Wednesday 31 July 2019

BOOK REVIEW #6: Silver State Dreadnought: The Remarkable Story of Battleship Nevada

Welcome to my sixth book review, Silver State Dreadnought: The Remarkable Story of Battleship Nevada, by Stephen M. Younger.

Silver State Dreadnought:
The Remarkable Story of Battleship Nevada
This book is not about a famous battleship that participated in naval battles in World Wars or had adventurous lives neither about the largest nor about the most powerful ever-built battleship. This book is about a battleship that served the United States Navy for almost 33 years in European and Pacific theaters. A revolutionary battleship of that time which features, made the first US Navy "standard-type" battleship; the USS Nevada (BB-36). The Standard-type battleship was a series of twelve battleships across five classes ordered for the United States Navy between 1911 and 1916 and commissioned between 1916 and 1923 before the construction moved on to the first fast battleship, the North Carolina, in the late 1930s. Nevada was the second United States Navy ship to be named after the 36th state, the lead ship of the two Nevada-class battleships. Launched in 1914, she was a leap forward in dreadnought technology. She was the first super-dreadnought of the United States; four of her new features would be included on almost every subsequent US battleship: triple gun turrets on the centerline in fore and aft turrets with no amidships guns, oil in place of coal for fuel, geared steam turbines for greater range, and the "all or nothing" armor principle (protection of the important elements only). She was the first in the world to adopt those features. An ambitious and risky design that would be either a brilliant success or a failed expensive experiment. History would vote for success, since Nevada became the first of a standard design battleship that navies around the world would copy. Nevada was America’s first modern battleship and a political symbol of an ascendant America to a global superpower. With her sister Oklahoma, the Nevada class represented a considerable evolution in battleship design that was well ahead of its time.

Stephen M. Younger
Stephen M. Younger is the president of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He previously served as president of National Security Technologies, LLC and director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He has written extensively on national security, anthropology, and physics. The author used primary sources in documenting Nevada’s history such as logbooks and war diaries. Younger also used various files of the Bureau of Construction and Repair as well as the files of Commander Battleships. Moreover, he consulted records from the Bureau of Ordnance, the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, the General Board, and other sources. The result of his extensive research is a very readable book that mixes various elements such as the social background of a US sailor on a warship of that era, the life aboard a battleship, the different characters of the commanders and their influence on the crew. Operational elements such as fleet tactics and logistics as well as technical matters are combined masterfully in the story. The author describes even an electronic warfare incident where Nevada faces a radio-controlled German bomb. The significance of advanced electronics on US warships to automatically control weapons and to counter air attacks successfully is also highlighted in various events. An exceptional collection of about 150 black-and-white photographs supplements this well-written book.

An exceptional collection of about
150 black-and-white photographs
supplements this great book
USS Nevada (BB-36) during trials
Nevada’s story is rich and unlike anything else. In World War I she escorted convoys, protecting Americans and allies on their way to France, ready to sink any potential enemy that tried to harm them. Luckily, she did not get a chance to engage an enemy during the war. After that participated in the Fleet Problems naval exercises and other maneuvers that helped shape US Navy doctrine. She traveled along the globe projecting American naval power including the US Fleet's "goodwill cruise" - what came to be known as the Great Cruise - to Australia and New Zealand, from July to September 1925. This demonstrated to those allies and Japan that the US Navy had the ability to conduct transpacific operations and meet the Imperial Japanese Navy in their home waters, where both Japanese and American war plans expected the "decisive battle" to be fought, if it should come. The arms control treaties followed the end of WWI prohibited navies from building new battleships and thus existing ones, including Nevada, were given a new lease on life. The ship was rebuilt extensively in 1928-30. On December 7, 1941, of the eight battleships at Pearl Harbor, she was the oldest but at the same time the only battleship to get under way shooting down also numerous Japanese planes. Nevertheless, the damage from bombs and a torpedo caused her to sink in shallow water later in the day. Her sister Oklahoma, not so lucky already from the beginning of her service, capsized and destroyed at Pearl Harbor with heavy loss of life. A ship that was refused to be considered old, within a year she was salvaged, modernized and reconstructed again and in 1943 she took part in the recovery of the Aleutian Islands by providing fire support, a role that would adopt and perform greatly the coming years. 

Nevada supporting the landings on
Utah Beach, 6 June 1944
USS Nevada post-Operation Crossroads
visible with extensive damage
After completing some convoy runs, in 1944, she provided fire support for the Normandy invasion. Nevada was later praised for her "incredibly accurate" fire in support of beleaguered troops, as some of the targets she hit were just 550 meters from the front line. It is worth to notice that she was the only battleship present at both Pearl Harbor and the Normandy landings. After D-Day, Nevada headed to Toulon and supported with gunfire the Operation Dragoon amphibious assault. In March 1945, her big guns were there to pave the way shore to the US Marines at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Throughout all these years she was loved greatly by her men. Thanks to her first Captain William Showden Sims she gained her first nickname “The Cheer Up Ship”. This was one of the several nicknames for Nevada during her life – the “Old Maru”, “Old Imperishable”, all terms of affection. For the Marine Corps was their Sweetheart, a sharpshooter who would brave enemy gunfire to protect American troops fighting their way ashore. After a brief stint of occupation duty in Tokyo Bay, Nevada, at 32 years old, was deemed too old and obsolete to be kept in the post-war fleet. Therefore, she was assigned to be a target ship in the first Bikini atomic experiments (Operation Crossroads) of July 1946. The 7-battle star battleship survived not one but two atomic bombs. Because she was too radioactive for repair or scrapping, the ship was used as a target in gunnery practice off Hawaii in July 1948. She survived everything they fired at her (even the 16in guns of the fast battleship Iowa!) till an aerial torpedo sank her for a second and last time, after four and a half days of pounding. The sea claimed the grand old ship on July 31. Her crew lost a worthy friend who protected them in more than three decades. The Silver State lost its namesake warship but not its pride that remained forever in naval history.

This is not only the story of a battleship that refused to die but also the story of the thousands of men who built her to outperform any other ship afloat of that time, who served on her and loved her. A story that you must read and will certainly enjoy! This is a great 320-page book with more than 150 unique photographs! The Silver State Dreadnought: The Remarkable Story of Battleship Nevada is available as hardcover here ($54.00 or $43.20 member price).

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