History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS New Mexico (BB-40) was ordered for the U.S. Navy before the start of World War I. Her keel was laid down at New York Navy Yard on October 14, 1915. She was launched on April 13, 1917 and commissioned on May 20, 1918 under the command of Captain Ashley H. Robertson.
After training, USS New Mexico headed to Brest, France to escort President Woodrow Wilson from the Paris Peace Conference on the USS George Washington. She became the flagship of the Pacific Fleet on July 16, 1919. Between the two World Wars, she participated in a number of maneuvers and training exercises. She was modernized at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard between March 1931 and January 1933.
The USS New Mexico was on neutrality patrol in the Atlantic when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. As she sailed for Hampton Roads, she rammed and sank the American freighter Oregon south of the Nantucket Lightship.
She escorted troop transports to Fiji from December 1942 to March 1943. After a stop in Pearl Harbor, she headed to the Aleutian Islands. She participated in the blockade of Attu before bombarding Kiska. The battleship then sailed to Puget Sound Navy Yard for refitting before joining in the assault on the Gilbert Islands.
USS New Mexico spent the first few months of 1944 bombarding targets at Kwajalein, Ebeye, Wotje, and Kavieng. Over the summer, she moved on to bombard Tinan, Saipan, and Guam before the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The battleship went for an overhaul at Bremerton before supporting operations in Leyte Gulf in November.
On January 6, 1945, the USS New Mexico was participating in the pre-invasion bombardment of Luzon. She was hit by a suicide attack that killed 31 men – including commanding officer Robert W. Fleming and British Lieutenant General Herbert Lumsden – and injured 87 others. She remained in action to support the troop landings before returning to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
The USS New Mexico supported the invasion of Okinawa in the spring, firing at shore targets and destroying suicide boats. She was struck by two suicide attacks on May 12, 1945, killing 54 men and injuring 119 others. When the war ended, the battleship was in Tokyo Bay to witness the surrender ceremony.
USS New Mexico earned six battle stars for her service in World War II. She was decommissioned on July 19, 1946 and sold for scrap on October 13, 1947.
Like the other ships built prior to the 1970s, the USS New Mexico used a number of asbestos-containing components in its construction. Asbestos was known for its resistance to fire, heat, water, and corrosion. Because it was cheap and readily available, it could be found in caulking, sealants, steam pipes, hot water pipes, pumps, boilers, electrical insulation, turbines, incinerators, engine rooms, fire doors, floor and ceiling tiles, and wall insulation. Men who served aboard the USS New Mexico were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, as were the men who participated in her repair and overhaul. Workers were not provided with protective clothing or respiratory gear, which put them at risk for inhaling asbestos fibers and developing life-threatening illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer.
USS New Mexico 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 New Mexico, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.