Battleship Texas: An Update

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Battleship Texas: An Update

When the “Mighty T” was retired in 1948 with plans to become a museum ship, the Texas Legislature established the Battleship Texas Commission to care for the ship.  The commission fundraised to cover the $225,000 cost of towing the vessel from Baltimore to San Jacinto State Park, but ultimately found their funding was not up to the task of maintaining the ship.  Disrepair set in.  By the late 1960s, the wooden deck had rotted and was replaced with concrete (which eventually cracked and leaked).  In 1971, the Brown Foundation, the Moody Foundation, and the Houston Endowment contributed $50,000 to sandblast and paint the hull.

In 1983, the legislature turned control of the ship over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and abolished the commission.  After extensive survey and assessment, a plan was formed for dry dock and repairs, and $15 million was raised in a five-year fundraising campaign.  The ship was towed to Galveston and repaired during 1988-1990.

TPWD adopted a master plan in 2004 that called for more permanent repair and restoration.  In 2007, Texas voters approved $25 million in funding for the project, to be supplemented with $4 million by the Battleship TEXAS Foundation (BTF), a non-profit support organization.

TPWD has spent over $54 million maintaining and repairing the ship since 2009. This included critical repairs to engine rooms and adding an emergency generator, additional pumps, and fuel storage to help counter leaks.

The legislature passed a bill in 2019 providing $35 million to tow the battleship and repair it at a dry dock.  The ship also closed to the public that year, and the BTF and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department entered a 99-year memorandum of understanding/lease (MOU) whereby the BTF would operate and maintain the Battleship TEXAS for TPWD and the State of Texas.

Here’s an update on the restoration process.

In spring of 2020, BTF staff removed the ship’s ten 3″/50 caliber guns, eight of ten quad 40 mm Bofors mounts, and all eight 20 mm Oerlikon guns with the assistance of Taylor Marine and Certified Pipe Services Houston. The guns were taken to an offsite warehouse provided by NRG, where staff and volunteers have been able to restore these guns on a component level. The equipment and services were made available by many generous supporters, such as NRG, CPS Houston, Texas Bearing Services, Taylor Marine, and many others.  Volunteers worked over 860 hours on this project in 2020 and efforts continue!

Steady progress has been made on the 3”/50 AA guns. Four guns are now ready and in the process of reassembly. Two of these guns are having their breech blocks reassembled and placed correctly into the gun itself. The other two are having their ball bearings replaced.

The ship’s bell was removed from the main mast and taken to the offsite warehouse last year. Recently, intense efforts have been made to thoroughly conserve the bell and ensure it will last for another 100 years. To this end, OnAim Conservation spent time diligently treating corrosion on the bell and polishing it. They wrapped up their work after applying a protective wax coating to the bell’s exterior. You might say the bell is now looking ship shape!

Much assessment of structural integrity, modeling, and simulations have been part of the process to determine if and how the ship can best be towed to dry dock.

Valkor (project management and engineering team) and Resolve Marine have been working on tow prep for the ship.  Simply put, they have been filling the blister tanks (the tanks that are on the outside of the ship and have been a constant source of flooding) and some select interior tanks with closed-cell foam. As simple as that sounds, it is not very simple or quick. Prior to each tank being foamed, it has to have as much water and mud pumped out of it as possible (to maximize the volume of foam and minimize the water volume). Then tanks have plastic sheeting draped over any standing water and on areas to prevent the foam from sticking, and finally the foam is sprayed in. The foam has been used widely in the maritime world because it has the advantages of being buoyant, displacing volume, will give some structural strength back to the tanks, and is removable and less damaging to the ship. The foam will be removed in the shipyard (high-pressure water removes it very well). A single trial tank was filled first and evaluation after one month to ensure the process was efficient and would work as planned. The overall process involves upwards of 900,000 gallons of expanded foam in as many as 47 tanks.  These efforts have reduced hull leakage from 2,000 gallons per minute to less than 5 gallons per minute.

One of the conditions of state funding for the repairs was that, once the ship is removed from San Jacinto, it does not return, but is relocated somewhere it can generate more revenue with an increased number of visitors to offset operations and upkeep costs. Several cities submitted proposals to be the new home of the Texas, and no final decision has been announced.

The foundation had a study done in 2016 that projected as many as 283,000 visitors and $3 million in annual revenue if the battleship moved to Galveston. Before closing to the public, the battleship typically attracted about 88,000 annual visitors and $1.3 million in revenue at its current location.

Likewise, the repair location is not finalized. Several dry docks in states around the Gulf were in consideration. Discussions have been taking place with a repair facility in Galveston, but an agreement hasn’t been finalized yet.

There is no projected date for the re-opening of the Texas Museum yet, but soon YOU will be able to see the ship’s bell (and more) in person. The Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston has graciously offered to host a Battleship Texas exhibit in their Warbird Ready Room.

To learn more, donate, or volunteer for this worthwhile effort, visit https://battleshiptexas.org/ or follow the BTF Facebook page.

Facts about USS Texas (BB-35)

Soon after her commissioning, Texas saw action in Mexican waters following the “Tampico Incident” and made numerous sorties into the North Sea during World War I. When the United States formally entered World War II in 1941, Texas escorted war convoys across the Atlantic and later shelled Axis-held beaches for the North African campaign and the Normandy Landings before being transferred to the Pacific Theater late in 1944 to provide naval gunfire support during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

  • Commissioned in 1914, de-commissioned and became museum ship in 1948.
  • Complement: 1,042 officers and crew
  • Armament (original): Ten 14” guns, twenty-one 5” guns, four 21” torpedo tubes
  • First U.S. battleship to mount anti-aircraft guns
  • First U.S. ship to control gunfire with directors and range-keepers (analog forerunners of today’s computers)
  • First U.S. battleship to launch an aircraft (from a platform on Turret 2)
  • First U.S. battleship to become a permanent museum ship
  • First battleship declared to be a U.S. National Historic Landmark
  • Only remaining World War I–era dreadnought battleship
  • One of only eight remaining ships and the only remaining capital ship to have served in both World Wars.
  • In the past year, Texas was asked to donate steel to help construct a new desk for the Secretary of the Navy. The desk also incorporates materials from other famous museum ships from around the US and will serve as a reminder of our nation’s naval heritage for future SECNAVs.
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