Friday, March 24, 2017

Battleship Idaho Commissioned, Becoming the Navy’s Fourth USS Idaho [otd 03/24]

On March 24, 1919, battleship BB-42 – the USS Idaho – was commissioned into the Navy under the command of Captain Carl T. Vogelgesang.

BB-42 was actually the fourth Idaho to sail for the U.S. Navy: predecessors included a wooden sloop-of-war, a motor launch, and an earlier battleship, BB-24.
USS Idaho, BB-24, ca 1909. Library of Congress.
Launched in late 1905, BB-24 followed a design that was a compromise between fighting prowess and cost. As a result, a new generation of battleships soon made that USS Idaho obsolete. She was decommissioned and turned over to Greece in 1914.

Battleship BB-42 had been christened not quite two years before commissioning, in June 1917, by the granddaughter of Idaho Governor Moses Alexander [blog, Nov 13], who was also in attendance.

This USS Idaho had the latest design for the time, with a battery of twelve 14-inch guns. She played a significant role in American naval activity. After shakedown and training in the Atlantic, she transferred to Pacific waters. Her early duty was off the coast from California to Alaska, with occasional voyages as far south as Chile.

In 1925, the Idaho performed exercises near Hawaii, and then sailed to Australia and New Zealand before returning to the West Coast.
USS Idaho exiting Pearl Harbor,
DT-2 torpedo plane overhead, Sept 1925.
Naval Historical Center photo.
From then until 1931, the Idaho was based at San Pedro, California, engaging in fleet readiness maneuvers off the coast and in the Caribbean.

The Idaho spent 1931-1934 on the East Coast undergoing an extensive modernization refit. After a stint in Pacific waters, she returned to the Atlantic. She was stationed in Iceland on December 7, 1941. Two days after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Idaho left Iceland to join the Pacific Fleet.

The USS Idaho participated in many of the great World War II Pacific operations, receiving seven battle stars, including: the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

In April 1945, the Idaho steamed toward a special date with history, but was denied. In a desperate, suicidal throw of the dice, the Japanese Imperial command sent their superbattleship Yamato to try to break up or delay the attack on Okinawa. The American commander, Admiral Spruance, countered first with his battleship bombardment group, including the Idaho. However, they were “demoted” to a contingency force, and a carrier air strike sank the Yamato instead.
USS Idaho bombarding Okinawa, April 1945.
Naval Historical Center photo.

A sailor on the Idaho wrote, “There was a show of disappointment among the crew that we didn't get our chance at them, but on the other hand, had we met with this force, for sure, some of our ships would have taken a shellacking from the Yamato's 18-inch guns long before we would have come in range.”

She suffered battle damage from a kamikaze off Okinawa, but returned to action after quick repairs in Guam. On September 2, 1945, the Idaho was anchored in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender ceremony. After over a quarter century of service, the battleship was decommissioned in 1946 and then sold for scrap in November 1947.
References: Dylan J. McDonald (Ed.), The Moses Alexander Collection, Idaho State Historical Society, Boise (2002).
James A. Mooney (Ed.), Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Dept. of the Navy (June 1991).
William Schumann, The Big Spud: USS Idaho in World War II, The Merriam Press, Bennington, Vermont (© William Schumann, 2008).

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