The USS West Virginia, weighing in at 32,600-tons and built in Newport News, Virginia, was the last battleship built for the Navy for over 20 years. After being commissioned in December of 1923, she served in the U.S. Naval Fleet. In the 1920s and 1930s, she participated in “Fleet Problems” and exercises of combat readiness. She traveled with the Fleet to Australia and New Zealand in 1925 to show the Navy’s reach across the Pacific.
Action in World War II
The ship’s base was moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940 and was in the harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. She took the hit of two bombs and seven torpedoes. The ship sank due to large holes in her port side and lost more than 100 of her crew. After being salvaged and receiving some provisional repairs at Pearl Harbor, she went to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for more extensive repairs and upgrades.
The repairs were completed in the summer of 1944 and resulted in major changes to the vessel. The hull was widened and the anti-aircraft gun battery was upgraded. The USS West Virginia steamed to the Pacific combat zone in October of that year and was involved in the bombardment of Leyte, Philippines. On October 25, she was one of the battleships that stopped the attack of the Japanese in the Battle of Surigao Strait. This was the last engagement of battleships with their sixteen-inch guns.
After that battle she was part of naval fleet that supported the ground forces in the capture of Mindoro, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. On April 1, 1945 a Japanese kamikaze plane hit the battleship, off the coast of Okinawa. She was able to recover and continued in the operation there until June. Once the Japanese were defeated, the USS West Virginia was part of the occupation force until September of 1945. In late 1945 she was one of the ships that brought home the war veterans in Operation Magic Carpet.
After the War
The ship was out of use by early 1946 and was decommissioned the following year. She remained in the Pacific Reserve Fleet for another 12 years and was finally scrapped in August of 1959.
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.