The New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) is notable for her actions in both World Wars – including numerous sorties into the North Sea during the First World War, and providing support for beach landings at Normandy Beach and later in the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In addition to a distinguished combat record, Texas also served as a technological testbed, becoming the first U.S. battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns, the first U.S. ship to control gunfire with directors and range-keepers, and even the first battleship to launch an aircraft.
BB-35 was also the first warship to receive the U.S. Navy’s CXAM-1 version of the CXAM production radar.
Then there is the fact that USS Texas also has the distinction of being the first U.S. battleship to become a permanent museum ship and the first to be declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark. She is also one of just eight remaining warships and the only capital vessel to have served in both World Wars.
Fighting for Her Life
However, USS Texas – like many old warships – is fighting the greatest battle, one against the elements and time. In June 2017, a six-by-eight-inch hole about fifteen feet below the waterline caused the ship to list six degrees. Emergency efforts were made to keep the battleship from sinking, and during a fifteen-hour period, about 2,000 gallons of water was pumped out each minute!
Efforts are now underway to ensure that this is a battle she wins, and this has included repairs to the ship’s hull, while a team of volunteers has been working on the vessel’s three-inch guns.
Because of the ongoing restoration and repairs, BB-35 has largely been closed to visitors, but over the recent Fourth of July weekend, the warship was open to the public. Visitors had access to the officer’s wardroom, main deck, superstructure, and navigation bridge, while interactive displays help tell the story of the historic vessel. While the museum expected that 2,000 to 3,000 people would visit the ship over the holiday weekend, more than 5,000 visitors came out.
On the Move
The Battleship Texas has been at its current location at the San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site in La Porte outside of Houston since 1948, but the Texas Legislature approved a measure in 2019 that would provide $35 million for repairs and preservation for the battleship. It also transferred ownership from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to the Battleship Texas Foundation for a 99-year lease.
The warship will need to increase its revenue, and that means drawing larger crowds than the approximately 80,000 annual visitors. As a result, after the repairs are completed, USS Texas will leave its longtime home at the San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site – the location where Texian troops led by Gen. Sam Houston surprised and quickly defeated the Mexican Army in 1836. The victory resulted in Texas’ independence from Mexico.
“As much as I love this area, and it’s a beautiful setting, we need to be someplace that gets more visitors,” Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the Battleship Texas Foundation, told the Houston Chronicle.
No location has been determined, but Galveston is the most likely destination, while Corpus Christi has also been suggested. The warship is scheduled to leave repairs in dry dock early next year, and Bramlett hopes to have the old vessel open to the public at least a couple more times.
But while she may be leaving her old home, she’ll certainly remain in the waters of her namesake.
“It’s not like she’s going to leave the state. She’s not even going to leave the Greater Houston Area,” said Bramlett. “Her home is still going to be here, and she’s still going to be accessible.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.