The USS New Mexico (BB-40), commissioned in 1917, was a notable American battleship that served with distinction through both World Wars.

Renowned for its advanced design, it represented a significant evolution in naval technology during the early 20th century.

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Design Of USS New Mexico

The New Mexico-class battleships, including the USS New Mexico, were part of the U.S. Navy’s “standard-type” battleship series, which began with the Nevada class. This design philosophy aimed to standardize various elements across different battleship classes to achieve operational uniformity. This standardization included consistent speeds, armor layout, armament, and even turning circles, ensuring that these battleships could operate together effectively as a battle line, which was the predominant naval tactic of the era.

The USS New Mexico was armed with twelve 14-inch (356 mm) guns, which were mounted in four triple turrets. This configuration was a significant advancement over earlier designs, which typically featured twin-gun turrets. The triple turret design allowed for greater firepower without significantly increasing the length of the battleship, an important consideration for both tactical maneuverability and strategic deployment capabilities. Additionally, these guns were capable of firing shells up to 22 miles (35 km), allowing the New Mexico to engage enemies at long ranges, a critical factor in naval engagements of the time.

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The armor scheme of the New Mexico was designed to provide maximum protection against shellfire from similar-caliber guns. She featured extensive belt armor, ranging up to 13.5 inches (343 mm) in thickness, designed to protect her hull against enemy fire. Additionally, her deck armor was optimized to defend against plunging fire, which was becoming a more prominent threat as naval gunnery ranges increased. The ship’s vital areas, such as ammunition magazines and engineering spaces, received additional armored protection.

USS New Mexico pictured in 1920.

One of the most significant advancements in the USS New Mexico’s design was her propulsion system. She was powered by oil-fired boilers instead of the coal-fired boilers that were common in earlier battleships. This shift to oil offered several advantages: greater energy efficiency, increased range, faster refueling, and reduced manpower requirements in the engine room. The use of oil also freed up space within the ship, as oil takes up less volume than coal for the same amount of energy produced. The New Mexico’s propulsion system enabled her to reach speeds of up to 21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph), making her competitive with contemporary battleship designs.

Her keel was laid down on 14 October, 1915 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and she was launched on 13 April, 1917.

Service History

Although the USS New Mexico was commissioned towards the end of World War I in 1918, she did not participate directly in the conflict. However, her presence as a new and modern battleship was a part of the United States’ growing naval power.

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In the immediate post-war period, she was involved in various exercises and naval demonstrations, showcasing American naval strength and technology. These activities were essential for maintaining military readiness and also served diplomatic functions, reinforcing the United States’ emerging status as a global power.

During the interwar years, the USS New Mexico was actively involved in fleet exercises and training operations. These exercises were crucial in developing the tactics and strategies that would later be employed during World War II. The period also saw the New Mexico undergoing significant modernization between 1931 and 1933.

This modernization included updates to her armament, with better fire control systems for increased accuracy, improved anti-aircraft defenses, and enhancements in armor and propulsion systems. The living conditions for the crew were also improved, reflecting the evolving standards and the importance of crew welfare in prolonged deployments.

USS New Mexico pictured in New York, 1934.

World War II saw the USS New Mexico engaged in several key operations across the Pacific, highlighting her versatility and adaptability in various combat roles.

The New Mexico was not present during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but she quickly became an active participant in the Pacific Theater following the United States’ entry into the war.

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The New Mexico was involved in the campaign to retake the Aleutian Islands, which had been occupied by Japanese forces. This campaign was part of the broader effort to secure the northern flank of the Pacific Theater and prevent further Japanese incursions into American territory.

She played a significant role in the liberation of the Philippines. Her main guns provided crucial naval gunfire support for ground troops, aiding in the successful recapture of these strategically important islands from Japanese control.

The deck of USS New Mexico littered with 14 inch shells, July 1944.

One of her most critical engagements was during the Battle of Okinawa. The New Mexico provided naval gunfire support for the invading forces and faced intense combat, including surviving a kamikaze attack. This battle was one of the bloodiest of the Pacific War and demonstrated the deadly effectiveness of Japanese kamikaze tactics.

Following the surrender of Japan, the USS New Mexico participated in Operation Magic Carpet, the massive undertaking to repatriate American military personnel from the Pacific.

Fate

The USS New Mexico was decommissioned in 1946, after nearly three decades of service.

The decommissioning of the USS New Mexico in 1946 symbolized the end of an era for battleships. With the advent of air power and later missile technology, the role of battleships in naval warfare was diminishing. The decommissioning marked a shift in naval strategy and the types of vessels that would dominate in the latter half of the 20th century.

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After decommissioning, the New Mexico was sold for scrap in 1947. While she did not become a museum ship or a memorial like some of her contemporaries, her dismantling was part of the post-war reduction of what had been an enormous wartime fleet. This fate was shared by many battleships of her era, as newer technologies and changing strategic needs led to a reevaluation of naval assets.