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USS Tennessee in World War II
by Clifton Simmons
Squadron/Signal Publications, 2008, 80 pages

Off Okinawa on April 12, 1945, an Aichi D3A1 "Val" dive bomber hit the battleship Tennessee (BB-43) and the bomb that it was carrying exploded. The kamikaze attack killed 22 and wounded 117 men, and 2 men died later from wounds received during the attack. This book's author Clifton Simmons, who married the daughter of a USS Tennessee veteran, interviewed hundreds of the battleship's veterans to prepare this fine concise history filled with over 200 photographs and over 70 quotations taken from interviews from 1997 to 2003.

The battleship Tennessee was commissioned in June 1920, decommissioned in February 1947, and scrapped in 1960, but this book focuses chronologically on the ship's key events during World War II such as the attack at Pearl Harbor, the kamikaze attack at Okinawa, and the Battle of Surigao Strait in the Philippines on October 25, 1944. A total of 49 men who served aboard Tennessee died during World War II including 6 men who were killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The end of the book includes technical data on the battleship's machinery and weaponry and listings of key battles and events, commanding officers, and men killed or missing.

Several pages, including 15 photographs and 9 veteran quotations, cover the kamikaze attack on USS Tennessee on April 12, 1945. A useful overhead diagram shows how the kamikaze plane came in over the battleship's bow, after smoking the last 500 yards before it reached the ship, and its path over the ship as described below (p. 47):

The plane passed underneath the starboard yardarm with its right wing cutting four radio antennas and all signal halyards. It passed so close to the open bridge that it clipped a small awning there. The plane caught its right wing on the radar atop 5-inch director No. 3 and was slung to the right, into the superstructure, rolling into 40 mm quad No. 7. An estimated 250-kilogram semiarmor piercing bomb was released, penetrated the main deck at frame 88, and detonated. The remaining wreckage smashed to the deck below and then over the side. Burning avgas from ruptured fuel tanks sprayed across men and guns in 40 mm No. 9 and 20mm mounts No. 27 and No. 29, causing fires and explosions of ammo stored there.

Harry Mehl describes his experience during the kamikaze attack (p. 49):

I was a Marine gunner on 20mm mount No. 31, starboard side. I never saw the plane coming in because I could only hear the 5-inch guns and was looking off to the starboard quarter. I remember hearing the 20mm and 40mm guns really open up, and I thought, "That guy's getting too close." And just as I thought that . . . wham! The next thing I knew, I was pinned by the gun, which had locked in the extreme up position with the ready service lockers slammed up against my back. I was doused with flaming gasoline from the plane's fuel tanks, which were ruptured, and my face, arms, and hands were on fire. I found out later that Cpl. Peterson, my gun captain, was blown over the side with his leg blown off. [Cpl. Victor Carl Peterson drowned due to his inability to swim and from blood loss.] My first loader, Pfc. McDermott, had his head blown off, and the second loader, Pfc. Pollack, was blown into three pieces. I was held fast to the upright gun by the harness, and how I got free is anyone's guess. I jumped over the side of the gun shield to the deck below and ran around the barbette of main gun turret No. 3 then around the spud locker and saw another shipmate laying there bleeding from the stomach. I thought, "That man's gonna get a Purple Heart." Then I looked down at the ribbons of burned flesh hanging from my arms and hands and thought, "I'm gonna get a Purple Heart!"

Two Tennessee crewmen carry piece of wing
from kamikaze plane after attack on April 12, 1945