USS Washington (BB-56), the second of two battleships in the North Carolina class, was the third ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the 42nd state. Her keel was laid down on 14 June 1938, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Launched on 1 June 1940, Washington went through fitting-out before being commissioned on 15 May 1941, with Captain Howard H. J. Benson in command. In early 1942, Washington and twenty other American ships were the first to be equipped with fully operational radar. Washington suffered no losses to hostile action during the entire course of the war, although she had some close calls: she was almost hit by "Long Lance" torpedoes off Guadalcanal, and was hit once by enemy ordnance, a 5-inch shell that passed through her radar antenna without detonation.
In 1942, she was sent to the North Atlantic to fill in for British ships that had been redeployed around Madagascar to counter possible Japanese attacks across the Indian Ocean. She was assigned to guard against a possible sortie by the German battleship Tirpitz, and to provide distant cover for several Iceland–Murmansk convoys. In July 1942, she returned to the United States for an overhaul before being deployed to the Pacific in August for action against Imperial Japan, where she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Willis Augustus Lee. Two months after her arrival at Tonga in September 1942, Washington was tasked with intercepting a Japanese naval task force near Guadalcanal along with South Dakota and four destroyers. In the ensuing battle, South Dakota was severely damaged, but Washington sustained almost no damage while her guns sank the battleship Kirishima and critically damaged the destroyer Ayanami, leading to her scuttling later that night. Washington operated as an escort for aircraft carrier task forces for most of 1943, and then bombarded Nauru in December in company with five other battleships. Around dawn on 1 February 1944, Washington rammed the battleship Indiana and incurred several fatalities when the latter was maneuvering across the formation to refuel destroyers. With around 60 feet (18 m) of her bow heavily damaged, Washington was forced to retire. The Pearl Harbor shipyards fitted the battleship with a temporary bow; a full restoration had to wait until the ship docked in the Puget Sound Navy Yard.
Washington arrived back in the war zone only in mid-1944. She took part in bombarding Saipan and Tinian before joining the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where the Japanese Combined Fleet's aircraft were decisively defeated by American sea-based fighters and anti-aircraft fire. For the rest of the war, Washington alternated between shore bombardment and carrier escort, including direct support in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. On 1 July 1945, the battleship headed for the United States for a badly needed overhaul. She entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard and did not emerge until October, after the end of the war. She sailed to Philadelphia, participating in Navy Day celebrations there, before her assignment to Operation Magic Carpet, the withdrawal of American military personnel from overseas deployments. Washington was decommissioned on 27 June 1947, stricken on 1 June 1960, and sold for scrapping on 24 May 1961.
USS Washington BB-56 FH T-shirt
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