July 31, 1948: USS Nevada, Possibly the Toughest Ship in History

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A Brief History

On July 31, 1948, the battleship USS Nevada BB-36 was sunk by a torpedo from a Navy bomber, ending the career of possibly the most battered ship in history.  Not only did the Nevada survive the Pearl Harbor attack in which she was hit by a torpedo and as many as 10 bombs (minimum 6), but she was also hit by a Japanese Kamikaze suicide plane off Okinawa as well as by shore battery fire, but easily survived those hits.  (Please see our other article about the USS Nevada, “USS Nevada, America’s First Super-Dreadnaught”)

Digging Deeper

After World War II, the battleship built in 1914 was deemed obsolete and was used as a target for the “Able” and “Baker” atomic bomb tests of Operation Crossroads in the Pacific.  Your clue as to how tough this ship was is that she was used in 2 atomic bomb tests, having survived the first (surface) blast and then the second (subsurface) blast.  The mighty battleship was then used for target practice by other US Navy warships, including the battleship USS Iowa.  Expected to be sunk by the heavy bombardment, the Nevada kept on floating and was finally finished off with the last torpedo.

USS Nevada post-Operation Crossroads visible with extensive damage.  Photograph by United States Department of Energy, United States Navy.

It is hard to imagine any ship surviving all the conventional and nuclear weaponry thrown at the Nevada, which probably makes her the most heavily targeted ship in history.  The German battleship Bismarck certainly took an incredible pounding and only sank when scuttled by her crew, almost assuredly the heaviest conventional pounding in naval history, but she did not face 2 nuclear bombs!  The Japanese super battleships Yamato and Musashi were also sunk by the weight of incredible conventional pounding, the Musashi being sunk after receiving 17 bomb hits and 19 torpedo strikes!  Yamato was sunk by at least 11 torpedoes and 6 bombs, but possibly more, and had survived previous bomb and torpedo damage in her career.  Of course, neither of these mighty ships survived 2 atomic bombs.

Nevada had been commissioned in 1916 and served in World War I, without getting into any shooting combat.  During World War II she served in the Pacific, Atlantic, and then Pacific again.  She brandished a main battery of 10 X 14 inch guns and was updated throughout her career to improve speed, protection, and firepower, especially anti-aircraft capability.  She was decommissioned in 1946 and went on to her second career as a target ship.

Nevada supporting the landings on Utah Beach, 6 June 1944.  Official U.S. Navy photograph.

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you know of any ship that survived more vicious attacks than did the Nevada?  If so, please let us know what ship you think took more damaging blows and survived than any other in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Scarpaci, Wayne.  Battleship Nevada the Extraordinary Ship of Firsts.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

USN.  US NAVY FACT FILE Battleships BB-36 USS Nevada.  2009.

Wyatt, W. S.  USS NEVADA. 1916 – 1946.  From the Press of The James H. Barry Company, 1946.

The featured image in this article, an official U.S. Navy Photograph (Photo #: 80-G-282709), now in the collections of the National Archives, of USS Nevada (BB-36) underway off of the U.S. Atlantic coast on 17 September 1944, photographed from a blimp of squadron ZP-12, is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.