USS Pennsylvania BB-38 (1916-1948)

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The Battleship USS Pennsylvania was constructed at Newport News, Virginia, and commissioned for duty in June of 1916. The 31,400 ton battleship served as the Atlantic Fleet’s flagship until the early 1920s. The vessel cruised mostly in the Caribbean and off the eastern seaboard in the United States, but also operated in France in 1918.

In 1921, the Pennsylvania led Navy maneuvers in the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Pacific. She was dispatched to Philadelphia in 1929, to undergo an extensive renovation at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. When the vessel reappeared in 1931, her tripod mounted masts had been replaced and her combat system modernized. During the following decade, the Pennsylvania continued her duties, providing support for drills, maneuvers, and other sea exercises conducted to hone the Navy’s war machine.

Action in World War II

The Pennsylvania was in dry dock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard on December 7th, 1941, when the area came under attack from the Japanese. The battleship suffered only light damage. She was rapidly repaired and returned to the front. The Pennsylvania cruised along the western seaboard and off the coast Hawaii until October 1942. After another renovation to modernize her battery of 5″ guns and install aircraft machine guns, the vessel sailed into Alaska. She took part in the operation to regain control of Attu in May 1943 and Kiska in August.

The Pennsylvania opened fire on Makin in November of 1943, during an amphibious offensive on the Gilbert Islands. She repeated this action a short time later at Kwajalein and Eniwetok, and once again at Saipan, Tinian and Guam in June and July 1944. The vessel’s guns provided backup for troops when they landed in the Palaus in September of 1944 and at Leyte in October of that year. When the Japanese Navy reacted with great force to the Leyte operation, the USS Pennsylvania assisted in destroying a portion of their fleet in the Battle of Surigao Strait.  In January 1945, the Pennsylvania participated in the Lingayen Gulf invasion, and was seriously damaged by a Japanese torpedo, on August 12.

After the War

The Pennsylvania was the last Navy flagship to sustain damage under fire in the Second World War. The USS Pennsylvania was too old to be kept in the Navy’s peacetime fleet, so she was scuttled in the ocean on February 19, 1948.

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.


Naval Historical Center

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