HISTORY OF THE U.S.S. COLORADO (BB-45)
Office of Naval History and Records
Ships’ History Section
Navy Department (Click on added pictures to enlarge)
On the list of uncompleted ships to be scrapped which Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes submitted to the first plenary session of the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armament (November 12, 1921) were the two Maryland Class super-dreadnoughts WEST VIRGINIA and COLORADO. But Japan’s disinclination to disassemble her vaunted MUTSU resulted in Great Britain being authorized to complete two new post-Jutland ships, while the U. S. Navy was permitted to outfit and commission its two battleships.
Paradoxically, the race was on among the naval powers of the world, as of the Washington arms limitation agreement, for faster, bigger, and better naval units. The treaty only necessitated that each country’s efforts be tactful and clandestine. But there was nothing secretive about USS COLORADO. She was too big to be kept secret.
Mammoth battleship COLORADO was authorized under Congress’ 1916 Naval Appropriation Act and the contract for her construction awarded to the New York Shipbuilding Company at Camden, New Jersey. Her keel was laid on May 19, 1919, and almost two years were required to complete her construction. As the COLORADO, milestone in engineering progress and prime example of naval architectural prowess, was launched, the world knew in whose hands the long-sought supremacy of the seas would lie. Freedom-loving people could breathe easier.
Tuesday, March 22, 1921, was the day of launching. Mrs. Max Melville, Denverite, daughter of Colorado’s Senator S. D. Nicholson, stood anxiously on the official’s platform adjacent to the mountainous man-of-war which she had been designated to christen. (Other occupants of the gaily beribboned platform: Assistant Navy Secretary Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Senator Nicholson, and several prominent representatives of Colorado State.) At 12:35 p.m., Mrs. Melville broke a bottle of muddy Colorado River water on the mighty battleship as $27 million worth of militant insurance slid down the lubricated fabrication of timbers and was water-borne. It was the third time in U. S. Naval history that Colorado had been thus honored.
The first USS COLORADO was the three-masted steam screw frigate named for the twisting Colorado River, launched at the Gosport(Norfolk) Navy Yard on June 19, 1856. 3400-ton COLORADO was Commodore William Marvine’s flagship in the establishment of the Mexican Gulf Blockade in 1861, her 40 guns a Federal asset in starving out the insurgent Confederates from Key West to the Rio Grande.
In September 1861, while the COLORADO lay outside the surrendered Federal Naval Base of Pensacola, Confederate private schooner JUDAH was fitting out in the harbor. Commodore Marvine decided to destroy her. The COLORADO’s 100-man boat load of volunteers was met with gunfire as they clamored onto the schooner’ wooden decks, but they soon wiped out both the opposition and the JUDAH. Later, the COLORADO was flagship of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and figured prominently in the assault and seizure of Fort Fisher in North Carolina.
Civil War veteran COLORADO cruised on Asiatic Station during post-war years. In the mid-nineteenth century Korea was the scene of a great many unfriendly receptions extended to castaway mariners and visitors. Barbaric natives had first tortured, then massacred the crew of an American Sailing ship in 1866; butchered French Missionaries and foreign intruders as well as their own pagan converts. A Squadron of five ships, with Rear Admiral John Rodgers aboard the COLORADO, was detached from the Asiatic Squadron and sailed in 1871 to woo the ferocious Koreans.
Subsequent negotiations bogged down and the Americans resorted to the “big stick” with COLORADO sailors constituting the majority in the landing force which stormed the principal Korean fort on the Han River. The “infantry” charged down a grassy slope, charged up an opposite slope, mounted parapets, and engaged in hand-to-hand conflict with the die-hard natives inside the fort (later named Fort McKee in honor of the COLORADO Lieutenant wounded in the ensuing battle). At length the fort was captured, and the Koreans soon thereafter adopted a policy of amity toward their foreign friends.
The COLORADO acted as a Receiving Ship at the New York Navy Yard in the years 1875-84. Thirty-one years after the laying of her keel, on February 14, 1885, COLORADO No. 1 was sold to private interests, broken up and burned for her copper fastenings and other salvage .
Meanwhile, the Territory of Colorado had become one of the “48” (admitted August 1, 1876) and the new state’s name was given to the 13,680-ton armored cruiser building at historic William Cramp and Sons at the turn of the century. The $3/4 million COLORADO No. 2 was launched at Cramp’s Philadelphia shipyards April 25, 1903; commissioned in the U. S. Navy some two years later. Cruiser COLORADO joined Rear Admiral Willard H. Brownson’s popular Armored Cruiser Squadron. As World War I loomed, the COLORADO was busied with matters of protocol, receiving ambassadors, participating in centennials, extending good-will to a world that was soon to forget what it meant.
In 1915 the COLORADO became the flagship of the Pacific Reserve Fleet and in 1916 she became the PUEBLO. The cruiser’s name was changed so that a larger vessel could bear the name of the western state. As the USS PUEBLO, the vessel shepherded troop-laden transports to France in 1917; brought 10,136 troops back herself in 1918. Cruiser PUEBLO became the Receiving Ship at New York City in 1921 remaining inactive until 1930 when she was officially stricken from the Navy list and sold.