Historical Sketch of
USS West Virginia
Text from Principal Investigator
Named for the 40 western counties in Virginia that remained loyal when the
rest of the state seceded at the start of the civil war and that were
admitted to the Union as the 36th state on 20 June 1863, (BB-48) was the
second navy ship to bear the name. The "super-dreadnought" battleship
("Wee Vee") was commissioned on 1 December 1923.
Designed in light of the lessons learned at the Battle of Jutland (1916),
employed the very latest improvements in naval
architecture, including water-tight compartments and armor plating.
became the flagship for the
Commander, Battleship Division, Battle Fleet. By 1940, with the dangers of
was based at Pearl Harbor, where she
engaged in a schedule of intensive training, practicing operations with
various task forces and groups of ships in the vicinity of Hawaii. On 7
lay moored outboard of
(BB-43) at berth F-6 at Ford Island, having returned to Pearl
Harbor for in-port maintenance and upkeep. Shortly before 0800 Japanese
planes attacked her. She was struck by five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes in
her port side and hit by two bombs (15 inch armor-piercing artillery shells
fitted with fins). The first bomb penetrated the superstructure deck,
wrecking the port casemates and causing that deck to collapse to the level
of the galley deck below. Four casemates and the galley immediately burst
into flames and causing the ready-service projectiles stored there to begin
exploding. The second bomb hit further aft, wrecking one of the aircraft
catapults and pitching its plane onto the main deck below. While the bomb
did not explode, the fuel from the wrecked plane caused some damage. The
torpedoes caused even greater damage and only quick action to counterflood
the ship prevented
from capsizing, a fate which befell
(BB-37) moored ahead of her.
Numerous accounts of outstanding heroism exist. The ship's commanding
officer, Capt. Mervyn S. Bennion arrived on the bridge early in the battle.
Almost immediately he was struck by splinters of a bomb that hit the
gun turret II. Mortally wounded, Bennion crumpled to
the deck, but clung to life until just before the ship was abandoned, and
stayed actively involved in the defense of the ship until his last moments.
For his actions he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
was abandoned, she sank into the mud of the
harbor floor upright, on an even keel, with her superstructure above water.
A volunteer crew then returned to fight the fires that still raged on
board. By the afternoon of 8 December the crew had extinguished the flames
with the material assistance of the garbage lighter YG-17 which remained
despite the danger of exploding
ammunition and fuel. Later examination revealed that the
had taken not five but six torpedo hits.
Efforts to put the
back into action were intense.
Patched, she was pumped out and refloated on 22 May 1942. In the process
the bodies of 70 members of her crew who had been trapped below decks
during the attack were discovered. In one compartment a calendar was found
the last scratch-off date being 23 December.
After repairs and modernization at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard,
rejoined the fleet with new
anti-aircraft weapons and an entirely new silhouette Despite missing so
much of the war,
earned 5 battle stars during the last
year of combat in the Pacific where she served as flagship for Battleship
was decommissioned in 1947 and sold for scrap in
The U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association
Register of Alumni, 1997 Edition.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
vols., (Navy Department, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History
Division, Washington, DC, 1963), Volume VIII, pp. 222-227.
Victor Delano Papers #539, East Carolina
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Page Updated 21 August 2003
© 2003 J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University