HISTORY OF THE USS UTAH - PART 2
THE SECOND LIFE OF THE USS UTAH - AG16
(Radio Control - Bombing & Submarine Target and Anti Aircraft Gunnery Training Ship)
Utah's conversion, carried out at the Norfolk Navy Yard—included the installation of a radio-control apparatus. After having been decommissioned for the duration of the conversion, Utah was recommissioned at Norfolk on 1 April 1932, Comdr. Randall Jacobs in command.
Utah departed Norfolk on 7 April to train her engineers in using the new installations and for trials of her radio gear by which the ship could be controlled at varying rates of speed and changes of course maneuvers that a ship would conduct in battle. Her electric motors, operated by signals from the controlling ship, opened and closed throttle valves, moved her steering gear, and regulated the supply of oil to her boilers. In addition, a Sperry gyro pilot kept the ship on course.
Returning to port on 21 April, Utah passed her radio control trials off the Virginia capes on 6 May. On 1 June, Utah ran three hours under radio control, with all engineering stations manned; over the next two days, she made two successful runs, each of four hours duration, during which no machinery was touched by human hands. Observers, however-two in each fore room and two in each boiler room-kept telephone information and recorded data.
Her trials completed, Utah departed Norfolk on 9 June. After transiting the Panama Canal she reached San Pedro, Calif., on 30 June, reporting for duty with Training Squadron 1, Base Force, United States Fleet. She conducted her first target duty, f or cruisers of the Fleet, on 26 July, and later, on 2 August, conducted rehearsal runs for Nevada (BB-36), Utah being controlled from Hovey (DD-208) and Talbot (DD-114).
A WORD OF APPRECIATION FOR ABOVE PHOTO TO MS. CAROL BILL RALIEGH, WHOSE UNCLE, W. HOWARD BILL, SERVED ABOARD UTAH CIRCA 1934-1935. To See an enlarged photo of the above pix Click Here
June 1935, saw the establishment of a fleet machine gun school on board Utah while she continued her mission as a mobile target. The former dreadnought received her first instructors on board in August 1936, and the first students drawn from the ships' companies of Raleigh (CL-7), Concord (CL-10), Omaha (CL-4), Memphis (CL-13), Milwaukee (CL-5), and Ranger (CV-4)-reported aboard for training on 20 September. Subsequently, during the 1936 an d 1937 gunnery year, Utah was fitted with a new quadruple 1.1-inch machine gun mount for experimental test and development by the machine gun school. Some of the first tests of that type of weapon were conducted on board.
On one occasion, she even served as a troop transport, embarking 223 officers and men of the Fleet Marine Force at Sand Island, Midway, for amphibious operations at Hilo Bay, Hawaii, as part of Fleet Problem XVI in the early summer of 1936. She then transported the marines from Hawaii to San Diego, Calif., disembarking them there on 12 June 1936.
In subsequent years the erstwhile battleship performed a vital service to the fleet as a mobile target, contributing realism to the training of naval aviators in dive, torpedo, and high level bombing. Thus, she greatly aided the development of tactics in those areas.
Air attack on the UTAH was not without hazards during remote and manual operation. It has been estimated that dive bombers scored hits 15 percent of the time and high-altitude horizontal bombers about 5 percent. The practice bombs were inert but struck the ship with such velocity and force that it could penetrate the steel decks.
In an effort to prevent this damage from occurring, 6 X 12 inch wooden timbers were placed on the ship's deck. Needless to say, when the air attack took place, the crew exercised great caution. A majority of the crew found protection within the ship's armor. The spotters sought protection and visibility in the armored conning tower near the bridge. When a bombing run was completed, a marking party came on deck to mark and score hits. However, this routine nearly ended in tragedy when a number of sailors were standing on the deck and a group of planes appeared suddenly out the clouds and let their missiles fly. Bad aim and quick feet prevented the wounding or death to members of the crew.
Harry Kamman, a Watertender on the Utah 1937-1941 has the following recollection about timbering:"While musing about my experience aboard the USS Utah, I recalled the heavy work load we had to endure for preparing for High Altitude and Dive Bombing exercises on the ship. My curiosity concerning the amount of timber that was hauled by us non-rated "persons", loading the barges at the San Pedro, and Navy Trona Field Landing; unloading the barge onto the ship, emplacing the eight inch by twelve inch fir timber rough sawn planks of varying lengths about the top-side decks, using timber-men tool's peavey hooks, 2-man haul cant hook's etc. Fortunately, the ship's boat crane's did the big lift between the barge and ship, and all that piqued my interest! With the capabilities of modern technology acquiring information, even though it's trivia it might be possible. Somewhere in the US Navy record's archive's, probably Supply Corps, there are manifests, bills of lading, purchase orders, etc. There could be records that would disclose transactions concerning acquiring fir rough milled timber, 8" x 12" planks of various lengths. The period of early or mid-1930's, a West Coast Chandlery or Timber Co. negotiated a sale and arrangements for the timber. It was commonplace to see lumber schooners transporting timber put into Los Angeles Harbor while we were in port, moored at anchor off Long Beach during 1936, 37,38, & 39 - The period of which I am personally aware of and that my official "Bomb Duckers Certificate can attest to, with ten hash marks on it, for five day and 3 night, Navy - plus one Army Air Corp Hi-Altitude Day, bombing exercises"
Surface vessels such as battleships, cruisers and destroyers found the UTAH useful in long-range firing exercises. Although they never fired directly on the UTAH, they did direct their aim at the target rafts that the ship towed. This training allowed surface warships to maneuver in battle conditions that honed surface- firing skills. Submarines found the UTAH excellent training, because the ship responded like high-speed prey.
After providing mobile target services for the submarines of Submarine Squadron 6 in the late autumn and early winter of 1939, Utah devoted the eight months that followed to special machine gun practices. The following summer, Utah sailed for the Hawaiian Islands reaching Pearl Harbor on 1 August 1940, and fired advanced antiaircraft gunnery practice in the Hawaiian operating area until 14 December 1940, when she sailed for the west coast, returning to Long Beach four days before Christmas.
Utah-besides serving as a realistic target for exercises involving carrier-based planes-also towed targets during battle practices conducted by the Fleet's battleships and took part in the yearly "fleet problems." She transited the Panama Canal on 9 January 1939 to participate in Fleet Problem XX-part of the maneuvers observed personally by President Franklin D. Roosevelt from the heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30).
For the next two months, Utah operated as a mobile bombing target off San Clemente Island, Calif., for planes from Patrol Wing 1, and from the carriers Lexington (CV-2), Saratoga (CV-3), and Enterprise (CV-6). Utah returned to Hawaiian waters on 1 April 1941, embarking gunners for the Advanced Antiaircraft Gun School, men drawn from West Virginia (BB-48), Oklahoma (BB-37) Colorado (BB-45), Phoenix (CL-46), Nashville (CL-43), Philadelphia (CL-41), and New Orleans (CA-32).
Over the weeks that followed, she trained her embarked gunnery students in control and loading drills for the 5-inch batteries, firing runs on radio-controlled drone targets as well as .50-caliber and 1.1-inch firing on drones and balloons. Utah put into Los Angeles harbor on 20 May and there embarked Fleet Marine Force passengers for transportation to Bremerton, Wash. Putting the marines ashore a week later, the ship enentered the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 31 May 1941.
During the ensuing overhaul, Utah received repairs and alterations designed to make her a more effective gunnery training ship. The alterations included the addition of 5-inch/38-caliber guns in single mounts with gun shields-similar to those fitted on the more modern types of destroyers then in service.
Before leaving Puget Sound, the UTAH war colors were applied in the form of Measure 14 paint scheme. Dark sea gray was painted on the hull and lower superstructure and light haze gray to the upper main tops. The UTAH eventually made its way along the West Coast to San Pedro. It was never to return to those familiar waters. It set sail for the last time for Hawaii on September 14, 1941. The remainder of the Utah's days were spent in Hawaiian waters faithfully performing her duties as a Target Ship for bombing exercises. Click here to see the "Plan of the Day" for October 14, 1941. For the weekend of December 6-7, the UTAH returned to Pearl Harbor and moored at berth F-ll on the west side of Ford Island.
On the morning of 7 December 1941, the senior officer on board-the captain and executive officer were ashore on leave-was Lt. Comdr. Solomon S. Isquith, the engineering officer.
[Ed. note: A major resource for Utah's history comes from The Dictionary of Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS). However, certain sections from that publication were deleted and replaced by historically accurate material. As an example, in the penultimate paragraph above, according to "DANFS," Utah was holding anti aircraft gunnery school in the period prior to December 7th, 1941. Actually, the ship was participating in bombing exercises, hence our guns were covered with steel. Another example contained in "DANFS" is that 10 men were cut from the bottom of the Utah. See our section of eyewitness reports, and read our section titled "Death of the USS Utah" for the eyewitness accounts of the Officer leading the rescue party, see the "Eyewitness Reports" section for John Vaessen - the one man who was rescued. Other information, not included in "DANFS" has been added.]
The Webmaster, a USS Utah Survivor, and USS Utah Association cannot substantiate all the information contained herein.
The Death of the USS Utah
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