USS Alabama BB60

The USS Alabama BB60 was a South Dakota class battleship that entered service with the British Home Fleet in 1943 but that spent most of the war operating in the Pacific, where she provided cover for the fast carriers and performed some shore bombardments.

The Alabama was laid down in February 1940, launched on 16 February 1942 and commissioned on 16 August 1942, an impressive six months later. The Alabama began the war with six quad mountings for 40mm guns and twenty two 20mm guns. By the end of the war this had risen to twelve quad 40mm mountings and fifty six 20mm guns.

The Alabama entered service in June 1943 when she joined the South Dakota at Scapa Flow. This allowed the British battleships Howe and King George V to take part in the invasion of Sicily. While at Scapa the Alabama took part in a sortie off the Norwegian coast, designed to distract German attention away from Sicily. This was one of the less successful deception plans of the period as the Germans never actually noticed the fleet at sea.

The Alabama and South Dakota left the UK on 1 August 1943 and reached the US on 9 August. The Alabama reached the New Hebrides in mid-September and moved forward to Fiji on 7 November. Her first operation in the Pacific came soon afterwards when she supported Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. She was used to protect the carriers as they attacked Jaluit and Mille atolls, and directly supported the landings on Tarawa on 20 November. On 8 December she took part in the first shore bombardment carried out by the fast battleships, attacking Japanese positions on Nauru Island.

Eight of the fast battleships took part in Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshalls (29 January 1944). North Carolina, South Dakota and Alabama provided an escort for TG58.3 (the carriers Essex, Intrepid and Cabot) and were positioned off Maloelap Atoll, which was strongly garrisoned by the Japanese, but bypassed by American land forces. The Alabama bombarded Roi on 29 January and Namur on 30 January, firing an impressive 330 rounds of 16in shells.

On 17-18 February 1944 six of the fast battleships took part in a raid on Truk. Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina and South Dakota provided the close escort for the carriers as part of TG 58.3.

In March 1944 the Alabama supported the carriers as they attacked the Caroline Islands. In April she supported attacks on the New Guinea coast and the invasion of Aitape.

On 1 May New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota and the newly repaired Indiana took part in a bombardment of Ponape in the Caroline Islands. After this the Massachusetts went for a refit.

Seven of the fast battleships were present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 1944). New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Washington, North Carolina, South Dakota and Indiana formed TG58.7 (Battle Line), under Admiral Lee. Their role was to serve as a bombardment force during the invasion of the Mariana Islands and to engage any Japanese surface force that threatened the carriers. The battle itself proved to be an entirely aerial affair, and so although the battleships were attacked from the air they were never involved in a surface battle. The Alabama did play one important part in the battle where her radar was the first to detect the incoming Japanese aircraft on 19 June.

In July the Alabama served as the flagship of Rear Admiral E. W. Hanson, commander of Battleship Division 9, during the invasion of Guam. She also took part in the invasions of Palau, Ulithi and Yap in September.

In September-October 1944 the fast battleships New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Washington, Massachusetts and Indiana formed part of Task Force 38 during Admiral Halsey's series of raids on targets around the Philippine Sea. Alabama, Washington, Massachusetts and Indiana formed part of TG 38.3 under Admiral Lee.

This powerful US fleet attacked Palau (6-8 September), Mindanao (10 September), the Visayas (12-14 September) and Luzon (21-22 September). Japanese resistance to this raid was so weak that the Americans decided to bring the invasion of the Philippines forward from December to 20 October and to skip the southern islands and begin with an invasion of Leyte.

The fleet then carried out a second set of raids, this time hitting Okinawa (10 October), Luzon (11 October and 15 October) and Formosa (12-14 October). This time the Japanese responded in some force, but the resulting battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944) was a crushing defeat for them. The Americans shot down over 600 Japanese aircraft, crippling their air power just before the battle of Leyte Gulf.

The fast battleships had a frustrating time during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944). At first they were split into three pairs. Iowa and New Jersey formed TG38.2. South Dakota and Massachusetts formed TG38.3. Washington and Alabama formed TG38.4. Each of these groups protected part of Halsey's carrier force, which was spread out to the north of Leyte Gulf. They faced two of the four Japanese fleets approaching for the 'decisive battle' - Kurita's powerful battleships, approaching from the west, and Ozawa's empty carriers, coming from the north. On 24 October Kurita's fleet came under constant air attack, and the super-battleship Musashi was sunk. Halsey was convinced that Kurita no longer posed a threat, and so when Ozawa's carriers were detected late in the day he decided to take his entire fleet north to deal with them. The six fast battleships were formed into Task Force 34, and were sent north to act as the vanguard of a dash towards the Japanese carriers.

Admiral Lee, commanding the battleships, protested against this move, believing correctly that it would allow Admiral Kurita to pass unopposed through the San Bernardino Strait and potentially attack the weaker US 7th Fleet in Leyte Gulf. Halsey overruled Lee's protests and the battleships headed north. During the morning of 25 October the fast battleships moved ever further to the north, away from Kurita's powerful force, which was now engaged in a desperate battle with a group of escort carriers (Battle of the Samar Sea). During the morning Halsey received a series of increasingly desperate calls for help from the south, but it was a message from Nimitz at Hawaii that eventually convinced him to send the battleships south.

At 10.55 Lee was ordered to head south at top speed, at which point he was only 42 nautical miles from the Japanese carriers (all of Ozawa's carriers were sunk by American aircraft in the battle of Cape Engano). By this time the worst of the crisis to the south was over, but Kurita was still in a potentially dangerous position off the east coast of the Philippines. Once again Lee missed the chance for a surface battle. Kurita retreated through the San Bernardino Strait at 10pm on 25 October and Lee arrived off the straits at 1am on 26 October. This was the last occasion on which US and Japanese battleships were close enough for a possible surface battle. For the rest of the war the fast battleships would perform a valuable role, mainly providing anti-aircraft fire to protect the carriers along with some shore bombardment, but they would never again have a chance to perform their main role of surface warfare.

In November-December the Alabama supported the invasion of Mindoro. She then returned to Puget Sound for a refit, and was in dry-dock from 18 January to 25 February 1945. She returned to the fleet in late April, and in May sailed to Okinawa to join the forces supporting the invasion. She was also used to provide cover for the carriers as they attacked the Ryukyus and Kyushu.  

On 10 June she bombarded the island of Minami Daito Shima, then in July took part in bombardments of industrial targets around Tokyo and Honshu.

After the Japanese surrender the Alabama provided marines for the first occupation forces. She sailed into Tokyo Bay on 5 September, embarked men from the occupation forces and then left Japan on 20 September. She stopped at Okinawa to pick up 700 sailors and reached San Francisco on 15 October.

The Alabama was decommissioned in January 1947 and struck off the Navy List in 1962. She was preserved as a monument at Mobile, Alabama.

Displacement (standard)

37,970t

Displacement (loaded)

44,519t

Top Speed

27.5kts

Range

15,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

12.2in on .875in STS

 - lower belt

12.2in-1in on 0.875in STS

 - armour deck

5.75in-6in with 1.5in weather deck and 0.625in splinter deck

 - bulkheads

11in

 - barbettes

11.3-17.3in

 - turrets

18in face, 7.25in roof, 9.5in side, 12in rear, 16in CT

Length

680ft

Width

108ft 2in

Armaments as designed

Nine 16in/45 guns in triple turrets
Twenty 5in/38 guns in twin turrets
Twelve 1.1in guns in quadruple turrets
Twelve 0.5in guns
Three aircraft

Crew complement

1793

Laid Down

1 February 1940

Launched

16 February 1942

Commissioned

16 August 1942

Preserved

1964

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (pending), USS Alabama BB60 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Alabama_BB60.html

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