THE TWO LIVES AND DEATH OF THE USS UTAH
LIFE #1 -
Utah (Battleship No. 31) was laid down on 9 March 1909 at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 23 December 1909; sponsored by Miss Mary Alice Spry, daughter of Governor William Spry of Utah; and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 31 August 1911, Capt. William S. Benson in command.
The Utah statistics were impressive for the "Dreadnought era" -- 21,825 tons that drew approximately 28 feet. Top speed was estimated at 20 knots. The crew consisted of 60 officers and 941 men. Fire power was measured by five gun turrets, armed with two 12-inch guns. Supplementing the main armament were 16, 5-inch, 51-caliber guns and two 21-inch submerged torpedo tubes. Armor 12 inches thick surrounded the vital areas of the vessel.
After her shakedown cruise-a voyage that took her to Hampton Roads, Va.; Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola, Fla.; Galveston, Tex.; Kingston and Portland Bight, Jamaica; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba-Utah was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet in March 1912. S he operated with the Fleet early that spring, conducting exercises in gunnery and torpedo defense, before she entered the New York Navy Yard on 16 April for an overhaul.
Departing New York on 1 June, Utah briefly visited Hampton Roads and then steamed to Annapolis, Md. where she arrived on the 6th. There, she embarked Naval Academy midshipmen and got underway on the 10th for the Virginia Capes and the open Atlantic. She conducted a midshipmen training cruise off the New England seaboard well into the summer before disembarking her contingent of officers-to-be back at Annapolis on 24 and 25 August. Soon thereafter, the battleship headed for the Southern Drill Grounds to conduct gunnery exercises.
For a little over two years, the dreadnought maintained that schedule of operations off the eastern seaboard, ranging from the New England coast to Cuban waters.
Utah began the year 1914 at the New York Navy Yard and sailed south on 5 January. After stopping at Hampton Roads, she reached Cuban waters later in the month for torpedo and small arms exercises. However, due to tension in Mexico, Utah sailed for Mexican waters in early February and reached Vera Cruz on the 16th. She operated off that port until getting underway for Tampico on 9 April with several hundred refugees embarked. Soon thereafter, it was learned that a German steamship, SS Yp iranga, was bound for Vera Cruz with a shipment of arms and munitions earmarked for the dictator Victoriano Huerta. Utah received orders to search for the ship and put to sea and reached Vera Cruz on the 16th. When it appeared that the shipment might be landed, the Navy took steps to take the customs house at Vera Cruz and stop the delivery. Accordingly, plans were drawn up for a landing at Vera Cruz, to commence on 21 April 1914.
Utah consequently landed her "battalion"-17 officers and 367 sailors under the command of Lt. Guy W. S. Castle-as well as her Marine detachment, which formed part of the improvised "First Marine Brigade," made up of detachments of marines from the other ships that had arrived to show American determination. In the ensuing fighting, in which the men of Utah's bluejacket battalion distinguished themselves, seven won medals of honor. Those seven included Lt. Castle, the battalion commander; company commanders Ens. Oscar C. Badger and Ens. Paul F. Foster; section leaders, Chief Turret Captains Niels Drustrup and Abraham Desomer; Chief Gunner George Bradley; and Boatswain's Mate Henry N. Nickerson.
Utah remained at Vera Cruz for almost two months before returning north to the New York Navy Yard in late June for an overhaul. Over the next three years, the battleship operated on a regular routine of battle practices and exercises from off the e astern seaboard into the Caribbean, as the United States readied its forces for the possible entry of the United States into the worldwide war that broke out in July 1914.
After the United States finally declared war on 6 April 1917, Utah operated in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay as an engineering and gunnery training ship and continued that duty until 30 August 1918, when she sailed for the British Isles with Vice Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet, embarked.
Fears of possible attacks by German heavy units upon the large convoys crossing the Atlantic with troops and munitions for the western front prompted the dispatch, to European waters, of a powerful force of American dreadnoughts to Irish waters. Utah -as part of that movement - reached Brerehaven, Bantry Bay, Ireland, on 10 September. There, she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers, Commander, Battleship Division 6. Until the signing of the armistice on 11 November 1918, Utah, a long with the sister ships Oklahoma (Battleship No. 37) and Nevada (Battleship No. 36), operated from Bantry Bay, covering the Allied convoys approaching the British Isles, ready to deal with any surface threat that the German Navy could hurl at the valuable transports and supply ships.
After the cessation of hostilities, Utah visited Portland, England, and later served as part of the honor escort for the transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018), as that ship bore President Woodrow Wilson into the harbor of Brest, France, on 13 December 1918. The following day, Utah turned homeward and reached New York on Christmas Day 1918.
Utah remained at anchor in the North River; off New York City, until 30 January 1919. During that time, she half-masted her colors at 1440 on 7 January due to the death of former President Theodore Roosevelt and, on the 8th, fired salutes at half-hour intervals throughout the day in memory of the great American statesman.
Utah carried out a regular routine of battle practices and maneuvers, ranging from the New England coast to the Caribbean, into mid-1921. During that time, she was classified as BB-31 on 17 July 1920, during the Navy-wide assignment of hull numbers .
Ultimately departing Boston on 9 July 1921, Utah proceeded via Lisbon Portugal, and reached Cherbourg, France, soon thereafter. There, Utah became the flagship for the United States naval forces in European waters. She "showed the flag" at the principal Atlantic coast ports of Europe and in the Mediterranean until relieved by Pittsburgh (CA-4) in October 1922.
Returning to the United States on 21 October 1922, Utah then became the flagship of Battleship Division (BatDiv) 6, United States Scouting Fleet and operated with the Scouting Fleet over the next three and one-half years.
Late in 1924, Utah was chosen to carry the United States diplomatic mission to the centennial celebration of the Battle of Ayacucho (9 December 1824), the decisive action in the Peruvian struggle for independence. Designated as flagship for the special squadron assigned to represent the United States at the festivities, Utah departed New York City on 22 November 1924 with General of the Armies John J. Pershing, USA, and former congressman, the Honorable F. C. Hicks, embarked, and arrived at Callao on 9 December.
Utah disembarked General Pershing and the other members of the mission on Christmas 1924, so that the general and his mission could visit other South American cities inland on their goodwill tour. Meanwhile, Utah, in the weeks that followed, called at the Chilean ports of Punta Arenas and Valparaiso before she rounded Cape Horn and met General Pershing at Montevideo, Uruguay. Re embarking the general and his party there, the battleship then visited in succession: Rio de Janeiro Brazil; La Guaira, Venezuela; and Havana, Cuba, before ending her diplomatic voyage at New York City on 18 March 1926. Utah spent subsequent summers of 1925 and 1926 with the Midshipman Practice Squadron and, after disembarking her midshipmen at the conclusion o f the 1925 cruise, entered the Boston Navy Yard and was decommissioned in August 1926 for modernization. During that period of alterations and repairs, the ship's "cage" mainmast was replaced by a lighter pole mast; she was fitted to burn oil instead of coal as fuel; and her armament was modified to reflect the increased concern over antiaircraft defense. Interestingly, Utah and her sister ship Florida (BB-30) never received the more modern "tripod" masts fitted to other classes.
Utah departed Hampton Roads on 21 November 1928, bound for South America. Reaching Montevideo on 18 December, she there embarked President-elect a nd Mrs. Herbert C. Hoover; the Honorable Henry T. Fletcher, Ambassador to Italy; and members of the press. Utah transported the President-elect's party to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between 21 and 23 December, and then continued her homeward voyage with Mr. Hoover embarked. En route, the President-elect inspected the battleship's crew while at sea, before the ship reached Hampton Roads on 6 January 1929.
However, Utah's days as a battleship were numbered under the terms of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, Utah was selected for conversion to a mobile target, in place of the former battleship North Dakota; and, on 1 July 1931, Utah 's classification was changed to AG-16. Her conversion-carried out at the Norfolk Navy Yard-included the installation of a radio-control apparatus. [Ed. Note: Thus the "First Life" of the USS Utah was over]
Batteship Memorabilia Read "The Big U" Photos USS UTAH band in France 1918 A Sailor's Diary 1924 Ships Roster
References: The main reference for this "Part 1" History comes from:
The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. It is a directory and history of almost every ship commissioned by the U.S. NAVY. The directory is available on the internet at several sites.
THE SECOND LIFE OF THE USS UTAH