How the Battleship USS Nevada and I Survived World War II

July 7, 2017 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IIBattleshipWar In The PacificD-Day

How the Battleship USS Nevada and I Survived World War II

A former sailor recalls his ship’s participation in one of the most momentous events of World War II, from Pearl Harbor, to Normandy, to Iwo Jima.

From my position, as the Nevada lay just 2,200 yards offshore, I witnessed the initial landings of the first wave of 5th Division Marines after their LVTs (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) made impressive circles before heading toward the beach. Then the second wave of LVTs made its appearance.

We were told that the defensive organization of Iwo was the most complete and formidable yet encountered. After the initial U.S. naval bombardment ceased in order to allow the Marines to hit the beaches, I felt numb, sick, and, of course, helpless as I watched the extremely accurate Japanese heavy mortars, rockets, and artillery shells from hidden positions rain down a vicious barrage of violent death along the upper beach areas and cut down our troops—a horrifying, nauseating experience watching these men die!

The Nevada was quickly instructed to lay down a rapid rolling barrage of 5-inch high-explosive shells in front of our troops. I could see explosive clouds of dust creeping toward the high terrain just off the beaches that the Marines were trying to reach.

One naval historian wrote, “Battleship Nevada became the sweetheart of the Marine Corps. Her skipper, Captain H.L. (‘Pop’) Grosskopf, an old gunnery officer and a ruthless driver, had set out to make his battleship the best fire support ship in the Fleet, and did. Nevada, when firing her assigned rolling barrage at 0925, found that her secondary battery could not penetrate a concrete blockhouse and turned over the job to her main battery. This damaged a hitherto undisclosed blockhouse behind Beach Red 1, blasting away its sand cover and leaving it naked and exposed.

“At 1100 this blockhouse again became troublesome; the battleship then used armor-piercing shells, which took the position completely apart. At 1512 Nevada observed a gun firing from a cave in the high broken ground east of the beaches. Using direct fire, she shot two rounds of 14-inch, scoring a direct hit in the mouth of the cave, blowing out the side of the cliff and completely destroying the gun. One could see it drooping over the cliff edge ‘like a half-extracted tooth hanging on a man’s jaw.’”

On February 23, I was on the rangefinder watch and witnessed an event that had an intense emotional effect on all Navy personnel on the ships surrounding Suribachi. With binoculars I watched as a small group of U.S. Marines, who had survived vicious counterattacks, raised a small American flag on a long pipe atop the summit of Mount Suribachi. I did not see the second flag raising, made famous by Joe Rosenthal’s widely published photo, as I was then off watch.

Spontaneously throughout the anchorage area, a tumultuous eruption of whistles, sirens, and klaxons sounded in the air. The “whoop, whoop, whoop” of nearby destroyers’ whistles dominated the celebration as the crew members of the Nevada yelled their lungs out.

I also recall Nevada’s periodic star shell barrages, aided by other warships, that illuminated many of the “black night” counterattacks by fanatical Japanese infiltrators. These bursting pyrotechnics sent brilliant, dazzling daylight effects over the darkened island, astonishing this Depression-era kid who had never seen a fireworks display before.

Early on Thursday, March 1, while the Nevada was assisting the destroyer Terry that had been damaged by a Japanese coastal battery, Admiral Rodgers received news that the main U.S. Marine ammunition dump had come under shell fire, causing considerable damage to communication matériel; no loss of life was reported, but several Marines were burned while attempting to retrieve some of the ammunition.

The largest force of Marines ever committed to action in a single battle captured the island after 36 days of unrelenting, bitter fighting. Losses were heavy; the Marines and Navy personnel suffered almost 7,000 killed and over 19,000 wounded, and the 19,000-man Japanese garrison was all but annihilated.

Although the support forces of all services contributed honorably to the final victory, it was the Marine combat teams  aided by the Naval Construction Battalions (Sea Bees) and their resources that had to close with the enemy and destroy him.

At approximately 7:30 pm on March 11, back at Ulithi Atoll, I was on black night radar watch on a 5-inch gun director when I heard a swishing noise overhead. I looked out of the open porthole and was astonished to see a twin-engine Yokosuka P1Y “Frances” bomber just passing silently directly over my position. Moments later, all of the Nevada crew topside heard an explosion in close proximity. Reports filtered in later indicating that the newly arrived aircraft carrier, Randolph, had suffered serious damage and 27 dead when that plane slammed into her. It could have been us.


Okinawa was the last epic struggle of World War II in the Pacific. L-Day (Landing Day) was scheduled for Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. The USS Nevada, anchored in Nakagusuka Bay along Okinawa’s southeast coast, was already being threatened with fiery death and destruction by the daily appearance of Japanese kamikaze planes.

The Nevada and other gunfire support ships moved into their assigned grid units off the beaches of Okinawa, 10 to 12 miles out. The air defense gun crews were alerted immediately to enemy planes approaching. Suicide planes began to infiltrate the antiaircraft barrages and seek out those ships most vulnerable—the carriers.

Think of it! A Japanese pilot crashes his plane onto the deck of a large ship. He sacrifices one life, but he could take out hundreds of U.S. sailors and possibly sink the vessel or severely damage it and put it out of action in one daring moment.

On March 27, at 6:20 am, while at Kerama Retto, a small group of islands southwest of Naha, Okinawa, a Japanese plane (first reported to be a Nakajima B5N1 Kate torpedo bomber but later changed to an Aichi D3A Val dive bomber) crashed into our main deck on the starboard side. The terrific explosion at impact violently strewed twisted 40mm and 20mm guns about and left 60 brave sailors dead, wounded, or missing. The force of one of the explosions threw me against my gun shield but, although momentarily stunned, I was not seriously injured.

At 6:30 on a Tuesday morning, while off the coast of Okinawa, a twin-engine suicide Betty bomber narrowly missed our gun position over Nevada’s stern as it crashed into the sea. Two Japanese crewmen were rescued and brought aboard our ship. Now I saw the faces and stature of my enemy. Both were of small height, bronzed from the sun, and they were approximately my age––both 18 or 19 years of age.

For the next eight or so days our main and secondary batteries pounded the beaches and several inland targets. There was always the opportunity to destroy gun positions that became visible to the shore fire-control parties when given the correct coordinates.

On April 5, during a lull in the daily kamikaze attacks, the Nevada lay 6,000-8,000 yards (three to four miles) off the southwestern coast of Okinawa, alone and not at anchor. Foolishly we remained stationary in position too long, for a Japanese shore battery got our range and sent some 20 salvos toward us. Unexpectedly, water splashes caused by projectiles from that shore battery straddled our ship.

Moments later, five explosions were heard across Nevada’s open deck and structures, which caused moderate damage to the main deck and sleeping areas, two deaths, and several wounded men.

In retaliation, Nevada’s 14-inch batteries unleashed a murderous barrage of shells at the enemy installations, smothering them with fiery debris and rendering them totally silent.

Afterward, several of us walked about and viewed the damage to our ship caused by the Japanese shelling. I picked up a shell fragment while it was still warm. On the base of the five-inch shell fragment was stamped “Made in Maryland.” Obviously, it was part of a U.S. ammunition cache captured elsewhere by the Japanese in earlier times.

Emergency repairs from the shelling were made at Kerama Retto. There we received word that our commander-in-chief, President Roosevelt, had died on April 12, 1945.

By the following day, the Nevada’s gunfire support assignments off the shores of Okinawa totaled 22 days. I believe that we had been at general quarters or air defense some 50-60 times during those 22 days, but it was the brave little destroyers of the early warning picket line that suffered greatly throughout this campaign. It was a bloodbath. On land, sea, and in the air, over 12,000 Americans were killed, 38,000 were wounded, 900 aircraft were lost, 28 ships were sunk, and 368 vessels were damaged.

We were also part of the force that patrolled the East China Sea lanes surrounding Okinawa and Formosa with minesweepers to clear the area for incoming U.S. naval traffic. The Nevada aided a landing force on the tiny island of Ie Shima off the northwest coast of Okinawa that required a six-day battle to subdue. Here on April 18 the United States lost one of its best known GI journalists—Ernie Pyle, killed by enemy gunfire.