History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Tennessee (BB-43) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Tennessee (BB-43) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on December 28, 1915. Her keel was laid down at Brooklyn Navy Yard on May 14, 1917. She was launched on April 30, 1919 and commissioned on June 3, 1920 under the command of Richard H. Leigh.
USS Tennessee conducted a number of trials before joining the Pacific Fleet in 1921. She took part in competitions, tactics, war games, and training in the years leading up to World War II. She participated in Fleet Problem I up through Fleet Problem XXI in April 1940. The battleship received several awards during competition, including the “E” for excellence in gunnery and the Battle Efficiency Pennant.
The USS Tennessee was overhauled at Puget Sound Navy Yard in 1940 before moving to her new base at Pearl Harbor. Fleet Problem XXII was canceled as world tensions were heating up. The battleship was on Battleship Row when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
During the attack, the USS Tennessee was struck by two armor-piercing bombs that hit gun turrets No. 2 and No. 3. She was showered with debris from the USS Arizona, and her stern caught on fire from the Arizona’s burning fuel oil. The battleship underwent preliminary repairs at Pearl Harbor before heading for permanent repairs and upgrades at Puget Sound Navy Yard.
After a series of training operations and a stint with Task Force 1, USS Tennessee headed back to Puget Sound Navy Yard for extensive modernization. When the work was completed in May 1943, she had been completely rebuilt.
USS Tennessee headed to Alaska for operations in the Aleutian Islands. She covered troop landings and bombarded enemy targets until the end of August. In November, she supported the attack on Betio in the Battle of Tarawa, where she helped to sink the Japanese submarine I-35. From there, she went to San Francisco to be repainted with dazzle camouflage.
Once repainted, the USS Tennessee took part in rehearsals for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. She arrived at the Marshalls on January 31, 1944, bombarding shore targets and detonating a Japanese ammunition dump on Namur. From there, she headed to Majuro to support operations at Kavieng and other Japanese positions in the area.
The USS Tennessee joined the assault on the Mariana Islands in May and June, hitting Kwajalein, Saipan and Tinian. At Tinian, she was hit by enemy fire, disabling several of her gun mounts and damaging the main deck. Eight men were killed and 26 were injured by projectile fragments and flash burns. She remained in the battle for some time before leaving to make emergency repairs. The Japanese mistakenly claimed they had sunk the battleship, which they had determined was “probably the New Jersey.”
USS Tennessee headed for repairs at Eniwetok on June 22 before heading to Guam, the Palaus, Peleliu, and Angaur. She sailed to Leyte Gulf in October to cover troop landings and provide fire support. She was rammed by the transport USS War Hawk on October 21, but no one was injured and there was no serious damage to the hull.
The USS Tennessee took part in the Battle of Surigao Strait, where U.S. forces sank the Japanese battleship Yamashiro. It was the final line battle in world naval history to date.
The battleship went back to Puget Sound Navy Yard on October 29, 1944. USS Tennessee was refitted and repainted a dark gray to be less conspicuous to kamikazes. The battleship rejoined the Pacific battle at Iwo Jima on February 16, 1945. She was struck by return fire from a Japanese coastal unit the following day, killing one man and injuring four others. She remained at Iwo Jima until March 7, when she headed to Ulithi.
From there, the USS Tennessee joined operations against Okinawa. She was struck by a kamikaze on April 12 and hit by another plane that carried a 250-pound bomb. This killed or fatally wounded 22 men and injured 107 others. The dead were buried at sea and the injured men were transferred to the casualty-evacuation transport Pinkney.
After performing emergency repairs, the USS Tennessee returned to the firing line. She stayed at Okinawa for two weeks before sailing to Ulithi for repairs. The battleship returned to Okinawa on June 9. She then patrolled the waters off Shanghai before covering the landing of occupation forces at Wakayama, Japan. She sailed home on October 16, 1945.
USS Tennessee was decommissioned on February 14, 1947. She was removed from the Naval Vessel Register on March 1, 1959 and sold for scrap to Bethlehem Steel Company on July 10 of the same year. The battleship received ten battle stars and a Navy Unit Commendation for her service in World War II.
Like the other ships of her time, the USS Tennessee was built using a number of asbestos-containing materials. The toxic substance asbestos was known for its resistance to heat, water, fire, and corrosion, and was therefore used in practically every area of the ship. Anyone who served on the USS Tennessee or was involved in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and asbestosis.
USS Tennessee 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 Tennessee, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.