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World War II: USS Idaho (BB-42)

USS Idaho (BB-42)  Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding
  • Laid Down: January 20, 1915
  • Launched: June 30, 1917
  • Commissioned: March 24, 1919
  • Fate: Sold for scrap

Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 32,000 tons
  • Length: 624 ft.
  • Beam: 97.4 ft.
  • Draft: 30 ft.
  • Propulsion: Geared turbines turning 4 propellers
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Complement: 1,081 men


  • 12 × 14 in. gun (4 × 3)
  • 14 × 5 in. guns
  • 2 × 21 in. torpedo tubes

Design & ConstructionThe U.S. Navy battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) during operations at sea, in the 1920s.

Having conceived and moved forward with five classes of dreadnought battleships (, , , Wyoming, and New York), the US Navy concluded that future designs should utilize of a set of common tactical and operational traits.  This would allow these vessels to operate together in combat and would simplify logistics.  Designated the Standard-type, the next five classes were propelled by oil-fired boilers instead of coal, did away with amidships turrets, and carried an “all or nothing” armor scheme.  Among these alterations, the change to oil was made with the goal of increasing the vessel’s range as the US Navy believed that this would be critical in any future naval war with Japan.  The new “all or nothing” armor approach called for key areas of the battleship, such as magazines and engineering, to be heavily protected while less important spaces were left unarmored.  Also, Standard-type battleships were to be capable of a minimum top speed of 21 knots and have a tactical turn radius of 700 yards or less.

The characteristics of the Standard-type were first employed in the Nevada– and Pennsylvania-classes.  As a successor to the latter, the New Mexico-class at first was envisioned as the US Navy’s first dreadnought design to mount 16″ guns.  Due to extended arguments over designs and rising costs, the Secretary of the Navy elected to forgo using the new guns and ordered that the new type to replicate the Pennsylvania-class with only minor changes.  As a result, the three vessels of the New Mexico-class, USS New Mexico (BB-40), USS Mississippi (BB-41), and USS Idaho (BB-42), each carried a main battery of twelve 14″ guns mounted in four triple turrets.  These were supported by a secondary armament of fourteen 5″ guns.  While New Mexico received an experimental turbo-electric transmission as part of its power plant, the other two battleships carried more traditional geared turbines.

The contract for construction of Idaho went to the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, NJ and work commenced on January 20, 1915.  This proceeded over the next thirty months and on June 30, 1917, the new battleship slid down the ways with Henrietta Simons, granddaughter of Idaho Governor Moses Alexander, serving as sponsor.  As the United States had become engaged in World War I in April, workers pressed to complete the vessel.  Completed too late for the conflict, it entered commission on March 24, 1919, with Captain Carl T. Vogelgesang in command.

Early Career

Departing Philadelphia, Idaho steamed south and conducted a shakedown cruise off Cuba.  Returning north, it embarked Brazilian President Epitacio Pessoa at New York and carried him back to Rio de Janeiro.  Completing this voyage, Idaho shaped a course for the Panama Canal and proceeded on to Monterey, CA where it joined the Pacific Fleet.  Reviewed by President Woodrow Wilson in September, the battleship carried Secretary of the Interior John B. Payne and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels on an inspection tour of Alaska the following year.  Over the next five years, Idaho moved through routine training cycles and maneuvers with the Pacific Fleet.  In April 1925, it sailed for Hawaii where the battleship took part in war games before proceeding on to make goodwill visits to Samoa and New Zealand.

Resuming training activities, Idaho operated from San Pedro, CA until 1931 when it received orders to proceed to Norfolk for a major modernization.  Arriving on September 30, the battleship entered the yard and had its secondary armament expanded, anti-torpedo bulges added, its superstructure altered, and new machinery installed.  Completed in October 1934, Idaho conducted a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean before proceeding back to San Pedro the following spring.  Conducting fleet maneuvers and war games over the next few years, it shifted to Pearl Harbor on July 1, 1940.  The following June, Idaho sailed for Hampton Roads to prepare for an assignment with the Neutrality Patrol.  Tasked with protecting the sea lanes in the western Atlantic from German submarines, it operated from Iceland.  It was there on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II.

World War II   

Immediately dispatched with Mississippi to reinforce the shattered Pacific Fleet, Idaho reached Pearl Harbor on January 31, 1942.  For much of the year, it conducted exercises around Hawaii and the West Coast until entering Puget Sound Navy Yard in October.  While there the battleship received new guns and had its anti-aircraft armament enhanced.  Ordered to the Aleutians in April 1943, it provided naval gunfire support for American forces when they landed on Attu the following month.  After the island was recaptured, ​Idaho shifted to Kiska and aided in operations there until August.  Following a stop in San Francisco in September, the battleship moved to the Gilbert Islands in November to aid in the landings on Makin Atoll.  Bombarding the atoll, it remained in the area until American forces eliminated Japanese resistance.

On January 31, Idaho supported the invasion of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.  Aiding the Marines ashore until February 5, it then departed to strike other nearby islands before steaming south to bombard Kavieng, New Ireland.  Pressing on to Australia, the battleship made a brief visit before returning north as an escort for a group of escort carriers.  Reaching Kwajalein, Idaho steamed on to the Marianas where it commenced a pre-invasion bombardment of Saipan on June 14.  Shortly thereafter, it moved on Guam where it struck targets around the island.  As the Battle of the Philippine Sea raged on June 19-20, Idaho protected the American transports and reserve forces.  Replenishing at Eniwetok, it returned to the Marianas in July to support the landings on Guam.

Moving to Espiritu Santo, Idaho underwent repairs in a floating dry dock in mid-August before joining American forces for the invasion of Peleliu in September.  Beginning a bombardment of the island on September 12, it continued firing until September 24.  In need of an overhaul, Idaho left Peleliu and touched at Manus before proceeding on Puget Sound Navy Yard.  There it underwent repairs and had its anti-aircraft armament altered.  Following refresher training off California, the battleship sailed for Pearl Harbor before ultimately moving on to Iwo Jima.  Reaching the island in February, it joined in the pre-invasion bombardment and supported the landings on the 19th.  On March 7, Idaho departed to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa.

Final Actions

Serving as the flagship of Bombardment Unit 4 in the Gunfire and Covering Group, Idaho reached Okinawa on March 25 and began attacking Japanese positions on the island.  Covering the landings on April 1, it endured numerous kamikaze attacks in the following days.  After downing five on April 12, the battleship sustained hull damage from a near miss.  Making temporary repairs, Idaho was withdrawn and ordered to Guam.  Further repaired, it returned to Okinawa on May 22 and provided naval gunfire support to the troops ashore.  Departing on June 20, it shifted the Philippines where it was engaged in maneuvers in Leyte Gulf when the war ended on August 15.  Present in Tokyo Bay on September 2 when the Japanese surrendered aboard USS Missouri (BB-63), Idaho then sailed for the Norfolk.  Reaching that port on October 16, it remained idle for the next several months until being decommissioned on July 3, 1946.  Initially placed in reserve, Idaho was sold for scrap on November 24, 1947.


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