The USS California was commissioned in August of 1921. Built at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California, it was the second ship in the Tennessee class of battleships. The USS California had a Main Battery of 14”/50 guns in four triple turrets, but unlike Iowa class battleships it also had a Secondary Battery. The Secondary Battery was made of twelve 5”/51 guns in single casemate mountings evenly divided on either side of the ship and eight 5″/25 anti-aircraft guns.
Because of its extra armament, speed and size the USS California was often used as a flagship during the 1920s and 1930s. The USS California was a 32,300 ton vessel with an overall length of 624’. In 1925, the USS California took part of a major trans-Pacific cruise to Australia and New Zealand with other vessels such as the USS Colorado.
Action in World War II
Japan had been at war with China since 1937 and wanted dominance over Asia. World War II began in September of 1939 and by 1940 most of the fleet, including the USS California, was deployed to Hawaii. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese pulled off a major surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The Pacific Fleet had over 130 vessels in the harbor that day, one of them being the USS California. She was badly damaged during the attack and slowly sunk to the bottom of the harbor. It took the Pearl Harbor and Puget Sound Navy Yards nearly three years to repair and update the USS California. By 1944 she was again serving her country providing gunfire support for the invasions of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian.
In October of 1944 Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned the fleet to the Philippines in an effort to retake the region from the Japanese. The USS California took part in the Leyte Campaign, including the Battle of Surigao Strait. On January 6th, during the Lingayen Gulf invasion, the California was damaged by a” Kamikaze” suicide bomber. The damage was extensive enough to require returning to the United States for repairs.
After the War
The USS California was successfully repaired and returned to the Western Pacific in time to take part in the final stages of the Okinawa campaign. When the war ended she sailed home to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in December 1945. She was formally decommissioned in February 1947, but was listed as Reserve Fleet for 12 more years. In July 1959, the California was sold for scrap.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet throughout conflicts during the last century, battleships also posed a lasting health risk to soldiers who served on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common on these ships because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.