The Colorado-class battleships were up-gunned versions of the preceding Tennessee-class, sharing their general design and appearance, but replacing the earlier ships' twelve 14"/50 guns with eight 16"/45s. This class of battleship is sometimes referred to as the Maryland-class, after the first ship actually launched.
Built with Fiscal Year 1917 appropriations and delayed by higher priorities during World War I, two of the Colorados were the last new U.S. battleships to enter service for nearly two decades. The fourth of the class, Washington, was the only new U.S. ship cancelled under the Naval Limitations Treaty that had actually been launched. Their 32,600-ton standard displacement was slightly heavier than that of the Tennessee-class, and the power and accuracy of their sixteen-inch guns represented a notable improvement. The multi-layered anti-torpedo side protection system, armor, turbo-electric drive, and improved fire controls of the Tennessees were repeated in the Colorados, which were typical U.S. battleships of the day: robust, heavily-armed and armored but relatively slow. During the Twenties and Thirties, the five ships of these two classes were popularly known as the Battle Fleet's "Big Five".
During the early 1930s, it was intended to modernize the "Big Five", but the only work actually done produced a modest increase in anti-aircraft guns and the associated fire control systems. Two of the Colorado-class, Maryland and West Virginia were at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attack there started the Pacific War. The latter was sunk, her side protection system overwhelmed by a mass of Japanese torpedoes. Colorado was then completing an overhaul that added additional depth to the side protection, increasing her beam to 108 feet, and Maryland soon received similar improvements. Both ships were further altered later in 1942, with their "cage" mainmasts cut down and anti-aircraft guns increased in numbers. Later, they received new after superstructures to carry better gun directors. Following Kamikaze damage in late 1944, Maryland was fitted with a sixteen-gun 5"/38 dual-purpose secondary battery, replacing the previous mixed lot of low-angle 5"/51s and high-angle 5"/25s. Colorado finished her days with the mixed second battery.
The massively damaged West Virginia was salvaged in 1942 and 1943, and received the same extensive modernization applied to the two Tennessees: hull widened to 114 feet, greatly improved fire controls and anti-aircraft batteries, a secondary battery of sixteen 5"/38 guns in twin mounts, and a generally "modern" appearance.
These ships saw the usual wartime employment of older battleships, serving as a "fleet in being" in 1942-43 and thereafter providing big-gun bombardment in support of amphibious operations. Maryland and West Virginia were present for the last fight between opposing battleships, the Battle of Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944. Laid up after the War, the three Colorado-class ships were part of the Reserve Fleet until 1959, when they were sold for scrapping.
The Colorado-class included four ships, three of which were completed. All were built at east coast shipyards:
- USS Colorado (BB-45), built at Camden, New Jersey. Keel laid in May 1919; launched in March 1921; completed in August 1923.
- USS Maryland (BB-46), built at Newport News, Virginia. Keel laid in April 1917; launched in March 1920; completed in July 1921.
- Washington (BB-47), built at Camden, New Jersey. Keel laid in June 1919; launched in September 1921. Construction cancelled in 1922 under the terms of the Naval Limitations Treaty. Ship sunk as a target on 25 November 1924.
- USS West Virginia (BB-48), built at Newport News, Virginia. Keel laid in April 1920; launched in November 1921; completed in December 1923.
- Displacement: 32,600 tons (standard)
- Dimensions: 624' (length overall); 97' 4" (maximum beam)
- Powerplant: 28,900 horsepower steam turbines with electric drive, producing a 21 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Eight 16"/45 guns in four twin turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery-as built): Twelve or fourteen 5"/51 guns in single casemate mountings (six or seven guns on each side of the ship). Later in the 1920s, eight 5"/25 anti-aircraft guns were added.
USS Colorado (BB-45)
Colorado was commissioned in August 1923. She made an initial cruise to European waters in late 1923 and early 1924, then transferred to the Pacific, where she spent most of the remainder of her active career. Prior to World War II, Colorado served with the Battle Fleet, taking part in exercises and training. Among other peacetime operations, she took part in the fleet's 1925 trans-Pacific voyage to Australia and New Zealand, and helped in the search for missing aviator Amelia Earhart in 1937.
Colorado was undergoing overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard when Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor opened the Pacific War. She was stationed on the U.S. West Coast during March-August 1942, then steamed west to Pearl Harbor. From November 1942 into September 1943, she was one of the older battleships deployed to the South Pacific to guard against possible Japanese offensive actions in that area. In November 1943, Colorado took part in the Tarawa invasion. She supported the landings at Kwajalein and Eniwetok in January and February 1944 and the Marianas operation in June and July. On 24 July 1944, while bombarding Tinian, she was hit by enemy shore batteries, suffering serious casualties among exposed personnel topside.
Colorado's next combat duty was off Leyte in November 1944, where she was hit by two "Kamikaze" suicide planes late in the month. Remaining in the combat zone, she supported the Mindoro invasion in December and the Lingayen Gulf landings in January. During March, April and May 1945, Colorado's sixteen-inch guns bombarded Okinawa in support of U.S. troops ashore. In August and September 1945, she covered the occupation of Japan, then departed for the United States. Following transport service in late 1945, she was inactivated. USS Colorado was decommissioned in January 1947. After more than twelve years in "mothballs", she was sold for scrapping in July 1959.
USS Maryland (BB-46)
Maryland was commissioned in July 1921, and during the 1920s and 1930s she participated in regular fleet training and combat exercises. Maryland also made some notable long-distance cruises, including one to Rio De Janeiro in the Summer of 1922 to participate in Brazil's Centennial Exposition, the U.S. Fleet's trans-Pacific voyage in 1925, and President-Elect Herbert Hoover's 1928 good-will tour of Latin America.
Maryland's base was changed from Long Beach, California, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1940. She was moored at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck on 7 December 1941, but received relatively minor damage. Following repairs and overhaul, Maryland operated with Task Force One off the U.S. West Coast in 1942, deploying to the South Pacific later in the year. She took part in operations to capture the Gilbert and Marshall Islands in late 1943 and early 1944, employing her sixteen-inch guns in the pre-invasion bombardments of Tarawa and Kwajalein.
In June 1944, Maryland again participated in pre-invasion gunnery, this time against Saipan. During this operation, she was torpedoed by a Japanese aircraft, necessitating a trip to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The battleship returned to action for the Palaus operation in September 1944. During the Leyte invasion in October, she bombarded enemy positions ashore and fired on Japanese warships during the Battle of Surigao Strait. While operating off Leyte in late November, Maryland was damaged by a "Kamikaze" suicide plane.
Maryland was repaired in time to participate in the Okinawa operation during March and April 1945, was again hit by enemy air attack on 7 April, but remained in action for another week. She then went to the West Coast for overhaul. This work was completed in early August, but the Pacific War ended before she could return to the combat zone. After spending the last months of 1945 transporting servicemen home from the mid-Pacific, Maryland went to Bremerton, Washington, for inactivation. She was decommissioned in April 1947 and remained in "mothballs" until July 1959, when she was sold for scrapping.
Washington was under construction at Camden, New Jersey when the Washington naval limitations treaty was signed in February 1922. Launched in September 1921, the battleship was nearly 76 percent completed when construction ceased on 8 February 1922. Since the treaty prohibited her completion, Washington was subsequently used for tests of weapons effects and warship protection. Her hulk was sunk as a gunnery target in November 1924.
USS West Virginia (BB-48)
West Virginia was commissioned in December 1923, the last battleship completed for the United States Navy for nearly two decades. During the 1920s and 1930s, she served in the U.S. Fleet, taking part in "Fleet Problems" and other exercises as part of the continuing effort to develop tactics and maintain the Navy's combat readiness. With much of the rest of the Fleet, she deployed to New Zealand and Australia in 1925 in an important demonstration of the Navy's trans-Pacific strategic "reach".
West Virginia's base was moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940, and she was there on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked with an overwhelming force of carrier aircraft. In that raid, the battleship was hit by two bombs and at least seven torpedoes, which blew huge holes in her port side. Skillful damage control saved her from capsizing, but she quickly sank to the harbor bottom. More than a hundred of her crew were lost. Salvaged and given temporary repairs at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, in April 1943 West Virginia steamed to the West Coast for final repair and modernization at the Puget Sound Navy Yard.
The battleship emerged from the shipyard in July 1944 completely changed in appearance, with a wider hull, and massively improved anti-aircraft gun battery. West Virginia arrived in the Pacific combat zone in October, and soon was participating in pre-invasion bombardment of Leyte, in the Philippines. On 25 October, as a force of Japanese battleships and smaller vessels attempted to make a night attack on the landing area, she was one of the ships that stopped them in the Battle of Surigao Strait.
Subsequently, West Virginia took part in operations to capture Mindoro, Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, using her sixteen-inch guns to support U.S. ground forces. On 1 April 1945, while off Okinawa, she was hit by a Japanese Kamikaze plane but was able to remain in action, continuing her bombardment duties there into June. After Japan's capitulation, West Virginia supported the occupation effort until mid-September. She participated in Operation "Magic Carpet" during the last part of 1945, bringing home veterans of the Pacific war. Inactive after early 1946, she was decommissioned in January 1947. Following twelve years in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, USS West Virginia was sold for scrapping in August 1959.
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