History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Massachusetts (BB-59), nicknamed “Big Mamie,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy on December 15, 1938. Her keel was laid down at the Fore River Shipyard on July 20, 1939. She was launched on September 23, 1941 and commissioned on May 12, 1942 under the command of Captain Francis E. M. Whiting.
The first combat action that the USS Massachusetts saw was as the flagship for Admiral H. Kent Hewitt of the Western Naval Task Force for the invasion of North Africa in October 1942. While supporting Operation Torch, she exchanged fire with the French battleship Jean Bart and helped sink three other French ships. She received only superficial damage when hit by two shells.
USS Massachusetts headed to the South Pacific in 1943. During the spring and summer months, she supported operation in the Solomon Islands. In November and December, the battleship supported the strikes on Makin, Tarawa, Abemama, Nauru, and Tarawa.
Early in 1944, the USS Massachusetts bombarded Kwajalein and covered the troop landings there. She took part in the assault on Truk before supporting efforts in Saipan, Tinian, Guam, the Caroline Islands, and Hollandia. She bombarded Ponape Island on May 1 before heading to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for overhaul.
The USS Massachusetts returned to Pacific action to support the troop landings in Leyte Gulf on October 6, 1944. She participated in the strikes at Okinawa and Formosa before engaging in the Battle for Leyte Gulf. The battleship struck at Manila in December before supporting the invasion of Mindoro.
On December 17, 1944, USS Massachusetts survived Typhoon Cobra, although three destroyers in her group did not. At the end of the year and beginning of the next, the battleship supported the strike at Formosa, the landing at Lingayen, destroyed shipping from Saigon to Hong Kong in the South China Sea, and supported the air strikes on Formosa and Okinawa.
USS Massachusetts covered the carriers during the raid on Honshu from February to March 1945. She supported the invasion of Iwo Jima, Kyushu, and Okinawa before riding out another typhoon in June. The battleship then bombarded Minami Daito Jima in the Ryukyu Islands before joining the Third Fleet’s final offensive against Japan. She bombarded Kamaishi and Hamamatsu, firing what was considered to be the last 16-inch shell fired in World War II combat.
The USS Massachusetts earned 11 battle stars for her service in World War II. No U.S. Navy sailors or Marines were killed in action aboard the battleship during the war.
After the war was over, USS Massachusetts was overhauled at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard before being decommissioned on March 27, 1947. She was removed from the Naval Vessel Register on June 1, 1962. Although the battleship was slated to be sold for scrap, the people of Massachusetts raised enough money to have her transferred to the Massachusetts Memorial Committee. She is now a museum ship at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Like other World War II era battleships, USS Massachusetts was constructed using a number of asbestos-containing materials. The toxic substance asbestos was known for its fireproofing abilities and its resistance to corrosion, water, and heat. Because it was such a cheap insulating material, it was used in fire doors, engine rooms, turbines, incinerators, boilers, steam pipes, hot water pipes, pumps, valves, gaskets, caulking, electrical wiring, sealants, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and wall insulation. Men who served aboard the USS Massachusetts or who were involved in her repair and overhaul were exposed to asbestos without the aid of protective clothing or respiratory gear. If they inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers in the line of duty, they are at risk of developing asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, or mesothelioma – a deadly form of cancer that affects the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.
USS Massachusetts workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked on or around the USS Massachusetts, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.