“I’m not sure just where we were but we met with an ocean going tug boat towing a huge barge which was to be set up for the Battleship to use for target practice. The day before we met the tug a work party was put together and were to leave the ship in a 40 foot launch and go to where the tug and target barge were and rig the targets on the barge. I don’t know how I got on this work detail but I did and it turned out to be an awful deal.
The next day the tug showed up and they put a 40 foot launch over the side. There were about 20 of us sailors and this detail and we had to go over the side and down into that launch. The sea was not cooperating and was rough and getting on the launch was tough. It was up and down and up and down. We got settled in and then we headed for the tug and barge which seemed to be miles away.
The Coxswain yelled to us that we were heading for the target barge. When we came up to the barge it was leaping high in the air and the launch was doing just the opposite. It took about four or five approaches before all of us got on that barge. This was a big barge and it was empty. The targets were in big rolls lying at the bottom of poles. Our job was to get them to the top of the poles and unfurl them and tie them down tight at the bottom. All the while this barge was pitching and rolling all over the Atlantic Ocean.
When the targets were all rigged it was back onto the launch without getting tossed into the sea or mashed between the launch and the barge. We headed to the tug and once again it was worth your life getting from the launch onto the tug.
I don’t know just how far it was from the tug to the target but it seemed way too close to me. The secondary battery opened up and started to shoot at the target. We could see the rounds splinter through the targets. First the starboard side and then the port side five-inch guns went to work. It was a sight to see.
The Boatswain’s Mate in charge gave us guys the word to get back into the launch. Great! Back to the ship! Not so fast, he says. We were going back to the barge to rig new targets. That was not good news. Guys were sick and miserable but no matter. We were going back to the barge.
When we got back to the barge it was a mess. The wood was all shot up and the targets were blowing in the wind. But onto the barge we went. We had to pull down all the tattered targets and haul new ones to the top and that was not easy with the way the wood was all broken and jagged. We somehow got the new targets rigged and then it was back to the tug.
Remember now, we were miles from the Battleship…15 or so miles. Anyway, the main battery opened up and you could almost see the shells scream through the air. 2,000 pounds of steel whizzing by at the end of that tow line. I was now positive that we were way too close to that barge.
She didn’t fire that many rounds and it was quiet. OK, guys back into the launch says the Boatswain’s Mate. It wasn’t any easier this time than it was the first time. The launch was heading to the Battleship. I don’t know what month it was but it was cold and we were wet to the skin.
When we came alongside the Battleship and climbed the ladder we must have been a sight to behold. Most of us were sick and worn out and cold. They told us to get into some dry clothes and to report to Sick Bay. When I got there the guys were lined up and we all got a big belt of whiskey. I was not a drinker but that booze did make me feel better.”
“We conducted gunnery practice in Chesapeake Bay. At that time they were leery. They didn’t want to gamble and take such a valuable ship out to sea because of German submarines. We conducted most of our early gunnery practice right inside Chesapeake Bay. That wasn’t enough room for us. We finally had to go to sea. We had our destroyer escorts with us.”
-John P. VanSambeek, Coxswain
“The Battleship was commissioned as we know April 9, 1941, and we had various sea trials and back and forth and engineering testing and finally the gunnery testing. We would go to Newport and Hampton Roads, to Guantanamo Bay, to Kingston, Jamaica or even Casco Bay, Maine. That lasted until about June of 1942. Therefore all this time we would go in and out of Brooklyn and in and out of these ports. Of course what happened in these times, December 7 happened and we knew the war was on. We were waiting to go where they wanted us to go, which was the Pacific eventually.”
-Leo Neumann, Fireman Third Class