USS Tennessee BB-43 (1920-1945)

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Built in June 1920 at the New York Navy Yard, the 32,300 ton USS Tennessee battleship began her commission soon after. For nearly two decades the ship operated mainly off of the US Pacific coast. However in 1925 the Tennessee traveled to New Zealand and Australia. In 1940, just prior to World War II, the battleship was moved to Pearl Harbor because of rising tensions with Japan.

Action in World War II

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Tennessee was among the eight battleships anchored in the harbor. When the Japanese attacked, the ship was struck by two bombs, damaging two of the four gun turrets located on the ship. The Tennessee was also damaged by burning oil that leaked from the USS Arizona as it sank. The ship underwent temporary repairs before arriving at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington for an overhaul.

After repairs the Tennessee was stationed off the U.S. west coast from February until August 1942. Before returning to Puget Sound for extensive upgrades, the Tennessee briefly returned to Pearl Harbor. The battleship returned to duty in 1943 after receiving considerably enhanced protection, upgraded weapon systems, and combat systems. Ready for combat, the ship moved to the Aleutians. Using the new 14 inch guns, the Tennessee bombarded the Island of Kiska when it was invaded around August.

Over the next year, from November 1943 until September 1944, the ship was involved in the bombardments of Saipan (where the ship was damaged by counter-fire from the Japanese), New Ireland, Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Tarawa, Guam, Pelieu Tinian, and Anguar. Later in October 1944, the Tennessee’s guns bombarded Leyte when the U.S. returned to the Philippines. Later the same month the ship helped sink the Yamashiro, a Japanese battleship, in the battle of Surigao Strait. The Tennessee then returned to the states to be overhauled again before supporting the Iwo Jima operation during February and March of 1945. During this battle the Tennessee fired almost 1,400 fourteen inch and over 6,000 five-inch shells on the fiercely defended small island. Later that same March, the ship bombed Okinawa before being hit by a suicide bomber on April 12th.

After the War

After taking part in the occupation effort, the Tennessee returned to the Cape of Good Hope in the United States where she later underwent “mothballing” before being decommissioned in February 1947.

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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