The Nevada-class battleships carried the U.S. Navy's first triple gun turrets, a feature that would be seen in all but a few of its future battleship designs. Even more significantly, they introduced the so-called "all or nothing" armor scheme, in which protection of vital areas was optimized against heavy caliber guns, leaving other parts of the ship essentially unprotected. This reflected a growing awareness that improved gunfire controls would drive battleship engagements out to long ranges, where smaller guns would only serve to defend against torpedo and air attack. Thus, armor intended to counter those guns would be, at best, a waste of valuable weight. The basic concept of the Nevada's armor system was ultimately adopted by all naval powers.
These were also the Navy's first to have oil as their primary fuel and the last to have two propellers. Oklahoma represented the final use of reciprocating machinery. They originally were completed with a very large battery of five-inch guns to defend against enemy destroyers. However, several of those weapons, mounted near the bow and stern in very wet positions, were removed within a few years.
The Nevadas were active in the Atlantic before and during the First World War, deploying to the European war zone in 1918 to help protect Allied supply lines. Their service continued after the "Great War", though by the early 1920s they were the oldest of the nation's main Battle Fleet units. Both were extensively modernized in 1927-29, receiving greater elevation for their heavy guns, modern gunfire controls in new tripod masts, and two catapults for scouting and observation airplanes. Their 5"/51 anti-destroyer guns were moved to dryer locations in the superstructure and a battery of 5"/25 anti-aircraft guns was added. Protection against shellfire, bombs and torpedoes was improved, increasing their width to nearly 108 feet.
Both ships were sunk in the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, with Nevada's experience proving that the watertight integrity of older warships was unlikely to be satisfactory. Oklahoma was a total loss, but Nevada was salvaged and again modernized during 1942, exchanging her old secondary battery for a new one of twin-mounted 5"/38 guns, plus many 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft machine guns. She served in both the European and Pacific theaters, providing gunfire support for amphibious operations. Nevada's final mission was as a target for nuclear and conventional weapons in 1946-48.
The Nevada-class numbered two ships, both built in east coast private shipyards:
- USS Nevada (BB-36), built by the Fore River Shipbuilding Company, Quincy, Massachusetts. Keel laid in November 1912; launched in July 1914; completed in March 1916.
- USS Oklahoma (BB-37), built by the New York Shipbuilding Company, Camden, New Jersey. Keel laid in October 1912; launched in March 1914; completed in May 1916.
- Displacement: 27,500 tons (normal)
- Dimensions: 583' (length overall); 95' 3" (extreme beam)
- Powerplant: 26,500 horsepower geared steam turbines in Nevada; 24,800 horsepower triple-expansion steam reciprocating engines in Oklahoma. Both had two propellers and a 20.5 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Ten 14"/45 guns in two triple and two (superfiring) twin turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery): Twenty-one 5"/51 guns in single casemate mountings (ten guns on each side of the ship, plus one in the stern); soon reduced to twelve 5"/51 guns. In the late 1920s, eight 5"/25 anti-aircraft guns were added.
USS Nevada (BB-36)
Nevada was commissioned in March 1916 and operated in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean until mid-1918, when she went to the British Isles for World War I service. Following that conflict, Nevada was active in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific. Cruises to Brazil in 1922 and to Australia in 1925 punctuated a decade of regular fleet exercises and drills.
Nevada was modernized in 1927-30, exchanging her "basket" masts for tripods. The update work also included the installation of a new superstructure, relocation of her five-inch secondary battery, new anti-aircraft guns and significant improvements to her firepower and protection. She then returned to duty with the U.S. Battle Fleet, mainly operating in the Pacific over the next eleven years.
The only battleship able to get underway during the 7 December 1941 Pearl Harbor Raid, Nevada was the object of intense attacks by Japanese aircraft. Left in a sinking condition after receiving one torpedo and several bomb hits, she had to be beached near the Navy Yard facilities, foiling Japanese attempts to sink her in the channel. Vigorous salvage work and temporary repairs enabled her to steam to the U.S. west coast in April 1942. She spent the rest of the year receiving permanent repairs and improvements, including a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft gun battery.
Nevada returned to combat during the Attu landings in May 1943. Transferred to the Atlantic in mid-1943, her 14" and 5" guns were actively employed during the Normandy Invasion in June 1944 and the Southern France operation in August and September. The battleship then returned to the Pacific, where she assisted with the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945. Though damaged by a suicide plane on 27 March and by an artillery shell on 5 April, Nevada remained in action off Okinawa until June 1945. She spent the remaining months of World War II in the Western Pacific, preparing for the invasion of Japan.
With the coming of peace, Nevada steamed back to Hawaii. She was too old for retention in the post-war fleet, and was assigned to serve as a target during the July 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini, in the Marshall Islands. That experience left her damaged and radioactive, and she was formally decommissioned in August 1946. After two years of inactivity, USS Nevada was towed to sea off the Hawaiian islands and sunk by gunfire and torpedoes.
USS Oklahoma (BB-37)
Oklahoma was commissioned in May 1916 and generally operated in the Atlantic over the next five years. In mid-1918, Oklahoma went to European waters to help protect convoys. Late in that year and in June 1919 she escorted President Woodrow Wilson during his voyages to and from France. In 1921, the battleship moved to the Pacific, visiting the west coast of South America prior to joining the Pacific Fleet. During most of the rest of the decade, Oklahoma served with the Battle Fleet during its many exercises, drills and Fleet Problems. She participated in the Fleet's trans-Pacific cruise to Australia and New Zealand in mid-1925. In the summer of 1927, she transported Naval Academy Midshipmen from the east to the west coast during their annual training cruise.
Oklahoma was modernized at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1927-29, emerging with a greatly altered appearance and notably improved battleworthiness. After brief service with the Scouting Fleet, she returned to the Pacific in mid-1930, and renewed her participation in the Battle Fleet's activities. In July 1936, Oklahoma was sent to Europe to help evacuate U.S. citizens and others during the Spanish Civil War. She rejoined the Battle Fleet in the Pacific later in the year.
In 1940, Oklahoma's base was shifted from the U.S. west coast to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. Moored outboard of USS Maryland (BB-46), she was hit by a great number of Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedoes. With her port side torn open over much of its length, Oklahoma rapidly rolled over and sank to the harbor bottom, with the loss of over 400 of her crew. Many of the men trapped in her upturned hull were cut free through the intense efforts of Sailors and civilian Navy Yard employees.
During 1943, Oklahoma was the subject of a massive salvage undertaking, involving turning her upright, patching her damages and refloating her. She was drydocked late in the year to be stripped of guns and other equipment and repaired sufficiently to make her relatively watertight. Too old and badly damaged to be worth returning to service, Oklahoma was formally decommissioned in September 1944. She was sold for scrapping in December 1946, but sank while under tow from Hawaii to California in May 1947.
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