay, Maine. Upon completion of her post shakedown repair period, ALABAMA stood out from Norfolk and made the up-coast run to Casco Bay, where she conducted tactical maneuvers in company with the USS SOUTH DAKOTA, her sister ship and namesake of the class.
On 20 March 1943, Captain Fred D. Kirtland, USN, relieved Capt. Wilson as skipper of USS ALABAMA. It was under Capt. Kirtland's conn that the ship completed a tour of duty protecting lend-lease convoys to Britain and Russia, while operating with the British Home fleet in the "Murmansk Run."
On 20 August 1943, after a 10-day period of limited overhaul and repair at Norfolk, ALABAMA got underway en route to the forward area in the Pacific. On the 25th of August, she cleared the Panama Canal and reported for duty with the Pacific THIRD Fleet at Efate, New Hebrides, in September 1943.
ALABAMA's first major Pacific engagement was in the Gilbert Islands in November and December 1943. From this assignment, the battleship proceeded to Roi and Nauru. After heavily bombarding these installations, she moved to Kwajalein and Majuro Islands, where the fleet moved into anchorage, and commenced planning the forthcoming attack on the Caroline and Marianas Islands.
On 12 February 1944, ALABAMA sortied with units of Task Force 58 and launched strikes on Truk in the Carolines. Upon retiring, the force moved to the Marianas and gave enemy bases there a thorough pounding. In the course of these raids, the ships underwent severe air attacks with one raid on the night of 21-22 February lasting 13 hours. The ALABAMA downed one Japanese "Betty" on 29 March 1944. On 1 April, she was in the force making the first raids at Palau, Yap, and Woleai in the Palau Islands, retiring for a week in Majuro.
The days and nights of 21-24 April 1944 were spent in supporting the operations along the North coast of New Guinea, where General MacArthur's troops moved ashore at Hollandia, Ataipe, and Humboldt Bay. Steaming at top speed, ALABAMA arrived back in the Carolines in time to participate in the bombardment and strikes on Ponape and Truk on 29-30 April and 1 May 1944. The remainder of May 1944 was spent at anchor in Majuro Harbor.
The ALABAMA and other powerful units of the Fleet got underway for pre-invasion softening-up strikes in the Marianas. For seven hours on 13 June 1944, the fast battleships bombarded Saipan while mine-sweepers cleared the landing lanes for the small craft. On 15 June, the assault troops moved ashore under the protective fire of the "big boys," and the ALABAMA accounted for another enemy plane.
ALABAMA steamed with TG58.7 during the battle of the Philippine Sea, 19-20 June 1944, and her group downed nine enemy planes. The result of the action was some 476 enemy planes destroyed, out of a total of 545 sighted, to only 130 American planes lost, and minor damage to four ships. When the fight was broken off, the U.S. force made an attempt to catch the enemy fleet, but its high speed retirement made it impossible to make surface contact. Pursuit was abandoned and ALABAMA, in company with other units, returned to support operations ashore.
On 6 July 1944, the ship retired to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, and upon arrival, Rear Admiral L. W. Hanso, USN, broke his flag aboard as Commander, Battleship Division NINE. After making attacks on bases in the Carolines (25-27 July) in support of the Marianas operations, ALABAMA moved into the area of Guam for pre-invasion and D-Day support, continuing until the island was secured in August 1944.
While undergoing an 18-day logistics period at Eniwetok, Captain Vincent R. Murphy, USN, relieved Captain Kirtland as commanding officer of ALABAMA BB-60. With Captain Murphy as skipper, ALABAMA participated in the series of attacks and raids in connection with the capture and occupation of the Southern Carolines and the Palaus. This operation was carried on throughout September 1944.
From the more advanced base of Ulithi Atoll, ALABAMA and other ships continued operations in the Western Pacific, the first assignment being in support of the Leyte operations. ALABAMA steamed in company with the carriers throughout October 1944, as the planes wrecked Japanese military installations in the Philippines, Formosa, the Pescadore, and the Ryukyu Islands. Japanese air attacks on the carrier-battleship force were furious and persistent; however, ALABAMA helped drive off all attacks without damage to herself or any carriers in her group.
Moving southward, the fast ships launched strikes at various enemy installations in the Philippines, shooting down three enemy planes and damaging a fourth. In late October, it became apparent that the enemy was moving a strong surface force into the area to oppose U.S. landings. Alabama was the member of Admiral Halsey's force, which fought in battle off Cape Ehgano on 25 October, 1944, as part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This battle removed the enemy's threat to Allied landing in the Philippines and cleared the path for further operations.
After a brief rest in Ulithi, Micronesia, the ALABAMA moved into the area on the Mindoro (Philippines) operation, and while in this vicinity, she rode out a fierce typhoon in December, which cost the U.S. Fleet three destroyers in the group. On Christmas Eve 1944, news was received that ALABAMA was to retire to the U.S. West Coast for an extended drydock period. At Pearl Harbor, Captain William B. Goggins, USN, came aboard, and upon the ship's arrival at Bremerton, Washington, he relieved Captain Murphy as commanding officer.
During the vessel's overhaul, crewmen were granted rehabilitation leave to rest up after two long years of continuous operation in the forward area. After clearing the shipyards, ALABAMA held refresher training exercises in the waters off Lower California, and proceeded to join the Fleet at the anchorage in Ulithi, arriving in early May 1945. As a member of the THIRD and FIFTH Fleet, the battleship participated in the Okinawa Gunto supporting raids on the Japanese home islands.
While carrier planes were carrying out their strikes on Kyushu, Japan, enemy planes tried in vain to break through the formation in attempt to make their suicide dives. On the morning of 4 May 1945, several of the Japanese penetrated the combat air patrol defense, and in the midst of the attack, a Kamikaze plunged through the low clouds into Admiral Mitcher's flagship, USS ENTERPRISE. Of the four other planes which attacked the surface formation, ALABAMA's gunners shot down two, which crashed about 1,000 yards away.
On 5 June, 1945, while conducting operations off Kyushu, the task force rode out a typhoon with ALABAMA experiencing slight damage, and cruiser PITTSBURGH losing nearly 100 feet of her bow. On 10 June, ALABAMA received orders to proceed southward and join other battleships in the bombardment of Minami Daito Jima. This new assignment was carried out, and the ship proceeded to the newly developed base in Leyte Gulf.
The THIRD Fleet's biggest venture was soon to be executed, and after three weeks at anchor, ALABAMA steamed in Admiral Halsey's task force en route for the home islands of Japan. After the carrier planes had raked the islands from Nakasaki to Hokkaido, enemy targets practically disappeared, and the opposition encountered was negligible. On 14 July, 1945, came the phase of the operation which was purely a battleship function. Three new "big ones" were turned loose on an industrial area on Hokkaido, and although ALABAMA was not one of them, she spurred her fleetmates on with much enthusiasm. At last, the dreadnoughts were getting a crack at the Japanese in a more direct way than protecting the carriers.
ALABAMA got her chance on 17 July 1945, with her principal target for the bombardment of an engineering works on Honshu Island, about 50 miles north of Tokyo. Some 1500 tons of shells were thrown into the mills and factories under the cover of darkness, but the destruction could not be observed due to a heavy rainstorm. Nevertheless, ALABAMA later learned that she had done a very handsome job of demolishing the targets assigned her.
The end of the war found the ship still at sea, and after 67 days of continuous steaming, she dropped anchor in Tokyo Bay, remaining for two weeks, while her landing force assisted the occupation of the Yokosuka-Tokyo area. On 20 September 1945, ALABAMA stood out from Tokyo. At Okinawa, she embarked some 3700 passengers for the U.S., thus doing her bit in the task of returning the Pacific veterans. Navy Day, 27 October 1945, was spent with other units of the THIRD Fleet in the celebrations at San Francisco. On 26 November 1945, Captain E. H. Pierce, USN, relieved Captain Goggins as Commanding Officer, and after being moved to Bremerton, Washington, she was decommissioned on January 9, 1947.
Battleship Park Overview
Displacing more than 44,500 tons, the USS ALABAMA Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern, half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.
Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. The USS ALABAMA was built to fight.
By early 1942, the USS ALABAMA was desperately needed. The Allies had their hands full against the Axis powers in the Atlantic. In the Pacific, the United States was embroiled in a bloody slugfest with Japan, and was still reeling from the Dec. 7, 1941, disaster at Pearl Harbor.
The USS ALABAMA saw 37 months of active duty during World War II, earning nine Battle Stars. The “Mighty A” as she came to be known, safely carried her crew throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean campaigns, and never suffered any casualties or significant damage due to enemy fire. After the war, she was mothballed on Puget Sound at Bremerton, Wash., in 1947.
With the war over, and the military’s transition to a “Peacetime Navy,” the cost of maintaining the wartime fleet became too much of a burden. In May 1962, the Navy announced that the USS ALABAMA and many other war ships would soon be scrapped.
In 1964, a campaign was launched to bring the “Mighty A” home to Alabama, as a memorial to the state’s sons and daughters who had served in the armed forces. Alabama school children raised almost $100,000 in mostly nickels, dimes, and quarters to help bring her home to her final resting place.
A corporate fundraising campaign raised the balance of the $1 million needed for the Navy to donate the ship. The money raised financed the cost of what is still the longest non-military ton/mile tow in history.
On January 9, 1965, the “Mighty A” was opened to the public as an independent agency of the state of Alabama. Since then, more than 14 million visitors have trod her decks and stood in awe of her majestic presence. The USS DRUM Submarine, a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars, joined the USS ALABAMA on July 4, 1969.