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  USS California BB-44
USN
Tennessee Class Battleship

32,300 tons
624.5' x 97.3' x 114'
As built
12 x 14" main guns
14 x 5" guns
4 x 3" guns
2 x torpedo tubes

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USN December 7, 1941

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USN c1941–1942
Ship History
Built by Mare Island Navy Yard on Mare Island. Laid down October 25, 1916 as Tennessee Class Battleship, Launched November 20, 1919 as USS California as the fifth warship named in honor of California sponsored by Mrs. R.T. Zane. Commissioned August 10, 1921 into the U.S. Navy (USN) with Captain H. J. Ziegemeier in command and became the flagship of the Pacific Fleet.

Between 1921 until 1941, California served first as flagship of the Pacific Fleet, then as flagship of the Battle Fleet (Battle Force), U.S. Fleet. Her annual activities included joint Army-Navy exercises, tactical and organizational development problems, and fleet concentrations for various purposes. Intensive training and superior performance won her the Battle Efficiency Pennant for 1921 and 1922, and the Gunnery "E" for 1925 and 1926.

In the summer of 1925 California led the Battle Fleet and a division of cruisers from the Scouting Fleet on a good-will cruise to Australia and New Zealand. She took part in the Presidential reviews of 1927, 1930, and 1934. She was modernized in late 1929 and early 1930 and equipped with an improved anti-aircraft battery. In 1940, California began operating from Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941 she was moored at the southernmost berth of Battleship Row when the Japanese aircraft attacked. As she was about to undergo a material inspection, watertight integrity was not at its maximum; consequently, the ship suffered great damage when hit. At 08:05 a bomb exploded below decks, setting off an antiaircraft ammunition magazine and killing about 50 men. A second bomb ruptured her bow plates. At the end of the attack, 100 of her crew were dead and 62 wounded.

Three of her crew later earned the Medal of Honor for their acts of valor aboard California. The first was earned by Ensign Herbert C. Jones led a party to supply ammunition for anti-aircraft guns and was fatally wounded by a bomb explosion and when two attempted to rescue him ordered "Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off." The second was earned by Gunner Jackson C. Pharris severely injured by explosions and twice while attempting to supply ammunition by hand, entered flooded compartments and helped rescue unconscious crew members to safety. The third was earned by Chief Radioman Thomas J. Reeves earned moved ammunition for anti-aircraft guns by hand until overcome by smoke and fire and died. Afterwards, he earned the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

Despite valiant efforts to keep her afloat, flooding could not not be isolated and the hull began to fill with seawater. Three days later on December 10, 1941, California was allowed to settle into the mud on an even keel with her superstructure above the surface.

Re-floated & Repaired
On March 25, 1942 California was re-floated then placed into dry dock at Pearl Harbor for repairs. On June 7, 1942 departed under her own power bound for Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton for major repairs and reconstruction including upgrades with improved protection, watertight compartments, stability, additional anti-aircraft guns and a fire control system. When completed, California was virtually new battleship.

Wartime History
On January 31, 1944 departs Bremerton for a shakedown cruise to San Pedro. On May 5, 1944 departs San Francisco across the Pacific to join in the invasion of the Marianas. During June 1944 off Saipan performs shore bombardment and fire support missions. On June 14, 1944 hit by a shell from an enemy shore battery which killed one man and wounded nine. Afterwards, her heavy guns helped blast the way for the landings on Guam and Tinian between July 18, 1944 until August 9, 1944. On August 24, 1944 arrived at Espiritu Santo for repairs to her port bow that was damaged in a collision with USS Tennessee (BB-43).

On September 17, 1944 California steamed to Manus then joins the invasion force bound for Leyte between October 17, 1944 until November 20, 1944 operated in Leyte Gulf and participated in the Battle of Surigao Strait on October 25, 1944. On January 1, 1945 departs Palau to cover the landings on Luzon. Her main guns provided shore bombardment and fire support. On January 6, 1945 in Lingayen Gulf hit by a kamikaze plane that killed 44 and wounded 155 aboard. Afterwards, temporary repairs were made and continued her fire support mission. On January 23, 1945 departs Lingayen Gulf across the Pacific to Puget Sound Navy Yard arriving February 15, 1945 for permanent repairs.

On June 15, 1945 returned to action off Okinawa until July 21, 1945. Two days later, joined Task Force 95 (TF-95) to cover mine sweeping operations in the East China Sea. After a short voyage to San Pedro Bay during August 1945 departed Okinawa on 20 September to cover the landing of the U.S. Army Sixth Army force that landed at Wakanoura in Japan. On October 15, 1945 departed Japan via Singapore, Colombo, Ceylon, and Cape Town to Philadelphia arriving December 7, 1945.

Postwar
On August 7, 1946 placed in reserve at Philadelphia. On February 14 1947 decommissioned but remained in Navy inventory until July 1959.

Fate
On July 10, 1959 sold to Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation and afterwards scrapped.

References
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) - USS California (BB-44), 1921-1959
NavSource - USS California BB-44 (photos)

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Last Updated
March 25, 2021

 

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