Military Wiki
USS Tennessee (BB-43)
USS Tennessee bombarding Guam.jpg
USS Tennessee bombarding Guam, July 1944
Career (US)
Name: USS Tennessee
Namesake: The State of Tennessee
Ordered: 28 December 1915
Builder: New York Naval Shipyard
Laid down: 14 May 1917
Launched: 30 April 1919
Commissioned: 3 June 1920
Decommissioned: 14 February 1947
Struck: 1 March 1959
Honors and
Fate: Sold for scrap, 10 July 1959
General characteristics [4]
Class & type: Tennessee-class battleship
Displacement: 33,190 tons (40,950 after refit)
Length: 624 ft (190 m)
  • 97.3 ft (29.7 m) (original)
  • 114 ft (35 m) (rebuilt)
Draft: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Speed: 21 kn (24 mph; 39 km/h)
Complement: 57 officers, 1026 men

after reconstruction:

  • 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 Tennessee (BB-43), the lead ship of her class of battleship, was the third ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the 16th US state.[5] During World War II in the Pacific Theater, she was damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 but was repaired and modernized. She participated in shore bombardments at the Aleutian Islands, Tarawa, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, etc. She was also involved in the Battle of Surigao Strait, the final battleship vs. battleship conflict ever.

After the end of World War II, the Tennessee was placed on reserve in the "mothball fleet" for nearly 15 years before finally being scrapped in 1959.

Design and construction

The Tennessee's keel was laid down on 14 May 1917 at the New York Naval Shipyard. She was launched on 30 April 1919, sponsored by Miss Helen Lenore Roberts, daughter of Tennessee governor Albert H. Roberts, and commissioned on 3 June 1920, Captain Richard H. Leigh in command.

The Tennessee and her sister ship, the California, were the first American battleships built to a "post-Jutland" hull design. As a result of extensive experimentation and testing, her underwater hull protection was much greater than that of previous battleships, and both her main and secondary batteries had fire-control systems. The Tennessee class, and the three ships of the Colorado class that followed, were identified by two heavy cage masts supporting large optical fire-control systems. This feature was to distinguish the "Big Five" from the rest of the battleship force until World War II. Since the Tennessee's 14 in (360 mm) turret guns could be elevated as high as 30 degrees rather than only to the 15 degrees of the earlier U.S. Navy battleships, her heavy guns could fire an additional 10,000 yards (9,100 meters). Because the battleships were beginning to carry airplanes to spot long-range gunfire, Tennessee's ability to shoot "over the horizon" had a practical value.

Inter-war period

File:Uss tennessee 1929.jpg

The Tennessee with visitors and her captain. c. 1929

After fitting out, the Tennessee conducted trials in Long Island Sound from 15 to 23 October 1920. While Tennessee was at New York City, one of her 300 kilowatt electric generators exploded on 30 October, completely destroying the turbine end of the machine, and also injuring two men. Undaunted, the battleship's crew, navy yard craftsmen, and manufacturers' representatives labored to eliminate the "teething troubles" in the engineering systems of the Tennessee, enabling her to depart from New York on 26 February 1921 for standardization trials at Guantanamo Bay. She next steamed north for the Virginia Capes and arrived at Hampton Roads on 19 March. Tennessee carried out gunnery calibration firing at Dahlgren, Virginia and was drydocked at Boston before full-power trials off Rockland, Maine. Two of her original 14 5-inch / 51-calibre guns were removed.[6] After touching base at New York Harbor, she steamed south, transited the Panama Canal, and on 17 June, she arrived at San Pedro, California, her home port for the next 19 years.

There, she joined the Battleship Force, Pacific Fleet and served there until World War II.

Peacetime service with the battleship divisions involved an annual cycle of training, maintenance, and readiness exercises. Her yearly schedule included competitions in gunnery and engineering performance and an annual fleet problem, a large-scale war game in which most or all of the United States Fleet was organized into opposing forces and presented with a variety of strategic and tactical situations to resolve. Beginning with Fleet Problem I in 1923 and continuing through Fleet Problem XXI in April 1940, Tennessee had a prominent share in these battle exercises. However, her individual proficiency was not neglected. During the competitive years 1922 and 1923, she made the highest aggregate score in the list of record practices fired by her guns of various caliber and won the "E" for excellence in gunnery. In 1923 and 1924, she again won the gunnery "E" as well as the prized Battle Efficiency Pennant for the highest combined total score in gunnery and engineering competitions. In 1925, she took part in joint U.S. Army-Navy maneuvers to test the defenses of Hawaii before visiting Australia and New Zealand. Subsequent fleet problems and tactical exercises took the Tennessee from Hawaii to the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and from Alaskan waters to Panama. Her original 3 in (76 mm) antiaircraft (AA) battery was replaced by eight 5-inch / 25-calibre guns during 1929–1930.[6]

Fleet Problem XXI was conducted in Hawaiian waters during the spring of 1940. At the end of this problem, the battleship force did not return to San Pedro, but rather at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's direction, its base of operations was shifted to Pearl Harbor in the hope that this move might deter the Japanese Empire's expansion in the Orient. Following an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard after the conclusion of Fleet Problem XXI, the Tennessee steamed into her new base on 12 August 1940. Due to the increasing hostility in world affairs, Fleet Problem XXII, scheduled for the spring of 1941, was canceled. Thus, the Tennessee's activities during these final months of peace were confined to smaller scale operations.

World War II

Pearl Harbor

Tennessee (left) after the attack; West Virginia is next to her.

On the morning of 7 December 1941, Tennessee was moored starboard side to a pair of masonry "mooring quays" on Battleship Row, the name given to a line of deep water berths located along the southeast side of Ford Island, Pearl Harbor.

During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the crewmen of the Tennessee manned her antiaircraft guns, and they attempted to defend the harbor and their warship as well as they could. During the air raid, the Tennessee was struck by two armor-piercing bombs that detonated incompletely.[7] The first one hit the center gun of turret two, and it made all three guns inoperable.[7] Debris from the bomb hit on the Tennessee's turret two hit the command deck of the West Virginia, which mortally wounded her commanding officer, Mervyn S. Bennion, who earned the Medal of Honor for his brave efforts in resisting the Japanese attacks. The second bomb went through the roof of turret three, and it damaged her left gun.[7] The Tennessee was showered with debris when the magazine of the Arizona exploded and her stern was engulfed in flames from the Arizona's burning fuel oil.[7]

Wedged between the sunken West Virginia and her mooring quays, the Tennessee was trapped at her berth for ten days before being freed, and four days later she set sail for the West Coast to be repaired.[8]

Repairs and modernization

After preliminary repairs at Pearl Harbor, Tennessee headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard for permanent repairs. In addition to repairing her, crews upgraded her antiaircraft gun abilities and installed search and fire control radars. Other modifications improved the battleship's habitability. On 26 February 1942, the Tennessee departed from Puget Sound with the work complete. Upon arriving at San Francisco, she began a period of intensive training operations with Rear Admiral William S. Pye's Task Force 1 (TF 1), made up of the Pacific Fleet's available battleships and a screen of destroyers.

With the change of naval battles from conventional surface-ship actions to long-range duels between fast carrier striking forces, the older battleships — Tennessee and her kin – were simply too slow to keep up with the carriers. The Tennessee spent some time with TF 1, which patrolled areas of the Pacific in the expectation that part of the Japanese fleet might attempt an "end run" raid on the West Coast of the United States.

On 1 August, the Tennessee again sailed from San Francisco with TF 1. After a week of exercises, the battleships joined the Hornet on her way to the $3 to support the invasion of Guadalcanal, and then escorted the carrier as far as Pearl Harbor. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on 14 August, the Tennessee returned to Puget Sound on the 27th for modernization. The reason Tennessee and her sisters in TF1 did not sortie with the task force bound for invasion of Guadalcanal was less to do with her speed than with her thirst for fuel. The old battleships had a vast appetite for fuel and there were limits on the Navy's ability to transport and store bunker oil in the Pacific. During the invasion of Guadalcanal there were just seven tankers to sustain the flow of oil in the theatre, which was crippling operations owing to what fuel hogs the old battleships were. Task Force 1, including its escorts, burned three hundred thousand barrels of oil in a month. This was the total oil storage capacity of the Pacific in early 1942. A carrier task force was almost as thirsty and the Navy only had enough fuel to operate either its carriers or battleships. With the lessons of the Pearl Harbor attack fresh in the mind of every commander, there was no doubt that between the two choices the carriers would take precedence. For this reason, Admiral Nimitz vetoed any proposal to operate the old battleships out of Pearl.[9]

Tennessee after 1943 rebuild

By the time Tennessee emerged from Puget Sound Navy Yard on 7 May 1943, she bore virtually no resemblance to her former self. Her appearance was nearly identical to that of the West Virginia and the California (which were rebuilt after the Pearl Harbor attack to resemble the South Dakota-class battleships). The upgrade work increased protection against torpedoes, internal compartmentation was rearranged and improved, a new compact superstructure designed to provide control facilities while offering less interference to antiaircraft guns was installed, and upgraded antiaircraft guns and fire-control radars were installed. Her original twin funnels were combined into a single funnel faired into the superstructure tower as with the South Dakota class. The original secondary battery of 5-inch (127-mm)/51-cal guns and the antiaircraft battery of 5-inch (127-mm)/25-cal guns was replaced by 16 5-inch / 38calibre guns in eight twin mounts controlled by four Mk 37 directors.[6]

As part of the new policy of the Two-Ocean-Navy, American battleships had been designed within a beam constraint of 108 feet (33 m) in order to pass through the locks of the Panama Canal. After being similarly rebuilt, the Tennessee, the California, and the West Virginia were broadened to 114 feet (35 m) wide, limiting their use in wartime to the Pacific Theater of Operations.

1943: The Aleutian Islands and Tarawa

On 31 May 1943, she headed to Alaska and a fight in the Aleutian Islands. While providing sea protection to the landing forces was a job of major importance, the Japanese Navy did not challenge the American forces. Instead, Tennessee found her duty was to use her formidable guns to support the ground troops by bombarding enemy land positions. It was a task she would perform throughout the war. The Aleutian Islands back in American hands, she headed back home reaching San Francisco on 31 August. Tennessee then began an intensive period of training.

Tennessee's next mission was to support the attack of Betio in the Battle of Tarawa. From 20–23 November 1943, the main fighting went on, supported by Tennessee's guns. Tennessee also joined other ships in the sinking of Japanese submarine I-35. At dusk on 3 December, Tennessee departed the area for Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco. There she was quickly repainted in a "dazzle" camouflage scheme.

On 29 December 1943, Tennessee began intensive bombardment practice, pounding San Clemente Island in rehearsal for the invasion of the Marshall Islands.


USS Tennessee underway

Marshall Islands

In the early morning of 13 January 1944, Tennessee set her course for Hawaii with Task Unit 58.5.1 (TU 58.5.1) and anchored in Lahaina Roads off Maui on 21 January. That day, the ship was inspected by a group headed by Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal. On 29 January, Tennessee, with Forrestal on board, headed for the Marshalls.

Arriving 31 January 1944, Tennessee bombarded the islands, helping the ground forces and destroying numerous shore batteries and detonating a Japanese ammunition dump on Namur. During nighttime, Army troops called several times for illumination. Destroyers played their searchlights over Japanese-held areas, while Tennessee's 5 inch (127 mm) guns fired large numbers of star shells. At times, Tennessee was firing at such a short range that, during the afternoon of 20 February, she was able to attack beach defenses with her 40 mm guns.

Bismarck Archipelago

On 23 February 1944, Tennessee sailed for Majuro. Here, she joined New Mexico, Mississippi, and Idaho. Under the command of Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin, the battleships sortied from Majuro on 15 March with two escort carriers and a screen of 15 destroyers.

Their objective was the Japanese air and naval base at Kavieng, at the northern end of New Ireland. The Bismarck Archipelago, the two large islands of New Britain and New Ireland, lie just to the east of New Guinea. Rabaul, the by-now legendary Japanese operating base, is at the eastern end of New Britain, just across a narrow channel from New Ireland. About 240 mi (390 km) northwest of Rabaul, across the Bismarck Sea, is the small Admiralty Islands group. Once again, Tennessee's big guns pounded away at Japanese positions, destroying shore batteries and helping the ground forces rout the enemy as well as shelling the Japanese airfield and shore facilities.

Ammunition expended by Tennessee[10]
Operation 14"/50 5"/38 40mm 20mm
Kiska 111 590
Tarawa 584 1,631
Kwajalein 783 2,547
Eniwetok 960 1,577 3,192
Kavieng 252 1,891
Saipan 967 5,314 14,670 771
Guam 300 2,732 9,625
Tinian 822 3,466 21,437
Anguar 941 4,916 25,138
Leyte 698 3,412 1,151 1,701
Battle of Surigao Strait 69
Iwo Jima 1,370 6,380 11,481
Okinawa 1,490 12,275 9,300 3,674
Total 9,347 46,731 95,994 6,146

Mariana Islands

Operation Forager, the assault on the Mariana Islands, was planned as a two-pronged thrust. Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner's TF 51 was organized into a Northern Attack Force (TF 52), under his command, and a Southern Attack Force (TF 53) under Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly. The Northern Attack Force assembled at Hawaii in mid-May 1944. After rehearsals off Maui and Kahoolawe, Fire Support Group One sailed for Kwajalein while the transports staged at Eniwetok. On 10 June, Tennessee and her task group departed Kwajalein, bound for Saipan.

At Saipan, in addition to providing protection for the fleet, Tennessee began a methodical bombardment of the selected landing area, the southern portion of Saipan's west coast, in support of minesweepers carrying out an assault sweep on the landing zone.

Underwater demolition teams (UDT) approached the beach in small craft to reconnoiter the landing beaches and to plant radar beacons which would provide reference points to the next day's landing. Tennessee closed to 3,000 yd (2,740 m) of Agingan Point and opened up with 14 in (360 mm), 5 inch (127 mm), and 40 mm batteries. Some smoldering powder grains from the 5 inch (127 mm) guns fell on the port side of the battleship's quarterdeck and burst into flame, but were quickly extinguished.

Japanese guns dropped shells near the UDTs as mortars and machine guns joined in and projectile splashes began to appear near the supporting ships as batteries on nearby Tinian opened fire. Cleveland was straddled, and California and Braine took hits. Tennessee aimed counterbattery fire at the defenders who were opposing the UDTs, and her turret guns fired at Tinian. Shortly before noon, she moved to the northwest to bombard Japanese fortifications on Afetna Point, near the center of the landing zone.

Tennessee's assault station was off the southern end of the landing beach. During the first wave's approach, her guns enfiladed that end of the objective to prepare the way for the right-hand elements of the 4th Division. She checked fire as the troops neared the beach, resuming it a few minutes later as the Marines fought to establish themselves ashore. Japanese 4.7 in (120 mm) field guns, emplaced in a cave on Tinian, opened on Tennessee. The battleship commenced counterbattery fire, but the third enemy salvo scored three hits, all of which burst on impact. One projectile knocked out a 5 inch (127 mm) twin gun mount; the second struck the ship's side, while the third tore a hole in the after portion of main deck and sprayed fragments into the wardroom below. An intense fire inside the disabled gun mount was subdued in two minutes by repair parties and men from nearby gun crews; the hit to the hull damaged external blister plating, but was prevented from inflicting further damage by the battleship's heavy belt armor. Eight men were killed by projectile fragments, while 26 more were wounded by fragments and flash burns.

Tennessee's damages did not prevent her from delivering call fire to help break up a developing Japanese counterattack near Agingan Point before leaving the firing line to make emergency repairs. During the afternoon and night, she took station to screen assembled transports. Four Japanese dive bombers attacked nearby ships at 1846, and Tennessee's 5 inch (127 mm) guns briefly engaged them but claimed no hits. That evening, Tennessee buried her dead. Tokyo radio claimed victory in the battle for Saipan, stating that they had sunk a battleship which they identified as "probably the New Jersey." The "sunken" Tennessee returned to Saipan Channel early the next day. Several Japanese counterattacks had been stopped during the night, and Tennessee's supporting fire assisted the marines in organizing and consolidating their beachhead.

On the night of 22 June, Tennessee got underway for Eniwetok where Hector repaired her battle damage as the fight for Saipan ground to its end on 9 July. Her next destination was Guam. On 20 July, she joined in a systematic bombardment begun on 8 July, which was carefully planned to soften up the enemy's defenses while avoiding harm to the island's friendly Chamorro population.

Palau Islands

The Palaus were to be Tennessee's next objective. This group was not an atoll, but an elongated cluster of islands just north of the equator and at the western end of the Caroline Islands.

The battle for Peleliu was to be one of the most bitter of the Pacific war, and organized resistance was not eliminated until November, at a heavy cost in lives. Tennessee's target was the smaller island of Angaur, a few miles south of Peleliu. On the morning of 12 September, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, with four light cruisers and five destroyers, began a prolonged bombardment as carrier aircraft did their share.

A prominent masonry lighthouse on the west coast of Angaur was ordered destroyed to keep the Japanese from using it as a gunfire observation point. Twelve 14 in (360 mm) rounds were aimed at it, scarring the area and scoring three hits, but the tower remained standing. Other targets absorbed Tennessee's attention for the next three days. Tennessee stood by off Peleliu during the morning of 15 September in case her guns should be needed to assist the assault landing. When this work was completed, she returned on the evening of 16 September to finish off the stubborn tower before the next morning's scheduled landings.

Battle of Leyte Gulf

Tennessee weighed anchor on 12 October and set her course for Leyte Gulf, Under the supreme command of General MacArthur, Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's 7th Fleet carried two Army corps toward the invasion area.

At 0609 on the morning of 18 October, Tennessee, with her fire-support unit, entered the channel between Homonhon and Dinagat islands. Paravanes streamed from her bows, and Marines were stationed in her upperworks to sink or explode floating mines. The minesweepers continued their work as the heavy ships moved slowly up Leyte Gulf.

The landings were scheduled for 20 October, and at 0600, Tennessee opened neutralization fire on the beaches. Tennessee continued her work off the beachhead until her fire support was no longer required and the increasing tempo of Japanese air activity in the area required her to place herself where her antiaircraft guns could assist in the defense of the assembled transports and cargo ships.

In the evening of 21 October, while lying dead in the water in a smoke screen laid to protect the shipping from attacking planes, Tennessee was rammed near the stern by the transport War Hawk. No one was injured, and the battleship's tough hull was little harmed, but her orders for a night fire-support mission were canceled.

Battle of Surigao Strait

While Tennessee had been working Leyte, the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters had noted the scale of the operation being mounted and had decided to make that island the focus of a decisive naval counterstroke – the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Under the Japanese plan, dictated by a combination of geography, logistics, and the lack of adequate carrier aviation, four widely separated forces were to converge on the area of Leyte Gulf in an effort to destroy, at whatever cost, the American invasion force. A relatively small force (two battleships Fusō and Yamashiro, one heavy cruiser and four destroyers), commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura, turned to the south of Palawan and crossed the Sulu Sea to pass between Mindanao and Leyte. Nishimura's force would meet a number of assorted American ships, Tennessee among them, in the Battle of Surigao Strait.

As they passed the cape of Panaon Island on the evening of 24 October and morning of the 25th, the Japanese forces ran into a deadly trap set for them by the American 7th Fleet Support Force. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had six battleships (Mississippi, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, California, and Pennsylvania, all but Mississippi having been resurrected from Pearl Harbor), eight cruisers (heavy cruisers Louisville, serving as the cruisers' (flagship), Portland, Minneapolis and HMAS Shropshire, and light cruisers Denver, Columbia, Phoenix, Boise), 28 destroyers and 39 PT boats.

Onboard Tennessee, observers had seen distant flashes of gunfire, star shells and searchlights as the torpedo boats and destroyers engaged the Japanese. Soon explosions could be heard. At 0302, the battleship's radar picked up Nishimura'a approach at nearly 44,000 yd (40,000 m) and began to track the lead ship. This was the flagship, Yamashiro. With the cruiser Mogami and the destroyer Shigure, she was all that remained of the first Japanese force. At 0351, Oldendorf ordered the flanking cruisers to open fire, and at 0356, the battleships let fly from 20,600 yd (18,800 m).

Radar fire control allowed the American battleships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese could not reply because of their inferior fire control systems, although 6-inch shells from Yamashiro and Mogami crippled destroyer Albert W. Grant. Japanese ships Yamashiro and Mogami were crippled by a combination of 14 in (360 mm) and 16 in (410 mm) armor-piercing shells. Shigure turned and fled, but lost steering and stopped dead. Yamashiro sank at 0419. The Battle of Surigao Strait was, to date, the final line battle in naval history. Yamashiro was the last battleship to engage another in combat, and one of very few to have been sunk by another battleship during World War II. Of Nishimura's seven ships, only Shigure survived.

The next several days were quiet ones for Tennessee, though the Japanese sent numerous land-based air strikes against Leyte Gulf. On 29 October, the battlewagon's crew was told that their next destination was to be the Puget Sound Navy Yard. This refit made no remarkable changes in Tennessee's appearance. Her main battery directors received improved models of the Mark 8 radar, and the Mark 4 radars used with the 5 inch (127 mm) gun directors were replaced by the newer combination of paired Mark 12 and Mark 22 dual-purpose equipment. Tennessee's usefulness as an anti-aircraft ship was enhanced by the addition of a model SP height-finding radar. Her pattern camouflage scheme was replaced by a dark gray finish which was calculated to provide a less conspicuous aiming point for kamikaze planes, introduced during the recapture of the Philippines and becoming more and more of a fact of naval life during the winter of 1944 and 1945.

Aircraft shot down and enemy ships destroyed[10]
Shot down by Tennessee 16
Shot down by Tennessee and other ships 8
Aircraft damaged by Tennessee 3
Japanese naval vessels sunk
in conjunction with other ships


On 2 February 1945, Tennessee headed back toward the western Pacific. While Tennessee was being refitted, landings had been made in the Central Philippines and on Luzon; and the liberation of the Philippines was nearly accomplished. Steaming by way of Pearl Harbor and Saipan, she was just in time to join Rear Admiral W.H.P. Blandy's Iwo Jima bombardment force.

Iwo Jima

Early on 16 February 1945 the Tennessee's assigned firing course took her along the southeastern shore of Iwo Jima, and her 14 in (360 mm) guns struck the slopes of Mount Suribachi while the secondaries aimed at the high ground at the north end of the beach. While the heavier guns fired from ranges varying from 2,200–6,000 yd (2,012–5,490 m), the 40 mm battery raked other targets on cliffs at the north end of the beach and shot up the wrecks of several Japanese ships beached near the shore; these had been used as havens for snipers and machine gunners at Tarawa and in later landings, and were always treated as potential threats. Several fires were started ashore; an ammunition dump exploded spectacularly and burned for several hours.

The next morning beginning at 0803, Tennessee, with Idaho and Nevada, closed to 3,000 yd (2,740 m) and began firing. The ships were so close to the shore that at some point the Tennessee was struck by return fire from a Japanese coastal gun on one of her 5 inch (127 mm) guns, which killed Seaman First Class Leon Andrew Giardina and wounded four others. At 1025, the battleships were ordered to the rear to make way for the invasion troops.

It had been found that single-gun salvoes at close range, using "pointer fire" (in which the gun is directly aimed by telescopic sight), were the most precise and effective. The notion of using a 14 in (360 mm) naval rifle for sniping was rather new, but it seemed to work very well. Ground fighting on Iwo Jima continued until 26 March, as the stubborn Japanese were slowly rooted out or the positions that they continued to defend to the last. Tennessee was a part of this struggle until 7 March, when she sailed for Ulithi.

Number of times Tennessee damaged by enemy aircraft or enemy fire[10]
Item Action Damage
(1) Pearl Harbor Two Bomb Hits.
(2) Eniwetok One man wounded by rife fire from the beach.
(3) Saipan Three hits from enemy 6 inch shore battery.
(4) Iwo Jima Two hits from enemy 37 mm battery. Ship was sprayed with machine-gun A.A. fire six or eight times.
(5) Okinawa Suicide plane with bomb hit ship on 12 April 1945

Tennessee left the area, having fired 1,370 rounds of main-battery fire on Iwo Jima along with 6,380 5 inch (127 mm) and 11,481 40 mm projectiles. At Ulithi, she began to prepare for the Okinawa operation.

Tennessee bombarding Okinawa with her 14"/50 main battery guns, as LVTs in the foreground carry troops to the invasion beaches, 1 April 1945.


The pattern of life off Okinawa during the grueling weeks to come, as the "fleet that came to stay" battled to see the land battle through while keeping itself alive, consisted of shore bombardment and fighting off kamikaze attacks. Long hours at general quarters kept all hands tense and tired as the ships prowled off the island firing at every likely target while reports of suicide attacks piled up. The island was not secured until 21 June. In the meanwhile, the Navy battled by day and night against the unremitting kamikaze offensive.

On her second day off Okinawa Tennessee was attacked by four planes. The first plane was shot down 5,000 yards from Tennessee's stern. Two minutes later the second plane was shot down 5,500 yards from her stern. Five minutes, later a third plane was destroyed 5 miles away. The fourth plane was fired upon at 5,000 yards away and crashed 12,000 yards off Tennessee's bow. USS Tennessee was attacked again by airplanes on 1 and 3 April. These attacks were not suicide attacks. The first kamikaze attack came on 6 April. Tennessee fought off six kamikazes. On 7 April, a single kamikaze attacked Tennessee. Five days later, Tennessee faced the strongest kamikaze attack yet.[12]

Based on intelligence derived from a shot down kikusui No. 1 enlisted flight petty officer named Sata Omaichi who boasted of a massed attack set for 11 April, Admiral Kelly Turner, ordered Admiral Mort Deyo, to bring the entire beach gunfire force consisting of ten battlewagons, seven cruisers, and twelve destroyers out to what was being called Kamikaze Gulch. Kamikaze Gulch an open triangle of ocean bounded by Ie Shima, the Kerama Retto, and the shore of Okinawa was at the time the most dangerous place on earth because it stood on the most direct route for kamikazees to reach the Hagushi beachhead. [13] On the afternoon of 12 April, the Tennessee, was one of the fire-support battlewagons, steaming in the Kamikaze Gulch air-defense screen when five kamikazes from kikusui No. 2 picked her, and dove in through puffs of shell bursts and the heavy smoke from the burning destroyer Zellars. Four were shot down, the last three only hundreds of yards from the battleship. The last one came down on the bow at a 45-degree angle, was set aflame by 5-inch gunfire, and then plunged into the water. At the same time, an Aichi D3A "Val" dive bomber, flying low on the starboard bow, headed directly for the Tennessee'ss bridge. Lookouts spotted the "Val" at 2,500 yards away, and every automatic weapon that could be brought bear opened up. One of the plane's fixed wheels was torn off, and its engine began to smoke.[14]

Heading at first for Tennessee's tower foremast, the Japanese pilot swerved slightly and crashed into the signal bridge. The burning wreck slid aft along the superstructure, crushing antiaircraft guns and their crews, and stopped next to Turret three. It had carried a 250-pound bomb which, with what was left of the plane, went through the wooden deck and exploded. Twenty-two men were killed or mortally wounded, with another 107 injured. This was not enough to put Tennessee out of action. The dead were buried at sea, and the wounded transferred the following day to the casualty-evacuation transport Pinkney. The ship's company turned to on emergency repairs; and, by 14 April, the warship was back on the firing line. The Tennessee remained off Okinawa for two more weeks.[14]

Five days after being struck by the kamikazes, the Tennessee played a significant role in the Sixth Marine Division's assault and capture of Mount Yaetake, Hill 200, and Green Hill. Mount Yaetake is a 1,000-meter-high peak near the center of the Motobu Peninsula, and it was defended in depth by 2,000 Japanese troops under the command of Colonel Takehido Udo. On 17 April, Tennessee delivered a very heavy barrage on the hill before the assault of the 29th Marine Regiment. This helped the regiment to secure its initial objective by 1300. It met relatively light resistance, primarily because of the precise bombardment by the big guns of the Tennessee. In taking their objective the 29th had killed about 40 Japanese soldiers, but it found 347 Japanese bodies covering the hilltop, and dozens more in trenches and dugouts. At least 100 enemy dead were attributed to the 14-inch shellfire of the Tennessee.[15]

On 1 May, Admiral Deyo shifted his flag to a cruiser, and Tennessee set her course for Ulithi. Here, the repair ship Ajax made repairs, cutting away damaged plating and installing new guns to replace those lost. On 3 June, the ship sailed for Okinawa, arriving on 9 June. By now, the worst was over. Army troops were making a final drive to clear the island, and Tennessee's gunfire again helped to clear the way. With the other old battleships, she remained in support until organized resistance was declared at an end on 21 June.

The Tennessee's battery, counter battery, and fire support played a major role in the success of the invasion of Okinawa as reflected by the messages passed through the chain of command from COs on the ground to Tennessee. On 18 April, Rear Admiral Reifsnider, commanding Task Group 51.12, told Captain Heffernan:

Today our troops took the high ground prepared by the Tennessee yesterday. Seven enemy were killed on the slope and 30 on the top in huge craters caused by the Tennessee... counted 120 enemy dead and numerous demolished antiaircraft weapons and installations. C.O. Headquarters, 6th Marine Division, himself saw the Tennessees fire yesterday and wishes to express his appreciation for the Tennessee's cooperation and delivery of outstanding support. The main and secondary batteries of the Tennessee broke and drove the enemy back. Her naval gunfire on the almost impossible did the job. Congradulations to all the men of the Tennessee.

Lawrence F. Reifsnider[16]

On 26 April, Rear Admiral Hall, TG 51.22 CO, informed Admiral Deyo of a message from the 27th Infantry Division, which read:

Performance of all firing ships... excellent. We would like to see them have their just compensation and reward, especially the Tennessee.

U.S. 27th Infantry Division[16]

Vice Admiral Oldendorf was subsequently placed in command of naval forces in the Ryukyus, and broke his flag on Tennessee on June 23, the day she departed as flagship for the first of five patrols in the Ryukyus Islands area and East China Sea. Between 26 and 28 July, she made a raid into the area of the Yangtse estuary off Shanghai China.[17] On 1 August she took part in the 7th raid on Wake Island. [18] Throughout this period she covered minesweeping operations in the East China Sea and patrolled the waters off Shanghai for Japanese shipping as escort carriers sent strikes against the China coast. This was Tennessee's station until V-J Day brought an end to the war in the Pacific. When this glad day came, the big ship was operating out of Okinawa and preparing to take part in the planned invasion of Japan.

End of World War II

The battleship's final assignment of the war was to cover the landing of occupation troops at Wakayama, Japan. She arrived there on 23 September, then went on to Yokosuka. Tennessee's crew had the chance to look over the Japanese Imperial Navy's big shipyard and operating base and do some sightseeing before she got underway for Singapore on 16 October. At Singapore Oldendorf shifted his flag to the cruiser Springfield, and Tennessee continued her long voyage home by way of the Cape of Good Hope as her rebuild had increased her beam to 114 feet, too wide to pass through the Panama Canal.

On the fourth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tennessee moored at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.[3]

Action Killed Wounded Missing
Pearl Harbor 4 22 1
Eniwetok 1
Saipan 8 26
Tinian 2
Anguar 4
Iwo Jima 1 6 2
Okinawa 26 116
Total 39 175 5
Total Casualties 219

Post war

The process of trimming the wartime Navy down to postwar size was already well underway. Tennessee was one of the older, yet still useful, ships selected for inclusion in the "mothball fleet"; and, during 1946, she underwent a process of preservation and preparation for inactivation. The work went slowly; there were many ships to lay up and not enough people to do it. Finally, on 14 February 1947, Tennessee's ensign was hauled down for the last time as she was placed out of commission.

Tennessee remained in the inactive fleet for another 12 years. By then, time and technology had passed her by; on 1 March 1959, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. On 10 July of that year, she was sold to the Bethlehem Steel Company for scrapping.


For her service Tennessee was awarded 10 Service stars and the following ribbons/awards.

U.S.S. Tennessee Ribbons/Medals

The 10 Service stars awarded to Tennessee were awarded based on her participation in the 13 operations detailed below.

Service stars awarded[2]
Action No. Operation:Action Operation Period Period of BB-43 Participation Battle Stars awarded Notes
(1) Pearl Harbor—Midway 7 December 1941 7 December 1941 1
(2) Gilbert Islands operation 13 November – 8 December 1943 20 November 1943 – 4 December 1943 1

Marshall Islands operation: Occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls

Marshall Islands operation: Occupation of Eniwetok Atoll
29 January 1944 – 8 February 1944

17 February – 2 March 1944
31 January 1944 – 8 February 1944

17 February 1944 – 23 February 1944
1 One battle star awarded for participation in 1 or more of the Marshall Islands Operation actions. Tennessee participated in 2 actions (Actions No. (3) and (4)) out of 5 total actions that took place during the Marshall Islands Operation and thus was awarded 1 star.

Marianas operation: Capture and occupation of Saipan

Marianas operation: Capture and occupation of Guam
11 June – 10 August 1944

12 July – 15 August 1944
14 June 1944 – 22 June 1944

2 August 1944 – 9 August 1944
1 One battle star awarded for participation in 1 or more of the Marianas Operation actions. Tennessee participated in 2 actions (Actions No. (5) and (6)) out of 10 total actions that took place during the Marianas Operation and thus was awarded 1 star.
(7) Tinian capture and occupation 24 July – 1 August 1944 20 July 1944 – 2 August 1944 1
(8) Western Caroline Islands operation: Capture and occupation of southern Palau Islands 6 September – 14 October 1944 6 September 1944 – 14 October 1944 1

Leyte operation: Leyte landings

Leyte operation: Battle of Surigao Strait
10 October – 29 November 1944

24–26 October 1944
10 October 1944 – 29 November 1944

25 October 1944
1 One battle star awarded for participation in 1 or more of the Leyte Operation actions. Tennessee participated in 2 actions (Actions No. (9) and (10)) out of 10 total actions that took place during the Leyte Operation and thus was awarded 1 star.
(11) Iwo Jima operation: Assault and occupation of Iwo Jima 15 February – 16 March 1945 16 February 1945 – 7 March 1945 1
(12) Okinawa Gunto operation: Assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto 24 March – 30 June 1945 25 March 1945 – 3 May 1945 1
(13) 3d Fleet operations against Japan 10 July – 15 August 1945 10 July 1945 – 7 August 1945 1
Total Battle Stars 10

The recommendation for a Navy Unit Commendation was announced on 13 October 1945 when Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf told the crew that he had recommended the USS Tennessee for a Unit Citation which would be the equivalent to the Silver Star or Legion of Merit awarded to individuals. This is one of only four Navy Unit Citations awarded to a Battleship for actions during World War II. Other battleships that received a Navy Unit Citation for World War II were the Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Mississippi.[1] Tennessees citation was signed by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal on 5 April 1946[19] and applies to all personnel attached to the Tennessee and actually present and serving during the period of 31 January 1944 through 21 June 1945 in the Pacific, or any part thereof.[1] The citation reads as follows.

U.S.S. Tennessee (BB-43) Navy Unit Commendation[10]

The Secretary of the Navy takes pleasure in commending

The United States Ship Tennessee for service as follows:

"For outstanding heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the period from January 31, 1944, to June 21, 1945. Conducting extensive bom- bardments with devistating accuracy throughout thir- teen major operations, the U.S.S. TENNESSEE method- ically reduced enemy defenses prior to the time of landings, provided a tremendous amount of concen- trated fire directly covering amphibious assaults, and furnished controlled fire supporting the movement of troops ashore after the invasions, making possible the advance of our forces through the Central Pacific with- out prohibitive loss of life. Withstanding repeated blows from enemy shore batteries, bombs, torpedoes and Kamikaze planes, her courageous crew skillfully effected emergency repairs which kept her in action during extended periods of tension, strain and extreme peril. In the historic Battle of Surigao Straits she con- tributed materially to the destruction of a powerful portion of the Japanese Fleet, including at least two battleships. The TENNESSEE's splendid record of achievements, from the Aleutians to the Ryukyus, re- flects the superb teamwork and gallantry of her valiant officers and men and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." All personnel attached to and serving on board the U.S.S. TENNESSEE during the above period are hereby authorized to wear the NAVY UNIT COMMENDATION Ribbon. /signed/ JAMES FORRESTAL

See also

Notes and citations

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual, NAVPERS 15,790 (REV.1953), Section 2 NAVY UNIT COMMENDATION
  2. 2.0 2.1 Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual, NAVPERS 15,790 (REV.1953), Part III. – List of Authorized Operations and Engagements, ASIATIC-PACIFIC AREA
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 106th CONGRESS 2D SESSION, H. CON. RES. 421 Expressing the sense of the Congress with respect to the accomplishments of the U.S.S. TENNESSEE (BB-43) during World War II., page 1 artillery statistics, pages 2–3 battle star awards
  4. Gardiner & Gray 1984, pp. 117–118.
  5. "USS Tennessee (BB-43), 1920–1959". Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center. Retrieved 2011-09-17. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Breyer 1973, p. 226.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Wallin 1968, pp. 193–194.
  8. "USS Tennessee (BB-43)". Retrieved 2011-09-17. 
  9. Hornfischer 2011, p. 22.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 USS Tennessee (1946) [1946]. USS Tennessee, December 7, 1941 – December 7, 1945 (Cruise Book). Clark Printing House. p. 197. 
  11. All at Battle of Surigao Strait
  12. Utley 1991, pp. 124, 127.
  13. Gandt 2010, pp. 144,222–223,226.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Utley 1991, pp. 127–129.
  15. Sloan 2007, pp. 119.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Smith 1992, p. 47.
  17. Rohwer 2005, p. 423.
  18. Rohwer 2005, p. 424.
  19. Smith 1992, p. 48.


  • Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905–1970. Doubleday and Company. ISBN 0-385-07247-3. 
  • Gandt, Robert (2010). The Twilight Warriors. Broadway Books. ISBN 978-0-7679-3241-7. 
  • Hornfischer, James D. (2011). Neptunes Inferno. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-80670-0. 
  • Miller, Donald L. (2001). The Story of World War II. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-1198-7. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds (1984). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-907-3. OCLC 12119866. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal, eds (1984). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-907-3. OCLC 12119866. 
  • Rohwer, Jurgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea 1939-1945 – The Naval History of World War II. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-59114-119-2. 
  • Smith, Myron J. (1992). Volunteer State Battlewagon, U.S.S. Tennessee (BB-43). Pictoral Histories Publishing Company. ISBN 0-929521-27-7. 
  • Utley, Jonathan G. (1991). An American Battleship at Peace and War: The U.S.S. Tennessee. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0492-8. 
  • Wallin, Homer N. (1968). Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal. Washington, D.C: Department of the Navy. ISBN 0-89875-565-4. OCLC 51673398. 
  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

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