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World War II in the Pacific



South Dakota class

USS Massachusetts
Overhead view of USS Massachusetts
(Photo by U.S. Navy, 1942)

Name:USS Massachusetts (BB-59)
Location:Battleship Cove, Fall River, Massachusetts
Owner:USS Massachusetts Memorial Committee, Inc.
Condition:Good, unaltered

Displacement:35,000 tons standard / 46,000 tons full load
Length:681 feet
Width:108 feet
Machinery:4 sets, General Electric Turbines, 8-Babcock & Wilcox Boilers
Fuel Oil Capacity:6,959 tons
Maximum Speed:28 knots
Armament:9 16-inch/45 caliber Mark 6 guns, 20 5-inch/38 caliber Mark 12 guns, Various combinations of 40 mm and 20 mm antiaircraft guns
Crew:2,300 wartime

Builder:Bethlehem Steel Company, Quincy, Massachusetts
Launched:September 23, 1941
Commissioned:May 12, 1942


USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is the third of four South Dakota class battleships laid down in the 1930s. She was built by the Bethlehem Steel Company in their Fore River Shipyard at Quincy, Massachusetts. Her keel was laid on July 20, 1939, and she was launched on September 23, 1941. USS Massachusetts was commissioned on May 12, 1942.

The design of the South Dakota class was influenced by the same limitations as the previous North Carolina class, because it too, was intended to meet the Washington Treaty limits. The chief difference was that the South Dakota class, including USS Massachusetts, was designed from the start to carry a 16-inch main battery. To accommodate the heavier armour needed for a 16-inch battery and keep the required weight under 35,000 tons, the waterline length of the South Dakota class was shortened from that of the North Carolina class while the beam remained the same. This change meant that the South Dakota class had a much fuller hull form than the North Carolina class. More powerful engines were also installed to maintain the same fast speed obtained by the North Carolina class. [1]

USS Massachusetts is painted grey on metal surfaces exposed to the elements with the exception of a black stack cap and black "boot topping" at the water line. Three quarters of the ship's deck is covered with teak laid on a bituminous base and bolted to the deck. Forward of main battery turret one, and aft of main battery turret three, the decks are made of steel.

USS Massachusetts was built with two explosively-driven catapults on the stern, port and starboard, for launching observation planes. These were removed and discarded during the ship's inactive period. During the summer of 1985 an outline of one of the catapults will be painted on the deck. [2]

In 1962, after USS Massachusetts was stricken from the inactive reserve list by the Navy, some 5,000 tons of equipment was removed for use on other naval vessels. USS Massachusetts is in good condition and retains much of her World War II integrity.

Role of the Battleship in World War II

The first modern battleship had its inception with the launching of HMS Dreadnought by Great Britain in 1906. HMS Dreadnought was the world's first all-big-gun, fast, heavily armoured capital ship and her launching made all the major ships in all other navies obsolete. The design features of HMS Dreadnought were rapidly copied by other navies and by 1914 the modern big gun heavily armoured battleship dominated naval warfare.

Battleships fought Battle of Jutland forced the Germans and construction of Jutland, the Germans His Majesty's fleet their first and only decisive action of World War I in the in May 1916. Although the British fleet won the day and to retire to the safety of their ports, the German design battleships was shown to be superior. After the Battle of never again risked their battleships in open conflict with but turned instead to unrestricted submarine warfare.

After the end of World War I the battleship continued to dominate naval strategy. In an effort to reduce expenditures required to fund new battleships the United States, Britain, France, Japan and Italy agreed to a moratorium on new battleship construction in 1922 at the Washington Naval Conference. As a result of this agreement, new American battleships in construction were broken up and scrapped. No new battleships were built until 1936 when USS North Carolina was authorized by the Congress.

During these years the nature of naval power was changing as a result of the perfection of the airplane and the introduction of a new capital ship utilizing this new weapon--the aircraft carrier. Supporters of air power argued that the battleship as the principal capital ship of the navy was obsolete because of the long reach of naval aircraft. This view was strengthened early in World War II when the British carried out a carrier strike on the Italian battle fleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940. Subsequent Japanese carrier strikes on the American battlefleet at Pearl Harbor and airstrikes from land based aircraft on the British ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse confirmed the new order of naval strategy.

While the rise of the aircraft carrier forever altered naval strategy it did not totally eclipse the importance of the battleship. In both the Atlantic and the Pacific, old American battleships carried out extensive bombardments on enemy held shores while new generations of fast American battleships escorted the aircraft carriers and provided them with a dense thicket of antiaircraft fire when necessary. Both old and new American battleships saw heavy service during the war providing cover for other ships and eventually bombarding the Japanese home islands in 1945. When the war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945, the surrender of the Japanese was signed on board the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Harbor. Although replaced by the aircraft carrier as the principal capital ship of the navy the battleship saw important and useful service during World War II and contributed to the eventual American victory.

USS Massachusetts represents American battleships that fought against Japan in World War II for the following reasons:

  1. USS Massachusetts is a representative of the South Dakota class of American battleships that fought against Japan in World War II. Built later than the North Carolina class, the South Dakota class represents the continued American preparation for World War II and development of a more advanced battleship design. USS Massachusetts is at Fall River, Massachusetts, not far from Quincy, Massachusetts, where she was built. She thus represents the role of Massachusetts in the support of the war effort.

  2. Beginning in November 1942, USS Massachusetts saw continue action in both the European and Pacific Theaters of operations. USS Massachusetts earned 11 battle stars for her World War II service.

  3. USS Massachusetts is in good condition and retains much of her World War II integrity.


1. Rob Stern, U.S. Battleships in Action Part 2 (Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1984). p. 21.

2. No Author, USS Massachusetts (BB59)-Physical Description (Fall River, Massachusetts: Battleship Cove, 1984), pp. 8-9.


Boulding, Christine. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory USS Massachusetts." Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Historical Commission, 1976.

McMahon, William E. Dreadnought Battleships and Battle Cruisers. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1978.

Pater, Alan F. United States Battleships -- The History of America's Greatest Fighting Fleet. Beverly Hills, California: Monitor Book Company, 1968.

Stern, Rob. U.S. Battleships in Action Part 2. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc. 1984.


USS Massachusetts USS Massachusetts USS Massachusetts

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(click on the above photographs for a more detailed view)

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Last Modified: Fri, Aug 25 2000 12:00:00 pm PDT

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