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Battleships & World War II

World War II began in Europe in 1939. The United States was trying to remain neutral, while protecting her shipping. It was in this atmosphere that the Atlantic Squadron was renamed on Nov. 1, 1940, to more accurately describe the mission given it by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Atlantic Squadron became the Patrol Force, US Fleet, which was further reorganized into type commands: Battleships, Patrol Force; Cruisers, Patrol Force; Destroyers, Patrol Force; and, Train, Patrol Force (the logistics arms).The Patrol Force organization was short lived.

The opening of hostilities in Europe in September 1939 spurred the rebuilding of the Navy's battleship forces. With the fall of France and England standing alone, the possibility of American involvement in the war saw the US Navy again split into two separate Pacific and Atlantic fleets. On December 7th, 1941, eight of the Navy's battleships were sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. Six of these were subsequently repaired and returned to service.

Supporters of air power argued that the battleship as the principal capital ship of the navy was obsolete because of the long reach of naval aircraft. This view was strengthened early in World War II when the British carried out a carrier strike on the Italian battle fleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940. Subsequent Japanese carrier strikes on the American battlefleet at Pearl Harbor and airstrikes from land based aircraft on the British ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse confirmed the new order of naval strategy.

The nature of the war in the Pacific altered the battleship's role forever. The Battle of Midway showed that it was no longer necessary for battlewagons to stand toe-to-toe and slug it out in the contest for supremacy at sea. But battleships performed a number of vital tasks during World War II: from escorting convoys to providing anti-air defense to providing necessary gunfire support to troops ashore.

The Second World War brought another mission, shore-bombardment, in which the fire of heavy guns was precisely directed against enemy facilities ashore, to pave the way for invasion or to simply destroy war-making potential. While the rise of the aircraft carrier forever altered naval strategy it did not totally eclipse the importance of the battleship. In both the Atlantic and the Pacific, old American battleships carried out extensive bombardments on enemy held shores while new generations of fast American battleships escorted aircraft carriers and provided them with a dense thicket of antiaircraft fire when necessary.

Both old and new American battleships saw heavy service during the war, providing cover for other ships and eventually bombarding the Japanese home islands in 1945. When the war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945, the surrender of the Japanese was signed on board the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Harbor. Although replaced by the aircraft carrier as the principal capital ship of the navy, the battleship saw important and useful service during World War II, and contributed to the eventual American victory.

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