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USS Tennessee (BB-43) Part 2

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.
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By the time Tennessee emerged from Puget Sound Navy Yard on 7 May 1943, she bore virtually no resemblance to her former self. Deep new blisters increased the depth of her side protection against torpedoes by eight feet-three inches on each side, gradually tapering toward bow and stern. Internal compartmentation was rearranged and improved. The most striking innovation was made in the battleship's superstructure. The heavy armored conning tower, from which Tennessee would have been controlled in a surface gunnery action, was removed, as were masts, stacks, and other superstructure. A new, compact, superstructure was designed to provide essential ship and gunnery control facilities while offering as little interference as possible to the fields of fire of the ship's increasingly essential anti-aircraft guns. A low tower foremast supported a main-battery director and bridge spaces; boiler uptakes were trunked into a single fat funnel which was faired into the after side of the foremast. Just abaft the stack, a lower structure accommodated the after turret-gun director. Tennessee's old five-inch battery, and combination of five-inch/25-caliber antiaircraft guns and five-inch/51-caliber single-purpose "anti-destroyer" guns, was replaced by eight five-inch/38-caliber twin mounts. Four new directors, arranged around the superstructure, could control these guns against air or surface targets. All of these directors were equipped with fire-control radars; antennas for surface- and air-search radars were mounted at the mastheads. Close-in antiaircraft defense was the function of ten quadruple 40-millimeter gun mounts, each with its own optical director, and of 43 20-millimeter guns.

Thus revitalized, and her battleworthiness greatly increased, Tennessee ran trials in the Puget Sound area and, on 22 May 1943, sailed for San Pedro, California. The days of seeming purposelessness were over. Though the slow battleships were still incapable of serving with the carrier striking force, their heavy turret guns could still hit as hard as ever. Naval shore bombardment and gunfire support for troops ashore, then coming to be a specialty in its own right, was well suited for this the earlier generation of battleships which were also still quite usable for patrol duty in areas where fire-power was more important than speed. The refurbished Tennessee's first tour of duty combined both of these missions.

Tennessee departed San Pedro with the cruiser Portland (CA-33)[?] on 31 May, bound for the North Pacific, and arrived at Adak, Alaska, on 9 June to begin patrol operations with Task Force 16, the North Pacific Force. During the Midway operation, the Japanese had occupied the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska[?]. Attu was recaptured in May 1943; but Kiska was still in hostile hands; and Japanese air and naval forces still operated in the Aleutian Islands area from bases in the Kuril Islands. Tennessee plied back and forth through the legendary fogs and foul weather of the Aleutians, with her crew heavily bundled in arctic clothing for protection against intense cold and freezing rain as her radars probed for some sign of the enemy. There was still much to be learned about radar and its pit-falls; on several occasions, convincing images on the radar screens sent patrolling forces to general quarters. During one patrol in July, radio messages reported a force of nine surface ships 160 miles away, steaming rapidly to intercept Tennessee and her consorts. Tension grew as the unknown enemy drew closer, and all hands intently prepared for their first action. The radar images were only 46 miles away, and Tennessee's crew were at battle stations when the enemy suddenly disappeared. Where the screens had been displaying what seemed to be a hostile squadron, there was nothing. The hostile fleet had been a mere electronic mirage. During this same period, another surface force fought a brief, but energetic, gunnery action with the same kind of electronic "ghost" force south of Kiska. Distant land masses had appeared on ships' early radar sets as ship contacts at much closer ranges.

At about noon on 1 August, Tennessee was out on what all thought another routine patrol when the word was passed to prepare to bombard Kiska. At 1310, she began a zigzag approach through the usual murk to the island with Idaho (BB-42) and three destroyers. As the water grew more shallow, the ship slowed down and streamed naval mine-cutting paravanes[?] from her bows. Tennessee approached the island from the east, closing to a range from which she could open fire with her five-inch secondary battery. Her two OS2U Kingfisher[?] floatplanes were catapulted to observe fire; and, at 1610, the battleship commenced firing from 7000 yards. Though the island's shoreline could be seen, the target antiaircraft gun sites on high ground were shrouded in low-hanging clouds and were invisible from the ship. Tennessee's aerial spotters caught an occasional glimpse of the impact area and reported the ship's fire as striking home.

The task group continued along Kiska's southern coast. Tennessee's 14-inch guns chimed in at 1624, hitting the location of a submarine base and other areas with 60 rounds before firing ceased at 1645. Visibility had dropped to zero, and results could not be seen. The battleship recovered her floatplanes, and the force turned back toward Adak.

In the early morning hours of 15 August, Tennessee again approached Kiska as troops prepared to assault the island. At 0500, the ship's turret guns began to fire at coastal-battery sites on nearby Little Kiska as the five-inch guns struck antiaircraft positions on that island. The 14-inch guns then shifted their fire to antiaircraft sites on the southern side of Kiska, while the secondary battery turned its attention to an artillery observation position on Little Kiska and set it on fire. The landing force then went ashore, only to discover that nobody was home.

After the loss of Attu, the Japanese, knowing that Kiska's turn would soon come, decided to save the island's garrison. A small surface force closed the island in dense fog and tight radio silence and, on 27 July and 28 July 1943, succeeded in evacuating 6,188 troops from Kiska.

Arriving at San Francisco on 31 August, Tennessee began an intensive period of training and carried out battle exercises off the southern California coast before provisioning and shoving off for Hawaii. After a week's exercises in the Pearl Harbor operating area, the ship headed for the New Hebrides to rehearse for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.

The Japanese had occupied Betio[?] on Christmas Day 1941. In nearly two years, with the help of conscripted Korean laborers, they had done a thorough job of digging themselves in. Americans still had a great deal to learn about pre-landing bombardment. Air attacks and naval gunfire damaged, but did not knock out, the beach defenses; and the landing marines met an intense fire from artillery, mortars, and machine guns. Casualties mounted rapidly, and the landing force asked for all possible fire support: At 1084, Tennessee's 14-inch and five-inch guns reopened fire. The battleship continued to shoot until 1138, resuming fire at 1224 and firing until a ceasefire order was issued at 1300. The desperately contested struggle went on until dark, with close support being provided by destroyers which closed the beach to fire their five-inch guns at short range and by waves of carrier planes which bombed and strafed. To reduce the chance of submarine or air attack, Tennessee and Colorado (BB-45) withdrew for the night to an area south-west of Betio and returned to their fire-support area the next morning to provide antiaircraft protection for the transports and to await a call for gunfire.

The battleships retired to their night area again at dusk. By this time, the battle for the island, its outcome uncertain for the first day and one-half of fighting, had taken a definite turn for the better. By 1600, the Marine commander ashore, Colonel David Shoup[?], could radio back that "we are winning." Tennessee was back in position south of Betio on the morning of 22 August. At 0907, she began to deliver call fire on Japanese defenses at the eastern tip of Betio, dropping 70 rounds of 14-inch and 322 rounds of five-inch ammunition on gun positions in 17 minutes of shooting.

During the afternoon, the screening destroyers Frazier (DD-607)[?] and Meade (DD-602)[?] made a sonar contact. Depth charging drove Japanese submarine I-35[?] to the surface. Her position was hopeless, but the enemy crew scrambled to man the undersea boat's single 5.5-inch deck gun as Tennessee's secondary guns joined Frazier and Meade in hurling five-inch projectiles. Tennessee swung clear as Frazier rammed the submarine; four minutes later, I-35 went to the bottom.

Betio was secured by the afternoon of 23 November. Tennessee operated in the general area of Tarawa and Abemama[?] atolls, alert for possible counterattacks by air or sea. At dusk on 3 December, Tennessee departed the area for Pearl Harbor and, on 16 December, headed for the United States with Colorado and Maryland (BB-46). On arrival at San Francisco, four days before Christmas, she was quickly repainted in a "dazzle" camouflage scheme designed to confuse enemy observers. On 29 December, Tennessee began intensive bombardment practice, pounding San Clemente Island[?] in rehearsal for the invasion of the Marshall Islands.

In the early morning of 13 January 1944, Tennessee set her course for Hawaii with Task Unit 58.5.1 and anchored in Lahaina Roads[?] off Maui on 21 January. That day, the ship was inspected by a group headed by Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal. On 29 January, Tennessee, with Forrestal on board, headed for the Marshalls.

D-Day was set for 31 January 1944. As one attack force landed on the unoccupied Majuro Atoll[?], the major force approached Kwajalein. Tennessee, Pennsylvania (BB-38), and two destroyers took up their stations 2,900 yards to the east of the atoll. At 0625, Tennessee catapulted off her observation floatplanes; and, at 0701, she began throwing 14-inch salvoes at Japanese pillboxes on Roi Island[?]. Her two forward turrets were busily engaged when fire had to be checked to allow carrier dive bombers to strike the island. Japanese antiaircraft guns opened up on the planes. As soon as the attackers were clear of the area, the ship demolished the enemy guns with two three-gun salvoes, The five-inch battery then opened up on beach defenses. Main and secondary guns continued to pound Roi and adjacent Namur until noon, the high point of the morning coming when the guns of Mobile (CL-63)[?] detonated a Japanese ammunition dump on Namur and sent an enormous mushroom of thick black smoke into the air. At midday, Tennessee retired from the firing area to recover and service her spotting planes. Following a welcome midday meal served to the crew at their battle stations, the battleship returned to be fighting and shelled Roi and Namur through the afternoon. At 1700, Tennessee turned away to screen supporting escort carriers for the night.

While the fire support ships pounded Roi and Namur on 31 January, marines captured five small nearby islands; and the northern passage into Kwajalein lagoon was cleared for ships to pass in. On 1 February, Tennessee and Colorado, with Mobile and Louisville (CA-28)[?], were back in their assigned area to be eastward and commenced firing at 0708. The ships pounded Namur through the morning; marines began to land on both islands at about noon; and Tennessee and her unit continued supporting fire until 1245. Roi fell quickly, but Namur's defenders were well dug in and fought fiercely until the early afternoon on 2 February.

Later that day, the battleship entered Kwajalein lagoon. Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance[?] and Rear Admiral Richard Conolly, commander of the Roi-Namur invasion force, visited Mr. Forrestal on board Tennessee; the Undersecretary and his party then went ashore to inspect the newly seized islands and departed the following day by seaplane.

Useful lessons were learned from this operation. Since the Navy had won command of the surface and in the air around the landing area, gunfire support ships could close their objective and fire at what was, for a battleship, virtually point-blank ranges. The heavy, short-range fire of the supporting gunfire ships "met the most sanguine expectations" of the assaulting marines and foretold the shape of operations to come.

By 7 February, the whole Kwajalein atoll was in American hands; and preparations began for the capture of Eniwetok atoll, at the northwest end of the Marshalls group in the direction of the Mariana Islands[?]. Pre-war Japanese security had been tight, and little was known about the atoll, but aerial photographs and a Japanese chart found in a beached enemy ship on one of Kwajalein's small islets gave planners enough to work with.

Tennessee arrived at Majuro on 7 February to take on ammunition and supplies before returning to Kwajalein. On the afternoon of 16 February, she sailed for Eniwetok with Colorado, Pennsylvania, and transports carrying Army troops and marines. Ships of the fast carrier force screened their approach and cruisers and destroyers opened the action on the morning of 17 February by bombarding Eniwetok island, on the southwest side of the circular atoll, and the smaller islands flanking the selected entry to the lagoon, Deep Passage. Minesweepers cleared Deep Passage and the nearby, though shallower, Wide Passage; and, at 0915 Tennessee led the transport convoy into the lagoon an headed for the atoll's northern island of Engebi[?]. The battleship bombarded Engebi while landing forces went ashore on neighboring islets to site artillery pieces. Her five-inch guns were active during the early evening in support of a marine reconnaissance company which approached Engebi to plant marker buoys for the next day's assault waves and to acquaint themselves with the beaches. During the night, Tennessee drew off into the lagoon as light field pieces from the newly captured ground harassed Engebi's defenders. The pre-landing bombardment began at 0700 the next morning, and Tennessee joined in at 0733. The first wave went ashore at 0844 and, with the help of supporting ships and planes, had Engebi in their hands by late afternoon.

The atoll was not yet secure. Japanese defenders on Eniwetok and Parry Island[?] had carefully dug in and camouflaged their positions. Transports and landing vehicles carried a force of soldiers and marines to the southern end of the lagoon and, after a preparatory bombardment, the troops went ashore on Eniwetok. There had not been enough time to give the island a satisfactory softening, and progress was slow.

Tennessee spent the day anchored 5,500 yards north of the island, but her services were not called for until night fell. During the night, Army troops called several times for illumination. Destroyers played their searchlights over Japanese-held areas, while Tennessee's five-inch guns fired large numbers of star shells. The fight for Eniwetok went on into the afternoon of 21 February, but Tennessee's efforts had, by then, been diverted to Parry Island.

Parry, at the mouth of Deep Channel, was defended by more than 1,300 well-trained, carefully-entrenched Japanese troops. The assault plan called for a careful preliminary working-over with bombs and gunfire, and marine light howitzers began to shell Parry from a nearby islet in the evening of 20 February while carrier planes carried out repeated attacks. Tennessee and Pennsylvania took up positions 900 yards off Parry during the morning of 20 February and, at 1204, began to blast the island.

The bombardment continued through 21 February, ships and planes taking their turns. Gun crews paused for a "breather" while planes from the escort carriers unloaded their ordnance, then resumed their work. Colorado's 16-inch rifles added to the weight of Tennessee and Pennsylvania's 14-inch fire, and Louisville and Indianapolis (CA-35) joined in with their eight-inch turret guns. Tennessee was firing at so short a range that, during the afternoon of 20 February]], she was able to take on beach defenses with her 40-millimeter guns.

The final shelling, on the morning of 22 February, kicked up a dense mixture of smoke and dust as the landing craft went in. Tennessee's heavy guns checked fire at 0852 when the first amphibian tractors were 300 yards from the beach, and her 40-millimeters took up the fire until the vehicles landed. Ships' guns continued to provide support during the first two hours of land fighting but ceased firing as the troops expanded their foothold and advanced across the island. By afternoon, Parry was secured, and Eniwetok atoll was securely in American hands.

On 23 February 1944, Tennessee sailed for Majuro. Here, she joined New Mexico (BB-40), Mississippi (BB-41), and Idaho (BB-42). Under the command of Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin, the battleships sortied from Majuro on 15 March with two escort carriers and a screen of 15 destroyers.

Their objective was the Japanese air and naval base at Kavieng[?], at the northern end of New Ireland[?]. The Bismarck Archipelago[?], the two large islands of New Britain and New Ireland[?], lie just to the east of New Guinea. Rabaul[?], the by-now legendary Japanese operating base, is at the eastern end of New Britain, just across a narrow channel from New Ireland. About 240 miles northwest of Rabaul, across the Bismarck Sea[?], is the small Admiralty Islands group. Another small island, Emirau[?], lies northwest of New Ireland and east of the Admiralties. Southeast from Rabaul, the Solomon Islands chain extended for more than five hundred miles. Since the first landing on Guadalcanal in August 1942, the chain had been slowly climbed in a series of strongly contested actions by sea, land, and air. By the end of 1943, American forces held a strong foothold on Bougainville, little more than 200 miles from Rabaul.

The final steps in Rabaul's encirclement and isolation were planned for the spring of 1944. Kavieng was to have been captured early in April, but the success of the land-based air offensive against Rabaul convinced Admiral Chester Nimitz that it would be more profitable to occupy undefended Emirau instead, sending the bombardment ships against Kavieng to convince the Japanese that a landing on New Ireland was planned.

Admiral Griffin, accordingly, headed for Kavieng and, on the morning of 20 March 1944, approached the harbor. Rain squalls and low-hanging clouds shrouded the area as Tennessee and the other gunfire ships zigzagged toward New Ireland. The island appeared through the overcast at about 0700. Tennessee launched her spotting planes an hour later, and they were soon out of sight in the rain and mist. By 0905, the range to the target was within 15,000 yards, and the battleships opened a deliberate fire. Steaming at 15 knots, Tennessee dropped single 14-inch rounds and two- or three-gun salvoes on Kavieng as the bombardment force slowly closed the range. Poor visibility made gunfire spotting difficult, and the pace of firing was held down to avoid wasting ammunition.

Tennessee was about 7,500 yards from the island when her lookouts reported gun flashes from the beach, quickly followed by shell splashes just off the starboard bow and close to one of her screening destroyers. At 0928, Tennessee's port five-inch guns opened rapid continuous fire at the coastal battery, estimated to consist of four to six four-inch guns. A 180-degree turn brought the battleship's starboard secondaries to bear, and the duel continued. The Japanese gunners began to get the range, an d some projectiles hit close aboard on the starboard beam while others came similarly close to Idaho. Tennessee was straddled several times and drew away from the shore at 18 knots before checking fire at 0934. Reducing speed to 15 knots and turning back to firing position, Tennessee reopened fire at 0936. Her main and secondary batteries pounded the enemy guns for ten minutes, and nothing more was heard from the Japanese guns. For the next three hours, the ships steamed back and forth off Kavieng, shelling the Japanese airfield and shore facilities. Other coastal gun positions were sighted, but the battleship's 14-inch fire silenced them before they could get off a round. Visibility continued to be a problem; observers in the ships' floatplanes could not get a clear view of the targets. When the five-inch guns were firing at targets in wooded areas, spotters in the ship's gun directors could not observe hits in the heavy foliage. More than once, rounds had to be dropped in the water to obtain a definite point of reference before "walking" fire onto the desired target.

The bombardment ended at 1235. Tennessee turned away and made rendezvous with the covering escort carriers as Admiral "Bull" Halsey wired his "congratulations on your effective plastering of Kavieng." This diversion had had its effect. While Admiral Griffin's battleships blasted Kavieng, Emirau had been seized without opposition. Pausing at Purvis Bay and Efate, Tennessee arrived at Pearl Harbor on 16 April to refurbish and prepare for her next task: Operation Forager[?], the assault on the Marianas.

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5



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