On my recent March trip to Texas I took the opportunity to tour the Battleship Texas. She is anchored at San Jacinto State Park, the first US battleship to become a permanent museum ship, and the first battleship declared to be a US National Historic Landmark. I will tell the story of this great battleship using the informational signs placed on deck.
Built during the period of arms escalation in the early 20th century, the Texas was briefly the most powerful battleship in the world. She was designed around her massive 10-gun main battery which was capable of firing 7 tons of 14″ shells at targets 12 miles away. This concentration of offensive firepower in the big guns distinguished the Texas as a dreadnought, a ship fearing none other at sea.
Launched in 1912 at Newport News, Virginia, the USS Texas marked the beginning of the American rise to world-power status in the early 20th century. Texas survived as a warship because of the 1922 arms limitation agreement. By treaty, no new ships could be built; thus, the Texas was sent to drydock to be modernized and refitted. Improvements included new torpedo protection, new oil-fired boilers to replace those fueled by coal and additional armor plating and anti-aircraft weapons.
The Texas was equipped to defend herself against destroyers and torpedo boats, which moved too close and too fast for the big guns of her main battery. This secondary battery consisted of sixteen 5-inch 51 caliber guns (originally 21 guns) that fired 50 lb. projectiles, eight to ten per minute, with a range of eight miles. Six of the guns were mounted in an “aircastle” on the main deck.
The defense from the air attack had become far more vital by the onset of World War II. By 1945 the Texas was equipped with these anti-aircraft guns: ten 3-inch 50-caliber guns, ten 40mm four-gun (quad) mounts and forty four 20mm guns.
During World War II, Battleship Texas’ crew grew to more than 1,800 men. The ship had to provide for each of these men’s basic needs, including haircuts and visits to the dentist. There was a canteen, soda fountain, library, dispensary, and post office.
Diagonal armor raised the protection above the second deck to enclose the conning tower trunk, the boiler uptakes, and part of the secondary battery. Barbettes and a conning tower with 12″ armor rose above the main deck. “Non-essential” spaces — crew and officer’s berthing, gallery, and sick bay, for example — were left vulnerable to a direct hit.
The purpose of a battleship was to float her big guns into action against an enemy and to keep them floating and firing. The ten, 14-inch diameter guns of the Texas’ main battery were her reason for being. A full broadside could be fired every minute and a half. These guns made the Texas the powerful weapon in the world in 1914 and a serious threat thirty years later.
Shells and 105 lb. silk bags of powder were stored in magazines below armored decks. For loading each gun, a shell and four powder magazines were passed into the handling rooms and hoisted up the armored barbettes into the turrets.
The 14-inch guns were directed from fire control stations atop the foremast and in the tower aft of the stack. Here, the bearing of the target was observed and the distance estimated with firing finders. With the help of spotter aircraft watching the splashes as the shells hit the water, fire controllers could correct the range after each shot.
Ballistic calculations — for speed and direction of target and ship, wind direction and other factors — were made in the plotting room deep inside the ship. During World War II, radar and a Combat Information Center in the foremast were added.
In the event of battle damage to the fire control systems, the guns could be fired by local control. The turrets could even be rotated and the guns elevated by hand if the electrical power were knocked out.
To see this battleship was one of the highlights of my trip to Texas. I recommend that you pay her a visit when you are in the area. Here are a few more photographs of Battleship Texas.
Can you see Jill, Sarah, and Bryson in the photograph above? One of my favorite photographs is the one below that shows a gun protruding from what seems like every square inch of Battleship Texas.