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Big Sky, Empty Sea

Down in Groton, Connecticut, the latest submarine destined to serve in the United States Navy is being built. the PCU ("Pre-Commissioning Unit," to be renamed "USS" upon commissioning) New Hampshire, SSN-778, will be a nuclear-powered attack submarine and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2009.

This will be the third "New Hampshire" to take to the seas in service to our nation. The first was authorized in 1816 but not actually launched until 1864, and never really did very much. She was renamed "Granite State" to free up the name for a new battleship -- the last pre-dreadnought built for the US, and obsolescent for two years the instant she was commissioned in 1908. She served in a support role in World War I, and was scrapped in the 1920's in accordance with the Washingon Naval Treaty.

Naturally, I'm proud that my state will be honored by this Virginia-class sub, and fully expect her to serve with honor and distinction. But I feel a smidgen guilty about it. We've had our turn. Another state really deserves the same honor.

Up through World War II, the biggest and baddest warships afloat were battleships. Nations reserved the proudest names for the battlewagons. Germany honored Otto von Bismarck and Alfred von Tirpitz. Japan chose to remember two provinces with Yamato and Musashi. Great Britain often named battleships after monarchs, naval heroes, or just plain "cool" names that epitomized strength and might.

Here in the United States, we chose to honor those very states that made up our nation. And through the battleship era, every single state was honored with at least one battleship.

Except one.

Hell, even those states that weren't states got warships. Alaska and Puerto Rico were "large cruisers" during World War II. A third large cruiser was named after Hawaii, but scrapped partially built. There is currently a submarine named after Hawaii, a sister ship of the New Hampshire, that was commissioned earlier this year.

But of the 48 states in the Union during World War II, one was never honored with a battleship.

Back before the days of the battleships, the biggest and baddest things afloat were armored cruisers, They received the honor of state names, and there was a USS Montana, commissioned in 1908. Later, all the armored cruisers were "demoted" to city names, and Montana ended her days as the "USS Missoula."

But there never was a battleship Montana.

(Update: The following was part of my original planning for this article, but I forgot it when I went to actually type.)Even more insulting, twice Congress ordered a USS Montana, and both were canceled.

The first was of the first, aborted "South Dakota" class of battleships, one of the "Cherry Tree" ships -- so named because they were "cut down by Washington." Of those six dreadnoughts, followups to the highly-successful Colorado class, five of their names were re-used -- three on the 30's South Dakota battleships (South Dakota, Indiana, and Massachusetts), one each for the North Carolina and Iowa classes (North Carolina and Iowa respectively), but the sixth one -- good old Montana -- got shafted again.

During World War II, the Navy planned out the "ultimate" US battleship of the war. Dwarfing the mighty Iowas, they would have carried an even dozen of the guns that the Iowas carried (the outstanding 16"/50 caliber Mark 7 naval rifles, of which the Iowas had nine).

However, it soon became evident that the day of the battleship was past, and the five "ultimate" dreadnoughts were never built. Thus passed into history the USS Ohio, USS Maine, USS New Hampshire, the USS Louisiana, and the lead ship, the one that would have lent her name to the class, the USS Montana.

It's long past time to rectify this historical slight. Every other state has had at least one warship named after it in the past century. We owe the state -- and the people -- of Montana their own warship.

Hell, it's become almost a joke. Whenever someone needs a fictional US warship, they often use the name "USS Montana." The fiction has been perpetrated in movies, cartoons, TV shows, and even commercials.

There are a dozen more Virginia-class submarines in the pipeline, including three currently on order, that have not yet been assigned names. Let's do the right thing and give one of them the name of the Big Sky State.


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Comments (14)

Well, technically, the firs... (Below threshold)
Mark L:

Well, technically, the first New Hampshire became "New Hampshire" in 1863. Although the keel was laid in 1816, the ship was then known by its original name "Alabama." It was part of the Gradual Increase Navy, where ships remained on the stocks, unlaunched, until they were needed.

When it was finally launched in 1864, it was because the navy needed a large hull to serve as a depot ship, at one of the numerous ad-hoc offshore bases they were setting up in the Southern part of the country. (The need for such ad-hoc basis was part of the reason that the ship-of-the-line hull was renamed.)

New Hampshire was not the only ship-of-the-line serving in that capacity. Ohio, Delaware, Vermont and North Carolina were similarly used during that war.

OTOH, as inglorious as that purpose was (vice slugging it out with other ships-of-the-line, a la Trafalgar), the job was absolutely necessary. And New Hampshire was spared the fate of two of her sisters -- Virginia and New York. Also unlaunched at the beginning of the late unpleasantness that occasioned the need for New Hampshire, both ships were burned on the stocks, their keels never kissing water.

Live free or KILL. ... (Below threshold)

Live free or KILL.

"The Ships and Aircraft of ... (Below threshold)

"The Ships and Aircraft of the US Fleet" James C. Fahey @1945. reprinted 1973,1976 page 8:

Older Battleships, and Battlecruisers: Reclassified, lost or scrapped:

BB 51 Montana 43,200 tons, South Dakota class struck 1923 never commisioned, scrapped by treaty 6 ships in this class. 12 - 16"/50, 16-6"/53, 23 knots

BB67 Montana ordered 1940, Sept 9, canceled July 21, 1943 Lead of 5 new BB never even laid down, due to steel shortages during the war.

<a href="http://www.nvr.nav... (Below threshold)
Years ago at a game convent... (Below threshold)

Years ago at a game convention in Los Angeles I took part in a naval war game using the General Quarters rules. There were 7 super battleships on the table, including the Montana. The firepower of those vessels was difficult to believe. In the end , the allied fleet forced the axis fleet to withdraw, with the barely damaged Montana in pursuit. The age of the battleship is long gone, but the power of those vessels still stir the imagination.

Could be a Payback. IIRC in... (Below threshold)

Could be a Payback. IIRC in 1941, when FDR asked congress for authorization to go to war, I believe it was a Montana man who cast the sole "Nay" vote

Jay Tea, no comments on you... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, no comments on your errors in this blog entry that I pointed out in my previous comments?

Mycroft, your points were i... (Below threshold)

Mycroft, your points were irrelevant -- neither BB-51 nor BB-67 were never built, and the latter never even started -- but I've added some details that your snide digs reminded me that I'd forgotten to include in the original article.


Burt--You are most... (Below threshold)


You are most likely thinking of Jeanette Rankin, the first female elected to Congress.

Jay Tea--

Appreciate the props, but then again, it's not like we're known for being a seafaring state. :)

Craig -- neither are Arizon... (Below threshold)

Craig -- neither are Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Utah, or Oklahoma, but their namesakes certainly live on in naval history. Among many others, I must say.


There are a dozen ... (Below threshold)
There are a dozen more Virginia-class submarines in the pipeline, including three currently on order, that have not yet been assigned names. Let's do the right thing and give one of them the name of the Big Sky State.

What a horrible idea. Once we do that, as proven by history, congress will kill the whole Virginia class of ships.

Appreciate the props, bu... (Below threshold)

Appreciate the props, but then again, it's not like we're known for being a seafaring state. :)

What, are you one of the global-worming denialistic, fascistic haters? Montana will be underwater in about 2 years. All of the US will have to live in the Rockies by 2010.

I wish Randi Rhodes a speed... (Below threshold)

I wish Randi Rhodes a speedy recovery and the satisfaction of seeing her attacker arrested and convicted. This attack must have been horrifying for both herself and her dog. As a pet owner, I know I would be more concerned with preventing them from being attacked than with protecting myself.

As for Jon Elliot, I'm not defending his outburst (which is irresponsible as it might inspire counter-attacks), but is it possible that the person assaaulting Rhodes made comments about her political views and job? Not that it would impugn all of us who are of the more Conservative or Libertarian bent, but there are crazies on both sides of the aisle. I hope it's not a pseudo-Conservative thug, but it's possible, and that's sad.

Wrong thread? Crap ... how... (Below threshold)

Wrong thread? Crap ... how did that happen?

Sorry guys ... me loves the submarines (and the submariners)!






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