The USS Texas is now berthed near the San Jacinto Monument. She is second of the New York ship class, which consisted of only two ships, the USS New York and the USS Texas. The New York Class (1908-1914) was characterized as being more heavily armed than the previous Wyoming Class. They were the first battleships to use 14 inch/45 caliber guns. This particular gun was used on the Nevada- and Pennsylvania Class ships. The ships of the New York Class were also powered by coal and had five gun turrets when first built. Some of the above was changed during overhauls and retrofitting, including her conversion from coal to diesel power.
(Image credit: tpwd.texas.gov)
Construction was begun at Newport News, Virginia on April 17, 1911. Thirteen months later, she was launched on May 18, 1912. She was commissioned on March 18, 1914 and decommissioned thirty-four years later on April 21, 1948. When she was launched, her displacement was 27,000 tons. She was 573 feet long and had a width of 106 feet at the beam and could achieve a speed of 21 knots.
One of her first duties as a war ship was to support a United States expedition to seize a custom house in Veracruz, Mexico in 1914. President Woodrow Wilson had been inaugurated in March, 1913. The Mexican Revolution was underway at the time and, reversing the previous administration’s position, Wilson believed that an arms embargo could encourage the warring parties parties to seek a cease fire. Wilson also declined to recognize Victoriano Huerta who had assumed the Mexican presidency over Francisco Madero and had also had Madero killed. Madero had previously taken control from dictator Porfirio Diaz. Huerta attempted to arm his troops but found existing inventory and production to be inadequate, so he ordered more from abroad, including Germany and Japan. This was unsuccessful, so Huerta then attempted to obtain black market arms. Over a period of months, the United States attempted to influence a cease fire by diplomatic means, but was unsuccessful in doing so and began dialogue with the Constitutionalists in the north of Mexico and the Zapatistas in the south.
An incident (the Dolphin Incident) in which United States sailors were arrested and briefly detained in Mexico was cited as having provoked the United States to take action. Wilson sought for and received approval from the United States Congress to use force against Mexico. Wilson enforced an embargo and authorized military action in Tampico and Veracruz where United States interests were concentrated and which also were the main ports used to export Mexican oil production. An invasionary force landed at Veracruz and battled with a number of Mexican forces primarily consisting of Mexican naval cadets and local citizens. There was loss of life on both sides. The attack did not achieve the effect that Wilson had expected and was denounced even by Huerta’s opponents. Wilson was not anxious to continue and the United States participated in a peace conference at Niagara Falls, Canada to resolve the conflict. Wilson later authorized an unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa after the bandit crossed the United States border and attacked a military encampment in Columbus, New Mexico, but once again, not wanting to engage Mexico in extended hostilities with a world war looming on the horizon, the matter was allowed to fade away.
Before the United States’ entry into World War I, the USS Texas was used to train gun crews for several months in 1917 and then was made part of the British Battle Squadron in 1918, actively serving until the surrender of the German fleet in November, 1918.
Following the end of her duties in World War I, she served in peacetime in the Atlantic and Pacific. She was engaged in convoy protection from the beginning of World War II until the United States officially entered the war. Prior to the allied invasion of Europe at Normandy, her wartime duties included being deployed to Britain, North Africa and more convoy duty in the Atlantic. Beginning with the D-Day invasion in early June, 1944, she bombarded the French coastline at Murrain, Trevieres and Cherbourg while taking two hits from German long guns on the shore. The first struck the control tower causing one fatality and numerous injuries. A second shell struck the port bow, but fortunately it failed to explode. She continued to fire her guns until she retired in the afternoon of June 15, 1944 and sailed to Plymouth, England for repairs.
Once back in service one month later, she supported the allied invasion of southern France, being stationed offshore at St. Tropez and remained near France until the middle of August when she returned to New York for more repairs which took three months. She then sailed to Pearl Harbor, reaching Pearl in December, 1944. After a few weeks and resupplying at Ulithi, she set out for Iwo Jima where she participated in the bombardment of the island before the invasion. After resupplying again at Ulithi, she sailed for Okinawa where she again participated in the bombardment prior to its invasion and remained on station for another two months in support of it. After this duty, she sailed for the Philippines in May, 1945 where she anchored offshore at Leyte and was lying there when the war ended. Following the war’s end, she made several circuits across the Pacific to transfer troops back to the United States.
She was decommissioned in 1948 after which she was removed to San Jacinto where she became a floating museum. In history, this great warship was the third to carry the name Texas. The first was an ironclad ram built for service in the Confederate Navy and became a ship in the U. S. Navy in 1865. The second USS Texas was launched June 28, 1892 and served as a battleship until she was decommissioned February 11, 1911 to make way for the ship of this current discussion. The fourth USS Texas is a nuclear cruiser commissioned in 1975.
The USS Texas has needed repairs many times since she became a museum, most recently being closed to fix leaks that had developed after Hurricane Harvey. The most recent and perhaps the most ambitious plan is to provide for a dry berth. She is currently under the care of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and in 2008, the Texas Legislature appropriated $25 million to begin the project with the goal being to design, construct and accomplish a new berth for her adjacent to the current location next to the San Jacinto Battleground. Additional funding has been pledged by the Battleship Texas Foundation.
In 1958 on the tenth anniversary of her decommissioning, a ceremony was held at the San Jacinto Battleground on the 122nd anniversary of the famous Texas victory over Santa Anna. Speakers included Texas Governor Price Daniel and Assistant Secretary of Labor of the United States John J. Gilhooly. Governor Daniel ceremonially recommissioned the ship as the flagship of the Texas Navy. Gilhooly then read a statement from President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gilhooly, who served on the ship first as a radio officer and then as assistant communications officer during World War II, also praised the ship as “a symbol of the hope and liberty that has always stirred Texans.”
Thousands of sailors have served aboard the USS Texas during her duty. One was Captain Elmer L. Woodside who joined the Navy in 1909. Capt. Woodside came aboard when she was commissioned in 1914 and during his career served aboard her five different times, while rising in rank from ensign to captain. In a 1946 newspaper interview in the Miami (Oklahoma) Daily Record Woodside said, “She’s a grand old ship. There’s something I can’t get out of my blood. You know, a sailor loves his ship – and the Texas is still mine – even though I am no longer aboard.”
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