USS New Mexico BB-40 (1918-1947)

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Commissioned and built at the New York Navy Yard in 1918, the USS New Mexico was the vanguard of a class of three battleships, each weighing 32,000 tons. After its commission, USS New Mexico spent the rest of World War I guarding the coasts of the United States as well as a number of diplomatic missions. In 1919 the USS New Mexico escorted President Woodrow Wilson home from the Versailles peace conference, and later that year became the flagship of the Pacific Fleet. New Mexico also made its way to Australia and New Zealand in 1925, and milled about the South American ports during most of the 1920s.

From March of 1931 to January of 1933, the USS New Mexico was modernized at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This altered her appearance greatly, as her cage masts were replaced with a tower superstructure and other improvements were added to her armaments. By 1940, the USS New Mexico was relocated to Pearl Harbor as a barrier to Japan. However, in 1941 the ship was called upon to sail to the Atlantic in the wake of German victories in Europe.

Action in World War II

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the New Mexico returned to the Pacific theater to help reinforce the fleet. For most of 1942 the vessel operated off the western coast and around the Hawaiian Islands. She then embarked southwest in the spring of 1943 to help the Aleutians recapture Attu and Kiska. In the following months, New Mexico would provide gunfire support to invasions in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.

The battleship bombarded Japanese positions and eventually assisted in the re-taking of Saipan, Tinian, Mindoro, Luzon and Guam as well. Towards the end of the war, USS New Mexico was hit by a kamikaze plane that killed and injured more than a hundred of her crew. However, New Mexico remained in action for several more days after the attack.

Following a host of repairs, USS New Mexico then participated in the conquest of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Once again she was hit by a suicide plane which resulted in close to two hundred casualties. Nevertheless, she soldiered on, preparing for the invasion of Japan weeks before their eventually surrender.

After the War

With the war over, USS New Mexico traversed the Panama Canal for the last time, arriving at the port in Boston where she would be decommissioned in July of 1946. In October of 1947, USS New Mexico was sold for scrapping.

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.


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