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West Virginia

The battleship of the Colorado class, West Virginia, was sister ship to Maryland and shared her specification. On December 7 she was moored on Battleship Row, outside Tennessee and astern of Oklahoma. Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata led 1st Torpedo Attack Unit from the carrier Akagi in the First Attack Wave. His torpedo and two more from his division struck West Virginia. Another four hit almost immediately thereafter. 4th Torpedo Attack Unithad been given the aircraft carriers that were expected to be found on the other side of Ford Island as a target, but none were there. West Virginia suffered another torpedo from that unit. The ship had immediately started to fill with water and develop a list of more than 20 degrees. Captain Mervyn Bennion (Bennion, Mervyn) gave Lieutenant Claude Ricketts permission to counter-flood the ship, keeping her upright as she settled on the harbor bottom. A bomb hitting Tennessee showered fragments over her neighbour and Bennion was fatally wounded. Mess Attendant 2nd Class Doris Miller (Miller, Doris) was summoned to help lift the captain, but ended up manning a machine gun instead. Meanwhile the damage control officer, Lieutenant Commander John Harper (Harper, John) fought to save the ship, and was forced to make some harrowing decisions in doing so.

The salvaging of the ship revealed fresh horrors. Sixty-seven dead were found. Three men had suffocated in a storeroom amongst empty ration containers and with a time-keeping system that suggested they survived until 23 December. The ship was refloated on 17 May 1942 and entered Drydock One on 9 June. She went to Puget Sound for restoration and was back in service on 4 July 1944. She served at Leyte Gulf and was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

See also: 1st Torpedo Attack Unit; 4th Torpedo Attack Unit; Akagi; Battleship Row; Bennion, Mervyn; First Attack Wave; Ford Island; Harper, John; Miller, Doris; Oklahoma; Tennessee

You can find out more about the West Virginia in the following Osprey book:

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