Thus in 1921, the third in the COLORADO lineage of fighting ships became the cynosure of international relations. The world saw the epitome of floating potency. Two years of fitting out elapsed between the 1921 launching of USS COLORADO (BB-45) and her commissioning on August 30, 1923. Captain Reginald Rowan Belknap (Annapolis ’91), veteran of the Spanish-American and World Wars, the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion, was ordered to command this newest addition the United States Fleet, the last such addition for many years in accordance with the Naval treaty.
The United States, cognizant of the world’s eagerness to get a look at this new Goliath of the seas, decided that the COLORADO’s maiden voyage should be made to European waters. Leaving New York immediately after Christmas of 1923, the battleship made a 10 day journey to England’s Portsmouth Harbor. The way in which the intricate machinery of the COLORADO responded on the ship’s shakedown cruise was not the only reaction which United States leaders were eager to scrutinize.
In early January 1924, the battle-wagon COLORADO rode at anchor in Portsmouth Harbor. What Britons saw left them agog.
From a head-on view, the bow appeared as a grotesque steel mask of tremendous proportions, recalling to mind the “Talking Oak of Dordona” (hewn into a gilded figurehead for the ARGO and which retained its power of speech, directing Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece). The huge, gaping mouth and the enormous eye sockets bespoke a power which could not be idly brushed aside.
Viewed however, from another direction, the startling head-on view changed at once to a graceful clipper bow. The clipper bow’s purpose was twofold. First, it would keep the forepart of the ship dry when steaming against a head sea; second, it would limit the damage COLORADO would cause in the event that she accidentally rammed another vessel.
Inside the outside, the COLORADO looked precisely what she was — a ship built to embody the maximum of fighting power in a hull of given measurement and tonnage. The 624 foot long hull held or supported seven major decks. An innovation appeared in the new-type watertight hatches, a single action hatch on which all the fastening dogs could be wedged into place by means of a hand-operated wheel.
Rising starkly from the deck in 2-A-2 gun arrangement were four massive steel barbettes surmounted by turrets, each housing a giant pair of 16-inch, 105 ton rifles. These weapons and their crews were protected by 18 inches of hardened steel, the thickest armor carried by any warship then in existence. Thanks to the 30-degree angle of elevation afforded the turret guns, the COLORADO was able to fire accurately (at a rate of two full salvos every 90 seconds) at an enemy target 19 miles away. In an unarmored battery high above the water she carried twelve 5-inch rapid-fire guns while on the superstructure were mounted eight 3-inch antiaircraft guns.
Popularly referred to as an “electric” ship, the COLORADO, to make her 21 knots, had four 8,000 horsepower Westinghouse motors which drove her propellers. All auxiliary machinery relied on electricity for operation from raising the anchors, maneuvering the turrets, elevating and loading the guns to laundering, baking the ship’s bread, and running the potato peelers.
In the opinion of enthusiastic naval experts at that time, our USS COLORADO’s intricate subdivision plan plus her liberal coat of armor plating plus her elaborate pumping system rendered the ship all but unsinkable. In size she was surpassed by the British battle-cruiser HOOD which offered a displacement of 41,200 tons as against the COLORADO’s 32,600 tons, and also by the Japanese ships NAGATO and MUTSU of 33,800 tons each. Nor was the armament carried by the COLORADO equal to that of the Jap ships. But, it was conceded, battle power is the sum of various qualities and, it was further conceded, the USS COLORADO was not to be considered inferior to any ship afloat. America’s 27 million dollar investment had begun to accrue a dividend.
The COLORADO found further acclaim as she journeyed from Portsmouth across the Channel to Cherbourg, then went south to sunny Mediterranean ports in Italy, Spain, and France. In triumph the USS COLORADO returned to the United States, majestically rode into New York Harbor on February 15, 1924, and was there met with all the regal trappings and ceremony befitting an accredited queen.
There were further calibration trials held in choppy North Atlantic waters during mid-1924 and the COLORADO then transited the Panama Canal to join the Pacific Battle Fleet. She operated in exercises off California until June 18, 1925, when she sailed with units of the fleet for calls at Australia and New Zealand. Leaving the respective populace of Honolulu, Sydney, and Auckland, New Zealand, appropriately impressed, the COLORADO returned to California in September 1925 to resume routine operations.
In March 1927 the giant vessel participated in joint Army-Navy exercises in the Caribbean. In the not-too-far distant future, such coordination between America’s armed service branches was to provide the basis for the success of her amphibious operations.
The COLORADO was back in New York for general overhaul the following month, the period of overhaul later being extended to repair the damage which COLORADO suffered as she accidentally ran aground off the downtown tip of Manhattan. After a short time, the battleship was once more operating with the Pacific Fleet off San Pedro, California.
The ship made a cruise to Hawaii in May of 1928 conducting exercises en route. By this time, the neophyte battlewagon with a green crew had been transformed into a professional man-of-war with a thoroughly indoctrinated and capable nucleus complement of gunners, navigators, and maintenance men. Pacific duty continued throughout 1929, that year being high-lighted by a collision between the COLORADO and an unfortunate steamer.