HISTORY OF THE USS NEW MEXICO (BB 40)

             USS New Mexico was authorized by an Act of Congress dated June 30, 1914. Construction of the Battleship 40, first scheduled to bear the name California, was allocated to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and begun in October 1915.  Battleship 40 was first scheduled to bear the name California and Battleship 44, under construction at Mare Island Naval Ship Yard, the name New Mexico.  Battleships 40 and 44 exchanged names prior to launching.  USS New Mexico was launched on April 23, 1917.  Her sponsor was Miss Margaret C. De Baca. 

             As built USS New Mexico had a 2-A-2 turret arrangement, each built up entirely of flat armor plates and housing a trio of 14-inch rifles.  Most of the 5-inch guns in her secondary battery were located in drier positions at upper deck level.  Submerged below the waterline were two 21-inch torpedo tubes.  She had two funnels cage masts.  USS New Mexico’s 624-foot hull was sixteen  feet longer than any previous United States battleship.  Improved compartmentation and the substitution of a clipper bow with bulbous forefoot for the ram bow of earlier United States battleships were among USS New Mexico’s innovative features.

            USS New Mexico, based on the success of USS Jupiter’s  turbo-electric drive was commissioned as the United State Navy’s first turbo-electric driven battleship.  Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels approved outfitting USS New Mexico with four General Electric motors which propelled her at 21 knots.  Secretary Daniels reported to the House Naval Committee on USS New Mexico’s performance: “The machinery was designed to develop 26,500 horsepower at full speed, which it was expected would give the ship a speed of 21 knots.  She actually developed more than 31,000 horsepower and maintained for four hours a speed of 211/4 knots and this when running at a displacement 1,000 tons greater than her design called for.  If she had been tried at her designed displacement as is customary with all new ships, she would have made 21.5 knots without any trouble whatever; and what is still better, she could have kept up this speed as long as her fuel lasted for, like all our later dreadnoughts, she is an oil-burner and there would be no reduction in speed due to the necessity of cleaning fires, which must be done in coal burning ships after a run of four hours at top speed….On the whole, I think the country has cause to be proud of this achievement in engineering, not alone because of the pronounced success in this particular instance but because of the assurance it gives us of the superiority of our capital ships to those of foreign nations.”


            USS New Mexico was placed in commission on May 20, 1918.  She joined the Atlantic Fleet at Yorktown, Virginia then completed a brief shakedown before sailing to Boston in September 1918 where twenty-eight years later she was decommissioned.  She arrived at New York City on December 26, 1918, the NEW MEXICO for a fleet review.

            She sailed from New York City on January 1919 as an escort to the Brest-bound USS George Washington.  Aboard the transport was President Wilson.  She escorted Wilson back to the United States following Wilson’s failed treaty negotiations at Versailles, which significantly figured in the sequence of events which culminated in World War Two.

            On the morning of February 22nd, 1919, the USS New Mexico came upon the 3-masted derelict schooner Charlotte J. Sibley.  After rescuing all crewmen she sank the wreck with shellfire.


            USS New Mexico arrived at Hampton Roads, Virginia in July 1919.  Admiral Hugh Rodman, commander of the newly organized Pacific Fleet, chose to break his flag in USS New Mexico, making her the first flagship of the United States Pacific Fleet.  USS New Mexico and other ships assigned to the Pacific Fleet preceding to San Pedro, California.

            USS New Mexico’s next two decades of service were determined by the belief that the would never be another major war and then by the constraints of the Great Depression.  USS New Mexico conducted training, cruised, received ambassadors, participating in centennials and extended good will of the United States.

            In 1920 the USS New Mexico made a cruise to Hawaii then, in early 1921 led the Pacific Fleet on the 6000-mile cruise Valparaiso, Chile.  In 1924 she conducted a return cruise to New York City.  During the mid 1920s the USS New Mexico was made Flagship of Battleship Division Four.

            USS New Mexico departed Bremerton, Washington on April 25, 1925 for Hawaii, where she participated in training exercises and wargames which presaged her activities during World War Two.  Afterwards came a voyage to Australia and New Zealand, with pauses enroute at Samoa and New South Wales.  USS New Mexico returned to San Pedro, where she carried out routine maneuvers from that base during the following years.  She returned to Hawaii in 1928 then to Hampton Roads in 1930. 

            USS New Mexico was already known asr “The Queen” in part in tribute to honors won in competition with other battleships.  In 1920-21, 1927-28, and 1929-30 the ship took the  “meat ball” (red pennant with a black circle in its center) for the best in gunnery, engineering and battle efficiency.

            On March 5, 1931 USS New Mexico proceeded to Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard for modernization.  Complete re-boilering and re-working of internal protection was accomplished.  Her superstructure was entirely reconstructed, to include removing her cage masts.  Her anti-aircraft and anti-submarine defenses were modernized.  Blisters and additional armored deck protection were added.  USS New Mexico and her sisters, following the 1931-1933 modernization, were the United States Navy’s most effective battleships until the 1941 commissioning of the USS North Carolina.


            USS New Mexico, under the command of Captain David A. Weaver, departed Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on January 22, 1933 for refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  USS New Mexico, following a Presidential review off New York in May 1934, remained on the east coast until September 15, 1934, when she again returned to San Pedro.  She cruised to Hawaii in 1936 and 1937 to Hawaii.

            USS New Mexico, after completing gunnery training and tactical exercises off the Hawaiian Islands sailed from Pearl Harbor on 20 May 1941 for Guantanamo Bay, which she reached 9 June 1941.  She departed for Norfolk on 11 June 1941. USS New Mexico sailed from Hampton Roads 20 June1941, to commence a series of neutrality patrols in the North Atlantic under Presidential “shoot on sight” orders.

            USS New Mexico, on 20 July 1941, put to sea to patrol shipping lanes being used to transport Lend-Lease material to Great Britain.  She arrived in Iceland where she spent nine days at anchor within the harbor of Reykjavik.  USS New Mexico departed Iceland on 25 September 1941.  Her operations with Task Force 15 end on 3 October 1941.  USS New Mexico, under the command of Captain Walter E. Brown, departed Argentia, Newfoundland bound for Casco Bay, Maine.

            From 12-25 October 1941 and 9-11 November 1941 USS New Mexicop’s gunnery and navigation departments conducted training exercises in Casco Bay, before departing for Halifax, Nova Scotia on 14 November 1941.  USS New Mexico sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia 14 November for more patrolling in the north Atlantic then arrived at Boston on the 25 November 1941 to take on ammunition before returning to Casco Bay on 1 December 1941.

            USS New Mexico, serving as flag ship for Battleship Division. sailed from Casco Bay on 9 December 1941, stopped at Norfolk on 11 December 1942, then proceeded for the Pacific on 6 January 1942.   She arrived at San Francisco on 22 January 1942.

            During the winter and spring of 1942 USS New Mexico prepared for operations in the central and west Pacific.  She visit San Pedro on 10-13 May 1942 and 19-22 June 1942.  On 1 August 1942 USS New Mexico sailed from San Francisco for the Hawaiian Islands, where she rendezvoused with Task Force 17 on 8 August 1942. She participated in exercises before arriving at Pearl Harbor on 14 August 1942.

            From August through September of 1942 USS New Mexico was flagship of Battleship Division Two, (commanded by Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson).  Vice Admiral Herbert F. Leary, commanding all Pacific Fleet battleships, raised his flag in USS New Mexico almost immediately after Rear Admiral Wilkinson shifted his from her.

            During September 1942 Captain Oliver Lee Downes assumed command of USS New Mexico.  She steamed out from Pearl Harbor for the forward operations area on 7 December 1942, the first anniversary of  the Japanese surprise attack.

            On 18 December 1942 USS New Mexico arrived in the Fiji Islands and anchored at Nandi, where she participated in the final combat operations in the Solomons.  On 9 January 1943, she left Suva to screen escort carriers whose planes were providing air support for United States forces operating on Guadalcanal.  She continued in that capacity until 11 February 1943, when she returned to Nandi. 

            USS New Mexico, enroute to Pearl Harbor, called  at Efate in the New Hebrides on 8 March 1943, at Samoa 11-15 March 1943, the reached the Hawaiian Islands on 22 March 1943.  During the remainder of March 1943 and all of April 1943, USS New Mexico remained at Pearl Harbor.  Vice Admiral Leary departed from USS New Mexico in April 1943.  Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin, Commander Battleship Division Three, embarked with his staff in May 1943.

            USS New Mexico sailed for Adak Island on 10 May 1943.  The island, located in the north Pacific (a region where 100 knot winds seventy foot waves are not uncommon), is part of the Aleutians.  Adak and Kiska were occupied by Japanese forces.   She arrived at Adak’s Kuluk Bay on 17 May 1943, commencing a three month long period of operations in the north Pacific.

            USS New Mexico rendezvoused with other task force members on 21 May 1943 to prevent the landing of reinforcements.  Chichagof Harbor was occupied without opposition 30 May 1943.

            On 22 July 1943 USS New Mexico joined in the bombardment of Kiska.  Return fire was desultory and ineffectual.  USS New Mexico, before departing the Aleutians, steamed to the south and west of Kiska in search of a Japanese task force which failed to appear.

            American reoccupation of Kiska was completed on 15 August 1943 when United States forces entered Quisling Cove on the island’s northwest coast.  No Japanese forces were present.  They had abandoned Kiska on 29 July 1943. The Japanese presence in the Northern Pacific had been eliminated.

            USS New Mexico sailed from Kuluk Bay  for Puget Sound on 29 August 1943.  She arrived at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on 4 September 1943 for maintenance in preparation for subsequent operations. Captain Ellis Mark Zacharias assumed command of USS New Mexico during September 1943.  USS New Mexico left Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on 9 October 1943.  She arrived at San Pedro on 12 October 1943 then sailed for Pearl Harbor, which she reached on 26 October 1943.

Near the Equator, approximately one hundred miles north of Tarawa and 2,500 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor was a Japanese seaplane base located on Makin island.  Makin and Tarawa Atolls had been picked as the striking point for “Operation Galvanic,” the United States push into the Gilbert Islands.  One the morning of  20 November 1943, USS New Mexico and other members of Rear Admiral Griffin’s Battleship Division Three commenced bombarding Makin island. 

            USS New Mexico provided gunfire support for soldiers of the 27th Infantry Division, the unit which had been assigned the task of occupying Butaritari, an important link in the Makin ring.  USS New Mexico’s bombardment was singularly successful.  No effective Japanese fire was directed against her; no casualties were sustained.  USS New Mexico sailed from the Gilberts for Pearl Harbor on 29 November 1943.  She reached Oahu on 8 December 1943.

            During January 1944USS New Mexico returned to the Central Pacific.  This time it was the Marshall Islands, which extend over six hundred miles of water and screen the island of Truk, then the key Japanese naval fortress in the Carolines.  USS New Mexico sailed from Pearl Harbor on 22 January 1944, arriving off Kwajalein Atoll on 31 January 1944 to participate in the pre-invasion bombardment.  She bombarded Ebeye and Kwajalein Islands before she retiring late in the afternoon on 1 February 1944.  It was here that USS New Mexico she suffered her first casualty of the war.

            USS New Mexico’s two Kingfisher scouting planes were operating over Kwajalein. The aviators relayed topographical information and target locations to the battleship’s gunners.  One of them, piloted by Lieutenant Forney O. Fuqua, USNR, with Radioman Second Class Harrison D. Miller as passenger, was struck by enemy shellfire over Kwajalein’s eighty-mile long lagoon.  Fuqua radioed his ship: “Cockpit full of gasoline fumes … hit very badly … am making emergency landing.”  Taking over the controls Miller brought the damaged plane down on the surface, but it overturned before landing.  A minesweeper operating inside the lagoon rescued Radioman Miller, but the Kingfisher sank before Lieutenant Fuqua’s body could be recovered.

            USS New Mexico sailed for Tarawa Island in the Maloelap Atoll 20 February 1944 then Wotje Island in the Wotje Atoll on the 21 February 1944  USS New Mexico’s main and secondary batteries fired 2,400 rounds during her operations in the Marshalls.

            USS New Mexico entered Majuro Lagoon, located 270 miles southeast of Kwajalein,  on 23 February 1944. She then continued southward to Havannah Harbor, Efate for reprovisioning.  On 20 March 1944, she joined other units in a day long diversionary bombardment of Kavieng on New Ireland, in coordination with a United States Marine invasion of Emirau Island 75 miles to the northwest.  Japanese counter battery fire was rapid, but did not harm USS New Mexico.

            USS New Mexico, in the company of USS Idaho and USS Pennsylvania, sailed southwest from Efate on 23 April1944 for Sydney, Australia, which she reached on 29 April 1944. On the 5 May 1944 USS New Mexico sailed from Sydney for Efate, which reached 10 May 1944.

            By the Spring of 1944 United States forces were preparing to pierce Japan’s inner defense perimeter.  Rear Admiral George L. Weyler replaced Rear Admiral Griffin as Commander Battleship Division Three in May.  USS New Mexico, for the first time since she returned to the Pacific, went into her next action without a flag officer on board.

            USS New Mexico, off Tinian 14-15 June 1944, conducted bombardment operations.  On 16 June 1944 she then directed her fire on Japanese airfields located on Guam.  She also provided protection for auxiliary ships, transports and supply ships near Saipan until 25 June 1944, when she steamed away from the Marianas.

            Retaking Guam was the focus of the second phase of the Marianas campaign.  The first phase, the taking of Saipan, had taken a longer than anticipated.  Undisputed control of the Marianas approaches was decided by the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June 1944).  USS New Mexico anchored within Eniwetok Atoll on 27 June 1944, where she remained until 15 July 1944.

            USS New Mexico joined with USS Pennsylvania, USS Hailey, USS Haggard and USS Hamilton on 15 July 1944 to form a force which arrived off Guam on17 July 1944.  The bombard continued until 21 July 1944 when the Marines landed.  USS New Mexico then provided them with gunfire support.

            Following the initial landings USS New Mexico responded to a request for illumination fire to prevent Japanese counter attacks under cover of darkness by firing star shells over Japanese positions.  At dawn Major General Roy S. Geiger sent a message to USS New Mexico in which he stated  “Thanks…you saved the day.”

            During the Guam operations USS New Mexico accomplished an extraordinary feat indirect fire.  One of her target spotting planes detected a shore battery then requested fire.  Although the objective was completely obscured from view, the navigator obtained range and bearing. The fourteen inch rounds achieved a direct ship which destroyed the target.

            Two pilots for USS New Mexico, Lieutenant (jg) Thomas H. Moore, USNR and Lieutenant (jg) Harold K. Anderson Jr., USNR (missing in action) were awarded Air Medals by Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner for their service during these operations. the rear-seat radiomen-gunners were cited by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz for efficiently carrying out “numerous naval gunfire spotting missions” during the Marianas campaign.  One of the planes was riddled by fragments of a Japanese shell while over Guam, while both planes encountered heavy caliber and automatic anti-aircraft fire during their hazardous missions.

            USS New Mexico, after thirteen days and firing 6,500 shells rounds departed the Marianas on 30 July 1944.  She called at Eniwetok on 2 August 1944, departed Pearl Harbor on 11 August 1944 then returned to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on 11 August 1944. She had completed a year of heavy bombardment operations.

            New guns were installed by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.  Her crewmen departed for leave or new assignments and new crewmen reported onboard. During September 1944, Captain Robert W. Fleming assumed command of USS New Mexico.  USS New Mexico departed Puget Sound 26 October 1944.  She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 1 November 1944.

            She sailed from Pearl Harber of to Ulithi, located in the western Carolines, on 10 November.  USS New Mexico spent 21-23 November 1944 before sailing into Leyte Gulf on 25 November 1944 to cover the battling on Leyte and Samar.

            On 2 December 1944, the force of battleships, cruisers and destroyers of which USS New Mexico was a member departed Leyte Gulf for logistic replenishment.  Augmented by several escort carriers, the group returned a few days later and entered Surigao Strait, then passed through the Mindanao Sea into the Sulu Sea to screen and support the 15 December 1944. 

            The Lingayen Gulf invasion of Luzon, biggest and most-prized of the Philippine Islands was the final operation of consequence in the Southwest Pacific.  USS New Mexico met the Japanese in Lingayen Gulf during early January 1945.

            Onboard her at the time were Rear Admiral George L. Weyler, whose embarkation madeg USS New Mexico once again Flagship of Battalion Division Three,  Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, Commander-in-Chief of the British Pacific Fleet and Lt. General Herbert Lumsden, leader of the armored herd which trampled Rommel in North Africa.  They were on hand to observe United States amphibious tactics.  Also onboard was William Henry Chickering, a Time Magazine correspondent, who had covered operations in the Pacific Theatre with General MacArthur since 1942 in New Guinea.  He filed his last dispatch from the NEW MEXICO on 2 January 1945.

            USS New Mexico arrived in the Lingaten Gulf on the morning of 6 January 1945 then commenced her bombarding Luzon.  At 1000, the Japanese began retaliating with fierce and repeated air attacks on the formation.  It was here that the newly-formed Special Attack Corps of the Imperial Air Force was made its debut in force.

            USS New Mexico carried on with her gunfire assignments while fighting off kamikaze attacker.  At approximately 1200, 6 January 1945, a kamikaze plane with its 500-lb bomb struck the portside of navigating bridge then detonated.  Damage repair parties and corpsmen immediately responded.  The attack left 30 dead and 87 wounded.  Among the dead were USS New Mexico’s commanding Officer, (Captain Fleming), Bill Chickering and Lt. General Lumsden. Commander John T. Warren, USS New Mexico’s Executive Officer, assumed command.  USS New Mexico, in spite of  the attack, continued to bombard Luzon in preparation of MacArthur’s landings.

            USS New Mexico’s gunners continued to distinguish themselves.  Among the targets assigned her were two bridges, each 16 feet wide and roughly 71/2 miles inland.  Though they were considered almost impossible to hit, the USS New Mexico’s gunners damaged one beyond repair and made the other useless to the Japanese.  United States forces went ashore on 9 January 1945.

            USS New Mexico expended 25,795 rounds bombarding Luzon. She departed Lingayen Gulf on 22 January 1945, and then arrived San Pedro Bay of Leyte on the 24 January 1945.  USS New Mexico stopped at Ulithi, enroute to Pearl Harbor for repairs, on 28 January 1945.  She arrived off Oahu 6 February 1945.

            On 1 March 1945 assumed command of USS New Mexico.  She departed for Ulithia on 9 March 1945.  Her next operation was participation in the capture of Okinawa, the most difficult operation undertaken by United States forces in the Pacific, also the most ambitious amphibious push of the Pacific war (1,213 ships; 564 carrier-based support aircraft; 451,866 Army-Marine ground forces).

            USS New Mexico’s crew went ashore for rest and relaxation on the island of Mog-Mog, located in the Ulithi Atoll, while taking on stores, fuel and ammunition.  On the 20 of March 1945 USS New Mexico steamed northwest toward Ryukyus.

            During the six days prior to the landings on Okinawa, USS New Mexico supported underwater demolition teams and minesweeping operations in the area. So thorough was the preparatory bombardment that, before the first wave of assault forces landed at 0830 on 1 April 1945, every known coastal gun in USS Mexico’s sector had been silenced.

            On 5 April 1945, USS New Mexico became the Flagship of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Commander United States Fifth.  On 6 April 1945 kamikaze attacked began attacks hitherto unknown intensity.

            During the 64 days spent at Okinawa, the USS New Mexico went to General Quarters 82 times and to Air Defense 86 times.  USS New Mexico increased her tally of downed to planes to 21 by destroying eight Japanese aircraft.  Four of them were shot down within a sixteen minute period during a heavy air attack which occurred on 12 April 1945.  USS New Mexico, while operating off Okinawa, out maneuvered torpedoes fired at her by a Japanese submarine.

            At 1700 on 12 May 1945 a formation of Japanese aircraft closed on USS New Mexico from astern.  On broke from the formation then dived on USS New Mexico. A 5-inch shell burst directly under the kamikaze, lifting it clear of the mastheads as it zoomed overhead.  Close aboard, it smacked into the sea.  A second suicide aircraft crashed on the gun deck and tore into the funnel, leaving a jagged 30-foot hole in the side.

            The plane’s bombs exploded upon impact. Aviation gasoline in the ruptured gas tanks sent flames skyward 200 feet.   Twenty millimeter and forty millimeter ammunition from the ship’s anti-aircraft guns tumbled down the stack through the battle bars. Doctors, corpsmen and emergency stretcher-bearers went to the aid of the wounded.  Others removed the injured, then passing up shells to hard-pressed gunners still fighting off enemy planes.  Damage control parties, aided by volunteers from gun crews broke out fire hoses and extinguished the fires.  Within fifteen minutes all fires were reported under control.  In twenty-one minutes all fires were extinguished.

Photograph #2 here

            USS New Mexico crewmen worked throughout the night, clearing debris, appraising damage and readying the ship’s guns for new attacks.  Casualties incurred amounted to 177 men, including 55 dead and 3 missing. 

            Before dawn on 13 May 1945, USS New Mexico’s anti-aircraft batteries, excluding those smashed in the attack, were ready for action again.  During the days that followed the attack USS New Mexico’s crewmen, aided by technicians from USS Oceanus, which was hove to alongside accomplished so much in such a brief period of time that the USS New Mexico was able to continue to serve as Admiral Spruance’s Flagship until 27 May 1945, when she was ordered to Guam. 

            USS New Mexico, during her Okinawa operations, fire a total of 21,876 rounds, which included, 2,778 projectiles for her main battery alone.  USS New Mexico arrived at Guam on 31 May 1945 then sailed for Leyte on 4 June 1945, where permanent repairs were made from 7 June through 3 August 1945. 

Via Ulithi, and with a stop at Saipan on 12 August 1945, USS New Mexico was enroute to Okinawa’s Buckner Bay when the Japanese accepted the Potsdam Ultimatum.  On the following day, 16 August 1945, USS New Mexico anchored in Buckner Bay, Okinawa.

            On 23 August 1945 USS New Mexico sailed from Okinawa for a rendezvous with the Third Fleet, which occurred three days later off Sagami Wan at the entrance to Tokyo Bay.  On 30 August 1945 USS Revenge led USS New Mexico and 188 combatant United States Navy ships, their auxiliary supporting force and 17 Royal Navy warships past Yokosuka Naval Base into Tokyo Bay.

            On Sunday, 2 September 1945, at 0855, the Japanese delegation mounted the USS Missouri’s accommodation ladder and then formed before a top-ranking Allied leaders on her O-1 level where they affixed their signatures to the instrument of Japan’s unconditional surrender. 

            USS New Mexico departed Tokyo Bay 6 September 1945 for Buckner Bay, Okinawa.  The arrived their on 9 September 1945, embarked several hundred high-point Pacific veterans, the began her voyage back to the United Stated on 10 September 1945.

            After five days at Pearl Harbor (20-25 September 1945), USS New Mexico  steamed to the Panama Canal Zone.  She transited the Panama Canal for the last time on 12 October 1945 then arrived in Boston on the 18 October 1945. 

            Commander Arnold H. Newcomb, who had served as Gunnery Officer during the Philippine and Okinawa Campaign, took over command from Captain Haines 15 November 1945.  In the subsequent months while USS New Mexico was laid up at Boston, Commander Newcomb supervised preparations for her decommissioning.  On 19 July 1946, USS New Mexico was placed out of commission.  On 25 February 1947, she was stricken from the United States Naval Registry.

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