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From 1905 to now: How the 3 Navy ships called ‘West Virginia’ served the US

The versions of the USS West Virginia served in both World War I and World War II and continue to be a deterrent during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In United States history, three ships have been called “West Virginia”; here are their stories.

USS West Virginia ARC – 5 (1903-1920)

This illustration of the United States cruiser West Virginia appeared after page 30 in the 1906 edition of Brassey’s Naval Annual.

The first-ever USS West Virginia was an armored cruiser that was christened with a bottle of champagne and launched from Newport News, Virginia on April 18, 1903. It served on fleets in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, according to West Virginia archives, and was renamed the USS Huntington in 1916 to give the name West Virginia to a new battleship.

Under the name Huntington, the cruiser served in World War I and was used to confer with allies in England, and after the war in 1918, the Huntington was used to bring war veterans home to the United States.

The bell from the ship which is engraved with “U.S.S. West Virginia 1905” is in Memorial Plaza at West Virginia University.

USS West Virginia BB – 48 (1923-1959)

The most famous of the West Virginia ships was the battleship which was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The BB-48 version of the West Virginia was launched in November 1921 and commissioned in 1923, becoming the last U.S. battleship to be built before World War II. According to West Virginia archives, she traveled the world and received “numerous awards,” including six of the “Meat Ball,” or Battle Efficiency Pennant in the 1930s, an honor given to the battleship achieving the best score in gunnery, communications and engineering combined.

In 1940, USS West Virginia was sent to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In 1941, she was hit by seven aircraft torpedoes and two bombs during the attack on Pearl Harbour and sank despite crews efforts to keep her afloat. Sixteen crew members died, and many thought the West Virginia was done as well, stuck on the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

She was removed from the harbor in 1942 and, after many repairs, departed in May 1943 to serve in World War II. The West Virginia battleship was present for attacks in Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“On August 31 (1945), the West Virginia steamed into Tokyo Bay. Two days later, the ship anchored a few miles from the USS Missouri and was the only ship present for the Japanese surrender that had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. The surrender marked the end of World War II and the beginning of the end for the mighty West Virginia,” said West Virginia archives.

The mast of the ship was later moved to West Virginia University’s campus in Morgantown where it still sits is Memorial Plaza.

USS West Virginia SSBN – 736 (1989-present)

The current USS West Virginia is a submarine that was first commissioned in 1990 with a Blue crew and a Gold crew. Although it has mostly been active in tests and strategic deterrent patrols, the submarine made headlines in October 2022 when Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, made a public visit to the West Virginia while it was in the Arabian Sea.

The public visit was made after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons with his forces losing ground in the war in Ukraine, and the NavyTimes called it “a rare move that highlighted U.S. nuclear undersea capabilities during tense times with Iran and Russia.”

The USS West Virginia (SSBN-736) still actively serves in the U.S. Navy.

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