Tools of War: Battleship USS Indiana (BB-58)

While much attention has been given the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, relatively little has been shown to another warship named for the Hoosier State, the battleship USS Indiana.

By Seth Marshall

                In terms of well-known ships, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) is one of the most famous ships of the Second World War. Participating in campaigns throughout the course of the war, the cruiser is famous for its delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian Island and for being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on her return trip. The warship and her survivors have certainly attained a level of fame in Indiana, where there are several memorials to her.  The ship has become so well-known in fact, that it has caused other ships named after the Hoosier State to be forgotten. One of these ships was the USS Indiana (BB-58), a battleship which served in the Pacific throughout the Second World War.

The USS Indiana was one of several battleships constructed prior to the start of the Second World War designed to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, the London Naval Treaty of 1930 and the Second London Naval Treaty of 1936. These treaties forbade the construction of warships which displaced more than 35,000 tons and which were armed with guns larger than 16 in. In the 1930s, the US Navy began to build new classes of battleships to comply with these treaties, including the North Carolina-class and the South Dakota-class. The South Dakota-class, which the Indiana was an example of, was slightly smaller than the North Carolina-class but had the same armament (nine 16 in guns) and comparable armor.

The construction of the Indiana was authorized by the Vinson-Trammell Act on March 27, 1934, which allowed for the building of new ships under the terms of the Washington and London Naval Treaties. On September 21, 1938, President Roosevelt approved the ship name. One year later on November 20, 1939, the Indiana was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, Newport News, Virginia. Two years later on November 21, 1941, the battleship was launched. She was completed and commissioned five months later on April 30, 1942, with Captain Aaron S. Merrill as her first Commanding Officer.

The Indiana spent much of 1942 undergoing sea trials and crew training. By early November, she was declared ready for sea and battle. On November 9, 1942, she sailed for the Panama Canal from Hampton Roads. After passing through the Canal from November 13-14, the battleship joined up with Task Group 2.6 and sailed for Tongatabu, arriving late in the month. Later, she joined with Task Group 64 in exercises. On December 19, 1942, the Indiana made her first contact with Japanese forces when several unidentified aircraft were seen by lookouts. The planes never closed for an attack, but the Indiana’s War Diary for the day read “With our first contact it appears that we are at last ‘in the war’ and maybe business will pick up.”[1] The Indiana spent much of the next six months training and drilling with other ships in the South Pacific.

The  Indiana  in November 1942, not long after reaching the Pacific.

The Indiana in November 1942, not long after reaching the Pacific.

During June and July 1943, the Indiana took part in the campaign to liberate the New Georgia island group. The following month, the battleship participated in air raids on Marcus Island, serving as an escort ship for the aircraft carriers. After the Marcus Island raids, the Indiana returned to Pearl Harbor for sixteen days of dry dock repairs. Following repairs, the warship steamed to various ports including Tambako, Viti Levu, and Fiji. On November 11, she put to sea to take part in Operation Galvanic, again serving as an escort ship for aircraft carriers. During this operation, the Indiana finally fired its first shots of the war, shooting down one of several Japanese aircraft attacking the US fleet.

On December 8th, the Indiana took part in the bombardment of the Japanese garrison at Nauru. The battleship’s OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes were also involved in the shelling, serving as artillery spotters and photographing the damage inflicted by the battleships. After bombarding Nauru, the Indiana returned to training operations, which went on through January. On February 1, 1944, the Indiana and several other warships fired on Japanese positions at Kwajalein in preparation for a combined Marine and Army troop invasion. Several shore batteries opened fire on the ship, though none found their mark. Unfortunately, the Indiana was not so lucky early the next morning. At 0415, the Indiana’s Captain, James M. Steele, made an unannounced turn to starboard which put the warship on a collision course with the battleship USS Washington. Despite the efforts of the Washington to change course, the two ships collided. The Indiana had 200 feet of armor plating scraped away, while the Washington suffered a collapsed bow. Six sailors from the Washington and four from the Indiana were killed in the accident. Captain Steele was later found responsible by a Court of Inquiry and was removed from command in March. Both ships were forced to return to Pearl Harbor for extensive repairs.

Repairs to the ship were completed in April, and the Indiana sailed to Seeadler Harbor. She joined Task Group 58.3 in time to support carrier raids on Truk Lagoon, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Central Pacific anchorage. In May, the Indiana raided Panape Island before going to Majuro and entering another period of drilling. On June 6th, the battleship left port to support the invasion of Saipan. Arriving on June 13, the Indiana and other battleships of Task Group 58 began a preparatory bombardment which lasted two days. On the 15th, the day of the beginning of the invasion, Japanese aircraft began attacking the ships offshore. These attacks culminated four days later with the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, when over seven hundred Japanese aircraft attacked the US fleet. Many were shot down by carrier fighters, but several broke through to make attack runs on ships. The Indiana had a near miss from a torpedo, but did not suffer any damage. Over the course of the day, the Indiana shot down four planes and fired 9000 20mm and 4800 40mm anti-aircraft rounds. So many shells were fired by the Indiana and other ships of the fleet that five crewmen on the warship were wounded by shrapnel from flak.[2]

The USS  Indiana  in the spring of 1944, after repairs from her collision with  Washington . 

The USS Indiana in the spring of 1944, after repairs from her collision with Washington

The Indiana continued to support raids on Japanese-held islands until September 15, when she developed engine problems. The battleship sailed to Manus Island, then to Pearl Harbor, then to Puget Sound Navy Yard for overhaul, arriving in late October. The overhaul was completed on November 30, 1944, and the Indiana sailed for Pearl Harbor. She spent the rest of the year performing exercises and drilling . On January 10, 1945, the Indiana sailed from Pearl Harbor with Task Group 94.9 for Iwo Jima. She bombarded the island on January 24, before going to the US Navy base at Ulithi Atoll for the rest of the month. In February, the Indiana operated in support of air raids in the Tokyo area and other Japanese military facilities. In March the battleship took part in additional raids against Japan. The Indiana and other ships in the task group came under attack by kamikazes several times during operations of the coast, shooting down one intruder. On March 24, the Indiana bombarded Okinawa and supported carrier operations against Okinawa and other Japanese islands. During April, the battleship continued to be involved in the Okinawa campaign, coming under kamikaze attack several times. On April 12, the Indiana had two near misses from kamikazes. Two days later, she shot down three more planes attacking the fleet. At the end of the month, the Indiana returned to Ulithi Atoll.

In mid-May, the Indiana supported raids on Kyushu. She continued to support carrier operations in the area through May. On June 5, the Indiana and Task Group 38 encountered a violent typhoon. At 0700, shortly after the eye had passed over the warship, she lost control of her steering. She regained control forty-five minutes later. By early evening, the typhoon had passed. Thirty-six ships were damaged as a result of the storm. Three days later, the Indiana was back on task, supporting strikes at Kyushu. On the 11th, the battleship steamed for San Pedro in the Philippines for maintenance and supplies. She rejoined Task Force 38 in early July and participated in the first shelling of the Japanese home islands by large warships during the war. On July 14, the Indiana joined in bombarding the Kamaishi Steel Works at Kamaishi, Honshu. A few days later, the Indiana joined with several British battleships in shelling the Japanese Musical Instrument Company, which was responsible for the production of aircraft propellers. [3] For the remainder of the war, the Indiana continued to operate in support of the aircraft carriers while bombarding Japanese facilities near the coast.

Indiana bombards Kamaishi, Japan, 400km to the north of Tokyo on July 14, 1945. This was the first naval bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands during the war.

Indiana bombards Kamaishi, Japan, 400km to the north of Tokyo on July 14, 1945. This was the first naval bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands during the war.

The Indiana received word of the Japanese surrender on the morning of August 15. A Marine Detachment from the ship took part in the first occupation of the Japanese islands on August 30. Six days later, the Indiana entered Tokyo Bay and served as a transfer point for Allied POWs returning home, processing many of them before sending them to other vessels for transport home. On September 15, the Indiana left Tokyo Bay and sailed for Pearl Harbor, staying briefly before going to San Francisco with full load of American servicemen returning home. The Indiana remained in San Francisco for a month, undergoing repairs in dry dock, before going to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. There, she was emptied of all ammunition and moored at Pier No. 3. In spring 1946, the Indiana was shifted to the Bremerton Pacific Reserve Fleet as a result of the Navy’s Postwar Plan Number Two. Indiana was decommissioned on September 11, 1947. She remained at Bremerton in Reserve until September 6, 1963, when she was sold for scrap to the Nicolai Joffe Corporation in Beverly Hills, California. The following month, the Indiana made her last sea voyage down the West Coast to Richmond Harbor, where she was broken up.

Today, a number of artifacts from the Indiana survive. Two dual 40mm anti-aircraft guns, the mast, and the prow are on display at Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium. Her anchor is located at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while her battle flag and two bells are preserved in the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis. These few relics are all that remain of the Indiana, which despite receiving nine battle stars for her World War II service has remained relatively unknown thanks to the infamy surrounding the USS Indianapolis.

[1] Indiana (BB-58). Page 1.

[2] USS Indiana (BB-58) Page 3.

[3] USS Indiana (BB-58), Page 4