Tuesday, December 4, 2007

USS Indiana (BB-58)

The USS Indiana (BB-58) was a 35,000-ton South Dakota class battleship built at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on 30 April 1942. Even though she was a large battleship (680 feet long with a beam of over 108 feet), the Indiana had an impressive top speed of 27 knots. She was heavily armed with nine 16-inch guns, 20 5-inch guns, 24 40-mm guns and 16 20-mm guns. With a crew of 2,500 officers and men, this was indeed a formidable warship.

On 28 November 1942, after a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, the Indiana was sent to the Pacific via the Panama Canal and screened the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga for the next eleven months. The Indiana also supported the American naval campaign in the Solomon Islands. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 21 October 1943, but was sent back into action on 11 November to support the American invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The Indiana screened the carriers taking part in the Battle for Tarawa Island and then in late January 1944 she bombarded Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands for eight days prior to the invasion of that island, which took place on 1 February.

On 1 February 1944, the Indiana was given the risky task of refueling four destroyers at night. At 0420, she was steaming at nineteen knots when the Indiana’s Commanding Officer, Captain J.M. Steele, announced by radio to the other ships in the task force that he was turning left and slowing down to fifteen knots. Then, after seeing some ships in the task force bearing down on the Indiana, Captain Steele decided to turn his ship to the right. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell the rest of the ships in the task force that he was making this new turn. Approximately seven minutes after executing the second turn, the Indiana was rammed by the battleship USS Washington. Both ships saw each other seconds before the collision and tried to turn to avoid the impact, but it was too late. The Washington’s bow smashed into the after portion of the Indiana’s starboard side. Four men were killed on board the Indiana and six were killed on board the Washington. The Indiana’s starboard hull side was smashed in and carved open by the impact, while almost 60 feet of the Washington’s forward hull was sliced off, causing the main deck to slope down into the water. Fortunately, because of superb damage control on both ships, both the Washington and the Indiana remained afloat. The Indiana was sent back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, but the more seriously damaged Washington was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington State to have a new bow welded to the ship. It is a tribute to the industrial might of this nation that the Washington was repaired in roughly three months and the Indiana was back in action in only two months. Captain Steele, though, was not so fortunate. He was relieved of his command, court-martialed for his actions, and found guilty. Steele was never given another command at sea and he spent the rest of his career (which ended in 1946) on land.

The Indiana, meanwhile, went on to take part in the massive American attack on Truk (29-30 April 1944) and she bombarded Saipan on 13-14 June 1944 as part of the Marianas Islands campaign. The Indiana also screened the carriers that were part of the massive American armada and she endured numerous enemy air attacks, downing several Japanese aircraft. She protected the American carriers and remained part of this task force for 64 days. The Indiana then went on to bombard the Palau Islands and took part in the invasion of the Philippine Islands (12-30 September 1944). The Indiana was then sent to Bremerton, Washington, for a badly needed overhaul, arriving there on 23 October.

By 12 December 1944, the Indiana was back at Pearl Harbor and was attached to the American invasion fleet bound for Iwo Jima. She took part in the bombardment of Iwo Jima on 24 January 1945 and then, after providing gunfire support for that operation, went on to support and screen carriers during the invasion of Okinawa. From 1 July to 15 August 1945 the Indiana supported air strikes against the Japanese home islands and she also bombarded targets along the Japanese coastline. She steamed into Tokyo Bay on 5 September 1945, three days after the Japanese surrendered. With the war over, she was quickly sent back to the United States and reached San Francisco on 29 September 1945. The Indiana was placed in reserve and was decommissioned on 11 September 1947 and placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet. This proud warship, which received nine battle stars for her service in World War II, was stricken from the Navy List on 1 June 1962 and sold for scrap. The USS Indiana was purely a wartime battleship that had an illustrious career during World War II, but wasn’t able to find a place in the modern post-war years.


Figure 1 (Top): USS Indiana (BB-58) steaming with Task Force 58.1 on 27 January 1944, en route to attack Taroa Island airfield, Maloelap Atoll, Marshall Islands. Taken by a USS Enterprise (CV-6) photographer. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): USS Indiana steaming with Task Force 58.1 on 27 January 1944, en route to attack Taroa Island airfield, Maloelap Atoll, Marshall Islands. Taken by a USS Enterprise (CV-6) photographer. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): USS Indiana at Pearl Harbor on 13 February 1944, showing damage to her starboard side received in collision with USS Washington (BB-56) on 1 February 1944. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): Bombardment of Kamaishi, Japan, 14 July 1945. USS Indiana fires a salvo from her forward 16-inch guns at the Kamaishi plant of the Japan Iron Company, 250 miles north of Tokyo. A second before, USS South Dakota (BB-57), from which this photograph was taken, fired the initial salvo of the first naval gunfire bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands. The superstructure of USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is visible directly behind Indiana. The heavy cruiser in the left center distance is either USS Quincy (CA-71) or USS Chicago (CA-136). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.