USS Wyoming — past, present and future

Dec. 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy,” was the scene of a devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu by forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy. This attacked plunged the United States into World War II.

Prelude to Attack

On Nov. 26, 1941, a Japanese task force consisting of six aircraft carriers — Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, Zuikaku, including various support ships, five Type A midget submarines and 420 planes — departed from Hitokappu Bay in the Kurile Island chain en route to attack positions off Hawaii.

The 3,500-mile voyage to designated staging areas 230 miles northwest of the Hawaiian island of Oahu was largely uneventful. The Japanese sailed without radar or reconnaissance planes overhead attempting all means to avoid detection.

At the time, the U.S. was a neutral country, but the Japanese viewed America as potentially hostel, interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia and overseas protectorates of the United Kingdom, Netherlands and U.S. territories.

As Peter Harris, an assistant professor of political science at Colorado State University, wrote in 2017, the attack dramatically altered U.S. foreign relations, “sidelining isolationism as a powerful force in domestic politics and making overseas engagement the accepted norm.”

The First Shot

While most remember the Japanese attack at the beginning of World War II, the first American shot was fired by the destroyer USS Ward, who fired and sunk a Japanese midget submarine that was trying to sneak into Pearl.

Unfortunately, the reports from the Ward were discounted by U.S. Navy high command as being unreliable and did not warrant raising the threat level.

The Ward was commanded Lt. William Outerbridge, who had been in the Navy for 14 years and had only taken command of his ship less than 24 hours before the attack on Pearl. Regardless, prior to the attack on Dec. 7, U.S. intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese were going to attack, but no knew where.

Military brass and the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt dismissed Outerbridge’s reports as a minor incident.

Dec. 7, 1941, 7:48 a.m. – Sunday morning

The Japanese strike force consisting of 353 aircraft including fighters, low and high level dive bombers, and planes carrying a specialized aerial torpedo equipped with wooden fins — the Type 91 — that was designed to be effective in shallow harbors.

At the time of the attack almost the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet was moored in Pearl Harbor, and hundreds of airplanes were parked side-by-side on adjacent airfields in order to protect them from terrorist activities.

One capital ship, the USS Wyoming, probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the outcome of the day, but it didn’t have the opportunity to contribute, because it wasn’t at Pearl.

A decade earlier the USS Wyoming was stripped of its war fighting capabilities and became a training vessel sailing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Had the USS Wyoming been moored at Pearl Harbor and ready for action it would have packed a formidable punch.

It bristled with 12 (12-inch) guns spread throughout six twin turrets. To support the main battery, the Wyoming had 21 (5-inch) guns in addition to 2 (21-inch) torpedo tubes. For defense, its main armor belt was 11-inches thick.

The 26,000-ton USS Wyoming was launched on May 25, 1910. It was 562 feet in length and with its 28,000 horsepower turbine engines it could make a top speed of 23.6 mph.

Still, after the attack on Pearl Harbor the USS Wyoming never played a combat role in the Pacific Theater.

The Cost of Pearl Harbor

The attack at Pearl killed 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, wounded nearly 1,200 and destroyed or damaged 19 American naval vessels, eight battleships, more 300 airplanes and a great deal of the port’s facilities including several dry docks.

Every battleship at Pearl Harbor — USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Utah, USS Maryland, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee and the USS Nevada — had sustained significant damage. All but Arizona and Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired.

Japanese losses were light with 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost.

Some estimates put the enemy number killed at 64 while other reports say it could have been as high as 129. Out of all the Japanese ships that participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor only one, the destroyer Ushio survived the war.

The attack happened in two waves.

It took the Japanese little more than two hours to complete their mission. A third wave had been planned, but was canceled in part because fuel was running low and the uncertainty of the location of the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet which was out on maneuvers, and not in port, at the time of the attack.

The Inspiration for the Attack on Pearl Harbor

The revered Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto conceived the attack on Pearl Harbor attack with the brilliant naval tactician Capt. Minoru Genda planning the raid.

Two things motivated Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor idea: a prophetic book “The Great Pacific War,” written in 1925 by Hector Bywater, a British naval expert.

The book discussed a hypothetical future war between Japan and the United States. The novel accurately predicted a number of real-world details including the Japanese destruction of the U.S. fleet at Pearl and attacks on Guam and the Philippine Islands.

When Britain’s Royal Air Force successfully attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto on Nov. 11, 1940, Yamamoto was convinced that Bywater’s fiction could become reality.

It was here that the planned attacks across the Pacific in 1941 including Pearl Harbor were born.

The USS Wyoming,

A History

For nearly two centuries scores of intrepid mariners, dating from the mid-1800s braved violent storms including the first ship named after Wyoming with other similar namesake ships fending off U-Boat attacks in the north Atlantic during World War II and others being lost at sea with no sign of ship or seamen ever seen again.

The first USS Wyoming — a wooden hulled steam-powered sloop launched in 1859 — was not named after the state, but after the Wyoming Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania where a significant Revolutionary War battle took place.

The Battle of Wyoming — also known as the Wyoming Massacre — was an encounter between American patriots and British loyalists who were accompanied by Native American Iroquois raiders.

On July 3, 1778, more than 300 U.S. patriots were killed in the battle. After the battle, settlers claimed that the Iroquois had hunted and killed fleeing patriots before torturing 30 to 40 who had surrendered.

Wyoming verses Japan — Yet Another War

In 1863, another Wyoming was confronted with ships from the Empire of Japan in the Straits of Shimonoseki off of the coast of Honshu, Japan.

The Wyoming was sent to protect American treaty rights in the Western Pacific.

On July 16, 1863, under the command of Commodore David Stockton McDougal, the Wyoming sailed into the strait and single-handedly engaged the U.S.-built but poorly manned Japanese fleet.

McDougal engaged the Japanese for almost two hours before withdrawing. The Wyoming sank two enemy vessels, damaged a third and inflicted 40 Japanese casualties.

The Wyoming suffered considerable damage with four crew members dead and seven wounded.

On Oct. 30, 1882, the Wyoming was decommissioned.

Next in Line

The second ship to formally bear the name USS Wyoming was christened in 1900 in honor of the 44th state to join the Union.

The steam-powered iron clad monitor was launched from the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. The ship was armed with a main battery of two (12-inch) guns and four (4-inch) guns along with three (2.2-inch) 6-pounders.

“It was kind of state of the art at the time, but it was used for coastal defense only,” said writer and “chief cook and bottle washer,” Geoff Dobson for Wyoming Tales and Trails in a previous interview.

“There was really only one power on Earth that could show up and bombard our cities — Britain. We had a fear that Britain was going to come, and we would soon find ourselves in a war,” Dobson added.

The war never materialized.

In 1903, the monitor was sent to Colombia where a civil war with Panama threatened American lives and interests.

The ship arrived in Panamanian waters in November and sailed up the Tuira River in tandem with the USS Cruiser Boston and a company of United States Marines.

The presence of American armed forces “went a long way, to facilitate the independence of Panama,” said Dobson.

On New Years Day 1909, USS Wyoming’s name was changed to the USS Cheyenne in order to make way for the next ship in the lineage: the USS Dreadnought Wyoming.

On Nov. 25, 1917, the Wyoming, joined by the New York, Delaware and Florida departed for Britain to reinforce its “Grand Fleet” at its base in Scapa Flow during World War I.

Although the 6th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet never saw combat it did participate in wartime operations as a convoy and mine laying escort.

In 1919, and again in 1926, the dreadnought underwent modernization refits, adding more weapons to its arsenal and an aircraft catapult on turret number three.

The Chesapeake Raider

After returning to the U.S. in January 1931, Wyoming was placed on reduced commission. Under the terms of the London Naval Treaty signed the previous year, Wyoming was to be demilitarized.

During the demilitarization process, her anti-torpedo bulges, side armor, 5-inch guns and turret machinery from three of her six main gun batteries were removed. Later that year she was reclassified as “AG-17,” to reflect her new role as a training ship.

When World War II broke out, the U.S. Department of the Navy considered re-fitting the Wyoming back to her battleship configuration but eventually decided against the idea.

Following the United States entrance into World War II, Wyoming performed her normal duties as a gunnery training ship with the Operational Training Command, United States Atlantic Fleet.

She operated primarily in Chesapeake Bay, and frequent sightings of the ship steaming around the bay earned her the nickname “Chesapeake Raider.”

Wyoming finished her gunnery training duties in the summer of 1945, when she left Norfolk for the New York Navy Yard, for further modifications used to develop enhanced combat tactics.

In its new role, gunners training on the USS Wyoming conducted experimental gunnery drills with towed sleeves, drone aircraft and radio-controlled targets.

Wyoming continued in this unit through the end of the war.

In 1946, the most famous person to serve on this ship coming aboard. Ensign Jimmy Carter, the future 39th president of the United States was part of the final crew of the aging battleship.

The great dreadnought was decommissioned on Aug. 1, 1947, and eventually dismantled and sold for scrap.

One ship named Wyoming, a steam-powered merchant ship, was not so lucky during World War II. Although named after the state, it traveled under a French flag.

At 9 p.m., March 15, 1943, two torpedoes fired from the German U-524 hit the ship carrying more than 5,000 tons of cargo. The Wyoming sank in eight minutes.

The crew and 30 U.S. Army Air Corps personnel abandoned ship and were later rescued by the destroyer USS Champlin.

Perhaps the most famous civilian ship named Wyoming was the six-masted schooner launched on Dec. 15, 1909. The overall length including jibboom — a spar used to extend the length of a bowsprit — was 450 feet, making it the longest wooden ship ever built.

The ship was named Wyoming because the state’s Governor, Bryant Butler Brooks, who was one of the investors. When constructed the schooner cost $175,000 to build or more than $5.3 million today.

The Wyoming did not bear the prefix USS because this distinction only applies to ships commission by the U.S. Navy.

Wyoming served for 15 years, sailing cargo on the open ocean but her size eventually caught up with the majestic ship.

On March 24, 1924, heading to New Brunswick, Canada the Wyoming was anchored off Chatham, Mass., in order to right out a nor’easter. The ship was seen at dusk by the five-masted Schooner Cora F. Cressey, but is believed to have foundered east of the Pollock Rip Lightship.

The entire crew of 14 was lost.

Modern Day

USS Wyoming

The most recent ship to be named USS Wyoming is SSBN-742, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine.

Commissioned on July 13, 1996, the Wyoming’s home port is Kings Bay, Ga. She displaces 18,750 metric tons submerged and can travel at a top speed of more than 29 mph.

Its armament includes Mark 48 torpedoes and 24 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles.

In 2011, the Wyoming and three other submarines were the first to allow female officers to serve aboard ship.

The current USS Wyoming is not the last to bear the name.

The television show Star Trek launched the USS Wyoming — NCC-43730 — a Mediterranean-class United Federation of Planets star ship that served during the 24th century most notably during Deep Space 9 episodes: “In the Pale Moonlight, Image in the Sand, The Siege of AR-558 and What You Leave Behind.”

Research Note: The U.S. Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, National World War II Museum, FANDOM, History Channel and researched military records contributed to this article.


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