(Pensacola, FL; May 25, 2023) –The former USS Texas (BB 35) is getting the makeover to end all makeovers!
Texas is a New York-class battleship and the only known United States warship still afloat that served in both world wars. Commissioned in 1914, Texas was constructed during a time of rapid advances in naval architecture and weaponry. The Navy built a series of two-ship battleship classes because technology was advancing with startling rapidity. In fact, things were moving so fast that Texas and her kind weren’t expected to serve more than maybe ten years before being scrapped.
Well, it’s been 109 years and Texas is still here.
Following the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917, Texas assisted Britain’s Grand Fleet by escorting convoys. This protected the vital supply lines from German U-boat attacks, ensuring critical war material reached our Allies. She was even with the Grand Fleet when it sailed to meet the German fleet during the German surrender in 1918.
Texas’ service time should have ended in the 1920s, but the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty upended this plan and ensured Texas survived to fight in another world war. The treaty limited signatories’ naval programs, meaning new battleships couldn’t be built, but older ones could be upgraded. Thus, a number of ‘dreadnoughts’ (the term for pre-World War I battleships) in our Navy got service life extensions.
Texas most famously supported the 1944 D-Day invasion at Normandy. The ‘Might T’ nearly grounded herself (along with several destroyers) getting close enough to shore so that she could bombard stronger-than-expected German positions on Omaha Beach. This prevented the collapse of the Allied effort in that sector, and we all know how D-Day turned out in the end!
The ship was decommissioned in 1948 and was donated to the state of Texas that same year. Texas became one of the first designated museum ships from the Second World War, and the first large-deck museum ship of them all. Lessons learned from her provided the know-how to maintain later WWII museum ships such as the battleships Alabama and Wisconsin.
I first visited Texas at her (old) permanent berth in San Jacinto back in November of 2018. Although the berthing secured the ship against the forces of Gulf Coast hurricanes, the isolated location meant the Battleship Texas Foundation had trouble raising money to maintain the ship. Talk began floating around the waterfront that Texas might have to be scrapped before she collapsed into the water…unless major repairs of this national treasure could be undertaken in a dry dock.
The Battleship Texas Foundation worked for several years to raise money and find dry dock space. The state, foundation, and Gulf Copper Dry Dock & Rig Repair reached a win-win-win solution. Gulf Copper purchased a dry dock damaged when it tried to lift a cruise ship that was too big. The dock was towed to Galveston where Gulf Copper repaired it for use in Texas’ restoration. Once Texas is refloated, Gulf Copper can then service larger vessels, meaning an economic boost for the Galveston area.
The state and foundation achieved the final part of the ‘win-win-win’ both by securing the relocation of the ship to a new home in the state; a new home that’ll guarantee more foot traffic (which, in turn, generates more revenue for maintenance and upkeep). The final city has yet to be announced, so stay tuned…
The Battleship Texas Foundation is helping to raise awareness and rmoney by offering tours of the dry dock on Sundays (the shipyard doesn’t have a lot major work happening on Sundays).
My first time at a dry dock was watching the island superstructure being lowered into place aboard the then-under-construction USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) back in 2017. My first time in a dry dock was at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington in 2019. I was under the submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) during the testing of a hull-crawling robot for inspections. Being underneath the curving hull of the 353-foot-long, 8,000+ ton Connecticut was one thing.
Being underneath the broad hull of the 573-foot-long, 27,000-ton Texas was quite another!
The ship is in surprisingly good shape for a century-old battleship, Her internal structure is largely intact. The primary threat is the corrosion of her hull plating and external members. Numbers are chalked all over the bottom of the ship, each of which denotes the thickness of that particular piece of hull. These measurements are critical for the engineers to know what steel needs replacement, and what steel simply needs cleaning.
The restoration effort affords visitors more unique experiences than simply walking underneath this giant ship’s centerline to touch her hull. The removal of the highly corroded ‘torpedo blisters’ that were added in the 1920s (literally blisters that expanded the outer hull to provide a cushion softening the detonation of torpedoes) allows her original outer hull—and its riveted construction—to be seen. Visitors can even see and touch the ship’s keel, that mythic, central spine of all surface ships.
The removal of the corroded portion of the torpedo blisters also resulted in the discovery of items lost to history. These mainly consist of discharge ports that were rerouted after the addition of the blisters in the ’20s, but the discovery of the original valves and ports marks a significant advancement in understanding the ship’s architecture.
Texas is expected to be drydocked until the end of August, but the foundation is working with the Texas legislature to extend that until December. This would allow a great deal more work to be completed while allowing the foundation and state more time to sort through the cities that are bidding to be the battleship’s new home. If this ‘December Deal’ can be done, it’s another win-win.
The battleship Texas is a unique Navy artifact. The ship is the only known battleship of the early 20th century’s Dreadnought era still afloat, here or anywhere in the world. The ‘Mighty T’ was designed and built to serve for about ten years, with her scrapping expected by 1930. However, two world wars intervened to give her several new leases on life, both in the Navy and as a museum. The ship is certainly one of the toasts of my native Texas, and her story isn’t anywhere near completed yet!
Visit the Battleship Texas Foundation at: https://battleshiptexas.org/
Check out my video on this topic at: https://youtu.be/SdLyr-0_ZpA
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