The first United States Navy (USN) vessel to carry the namesake of the State of New Mexico was USS New Mexico (BB-40). The battleship led the three strong New Mexico-class of warships, joining her sister ships USS Mississippi (BB-41) and USS Idaho (BB-42). Her keel was laid down on October 14th, 1915 and she was launched on April 13th, 1917. Commissioned on May 20th, 1918, the vessel was too late in arriving to serve in World War 1 and saw her ocean-going career written in the later decades. She proudly served during World War 2 in many of the major Pacific Campaigns where she would earn a total of six Battle Stars for her service. She was known by the nickname of "Queen".
New Mexico's profile was dominated by the high-reaching bridge superstructure and a pair of masts. The mass of the primary superstructure sat ahead of the single smoke funnel set at midships. A second mast was fitted aft of the funnel. Four primary turrets were featured in her design, two forward and two aft the superstructure. In all other qualities, New Mexico adopted many features already proven by warships prior. Her crew complement numbered 1,084 personnel and her dimensions included a length of 624 feet, a beam of 97 feet, and a draught of 30 feet with a displacement of 32,000 tons.
However, USS New Mexico was unlike her sister ships in one key quality - she originally featured a General Electric turbo-electric drive transmission arrangement, making her "electrically propelled" instead of the usual direct-drive systems then in use. The arrangement offered more power output with far less space required for the machinery. However, the propulsion system also utilized more fuel than normal and a single switch room managed all of the require connections - certainly flaws in any warship requiring range and survivability. New Mexico could make headway at 21 knots.
Her armament suite centered around 12 x 14" (360mm) /50 caliber main guns with three guns fitted to four primary turrets. Two turrets were seated ahead of the bridge superstructure and two seated aft. This was then supported in broadside actions by 14 x 5" (127mm) /51 caliber gun turrets seated about the decks and sides of the vessel. As was common with warships of the period, New Mexico also fielded 2 x 21" (530mm) torpedo tubes. Armor protection saw up to 343mm thickness at the belt with 330mm featured at the barbettes and as much as 457mm at the turret faces. The conning tower carried 292mm armor protection with the decks armor up to 89mm from plunging fire.
Too late to see combat service in World War 1, New Mexico completed her sea trials and served as support to the naval contingent carrying American President Woodrow Wilson and his entourage to Brest, France for the Versailles Peace Conference during January of 1919. She became the official flagship of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in July of that year and various voyages greeted the vessel throughout the 1920s.
In March of 1931, New Mexico entered a Philadelphia shipyard to undergo modernization which lasted until January of 1933. She lost her unique, but flawed, turbo-electric arrangement and took on a more traditional geared steam turbine configuration instead. Her defense was improved with additional 5" guns and the original cage masts were replaced by more modern installations, her bridge superstructure completely revised. Her susceptibility to torpedo attacks was improved as her hull was bulged at midships. The work added some 1,100 tons to her displacement but made her all the more modern with another World War looming on the horizon. USS New Mexico returned to Pacific waters for 1934.
As tensions in the Pacific with the Empire of Japan and the United States mounted, New Mexico was called to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for 1940. She work from here until May 1941 to which then she joined the Atlantic Fleet at Norfolk for patrolling actions during June of that year as the situation in Europe was deteriorating rapidly under the Axis expansion. On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese unleashed their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, leaving the harbor in ruins but failing to deliver the critical blow to U.S. naval operations in the Pacific. USS New Mexico departed the East Coast on December 10th and headed for the Pacific.
In May of 1942, her 5" guns were removed and she took on additional anti-aircraft protection to help counter Japanese warplanes which served in great numbers. During March of 1943, she supported a troop convoy headed to Fiji and, after that, she took on patrolling duties in the Pacific before returning to Pearl. From there, she supported actions on the Alaskan Aleutian Islands chain which fell under attack by the Japanese. She was part of the blockade action at Attu and fired her guns on positions on Kiska in July. She then returned to Puget Sound Naval Yard in Washington state for refit.
USS New Mexico then made it back to Pearl for October 1943 and prepared for the Gilbert Islands offensive which began the following month. Her guns fell on enemy positions on Makin Atoll while supporting troop transports and carrier groups while providing air defense from aerial attacks.
During 1944, New Mexico took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea from June 19th to June 20th, marking another turning point for the Americans in the Pacific campaign. Escort duty then followed until July 12th when her guns lit up Guam to prepare for the amphibious assault. She attacked enemy positions there until July 30th and further provided air defense during the actual ground assault. From August to October, New Mexico entered another period of refit, this time at Bremerton, Washington.
In 1945, she participated in the invasion of Luzon, Philippines and provided the usual offshore bombardment services as well as air defense. However, the Japanese tactics by this time grew desperate and kamikaze suicide strikes proved a more common weapon. New Mexico took a direct kamikaze hit on January 6th which killed 31 (including the commanding officer) and injured 87. The action did not knock her out of the war though she was withdrawn for repairs at Pearl soon after.
Once the work was completed, New Mexico was back in action and supported the invasion of Okinawa beginning on March 26th, 1945. She continued offshore bombardment and air defense during this sortie. On May12th, she fell victim to two more kamikaze strikes which left 54 dead and 119 injured while anchored at Hagushi. This then forced repairs at Leyte but, while in Saipan (Philippine Sea), the word of the Japanese surrender rang out on August 15th. She then joined the occupation force at Okinawa before arriving at Sagami Wan of Honshu Japan on August 27th. She was present at the Tokyo Bay surrender ceremony on September 2nd.
On September 6th, New Mexico made her way to Boston by way of Okinawa, Pearl, and the Panama Canal. She was decommissioned on July 19th, 1946, her service no longer needed in the worldwide military drawdown. Her name was struck from the register in February of the following year and her design eventually stripped of all useful components while her hulk was sold to the scrapman on November 9th, 1947.
USS New Mexico (BB-40); USS Mississippi (BB-41); USS Idaho (BB-42)
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Offshore bombardment / attack of surface targets / areas primarily through onboard ballistic weaponry.
Offshore strike of surface targets primarily through onboard missile / rocket weaponry.
Active patroling of vital waterways and maritime areas; can also serve as local deterrence against airborne and seaborne threats.
✓Airspace Denial / Deterrence
Neutralization or deterrence of airborne elements through onboard ballistic of missile weaponry.
Serving in support (either firepower or material) of the main surface fleet in Blue Water environments.
✓Flag Ship / Capital Ship
Serving in the fleet Flag Ship role or Capital Ship in older warship designs / terminology.
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