Completed in 1914, USS Texas (BB-35), along with her sister ship USS New York (BB-34), were the first warships designed to carry 14-inch (356mm/45-caliber) guns. BB-35 is also notable for being the only battleship still in existence today to have taken part in combat operations in both World Wars. The New York-class warship was sent in service during the “Tampico Incident,” which involved the United States’ occupation of Vera Cruz, and she began fleet operations after America’s entry into the First World War.
A generation later, she escorted war convoys across the Atlantic and provided support for the beach landings at Normandy Beach on D-Day and later at the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She earned a total of five battle stars for her service in the Second World War.
In addition to an impressive combat record, USS Texas is also noteworthy for the technological improvements and advancements that were made during the course of service with the U.S. Navy. When she and her sister warship were constructed, U.S. turbine manufacturers were unwilling to meet the strict specifications laid down by the Navy Department’s Bureau of Ships. Since no compromise could be met on standards and prices, the Bureau had to revert to the older reciprocating engines for the New York-class battleships.
The use of the machinery actually may have given up to 30 percent improvement in economy at cruising speed, and in no way was inferior at full speed. The two 4-cylinder Vertical Triple Expansion engines and 14 Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired billers could provide more than 28,000 horsepower. The ships could reach 21 knots and had a range greater than 7,000 nautical miles.
Following the First World War, USS Texas proved to be the perfect testbed for the Navy, and in March 1919 she became the first U.S. battleship to fly off an aircraft – a British Sopwith Camel – from a temporary platform that had been fitted atop her second turret. The warship subsequently underwent a major reconstruction from 1925 to 1927, and the ship was reboilered with six Bureau-Express oil-fired units.
Other improvements were made to her combat systems, and she was the first U.S. battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns and the first U.S. vessel to control gunfire with directors and range-keepers. Following the modernization, Texas alternated operations between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans until 1931, when her base was shifted to California. She served as the fleet and division flagship during U.S. Fleet exercises and in 1937 was reassigned again to the Atlantic.
Service in World War II
When the Second World War broke out in Europe, BB-35 began operating the Neutrality Patrol, and later as the United States moved towards more active support of the Allied war effort, the warship began convoying ships carrying Lend-Lease material to the United Kingdom.
The warship took part in her first combat operations of the Second World War as part of Task Group 34.8 (TG 34.8) in support of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. Texas transmitted Lt. General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first “Voice of Freedom” broadcast, which called up the Vichy French forces not to oppose the Allied landings. As a young news reporter, Walter Cronkite was among those onboard the battleship during the operations and was even granted permission to fly off of the ship in one of her OS2U Kingfisher aircraft.
The aging battleship returned to Atlantic convoy escort duties and was among the warships to provide supporting fire during the Normandy landings. She also participated in the bombardment of Cherbourg, during which she was hit by enemy coastal artillery fire but suffered no serious damage. After undergoing repairs in Plymouth, England she took part in the allied invasion of the South of France during Operation Dragoon.
Following an overhaul in New York City, which involved replacing her main battery barrels; Texas returned to the Pacific and later provided naval gunfire support during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Since her decommissioning in 1948, USS Texas (BB-35) has been preserved as a museum ship – and today she is officially the flagship of the ‘Texas Navy.’ She remains the first permanent battleship memorial museum in the United States.
The ship, which was once described as ‘the most powerful weapon in the world,’ is currently moored in the Houston Ship Channel near the San Jacinto battleground site – the location where Texian troops led by Gen. Sam Houston surprised and quickly defeated the Mexican Army in 1836 – where she has been for more than seventy years.
However, the decades spent in the water have taken their toll on the old battle wagon, and in June 2017, a six-by-eight-inch hole about fifteen feet below the waterline opened and caused the ship to list six degrees. The situation was so dire that there were concerns the ship could be lost. Efforts have been made to preserve the ship, and as such the museum is currently closed – opening only briefly for the Independence Day and Labor Day weekends.
After the restorations are completed, it isn’t clear where the ship will be preserved for future generations but Galveston is the most likely destination, while Corpus Christi has also been suggested. Some veterans have also championed Galveston as it was the original home of the Texas Navy, dating back to when Texas was a republic, while Seawolf Park is located on Galveston’s Pelican Island. The park houses the World War II submarine USS Cavalla and one of only three destroyer escorts in the world, the USS Stewart.
Wherever the ship ends up, she will remain a special part of U.S. Navy and Texas history.
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.