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USS Tennessee (BB-43) Part 5

Due to the length of this article, it has been split up.
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While Tennessee was being refitted, landings had been made in the Central Philippines and on Luzon; and the liberation of the Philippines was nearly accomplished. From its base in the Marianas, the 20th Army Air Force was hitting Japan with B-29 Superfortresses. Their track led past the Bonin Islands[?], whose garrison could send an early warning to Japanese airfields and gunners in the home islands. To eliminate this danger, provide an advanced base for fighter escorts, and obtain an emergency landing field for damaged bombers, Admiral Chester Nimitz had been directed to capture Iwo Jima before going on to the Ryukyu Islands[?] to seize Okinawa as an advanced base for the assault on Japan proper. Japanese resistance on Leyte delayed the landing on Luzon from 20 December 1944 to 9 January 1945, while the landing in the Bonins, scheduled for 20 January 1945, had to be deferred until 19 February. The schedule for landings in the new year was tight; but planners deemed it essential to move as expeditiously as possible since the invasion of southern Japan, scheduled for the fall, depended on the use of Iwo Jima and Okinawa as bases for a long and intensive aerial bombardment.

The Japanese had predicted that a landing would be made on Iwo Jima, and a large garrison of good troops under Lieutenant General Tadanichi Kuribayashi[?] had done a thorough job of digging themselves in. The volcanic island's rugged terrain was heavily fortified with strongly built firing positions supported by a deep and intricate network of tunnels.

B-24 Liberators of the Seventh Army Air Force bombed Iwo Jima for 74 consecutive days to soften it up for an assault, and five naval bombardments were delivered. This pounding had no significant effect except to accelerate the work of the defenders.

On 2 February 1945, Tennessee headed back toward the western Pacific. Steaming by way of Pearl Harbor and Saipan, she was just in time to join Rear Admiral W.H.P. Blandy's bombardment force. Blandy, an ordnance specialist, had been Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance earlier in the war. With the expert help of Lieutenant Col. Donald Weller, USMC, the preinvasion bombardment was thoroughly planned and was modified to meet immediate needs as the shelling progressed. The Japanese defensive tactic called for the landing troops to be stopped on the beaches before they could move inland, and a heavy belt of defenses extended along the shoreline. The mission of the bombarding ships and planes was to break down the Japanese cordon and permit the landing marines to push through before they could be cut to pieces.

Blandy's gunfire force arrived off Iwo Jima early on 16 February 1945. The morning was cool, with occasional rain squalls, and low cloud cover hindered spotting planes. Shortly after daybreak, the warships deployed to their stations, with escort carriers in the near distance providing air cover. Minesweepers began to clear the approaches to the island at 0645, and gunfire opened at 0707. Tennessee's assigned firing course took her along the southeastern shore of Iwo Jima, and her 14-inch guns struck the slopes of Mount Suribachi[?] while the secondaries aimed at the high ground at the north end of the beach. Floatplanes and fighters observing gunfire over the island were followed by dark puffs of antiaircraft fire. Blandy ordered the ships to fire only when air spot could function effectively in the intermittent visibility. Whenever the airplanes could observe the results, the ships kept their fire up through the day. During the afternoon, an OB2U Kingfisher[?] seaplane from the cruiser Pensacola (CA-24)[?] found a Japanese A6M Zero[?] "Zeke" on its tail. The observation pilot, determined to put up all the fight he could, went at the fighter though his plane was much slower and less maneuverable, and armed only with one .30-caliber forward-firing machine gun plus a second flexible gun in the observer's cockpit. Against all the odds, the "Zeke" went down in flames.

Visibility was better the next day, and the ships began to approach beaches at 0803. Beginning at 10,000 yards, Tennessee, with Idaho and Nevada, soon closed to 3,000 yards and delivered heavy direct fire to assigned targets while assault minesweeping went on. At 1025, the battleships were ordered to retire to make way for UDTs supported by LCI(G)s. The defenders concluded that this was the beginning of the actual landing and unmasked guns and mortars in a heavy fire on the gunboats and frogmen. Casualties mounted; one gunboat was sunk another set afire. The other LCIs returned fire but had to withdraw as the bombardment ships resumed firing against the defenses. Three damaged gunboats came alongside Tennessee to transfer their wounded to the battleship's sick bay.

Bombardment continued through 18 February under orders prescribing concentrated hammering of the landing beaches. Once more, Tennessee's big guns pounded Suribachi while her secondaries attacked gun positions overlooking the right flank of the objective area. While the heavier guns fired from ranges varying between 2,200 and 6,000 yards, the 40-millimeter battery raked other targets on cliffs at the north end of the beach and shot up the wrecks of several Japanese ships beached near the shore; these had been used as havens for snipers and machine gunners at Tarawa and in later landings, and were always treated as potential threats. Several fires were started ashore; an ammunition dump exploded spectacularly and burned for several hours. Coastal guns and antiaircraft weapons were still firing when Tennessee retired for the night, even though she and Idaho had been able to demolish many massive masonry pillboxes with direct hits.

Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner arrived off Iwo Jima at 0600 on the morning of 19 February with the main body of the invasion force and assumed command. Transports formed up in the darkness and, at daybreak, put their landing craft into the water as troops clambered down the ship's cargo nets. The loaded landing craft circled near the transports as they awaited the signal to land. Tank landing ships moved closer to shore, opened their bow doors and launched LVTs carrying the first wave of assault troops. Shortly after daylight, a heavy bombardment was opened by the ships of Task Force 54 reinforced by the newer battleships North Carolina (BB-55), Washington (BB-56), and three cruisers lent for the occasion by Task Force 58. A total of seven battleships, four eight-inch gun heavy cruisers, and three light cruisers armed with six-inchers laid their fire on the landing areas. At first, the fire was slow and deliberate. It was checked for an air strike, as lanes from the fast carrier force delivered bombs, rockets, and napalm before the ships resumed a heavier fire. Beginning at 0850, fire was so adjusted that carrier fighters could strafe the beaches during the last few minutes before H-hour. One minute before H-hour, the turret guns ceased firing, and the secondary guns began to drop a rolling barrage just ahead of the marines as they landed and moved inland, shore fire control parties (SFCP) accompanied the marines ashore; one SFCP was assigned to work with each of the supporting battleships and cruisers.

The first wave crossed the line of departure at 0830 and landed only a fraction before the scheduled 0900 H-hour. As the troops landed, the Japanese, who had waited out the bombardment in their deep tunnels, manned guns and mortars in protected emplacement and opened an increasingly heavy fire. The ships' guns were kept busy; main batteries took on gun positions as they were located while the lighter guns kept up their barrage ahead of the men on the ground. Tennessee's station was 8,000 yards from Suribachi at the southern end of the landing area, and the water around her was churned by hundreds of vehicles and landing craft as the successive waves moved in. By the end of the day, some 30,000 marines were on Iwo Jima, and some tanks and artillery had been landed.

Ground fighting on Iwo Jima continued until 26 March, as the stubborn Japanese were slowly rooted out or the positions that they continued to defend to the last. Even before the struggle ended, though, Army engineers had patched up the island's battered airstrip; and damaged B-29s were able to seek refuge on dry land instead of ditching. Tennessee was a part of this struggle until 7 March, when she sailed for Ulithi. The days after the landing were a steady routine of call fire and counterbattery work as Japanese guns continued to reveal themselves by opening fire on the hovering support ships before being located and taken out. For this purpose, it had been found that single-gun salvoes at close range, using "pointer fire" (in which the gun is directly aimed by telescopic sight), were the most precise and effective. The notion of using a 14-inch naval gun for sniping was rather new, but it seemed to work very well.

Tennessee left the area having deposited 1,370 rounds of main-battery fire on Iwo Jima along with 6,380 five-inch and 11,481 40-millimeter projectiles. At Ulithi, she began to prepare for the Okinawa operation. Supplies and ammunition were loaded, and the tired sailors stretched their legs and drank beer on tiny Mog Mog Island[?], whose principal selling point as a vacation resort seemed to be that it did not move underfoot.

Everyone involved knew that this job would be attended by special hazards. Censorship had prevented any mention of the Japanese kamikaze weapon in the American press, but it was much in the mind of the Fleet. Admiral Oldendorf, injured and hospitalized shortly after reaching Ulithi, was replaced by Rear Admiral Morton Deyo, who broke his flag in Tennessee on 15 March On 21 March, Task Force 54, the gunfire force, was underway for the Ryukyus. As Kerama Retto[?], a small cluster of islands near Okinawa was taken for use as an advanced base, the battleships arrived off the main island. With Tennessee were Colorado, Maryland, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Idaho, as well as Nevada, New York, Texas, and the venerable Arkansas (BB-33), first commissioned in 1912 and still pulling her weight; she was the only battleship in the fleet still armed with 12-inch guns. With the capital ships came ten cruisers, 32 destroyer and destroyer escorts, and numerous gun- and rocket-firing LCIs and LSMs.

Shortly after midnight on 26 March 1946, Task Force 54 approached Okinawa with its crews at general quarters in the darkness. At daylight, it deployed; the bombardment began at long range since the nearer waters had not yet been swept for naval mines. The minesweepers began to work as the ships fired on targets located by previous aerial reconnaissance. No enemy fire answered the American guns though antiaircraft shells pecked at spotting planes. Japanese submarines were in the area, and a number of ships sighted torpedo wakes, but no damage resulted. Planes from the escort carriers and from Task Force 58 mounted strikes on the island, took detailed photographs, and flew air cover for the surface ships. The need for this became quite evident early on the next morning, when a number of kamikazes came in at a time when no combat air patrol (CAP) was overhead. One suicider hit Nevada, knocking out one of her turrets; another damaged Biloxi (CL-80) at the waterline, while a third went into the water to port of Tennessee. The converted "flushdecker" Dorsey (DMS-1)[?] was hit by a kamikaze which glanced off the ship, damaging, but not crippling, her.

This was to be the pattern of life off Okinawa during the grueling weeks to come, as the "fleet that came to stay" battled to see the land battle through while keeping itself alive. Long hours at general quarters kept all hands tense and tired as the ships prowled off the island Firing at every likely target while reports of suicide attacks piled up.

The day of the landing, Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, was bright and fair, with a gentle breeze. At 0600, Admiral Turner assumed overall command of the operation as Deyo continued to direct the gunfire ships. After a morning bombardment which historian Samuel Morison[?] described as "the most impressive gunfire support that any assault troops had ever had," the landing began. H-Hour was 0830, preceded by the by-now customary intense battering by everything from battleships and carrier planes to sheaves of rockets from flat-bottomed landing craft. As the troops hit the beach, the bombardment was lifted. Early progress was good, meeting surprisingly light opposition. Veterans of earlier landings, and even the intelligence staffs, were puzzled at not having to fight the usual savage struggle to get ashore. Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima[?], commanding nearly 100,000 defenders, three-quarters of whom were regular Army troops, had decided to make no attempt to stop the landing at the beaches. Instead, he dug his main strength into the hilly southern end of Okinawa, as thoroughly fortified as Iwo Jima had been but on a much larger scale. Japanese artillery held its fire during the pre-landing bombardment so that their positions would not be given away; instead of dueling with the ships they would save their fire for the landing troops. His general idea was to pin down the invasion force and delay it as long as possible, while a massive suicide air offensive wore down the supporting naval forces.

By 18 April, all of northern and central Okinawa was in American hands. The long fight for the Japanese citadel around the old island capital of Naha[?] was to last much longer, and the island was not secured until 21 June. In the meanwhile, the Navy battled by day and night against the unremitting kamikaze offensive. On the afternoon of 12 April, Tennessee, instead of taking up a fire-support station, was steaming in air-defense formation. Deyo had been warned that a heavy air attack was on the way and, during the afternoon, it arrived. Some suiciders were knocked down by picket destroyers or splashed by CAP; others, though, got through and aimed themselves at the firing, maneuvering ships. More bandits were shot down by antiaircraft fire, but Zellars (DD-777)[?] was set ablaze by a crashing plane. Five more picked Tennessee and came in through puffs of shell bursts and the heavy smoke from Zellars. Four were shot down, the last three only hundreds of yards from the battleship. The last diver came down on the bow at a 45-degree angle, was set aflame by five-inch fire, and plunged into the water. At the same time, an Aichi A6M Val[?] divebomber, flying low on the starboard bow, headed directly for Tennessee's bridge. Lookouts spotted the "Val" at 2,500 yards, and every automatic weapon that could bear opened up. One of the plane's fixed wheels was torn off, and its engine began to smoke. Heading at first for Tennessee's tower foremast, the Japanese pilot swerved slightly and crashed into the signal bridge. The burning wreck slid aft along the superstructure, crushing antiaircraft guns and their crews, and stopped next to Turret Three. It had carried a 250-pound bomb which, with what was left of the plane, went through the wooden deck and exploded. Twenty-two men were killed or fatally wounded, with another 107 injured.

This was not enough to put Tennessee out of action. The dead were buried at sea, and the wounded transferred the following day to the casualty-evacuation transport Pinkney (APH-2)[?]. The ship's company turned to on emergency repairs; and, by 14 April, the ship was back on the firing line. Tennessee remained off Okinawa for two more weeks. On 1 May, Admiral Deyo shifted his flag to a cruiser, and Tennessee set her course for Ulithi. Here, the repair ship Ajax (AR-6)[?] made repairs, cutting away damaged plating and installing new guns to replace those lost. On 3 June, the ship sailed for Okinawa, arriving on 9 June. By now, the worst was over. Army troops were making a final drive to clear the island, and Tennessee's gunfire again helped to clear the way. With the other old battlewagons, she remained in support until organized resistance was declared at an end on 21 June. By this time, the scene in the air was different. Besides Navy carrier planes, large numbers of Army Air Force[?] fighters were now flying from Okinawan fields; and the days when everything that flew was a cause for alarm had ended for the time being.

Vice Admiral Oldendorf was subsequently placed in command of naval forces in the Ryukyus, and Tennessee flew his flag as she covered minesweeping operations in the East China Sea and patrolled the waters off Shanghai for Japanese shipping as escort carriers sent strikes against the China coast. This was Tennessee's station until V-J Day brought an end to the war in the Pacific. When this glad day came, the big ship was operating out of Okinawa and preparing to take part in the planned invasion of Japan.

The battleship's final assignment of the war was to cover the landing of occupation troops at Wakayama, Japan[?]. She arrived there on 23 September, then went on to Yokosuka[?]. Tennessee's crew had the chance to look over the Japanese Imperial Navy[?]'s big shipyard and operating base and do some sightseeing before she got underway for Singapore on 16 October. At Singapore Oldendorf shifted his flag to the cruiser Springfield (CL-66)[?], and Tennessee continued her long voyage home by way of the Cape of Good Hope.

On the fourth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the old veteran moored at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. During those years, she had hurled 9,347 14-inch rounds at the enemy, with 46,341 shells from her five-inch guns and more than 100,000 rounds from her antiaircraft battery.

The process of trimming the wartime Navy down to postwar size was already well underway. Tennessee was one of the older, yet still useful, ships selected for inclusion in the "mothball fleet;" and, during 1946, she underwent a process of preservation and preparation for inactivation. The work went slowly; there were many ships to lay up and not enough people to do it. Finally, on 14 February 1947, Tennessee's ensign was hauled down for the last time as she was placed out of commission.

Tennessee remained in the inactive fleet for another 12 years. By then, time and technology had passed her by; on 1 March 1959, her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. On 10 July of that year, she was sold to the Bethlehem Steel Company for scrapping.

Tennessee earned a Navy Unit Commendation and ten battle stars for World War II service.

See USS Tennessee for other Navy ships of the same name.

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This article includes information collected from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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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