USS California BB-44
Thank you to David Doyle of David Doyle Books for choosing the IPMS Reviewer Corps to examine and report on one of his new titles, all of which may be viewed on the website listed above. I am very appreciative of the IPMS Reviewer Corps support, whose efforts make this review program so good.
Author Doyle’s treatment of the USS California strikes an excellent balance of book size and detail. The content is laid out in a picture-rich minimum-text format from keel-laying to cutting-torch life stages of the ship. Design concepts, politics, renaming, and many other facets of the California’s history are covered, in addition to her thoroughly-documented long and distinguished career, punctuated by survival and salvage at Pearl Harbor. The image-rich format is a wealth of information for the scale model builder, using hundreds of high-quality images, complemented by select line drawings and color renderings.
Overview and Content Coverage
The content can be roughly divided into phases of construction, between the wars, Pearl Harbor, salvage and refit, action in the Pacific, and the graveyard. The photographs depict many aspects of every shipboard life and naval traditions, a bonus for all of the shellback readers out there. Highlights from each section follow.
Introduction: Ships named California, and renamed from California, are mentioned in this section, but the bulk of the chapter is devoted to keel-up construction in the Mare Island Shipyard on San Francisco Bay. The bulkheads and barbettes are shown coming together rising upward on the ways in a shipbuilding style used over 100 years ago. I found it interesting that the ship was launched when main deck was completed. No superstructure was in place when she slid down the ways.
The California is Christened: Vintage high resolution images show aspects of the launch, ship’s sponsors, fitting out details, and many other interesting stories are described in the accompanying text. In a break with long-standing tradition, a bottle of California wine was smashed across the bow instead of champagne, two months before the onset of Prohibition.
The rest of the chapter covers all of the remaining work, cruises and deployments in the California’s cagemast phase. Many detail pictures show a variety of the ship’s equipment, including smaller guns, aircrafts, etc., in addition to the larger ship views from many angles. A top and starboard view line drawing pair shows the California’s configuration in 1936 on p. 72.
The Pearl Harbor Attack: The section starts with a narrative of the Pearl Harbor attack, told from the California’s unique perspective. Heroic actions of the crew were hampered by arguably lax preparation and maintenance, yet they were able to keep the ship nearly upright while she settled into the harbor mud. Four men received the Medal of Honor for their actions that day, only one survived the attack. The images focus mainly on the ship’s state throughout the day and effectively show the changes as she settled onto the harbor bottom.
Salvage operations: After the first pages showing turrets awash, main guns being lifted and the stern crane partly submerged, the following succession of photos is an amazing tribute to the skill of the salvage crews. Extraordinary image coverage of the damage and repairs is included. Ten months after the California came to rest on the mud in Pearl Harbor, she was refloated, engines rewound and rewired, and otherwise made seaworthy for an unassisted trip to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
Return to Puget Sound: The California underwent a major overhaul, modernization and reconfiguration in Puget Sound. Gun director layouts and drawings accompany numerous photos, and the ship’s new Measure 32, Design 16 B camo scheme appears in several pictures. A top and a starboard-view line drawing pair shows the California’s configuration in 1944 on p. 116, with a port and starboard color rendering of the camouflage. A color photo follows on the next page, with the unique camouflage pattern well shown.
Collision with the USS Tennessee (BB-43): The deadly collision with the USS Tennessee produced damage on a similar scale to those sustained at Pearl Harbor. The Tennessee lost steering control, striking the California on the port bow. Similar to the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor, a floating drydock was able to take on the damaged California and effect repairs in only 18 days. This section of the book has some of the best floating drydock operation pictures I’ve seen. I believe a very unique and eye-catching diorama could be inspired by these pictures.
The Battle of Surigao: The California was stuck by a kamikaze during this action. The damage is well-documented, accompanied by many in-action pictures of the battle group. A starboard-view color rendering of her Measure 21 camouflage may be found on p. 146, showing her colors after an early 1945 overhaul. A data table on p. 165 compares 1919 data with 1942 rebuild data, giving an excellent perspective of California’s changes.
Philadelphia, drydock and reserve: This thankfully short but still sad section describes the final disposition of the last battleship of the west coast. She suffered a last indignity by being rammed yet again, by a destroyer.
I recommend this volume very highly, largely because the hundreds of high-quality and logically arranged photographs. The chapter arrangement will allow a researcher or model-builder to find relevant imagery effectively. Whether you use this book for research or simply a good read and viewing, you will not be disappointed. My only suggestion for future books is to include some useful citations or references for the reader who might wish to follow up on the excellent materials. In the theme of this year’s National Convention, the story of the California is ready to be told, as a model, with this book in hand.
Thanks again to David Doyle for providing a review copy. Thank you again to the stalwart Reviewer Corps for your hard work in making these review opportunities happen and sent out to the world! Someday I hope to meet all of you and thank you in person.