As awe-inspiring as it may be silhouetted in the Mobile Bay, there’s something you have to understand about the 680-foot, 35,600-ton USS Alabama* — part of the finest fast battleship class ever made — it could have been much bigger and much nastier, like the later Iowa class battleships. But, she was plenty nasty.
The last of four vessels constructed in the South Dakota class of fast battleships, the Alabama was built between 1940 and 1942 in compliance with the now-expired 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, which had been intended to slow down a global naval arms race (such as the one between the HM Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy that had already led to the Thucydides Trap underlying World War One.)
But, what the Alabama sacrificed in the sheer size of say the Iowa and the Japanese Yamamota class of super battleships, it made up for with speed, maneuverability, and rows upon rows of armaments bristling from the deck like a porcupine. By the end of World War II and all several rounds of subsequent retrofitting, the USS Alabama was a killing machine.
Part of America’s blue water naval strategy, the Alabama was built to take on Nazis headfirst in the icy North Atlantic, and to ultimately wage war upon the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean — capturing Japan’s Yamamoto capital ships.
The Alabama was capable of traveling a top speed of 31.6 mpg at 130,000 hp, cruising for 17,000 miles at 17 mph. It had twenty 5-inch secondary gun turrets clustered in pairs along either side of midship; it had nine 16-inch Mark VI main guns, clustered in three turrets.
And while nine guns doesn’t sound too threatening, please understand the Mark VI gun itself weighed 178,000 pounds, and could launch a projectile weighing 2700 pounds a distance of 23 miles:
The Alabama had seven quadruple 40-inch antiaircraft guns, surrounded by first-35-then-later-42 separate 20mm antiaircraft guns. The Alabama had 12.2” of armor plating at critical points of the infrastructure — and no less 6.6” of steel anywhere else. It had been fitted with firing radar that, by war’s end, had been upgraded on no less than three occasions. It was also one of the rare vessels of
the US fleet capable of jamming radar. And, in its compact space, the Alabama housed three floatplanes for recon, and two catapults to vault them into the sky. Throw in its 2500 sailors and seamen, and you have a vessel capable of overthrowing a small nation all by itself.
The effect of these battleships when given the green light to kick some ass? Simply awesome.
The Alabama wasn’t quite as decorated at the leadship of Battle Group 58 — Battleship X, the South Dakota — but she neverthless saw plenty of action, first as a protector of Atlantic Russian vessels, then later as the flagship for Adm. Hanson’s Battleship Division 9. BG9 was part of the US Fast Carrier Task Force, which guarded US carriers during the Battle of Okinawa, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaigns, the Philippines campaign, the Palua and Guam invasions, and the largest naval battle in history — the decisive Battle of Leyte Gulf. And, the Alabama did all this in a span of five years.
She was retired in 1962 and destined for the scrapyard in 1964. But, after public outcry and a subsequent fundraising campaign, the Alabama was designated a museum ship and now sits vigilantly in the Gulf harbor of the state for whom she is named.
If you can’t get to Mobile, or have never seen the Alabama up close, this World of Warships episode on the Alabama is outstanding....And, I devoutly wish I had found it before spending two hours researching and writing this up. LOL.
Ed. Note: I’ve used standard ‘Murican units herein, rather than metric and naval units like kW, km, long tons, displacement tons, knots etc. The point is to hopefully entertain and convey information, not send everyone scrambling to their calculators.
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