Battleship U.S.S. Kentucky - BB-6
Compiled by Geoff Walden
 

The first vessel of war named "Kentucky" was a Confederate troop ship during the Civil War. This ill-fated ship was captured by the enemy in 1862 and later sank in 1865 with severe loss of life.

The battleship featured here was the sister ship of the class ship "Kearsarge," built at Newport News, Virginia, from 1896-1898. The U.S.S. "Kentucky," battleship BB-6, was launched on 24 March 1898. She was sponsored by Miss Christine Bradley, daughter of Governor William Bradley. In support of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, Miss Bradley christened the ship with water instead of the traditional champaign. Legend has it that word of these plans incensed several tradition-bound Kentuckians, who showered the side of the "Kentucky" with small bottles of bourbon as she slipped down the ways.

 

Battleship "Kentucky" BB-6 

Displacement: 11,520 tons
Length: 375 feet 4 inches
Beam: 72 feet 2 inches
Draft: 25 feet maximum
Speed: 16 knots, 10,000 horsepower
Complement: 554 (40 officers, 514 enlisted men)
Armament: Four 13-inch guns; four 8-inch guns; fourteen 5-inch guns; twenty 6-pounders; eight 1-pounders; four .30-cal machine guns; four 18-inch torpedo tubes
Armor: Maximum thickness: 17 inches
Class:
Kearsarge

 

Captain Colby Chester commanded the "Kentucky" when she was commissioned on 15 May 1900, and the ship soon left for a Far East cruise. Since she was one of the most advanced warships of the time, she became Rear Admiral Kempff's flagship in 1901 in Pacific waters. After protecting American interests in the Far East, the "Kentucky" returned home in May 1904. During the Cuban Insurrection in 1906 the "Kentucky" landed Marines in Havana and stood by in support.

The high point of the "Kentucky's" career came in 1907-1909 as part of the "Great White Fleet" in its cruise around the world to demonstrate American prestige and military power abroad. This fleet of sixteen battleships visited ports in South American, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, China, and North Africa before returning home in triumph in early 1909.

Following this historic cruise the battleship "Kentucky" was decommissioned, but was recommissioned in 1915 as a training ship. During this period her appearance underwent radical changes when the original tubular masts were replaced with the cage style or "peach basket" masts (used for observation platforms and fire control). After one final patrol off Mexico in 1915-16 during the Mexican Revolution, the "Kentucky" continued to serve as a training ship through 1918, losing some of her guns in the meantime. Following an overhaul and fleet maneuvers in the Atlantic in 1919, the U.S.S. "Kentucky" was finally decommissioned 29 May 1920, and sold for scrap in 1924.

A hull of the powerful World War II "Iowa" class battleships was laid down in 1942 and designated the "Kentucky" (BB-66), but this ship was never completed. Its bow was used to repair accident damage to the battleship "Wisconsin" in 1956 and the hull was finally scrapped in 1958.

The current U.S. Navy vessel bearing the name "Kentucky" is a Trident-class nuclear missile submarine, SSBN-737, launched 11 August 1990 and still in service today.

 

Battleship "Kentucky" as she appeared shortly after entering the service. Only the superstructure is painted a darker buff color; the hull, decks, and turrets are painted white. The darker blotches on the hull are shadows from the lifeboats and other equipment. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Postcards, stereo views, and envelopes below from the author's collection; photos from the U.S. Naval Historical Center.
 

Although the photo on the right is labeled as October 1900, it was probably taken a few years later after the decks and turrets had been painted buff.

 

Both of these views probably date from around 1900, since the turrets are still painted in their original white color. The men in blue uniforms with helmets in the postcard view are the Marines in their dress uniforms.

 

These two postcard views contrast the earlier paint scheme (on the left), with only the masts and funnels painted in the buff color, with the later scheme (on the right), with the upper decks and turrets painted buff (this color appears gray in the postcard). The lower turrets, fore and aft, mounted the main 13-inch guns, while the upper turrets mounted the 8-inch guns. The 5-inch guns, seven on each broadside, show up well in these postcard views.

 

The rare view on the left shows the "Kentucky" steaming into Havana harbor in 1906, past the wreck of the U.S.S. "Maine." On the right, gun crews on the upper deck man the 1-pounder guns.
 

The following stereo cards show several interesting views of the battleship "Kentucky." These were meant to be viewed with a stereopticon viewer, which showed the photos as three dimensional pictures, but if you can cross your eyes and hold them at the right angle, you can get the same effect (concentrate on the view in the center as you cross your eyes.)

 
 
 
 
 

The commemorative envelope on the left shows the "Kentucky" as she appeared during the 1907-1909 cruise of the Great White Fleet. The postcard on the right dates from the same period.

 

These two views show the "Kentucky" after modifications that took place around 1912, replacing the original tubular masts with the cage or "peach basket" masts. The smaller caliber guns on the upper deck had also been removed and the gun ports plated over.

 

Two views showing the "Kentucky" during her days as a World War I era training ship, with the new style cage masts. The view on the right, ca. 1918, shows how most of the 5-inch guns had been removed for training.

 

Two views of the uncompleted hull of the World War II era battleship "Kentucky" BB-66. The extreme bow portion (facing toward the center in these photos) had been used to repair the battleship "Wisconsin" in 1956.

 
Today the name "Kentucky" is borne by a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, the "Thoroughbred of the Fleet."
U.S. Naval Historical Center page on the "Kentucky" - http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-k/bb6.htm.
 
 
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