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Commission Day

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New Battleship – A Symbol of Might

Worldwide press

On April 9, 1941, the “world’s fightingest ship” was commissioned at 11:30 a.m., in the New York Navy Yard. The event received tremendous media attention.

Ship's Company on April 9, 1941

“The 35,000-ton battleship NORTH CAROLINA, solid, gleaming symbol of America’s awakening from a sleep naval holiday of 18 years…. 29 minutes of ceremony in dazzling sunshine formally placed in service the $70,000,000 battleship it had taken nearly four years to build.” The commissioning was four months ahead of schedule.

“As bugles blared and white-capped officers and bluejackets saluted, a pennant was run slowly up the flagstaff to show that the ship was in commission. Millions listened over the radio as the mightiest battleship afloat was put into service.”

The Young Catholic Messenger, April 25, 1941

Colors raised April 9 1941

Battleship by artist Henry Billings, April 1941

“May the NORTH CAROLINA be a symbol of progress through strength,” wrote President Roosevelt.

Commision Day Menu Navy Yard

Commission Day Graphic

Following the ceremony a buffet luncheon in the Wardroom included “NORTH CAROLINA APPLE PIE.”

Invitation to Commission

Souvenir program April 1941

April 10, 1941

“Dear Husty: It was with great pride that I sat down to my bacon and eggs this A.M. after seeing your beaming countenance griming at me from the pages of the L.A. Times. There you were aboard the new battle wagon North Carolina. I pray that your ship will never be called upon to hurl her salvos against an enemy. But, if destiny rules otherwise, I know she will more than give an excellent account of herself in upholding the glorious traditions of our Country and the Navy for which all of us who are real Americans are prepared to battle and, if needs be, die for.”

Edward Sedgwick, MGM Pictures, letter to Captain Olaf Hustvedt, commanding officer USS NORTH CAROLINA

On the cover of Newsweek April 1941

 

The New Yorker magazine April 1941

“The commissioning was a great day of excitement. All the dignitaries around and high ranking admirals. Every sailor had to be on his toes and everything was ship shape the best way it could be on board. We were all dressed in blues for photos and the commissioning. It was a great day.”

Paul Charles Wenck, Seaman 1/c

 

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Knox, Hustvedt and Broughton

“I think that the ovation that ended the celebration in New York when the ship was commissioned was a tribute to a bunch of hard working people that our shipyards were. Our sailors and men were ready to go out and do whatever had to be done to win this war. And they did it. They really did it.”

Admiral Alfred Ward, USN (Ret.)

Raising the colors April 9, 1941

Raising the colors April 9, 1941

The Ship’s Birthday over the Years

April 9 1942

 

April 1942 field day

April 1942 jamboree

1942 – Casco Bay, Maine

“The good ship U.S.S. North Carolina celebrated her first birthday anniversary in a most enjoyable manner with a big party. The day dawned bright and fair, with sufficient snap in the air to add zest to the Field Day events. The afternoon jamboree completed the day’s festivities and as the curtain fell the entire ship’s company expressed in words or actions their thanks to all. Thus was another link forged our chain of important events. When our baptismal fire is upon us, we feel certain that by such displayed unity of action our anchor of faith in our purpose will find all tried and true.”

Tarheel, April 11, 1942

1943 – Pearl Harbor

“0700 Following message was addressed to all hands – Happy Birthday NORTH CAROLINA. May we serve you as well during the coming years as you have served us during your first two years of life.”

LT(jg) Ed Gallagher, USN, in the Ship’s Deck Log

1944 – Anchored in Majuro Atoll. Mr. Howard Norton, war correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, reported aboard. In honor of the anniversary the ship’s company dined on mixed olives, sweet pickles, cream of tomato soup, croutons, roast young tom turkey, oyster dressing, baked Virginia [ham], pineapple sauce, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, candied sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, buttered asparagus, French peas, cardinal salad, parker house rolls, bread, butter, apple pie ala mode, coffee, oranges, apples. Cigarettes, cigars.

1945 booklet

1945 – Steaming with Task Group 58.2 operating east of Okinawa

The Ship issued a booklet highlighting bombardments, air attacks and campaigns to date with a list of the commanding and executive officers. “It is our wish that all who have contributed to our cruise be honored by this anniversary publication.”

April 10 1945

Shore Leave

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In August and September 1944, BB55 was in the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, WA.

“Everyone was entitled to 30 days leave year, but once the ship arrived in the South Pacific in July 1942, no one received much of a leave unless it was an emergency, until the ship returned for a major overhaul in Bremerton, WA, for a couple of months. One half of the ship at a time received 30 days leave. Many weddings took place at this point including mine and my new wife came back to Bremerton to stay until the ship left. The Navy had some housing called Port Orchard for married people. Our unit was all couples from BB55. While we were there my wife threw me a birthday party.”

Paul Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c

Paul Wieser birthday party

Paul Weiser shown back row, far left

“I dressed in my work blues, stuffed my dress shoes in the pockets of my pea coat and headed for the gang plank. I asked the boatswain mate if there was a ship to shore boat around. He said that the Captain’s gig was going to take a mail run soon. I went down the ladder and seated myself under the forward compartment’s canvas cover. When we arrived at the dock I waited until the captain departed and walked into a nearby building. As soon as he was out of sight I was off. No one questioned my leaving. I arrived at my future wife’s home in less than an hour. Of course, the thrill of being home and seeing everyone was worth the fright that I was beginning to feel.

The next morning…I made it back on base without a single question or challenge. Now I had to find a way to get a water taxi or gig back to the ship. As luck would have it a mail boat was heading that way and I hopped on board. As I arrived alongside BB55 I could see a lot of activity on the aft deck where the Officer of the Day was standing. As I arrived at the top of the ladder I saluted and said ‘work party sir.’ In all the confusion I headed for the bow and probably covered 50 feet when I heard a shout ‘sailor come back here.’ At that moment I quickly got lost on all the activity onboard. I changed into work jeans and sat on the bow realizing what a dumb think I had just pulled off. If I had been caught I would have been in the brig forever.”

Ed Roberts, Gunner’s Mate 3/c

Crew going on shore leave

Crew going on shore leave

“While home on leave I went to a drive-in movie [and] they showed a newsreel of the Saipan action and it startled or scared me as I was seeing the air attacks I had just been in before coming home.”

C.J. Baker, Fire Controlman 3/c

John Seagraves, Stewards Mate 2/c

“I had chosen air transportation because I didn’t want to lose any unnecessary time travelling. The flight over the Rockies was very rough and our ears killed us. [After several plane changes] I arrived in Charlotte, NC. I had been gone two years and eight months. Mother and Dad were there to meet me. I guess I expected to come back and find everyone still at Central High School and the neighborhood just the same. My days were humdrum…I had no civilian clothes so wore my uniform at all times. Time came for me to return and I really didn’t mind going. The adrenaline was building in anticipation of returning to the ship. I know my parents were distraught…they probably thought they would never see me again. I had the same thoughts.”

Charles Paty, Radioman 2/c

Stormy Weather

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BB55 Crashing into swell during December December 1944 typhoon

BB55 Crashing into swell during December December 1944 typhoon

“It rains at least 10 times a day down here [Ulithi] but you soon get used to it. The sea is pretty rough and all hands were warned to keep clear of the main deck. We hit the edge of a typhoon and it’s plenty rough. I sure feel sorry for the destroyers. The storm has done considerable damage to our lighting system. The planes are all grounded and our 20mm gun shields on the bow are bent like pretzels. Wind reached 100 mph velocity. The task force has lost 10 men overboard in the last two days.”

Diary of PFC George W. Kietzman, November 1944

“December 1944, we were caught in a typhoon while we were steaming through the Philippine Sea. I remember the winds got up to 100 mph and the Ship was tossed around like a cork. I was in Spot I on watch at the time and believe me, I got the ride of my life! The waves were at least 50 to 60 feet high and the bow would go under one and over two. Most of the time we couldn’t see because of the spray and solid sheets of water. The Ship was rolling 30 degrees and we thought she was going over. We could see the ocean coming up to meet Spot I and we were holding on for dear life. I was sure that would capsize but she would just shudder a bit and then roll the other way. I guess Spot I was the worst place to be during a typhoon.”

Jim Masie, Fire Controlman 3/c

USS LANGLEY rolls in heavy seas with USS WASHINGTON nearby, December 1944. The LANGLEY rolled consistently to 35 degrees on both sides.

USS LANGLEY rolls in heavy seas with USS WASHINGTON nearby, December 1944. The LANGLEY rolled consistently to 35 degrees on both sides.

“We started into that typhoon and in just a little bit it had all those mess tables unhooked, sliding across the deck and coffee and cups and it was a real mess. [Some] tables were tied with a rope to the poles. You had sandwiches and nothing hot. There were four or five of us that got the bright idea to climb up in the mast up to the crow’s nest. We went up there and of course it was blowing and we got all sopping wet. The Ship was rolling…35 degrees. We found out later that if she had gone 39 degrees she would have gone on over. We had ammunition boxes [250-300 pounds welded to the deck] and everything all over the main deck, which were torn loose.”

Anonymous

A destroyer almost disappears from view in the trough of heavy seas before or after the peak of the storm, December 1944.

A destroyer almost disappears from view in the trough of heavy seas before or after the peak of the storm, December 1944.

“I went out onto the deck on the morning of December 18th, near my 40mm shop. I walked over to portside of the deck to view the storm. The rain and seawater blowing so much you could hardly see the other ships, even close ones. I saw small carriers and destroyers rolling and pitching quite a bit. As I started back the ship started rolling so I took several steps and put myself into a slide on the wet deck. I crashed into the lifeline around the deck and grabbed a hold to keep from going overboard as the water was lapping close to the deck. We were supposed to stay inside below.”

C.J. Baker, Fire Controlman 3/c

“You can imagine winds up to 100mph beating around in an open sea. We are talking about a 45,000 ton ship. It bobbed us around just like a cork in the water. At one time we went 30+ degrees…actually laying us on our side. The maximum rule of this vessel was 36 plus degrees before it would capsize. [Note: The Damage Control chart indicates that at 18 degrees the edge of the main deck would have been at the waterline.]

I was stationed in Spot II. It is about 65 feet above the water line. I opened the hatch at the top of the director to take a look out to see how bad it was. I got splashed in the face with salt water. That is 60 feet of waves come up over the Ship, which is a tremendous amount of height and pressure. I just almost lost my breath.”

Stan Shefveland, Fire Controlman 3/c

Bob Wayne Noble, Boatswain’s Mate 2/c

“Coy Adams and I worked our way through the Ship up into the conning tower above the bridge where we had a bird’s eye view of the storm and could feel the force. I watched the destroyers bob around like corks. Half the time you would lose sight of them. The large carriers were taking green water over their flight deck. It has been said that this typhoon did more damage to the fleet than the Japanese Navy.”

Bill Fleishman, Water Tender 2/c

“I can remember being out on deck at signal bridge [03] level. You wouldn’t see very far because of the spray in the air and the rain. The seas were positively mountainous. I remember quite vividly that the tops of the seas were often higher than I was. I went into CIC and watched the eye of the typhoon on the radar scope. The eye passed right over us. On voice radio…the carriers were telling of the aircraft that had broken loose on their hanger decks and flying around. I have a rather vague memory of watching at least one blip [destroyer] disappear as the ship went under.”

Captain Ben Blee, USN (Ret.)

BB-55 plows through heavy swells while escorting the USS ESSEX, December 1944.

BB-55 plows through heavy swells while escorting the USS ESSEX, December 1944.

“Today we postponed fueling because of real rough weather. Some tin-can men were washed overboard and most of them were picked up. Sea was even rougher today and we had to postpone fueling again. Three cans [destroyers] ran dry and are now dead in the water. The wind reached 72 knots and some of the swells were at least 100 feet high. All day today we’ve been traversing debris filled waters. We lost 100 crates of potatoes and I’m not the least bit sorry, either! We only missed the center of the typhoon by 19 miles. Ship is rolling to about a 30 degree angle. Nobody seems to know what we’re doing out here right now.”

Diary of PFC George W. Kietzman, December 1944

Read more about it: Typhoon: The Other Enemy/The Third Fleet and the Pacific Storm of December 1944, by Capt. C. Raymond Calhoun, USN (Ret). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981.