101 years ago today, the Battleship Texas (BB-35) was commissioned as the most awe-inspiring weapon of the Arsenal of Democracy. After service in World War I and World War II, the Texas was decommissioned in 1948, having earned a total of five battle stars for service in World War II, and is now a museum ship near Houston, Texas, and was the first battleship declared to be a US National Historic Landmark.
Families all over the region make the pilgrimage to visit the battleship annually, and thousands of school children visit the ship each year on field trips. It remains a heroic symbol of service, honor and freedom for all Texans, Americans and lovers of liberty around the world.
The Texas is the last of the battleships, patterned after HMS Dreadnought, that participated in World Wars I and II. She was launched on May 18, 1912, from Newport News, Virginia. When the USS Texas was commissioned on March 12,1914, she was the most powerful weapon in the world, the most complex product of an industrial nation just beginning to become a force in global events.
In 1916, Texas became the first U.S. battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns and the first to control gunfire with directors and range-keepers, analog forerunners of today’s computers. In 1919, Texas became the first U.S. battleship to launch an aircraft.
In 1925, the Texas underwent major modifications. She was converted to oil-fired boilers, tripod masts and a single stack were added to the main deck, and the 5 inch guns that bristled from her sides were reduced in number and moved to the main deck to minimize problems with heavy weather and high seas. Blisters were also added as protection against torpedo attack.
The Texas received the first commercial radar in the U.S. Navy in 1939. New anti-aircraft batteries, fire control and communication equipment allowed the ship to remain an aging but powerful unit in the U.S. naval fleet. In 1940, Texas was designated flagship of U.S. Atlantic Fleet. The First Marine Division was founded aboard the Texas early in 1941. April 21, 1948, the Texas was decommissioned.
The Texas holds the distinguished designation of a National Historic Landmark and a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark.
After being commissioned, the Texas proceeded almost immediately to Mexican waters where she joined the Special Service Squadron following the “Vera Cruz Incident.” She returned to the Atlantic Fleet operations in the fall of 1914, after the Mexican crisis was resolved.
After the United States entered World War I, she spent the year 1917 training gun crews for merchant ships that were often attacked by gunfire from surfaced submarines. Texas joined the 6th Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet early in 1918. Operating out of Scapa Flow and the Firth of Forth, Texas protected forces laying a North Sea mine barrage, responded to German High Seas Fleet sorties, fired at submarine periscopes observed by multiple ships, and helped prevent enemy naval forces from interrupting the supply of Allied forces in Europe. Late in 1918, she escorted the German Fleet en route to its surrender anchorage and escorted President Wilson to peace talks in France.
In 1919, she served as a plane guard and navigational reference for the first trans-Atlantic flight by the seaplane NC-4, after which she transferred to the Pacific Fleet. Among other notables, she embarked President Coolidge for a trip to Cuba in 1928.
In 1941 while on “Neutrality Patrol” in the Atlantic, Texas was stalked unsuccessfully by the German submarine U-203. TEXAS escorted Atlantic convoys against potential attack by German warships after America entered into World War II in December 1941. In 1942, Texas transmitted General Eisenhower’s first “Voice of Freedom” broadcast, asking the French not to oppose Allied landings on North Africa. The appeal went unheeded and the Texas provided gunfire support for the amphibious assault on Morocco, putting Walter Cronkite ashore to begin his career as a war correspondent. After further convoy duty, the Texas fired on Nazi defenses at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Shortly afterwards, she was hit twice in a duel with German coastal defense artillery near Cherbourg, suffering one fatality and 13 wounded. Quickly repaired, she shelled Nazi positions in Southern France before transferring to the Pacific where she lent gunfire support and anti-aircraft fire to the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.