USS New Mexico (BB 40)

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The USS New Mexico (BB 40) was the name ship of the New Mexico class of battleships, and saw service in the Second World War, missing Pearl Harbor but spending the rest of the conflict operating in the Pacific.

The New Mexico was used to test a new turbo-electric drive. In the other ships in the New Mexico class the turbines were connected to the propeller shafts via a gear box, but in the New Mexico they were connected to electricity generators, which in term powered massive electric motors that were connected to the propeller shafts. This was a much more flexible system, as electrical power from each generator could be distributed easily between the engines, allowing all for propellers to be used even if some of the turbines were off line. It also eliminated the need for reversing turbines, reduced the amount of steam pipes in the system and allowed for more efficient watertight divisions of the machinery spaces. The main disadvantage was the extra weight and space required for the electricity generators and electric motors. Turbo-electric motors were installed in the next two classes of battleships, but they were removed during inter-war refits. The New Mexico received a conventional geared turbine drive during her early 1930s refit.

The New Mexico class ships were modernized in the early 1930s. Their machinery was replaced with new boilers and geared turbines. The cage masts were removed and two tower bridges built - a large one forward and smaller one aft. Anti-torpedo bulges were added and the gun elevation increased to 30 degrees.

The New Mexico was the only member of her class to end with war still carrying six 5in/51 guns. She also carried eight 5in/25 guns, ten quad mountings for 40mm guns and 46 Oerlikons. 

The New Mexico was normally part of the Pacific Fleet, but in May 1941 she became part of the Neutrality Patrol, and moved to the Atlantic. This meant that she was one of seven US battleships left intact after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On 8 December she was at Casco Bay, Maine. The other two members of the New Mexico class were part of the same Task Force 1, but were at Iceland.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor Task Force 1 was ordered to return to the Pacific, reaching San Francisco on 31 January 1942. The Task Force spent the first half of the year patrolling off the US West Coast and escorting convoys to Hawaii. The feared Japanese raid on the West Coast never happened, but the presence of the battleships of Task Force 1 did help reassure a nervous public.

On 1 August 1942 Task Force 1 set sail for Pearl Harbor, where it was based for the rest of the year. The New Mexico was also used to patrol the southwest Pacific, before moving north to take part in the campaign in the Aleutians. In May she took part in the blockade of Attu, while on 21 July she took part in the bombardment of Kiska Island. One week later the Japanese abandoned the island, but the Americans didn't realise this, and launched a full scale invasion in August.

In November 1943 the New Mexico formed part of the Northern Attack Group (TG 52.2 under Rear Admiral Griffin), with Pennsylvania, Idaho and Mississippi. This task group took part in Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, in November 1943. The New Mexico was used to bombard Butaritari and provide support for the invading forces.

In January-February 1944 the same four battleships, still under Rear Admiral Griffin, formed the Southern Attack Force (FSG 52.8) for Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshall Islands. The New Mexico took part in the bombardments of Kwajalein and Ebeye on 31 January-1 February, before attacking Wotje on 20 February.

On 20 March the New Mexico, along with Tennessee, Idaho and Mississippi, all under the command of Rear Admiral Griffen, bombarded Kavieng, New Ireland, to provide a distraction while General MacArthur's troops invaded Emirau Island.

Next came the invasion of the Marianas Islands (Operation Forager). New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Idaho formed part of Task Force 52.10 (Rear Admiral Ainsworth). The New Mexico took part in the pre and post invasion bombardment of Saipan (14 June-9 July 1944), and also attacked Tinian (14 June) and Guam (16 June). She wasn't directly involved in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June) as she was protecting transport ships at the time. On 12 July she took part in the pre-invasion bombardment of Guam, and at the end of the month she bombarded Tinian.

From August to October the New Mexico underwent a refit at Bremerton, thus missing the battle of Leyte Gulf in October. She rejoined the fleet in Leyte Gulf on 22 November (joining Maryland, West Virginia and Colorado in TG 77.2 under Rear Admiral Weyler), and provided anti-aircraft fire. This became TG 77.12 after the Maryland was damaged, and was allocated to the forces covering the invasion of Mindoro and the Western Visayans. New Mexico supported the invasion of Mindoro on 15 December, and remained for two days before withdrawing to prepare for the invasion of Luzon.

On 3 January 1945 the 'old' battleship force was reorganised, and the New Mexico became part of Unit 1 of TG 77.2 under Vice Admiral Oldendorf (with Mississippi and West Virginia). Unit 2 contained the California, Pennsylvania and Colorado. The pre-invasion bombardment began on 6 January, and on the same day the New Mexico was hit in the bridge by a kamikaze attack. Her captain, R.W. Fleming, was one of 30 men killed in the attack, and another 87 were injured. The damage itself wasn't serious, and the ship remained with the bombardment force during the invasion on 9 January.

The New Mexico was repaired in time to take part in the invasion of Okinawa, where she formed part of Group 5 of Task Force 54 (Rear Admiral Deyo), alongside the New York. This task force contained all ten active 'old' battleships. The New Mexico opened fire on 26 March and remained in action until 17 April. She was called on again on 21 April and 29 April, while on 11 May she fended off an attack by eight suicide boats. On the following day she was less lucky, and suffered a second kamikaze hit and a conventional bomb hit. 54 men were killed and 119 wounded, and enough damage was done to force her to return to the Philippines for repairs.

The repairs didn't take long, and when the war ended in August 1945 the New Mexico was at Saipan, preparing for the planned invasion of Japan. She was part of the fleet that witnessed the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

After the war the New Mexico was quickly decommissioned, and on 13 October 1947 she was sold for scrap. 

Displacement (standard)

32,000t

Displacement (loaded)

33,000t

Top Speed

21kts

Range

8,000nm at 10kts

Armour – belt

13.5in-8in

 - deck

3.5in

 - turret faces

18in or 16in

 - turret sides

10-9in

 - turret top

5in

 - turret rear

9in

 - barbettes

13in

 - coning tower

16in

 - coning tower top

8in

Length

624ft

Width

97ft 5in

Armaments

Twelve 14in guns in four triple turrets
Fourteen 4in guns
Four 3in guns
Two 21in submerged beam torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1084

Laid down

14 October 1915

Launched

23 April 1917

Completed

20 May 1918

Fate

Stricken 1947

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 September 2011), USS New Mexico (BB 40) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_New_Mexico.html

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