World of Warships Museum is back again, bringing you everything you need to know about the hottest new ships as they hit the waves. This time we have an all-American classic that’ll make you want to take a ride through the winding country roads of her namesake: West Virginia. But this ship is not all country music and baseball. VI W. Virginia 1941, known affectionately as ‘WeeVee’ by her crew, rose like a phoenix in the face of catastrophic loss, and went on to play a key role in the largest naval battle in modern history.
To start off, let’s head to the Newport News shipyard in (east) Virginia and see how the ship was designed…
With her distinct profile, having a high freeboard and a compact superstructure, USS West Virginia looks like a floating castle, which is not at all coincidental. This ship and the other two Colorado-class battleships are prime examples of super-dreadnoughts: the culmination of the intense naval arms race surrounding the First World War, that saw battleships around the globe getting larger and larger by the year.
The Colorado-class battleships were for the most part based on the existing Tennessee-class in appearance and propulsion. The two large “cage” masts used for fire control and spotting for the ship’s guns gave West Virginia her characteristic American dreadnought battleship silhouette. Apart from slightly thicker belt armor, there was one other major difference that would set them apart: a main battery of eight 16-inch (406 mm) guns, instead of the twelve 14-inch (356 mm) rifles on the previous class. However, anti-aircraft protection at the time of her completion was rather light. When West Virginia was thoroughly modernized during World War II, the AA complement would be the focus for improvement, and for this reason the appearance of the ship changed radically, as two funnels turned to one, masts disappeared, and the superstructure was concentrated into a central block. All of this was to give the anti-aircraft defenses better angles of fire.
Main Armament: eight 16-inch (406 mm) guns in four twin turrets—two fore and two aft. These were the protagonists of the Colorado class and the main motivation behind its conception. Designed in 1913, these were the first American naval guns of this caliber to go into use. The muzzle velocity of this gun’s AP shells was 792 meters per second. Without air drag, an object traveling at this speed would be able to travel from New York City to Philadelphia in just 2.5 minutes.
After a turbulent construction period, surrounded by uncertainty created by the negotiation of the Washington Naval Treaty, she was spared the scrapyard and commissioned into the US Navy in late 1923. With Japanese-American relations quickly deteriorating, West Virginia sailed for the Pacific to shore up the US military’s deterrent force, performing a number of training exercises out of Pearl Harbor through 1941. On December 7th, the day of the Japanese air raid on the US Pacific fleet, West Virginia was moored right in the center of the infamous “Battleship Row”: the cluster of warships that took the brunt of the Japanese attack. West Virginia received a total of seven torpedo hits, with six of them exploding, tearing large holes in her port side and dislodging her rudder, along with any chance of evasive action. The quick counter-flooding measures taken by the ship’s damage control crews prevented her from capsizing and suffering the fate of USS Oklahoma, moored just in front of her. However, despite damage control parties staying aboard the blazing ship for nine hours after the attack, she could not be saved from sinking to the bottom of the shallow harbor.
Five months later, through a marvel of engineering, workers managed to patch, drain and raise West Virginia back to the surface, after which she was sent back to the mainland for an extensive refit and modernization. This began with the removal of nearly everything except the main battery guns, hull, and engine systems. The result was practically a new ship, with stronger anti-aircraft defense, added torpedo protection, and a vastly simplified superstructure. ‘WeeVee’ was finally ready to bring the fight back to the Japanese Navy in Summer 1944, and bring the fight she did.
Later that year she was sent to aid in the ongoing ‘Island hopping’ offensive as it inched closer to the Japanese mainland. West Virginia participated in what would be the largest naval battle of the war, leading the US battleship formation at the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. In the dead of night, West Virginia’s radar picked up the position of the Japanese division—Fuso-class battleship Yamashiro, cruiser Mogami, and one destroyer—at nearly 40 km as it advanced through the Surigao Strait. 36 minutes later, West Virginia opened fire, scoring a direct hit on battleship Yamashiro with her first salvo at 20 km. The American fleet cut off the Japanese formation’s advance and won a decisive victory.
After the battle for the Philippines, she made full use of her massive 16-inch guns to bombard Japanese army positions on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, softening the beachheads for the landing of US troops. West Virginia was present at the signing of the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay, making her witness to both the beginning and the end of the war.
Recreating West Virginia
- The 406 mm caliber of your main battery will be difficult for your opponent to shrug off at this tier. Your guns will be able to outmatch the bow armor of many battleships, making it viable to punish their advance.
- West Virginia can launch a spotting aircraft for extra range, enabling you to comfortably pick your fights as you see fit before slipping back into concealment.
- She has the same Colorado-class armor pattern, adopting the all-or-nothing approach. Thick 343 mm (13.5-inch) plating effectively protects your citadel, enabling you to easily angle against incoming projectiles.