History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Mississippi (BB-41) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Mississippi (BB-41) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on June 30, 1914. Her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding Company on April 5, 1915. She was launched on January 25, 1917 and commissioned on December 18, 1917 under the command of Captain J. L. Jayne.
USS Mississippi did not see any World War I fighting. She was involved in training exercises before patrolling the Eastern Seaboard and then heading to the Caribbean Sea for winter maneuvers. She would spend a lot of time in the Caribbean prior to World War II.
On June 12, 1924, there was an explosion in the USS Mississippi’s No. 2 turret during gunnery practice. Forty-eight men died of asphyxiation as a result of the explosion. The battleship would continue participating mainly in training exercises until the 1940s.
In June 1941, USS Mississippi patrolled the North Atlantic. She made two trips to Iceland, where she protected shipping in the area. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she left Iceland to head for the Pacific Ocean. She trained and escorted convoys before transporting troops to the Fiji Islands in December 1943.
On May 10, 1944, the USS Mississippi sailed to the Aleutian Islands. She fired on Kiska Island on July 22, and the Japanese withdrew a few days later. The battleship headed to San Francisco for overhaul before participating in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On November 20, while she was bombarding Makin, one of her turrets exploded. Like the earlier turret catastrophe, 43 men were killed.
Early in 1944, USS Mississippi was involved in the campaign in the Marshall Islands. She bombarded Kwajalein, Taroa, Wotje, and Kavieng before heading back to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for overhaul. When she returned to action, she supported the landings on Peleliu before heading to Manus. She fired upon the east coast of Leyte on October 19, aiding in the liberation of the Philippines. The battleship also took part in the Battle of Surigao Strait.
USS Mississippi left Leyte Gulf for the Admiralty Islands on November 16, 1944. She then helped prepare for the landing on Luzon. The battleship was bombarding in Lingayen Gulf when she was struck by a kamikaze on January 6, 1945, but she remained to support invasion forces until February 10, when she sailed to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
Once repaired, the USS Mississippi supported landing forces at Nakagusuku Wan, Okinawa on May 6, where she leveled the defenses at Shuri Castle. She was hit by another kamikaze on June 5, but she remained in Okinawa until June 16. The battleship received eight battle stars for her service during the war.
After the war, USS Mississippi BB-41 was converted to AG-128. She was part of a development force that helped investigate gunnery problems and tested new weapons for ten years. She successfully fired a Terrier guided missile off the coast of Cape Cod on January 28, 1953 and helped evaluate the Petrel missile in February 1956.
The USS Mississippi was decommissioned on September 17, 1956. The State of Mississippi declined the opportunity to have her as a museum ship, so she was sold for scrap to the Bethlehem Steel Company.
Like virtually every other ship of its time, the USS Mississippi was built with a number of components that contained the hazardous material asbestos. Asbestos was a cheap and readily available insulator that was prized for its resistance to fire, heat, water, and corrosion. It could be found in nearly all areas of the ship: wall insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, fire doors, electrical insulation, hot water pipes, steam pipes, valves, pumps, gaskets, caulking, boilers, turbines, gaskets, sealants, and incinerators. Men who served aboard the USS Mississippi or were involved in its repair and overhaul were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos without being provided with respiratory gear or protective clothing. This put them at risk of contract serious asbestos-related illnesses like lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma, which is a fatal form of cancer that attacks the mesothelium or protective lining that surrounds the lungs and other organs.
After Japan surrendered, USS Mississippi supported the occupation force at Sagami Wan, Honshu. She was anchored in Tokyo Bay for the surrender ceremony before heading home on September 6, 1945.
USS Mississippi 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 Mississippi, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.