History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS Washington (BB-56) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS Washington (BB-56) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on August 1, 1937. Her keel was laid down at Philadelphia Navy Yard on June 14, 1938. She was launched on June 1, 1940 and commissioned on May 15, 1941 under the command of Captain Howard H.J. Benson.
USS Washington was involved in training exercises until the United States entered World War II. She was the flagship for Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr., Commander Battleship Division 6 and Commander Battleships Atlantic Fleet. She then became the flagship for Task Force 39 for Admiral Wilcox on March 26, 1942, and she helped to reinforce the British Home Fleet in Scotland.
The day after she left for Scotland, the crew sounded the alarm for “man overboard.” For reasons that have never been fully explained, Admiral Wilcox had been washed overboard and could not be rescued or recovered. Some believe that he either had a heart attack or committed suicide.
USS Washington joined the British Home Fleet on April 4, 1942. She was involved in reconnaissance missions to protect supply convoys to Murmansk in the Soviet Union. One month later, two of the other ships in her task force collided. The destroyer HMS Punjabi was cut in half and sank as USS Washington approached. As the battleship sailed between the halves of the sinking destroyer, HMS Punjabi’s depth charges exploded. There was no major damage to her hull, but she did sustain damage to her fire control systems, radars, and a diesel oil tank. She remained at sea and hosted foreign dignitaries to inspect the ship before heading for home in July.
The USS Washington was overhauled at Brooklyn Navy Yard before heading to the South Pacific as flagship of Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., Commander Battleship Division 6 and Commander Task Group 12.2. She began in the Solomon Islands to serve as an escort for reinforcement convoys, operating out of Nouméa and Espiritu Santo.
On November 15, 1942, USS Washington became involved in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. During this fight, she engaged the Japanese battleship Kirishima in the first head-to-head battleship confrontation in the Pacific Theater. She succeeded in setting the Japanese ship on fire, and the ship was eventually lost to the enemy. Two of the destroyers in her battle group sank, and the USS South Dakota was forced to retire due to the damage she had received. USS Washington came out of the battle relatively unscathed.
USS Washington remained in the Solomon Islands until April 1943, when she headed to Pearl Harbor for battle practice and overhaul. She joined Task Group 56.14 headed for Efate in July, and detached from the group to remain there for battle practice and tactics.
The USS Washington joined in the combined force that attacked positions in the Gilbert Islands and Marshall Islands during November, including Mili, Jaluit, and Makin. She then headed to Nauru to support the bombardment efforts there.
In early 1944, the USS Washington became a part of TG 58.1, screening the carriers that launched air strikes on Kwajalein and Taroa. On February 1, the battleship rammed the USS Indiana as she dropped out of formation. The USS Washington sustained damage to her bow, and several sailors were killed or seriously injured. The battleship received temporary repairs at Majuro before heading off to Pearl Harbor and then Puget Sound Navy Yard for permanent repairs.
USS Washington rejoined action in the Pacific with TF 58 on June 7, 1944. She supported operations in the Mariana Islands, including Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Rota, and Pagan. The battleship became involved in the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19 without sustaining any major damage.
From the Marianas, the USS Washington headed to the Palau Islands. She supported operations at Peleliu, Angaur, Luzon, Formosa, Visayas, Okinawa, Saigon, Hong Kong, Canton, Hainan Island, Nansei Shoto, and Tokyo.
At the end of February 1945, USS Washington participated in the pre-invasion bombardment of Iwo Jima before supporting the troop landings there. In March, she moved onto Kyushu before bombarding Okinawa.
When the USS Washington headed to Puget Sound Navy Yard for refitting in June, she would not return to active combat. She arrived at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in time for Navy Day ceremonies on October 27, 1945. The battleship then took part in Operation Magic Carpet, carrying American troops home from war. She was decommissioned on June 27, 1947 and removed from the Naval Vessel Register on June 1, 1960. She was sold for scrap on May 24, 1961. The battleship received 13 battle stars for her service in World War II.
Like virtually all other World War II era ships, the USS Washington was constructed with many asbestos-containing components. Prized for its resistance to heat, fire, water, and corrosion, the toxic substance could be found in nearly all areas of the ship. Anyone who worked in or around the USS Washington was put at risk for developing serious asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer.
USS Washington 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 Washington, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.