3 November 2022 — The Battleship Texas—A Remarkable Ship

In preparing the last installment of Sea History Today, Exploring Maritime History Through YouTube, naturally I watched a lot of videos from the maritime community. I found myself drawn in by the YouTube channel of the Battleship Texas Foundation. These folks are doing YouTube right. Their video channel of the vessel’s 2022 haulout is all you could ask for—a front-row seat to the many stages of the process: the acquisition of a dry dock for the work, the tow to Galveston, and the various steps of the restoration work, along with their hows and whys. Vice President of Ship Operations Travis Davis clearly loves the ship, and his enthusiasm shines through in every episode. And as if that weren’t enough, Tom Scott, a volunteer who works with the Battleship Texas Foundation, has a YouTube channel all his own, which takes us on tours of the nooks and crannies of the vessel, as well as explaining how various systems work, accompanied by drawings and diagrams as well as video. 

And how can you not be enthusiastic about this ship? 

photo of ship's rudder of Battleship Texas

Texas's rudder is set at 14 degrees starboard, and it's not budging. Tom Scott tells us all about the rudder, its construction, and why there won't be any attempts to straighten it. 

The battleship Texas (BB -35) was built at a cost of $5,830,000 in the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, and launched in May 1912; she was commissioned in March 1914. According to paperwork nominating her to the National Register of Historic Places, “[s]he carried ten 14-inch guns, sixteen 5-inch guns, eight 3-inch guns, assorted anti[air]craft weapons, three seaplanes launchable from a catapult, and a crew of 1,314.” USS Texas and USS New York (BB-34) were the last two American-built warships powered by reciprocating steam engines; the US Navy was already transitioning to turbine-powered ships. Texas burned coal, but could also burn oil as an auxiliary fuel. For a more in-depth look at the ship’s design and the history behind it, there is an excellent article by Capt. Walter Rybka in Sea History 31 (Spring 1984).

USS Texas (BB-35) off New York City, circa 1919. Photo: US Naval History and Heritage Command

Texas was dispatched to Mexican waters in May of 1914, supporting American troops ashore when they seized the Veracruz customs house. By the next year, she alternated between the US Atlantic Coast and the West Indies. In 1917 she underwent repairs for a month at the New York Navy Yard. She departed on 26 September, but on 27 September she ran aground off Block Island; after three days of trying to free her, tugs were brought in. When she finally appeared to budge, sailors aboard nearby USS New York were heard shouting their encouragement: “Come on, Texas!” The battle cry has stuck with her ever since. Hull damage sent her back to the yard; months later, in late January 1918, she joined the British Grand Fleet’s 6th Battle Squadron and cruised off to the British Isles. When the war ended, she was part of the honor escort with Woodrow Wilson traveling to Brest, France. In the early postwar period she saw service in the Pacific and a US Naval Academy cruise to Europe, then in 1925 she was converted to burn oil; during that overhaul her two cagemasts were removed and a high tripod foremast installed, along with advanced fire control equipment, additional armor, and antitorpedo blisters. The next eleven years were spent in the Caribbean and US Eastern Seaboard, and occasional maneuvers in the Pacific.

The second-oldest battleship in the US fleet in World War II—the oldest was the Wyoming-class USS Arkansas (BB-33), launched in January 1911—USS Texas was initially assigned to the Atlantic Squadron, and then escorted troop and supply vessels to the Panama Canal, West Africa, and Scotland. As the flagship of Adm. Monroe Kelly she took part in the Allied invasion of North Africa. She then escorted troop convoys, and later participated in the invasion of Normandy as part of the naval bombardment support group. She would later serve in the Pacific off Iwo Jima and Okinawa; then after the war she brought home 4,267 troops in three trips to Pearl Harbor. 

By September 1945, Texas had been included on the list of ships destined for target practice or the scrapyard. Texas congressional representatives Lyndon B. Johnson and Albert Thomas pressed Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal to spare the aging battleship, and he agreed to do so: he would offer her to the state of Texas, provided that the state agree to maintain her. Looking at a hefty price tag, Governor Coke Stevenson let it be known that he would accept custody of the ship only if private funds could pay the $225,000 needed to construct a berth and cover one year of maintenance; that would be about $3.5 million today. The fundraising campaign lasted until spring of 1948, and such notables as Admiral Chester Nimitz, Secretary Forrestal, and actors Linda Darnell and Dana Andrews encouraged donors big and small to chip in to bring the ship to Houston. She was officially decommissioned and presented to the state on 21 April 1948, installed at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.

In dry dock at last. Galveston, 2022. Photo courtesy Gr8wizard via Wikimedia Commons.

In 2019 the Battleship Texas Foundation announced that the ship’s position at the State Historic Site couldn’t be sustained. The hull was seriously deteriorating, and the approximately 80,000 visitors annually simply didn’t generate enough revenue to cover even the $2 million required for her yearly upkeep, much less the additional needed restoration work. While she is in Galveston receiving TLC, the foundation will be looking for a new home, hopefully a location with the potential visitor traffic to allow the ship to pay her way. We hope that she is able to tell her story to many generations yet to come.


Sea History Today is written by Shelley Reid, NMHS senior staff writer. Past issues can be read online by clicking here.

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