The USS Nevada (BB-36) was a remarkable battleship with a storied history that spanned both World Wars.

During World War II, she was a resilient and versatile force, participating in key operations including the attack on Pearl Harbor, the invasions of Normandy, Southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, providing crucial naval gunfire support.

Her contributions across various theaters of the war and her survival of the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946 underscore the USS Nevada’s enduring legacy in U.S. naval history.

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Design Of USS Nevada

The USS Nevada was built at the Fore River Ship and Engine Building Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. The keel was laid down on November 4, 1912.

After extensive construction and inspection, the USS Nevada was launched on July 11, 1914. The ship was sponsored by Miss Eleanor Anne Seibert, and a ceremonial bottle of champagne was smashed against Nevada’s bow as part of the significant occasion.

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Following final outfitting and a rigorous round of tests, the USS Nevada was officially commissioned by the U.S. Navy on March 11, 1916, under the command of Captain William S. Sims.

Described as a ‘super-dreadnought’, USS Nevada marked a significant departure from previous battleship designs. Instead of coal, the ship was powered by oil-fired propulsion systems which provided greater range and significant power.

Furthermore, the Nevada was equipped with triple gun turrets, a new concept in naval architecture.

USS Nevada on sea trials in 1916.

The Nevada was also the first U.S. ship to be designed with the ‘all or nothing’ armor scheme. This specified that crucial areas of the ship, such as ammunition magazines and machinery spaces, would be heavily armored while other less critical areas would have minimal armor.

This innovative design approach was intended to keep the ship afloat and operational, even after significant damage, and became a standard design feature in future battleship classes.

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The Nevada had a length of 583 feet, a beam of 95 feet, and a displacement of approximately 27,500 tons. Weapons included ten 14-inch/45 caliber guns, twenty-one 5-inch/51 caliber guns, two 21-inch torpedo tubes, and two 3-inch/50 caliber anti-aircraft guns. The ship could reach a top speed of around 20.5 knots.

WWI And Interwar Years

Despite being active during World War I, combat engagement eluded her. Instead, she played a significant role in providing convoy escort services and honing the skills of wartime gun crews.

Beyond the war, the ensuing years unleashed the USS Nevada’s potential as she was involved in a multitude of training exercises and fleet expeditions during the interwar period.

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In 1923, her resilience was put to the test as she was subjected to simulated attack runs by army bombers. Subsequently, a extensive modernization process was initiated from 1927 to 1930 with a focus on enhancing her armor, propulsion, and weaponry.

USS Nevada in drydock at Pearl Harbor in 1935.

USS Nevada In WWII

The iconic USS Nevada’s World War II service began when she was anchored alone when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor commenced on the morning of December 7, 1941.

Despite being hit by one torpedo and at least six bombs, her crew managed to get her underway and move her out of the channel, thus preventing her from becoming a blockage. However, she was ultimately grounded to prevent her from sinking. She was the only battleship to get underway during the attack.

USS Nevada beached after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

After Pearl Harbor, the Nevada was salvaged and modernized at Puget Sound Shipyard. This included new deck armor, torpedo protection, engines, anti-aircraft batteries, and radar. She returned to service in 1943.

On D-Day (June 6, 1944) USS Nevada was assigned to bombardment duty off Utah Beach, one of the key landing zones for American forces.

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Positioned about three miles offshore, she opened fire at 5:30 AM, her guns targeting specific German defensive positions that had been identified as threatening to the landing forces. These included gun emplacements, fortifications, and obstacles that needed to be destroyed or neutralized to allow the troops to land safely.

USS Nevada firing on Utah Beach.

The USS Nevada played a vital role in Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France that commenced on August 15, 1944. This operation aimed to secure vital ports and to draw German forces away from the main fighting in Northern France following the D-Day landings.

The USS Nevada’s mission was to provide naval gunfire support for the landings near Toulon and St. Raphael. She joined other Allied naval vessels in bombarding German coastal defenses, clearing the way for the landing troops.

In the Pacific Theater, the USS Nevada’s battle-hardened presence continued to be felt during the latter stages of World War II. After serving in the European Theater, the ship was transferred to the Pacific and participated in key operations, including the invasions of Iwo Jima in February 1945 and Okinawa in April 1945.

During these campaigns, the USS Nevada provided essential naval gunfire support, targeting Japanese fortifications, artillery positions, and troop concentrations. Her relentless bombardment aided in neutralizing the fiercely defended islands, allowing U.S. Marines and Army forces to make their landings and eventually capture these strategic points. The battles were intense and challenging, with Japanese resistance taking a heavy toll on Allied forces.

Operation Crossroads

Following the cessation of hostilities in World War II, rather than succumbing to oblivion like many wartime vessels, the USS Nevada was chosen for a particularly unique duty.

The Atomic Energy Commission selected this well-regarded battleship for use in an innovative series of nuclear tests, manifesting its importance despite the war’s end. Moved to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in July 1946, the Nevada was subjected to two atomic bomb tests, aptly titled “Operation Crossroads.”

These nuclear trials were designed to study the potential damage and impact that nuclear weapons might inflict on naval warships.

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The first atomic test, codenamed “Able,” dropped a bomb from a plane, but missed the intended target, the USS Nevada, painted in bright red-orange to make it visible.

USS Nevada painted orange for the Able Nuclear weapons test.

The second atomic test, codenamed “Baker,” detonated underwater and caused more significant damage. The Nevada survived both tests with considerable damage but did not sink.

Decommissioning and Fate

After Operation Crossroads, the New York Naval Shipyard decontaminated the USS Nevada and preserved some of its components for posterity. The ship was decommissioned in 1946.

However, with the residual radiation and considerable damage from the nuclear tests, the battleship was beyond repair and unfit for further service.

After a few more years in the naval reserve, the order was finally given to dispose of the legendary battleship.

The USS Nevada was towed to a point off Hawaii, where it was used for target practice by ships and naval aircraft in July 1948. Its resilience showed again as it refused to go down without a fight – it took aerial torpedoes, gunfire from ships, and an aerial bomb before she finally sank on 31 July 1948.

The remains of the USS Nevada lie approximately 65 nautical miles southwest of Pearl Harbor at a depth of 3,000 meters.

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The ship’s legacy lives on in countless photos, artifacts, and writings. Additionally, parts of the ship that were not radioactive were distributed to various locations as memorials. The ship’s bell is housed at the USS Nevada Memorial in Pearl Harbor, while a two-ton anchor is displayed at the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas. Other artifacts, including the ship’s silver service, are displayed in the Nevada Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.

Over the decades, numerous ceremonies, gatherings, and commemorations have been held to honor the ship and her gallant crew.