Totalitarian war made its bow along with 1940. A German word was making history in bleeding Europe – Blitzkrieg. The idea of salvaging world peace from the ruins of the European low countries grew less and less feasible. On 7 December 1941 it was cast out all together.
On the Sunday of the Pearl Harbor attack, venerable battleship COLORADO was in the Bremerton (Washington) Navy Yard; quickly left her berth to take up the challenge. One-third of the United States Fleet was out of action, for the most part only temporarily. Blitzkrieg – Nipponese style – swept our Pacific out-posts out from under our very eyes. There remained but a thin bulwark of floating protection between the West Coast and the amphibious legions of the Japanese.
Under command of Captain Elmer L. Woodside the COLORADO remained on the West Coast throughout the summer and fall of 1942, during a period of watchful waiting while America got back on her feet. There were exercises and final battle conditions during these first few months of the first war year, with much emphasis placed on caring for wounded and repairing damage under enemy fire. On 1 August 1942 she was ready.
USS COLORADO sailed to a Pearl Harbor that still bore the scars of Japanese perfidy. Some three months beginning early October were devoted to training operations in the shadow of towering Diamond Head. Then sallying to American South Pacific bastions in the Fiji Islands, the COLORADO took up a long stand with other fleet units against further enemy incursion in that direction. As the naval heavy stood by, action in the north was at last coming from the American corner. Howling anathemas, the enemy had been pushed off Guadalcanal Island into the sea by the end of 1942. From then on we were carrying the ball.
Big battleship COLORADO’s desire for an active part in the Pacific offensive was about to be fulfilled as she left her South Pacific patrol and returned to Pearl Harbor on 7 September 1943. Soon after her arrival Captain William Granat, USN, relieved fellow Captain Woodside as commanding officer. USS COLORADO put to sea in the latter part of October bound for the remote coral atoll of Tarawa.
At 0528 on 20 November 1943, the big guns of the COLORADO roared out their first salvo of destruction against the Japanese in the Pacific War. This was her debut in the forward fighting areas and her crew were making it certain that the enemy would not forget that graceful clipper bow. Her 16-inch guns belched ton after ton of flaming steel onto strong Tarawa defenses. This pre-invasion bombardment by surface vessels and strikes by carrier aircraft was effective in destroying Tarawa’s above-ground installations. However, the time interval between the lifting of the final bombardment and the arrival of the first Yank assault wave was too great, this caused by unexpected current which carried the landing craft out of their designated area, the slowness of the assault boats, and difficulty with the depth of the water at the outer reef. Lack of covering fire at the critical time of landing resulted in heavy losses during the first phase of the assault.
Despite sharp opposition and 20 per cent casualties the Marines pushed their way into Tarawa as COLORADO and other units of the bombarding fleet kept up a steady fire in support. For nine days it continued and finally, on 29 November, with the success of the Tarawa Campaign assured, the COLORADO left the area and retired to Pearl Harbor.
It was a new type of naval warfare in which the USS COLORADO began taking part on that November day at Tarawa, a radical departure from the established methods of naval combat. The COLORADO’s fight was with stationary batteries, often unseen. Her job: to stand off-shore and slug it out at perilously close range until the battery was silent. Said Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King of just such slugging: “The new applications of naval gunfire in amphibious operations, as well as fleet actions, have demonstrated that the battleship is a versatile and essential vessel, far from obsolete.”
After 17 months of continuous Pacific cruising the COLORADO returned to the United States on December 21, 1943; barely gave her crew time to digest their Christmas dinners before she was back in action.
American garrison troops which relieved the assault troops in the newly-seized Gilberts (Tarawa, Makin, and Apamama) commenced immediate development of those islands for further operations against the Marshalls. Those islands were next on the American occupation schedule.