Pearl Harbor Survivor – The USS California “Prune Barge” in 28 PHOTOS


The USS California (BB-44) happens to be among the only two Tennessee-class battleships completed shortly after World War I.  It was the fifth ship of the United States Navy to be named after a state (in this case the 31st state). Its lead ship was the USS Tennessee (BB-43).

Anchored USS California, pre-war service

The USS California was officially ordered on the 28th December 1915 and laid down on the 25th October 1916. The ship was built in the Mare Island naval shipyard in Vallejo, California. It was launched to sea on 20th November 1919 and commissioned on 10th August 1921. It was nicknamed “the Prune Barge”.

California’s aft triple 14-inch (356 mm) 50 caliber gun turrets in August 1945.

For twenty years, it served as a flagship for the United States Pacific Fleet. That period was a relatively quiet one, compared to the events of the subsequent war, and its duties comprised goodwill stops as well as other routine naval activities.

Stern View of Battleship USS California BB-44 in Panama Canal 1936

However, in the period marking growing tensions between the US and the Japanese empire, it was assigned to Hawaii. It was still there when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on the 7th of December 1941. During the attack, it took two torpedoes that resulted in severe damage and subsequent flooding.

Battleship USS California underway 1944

A bomb also detonated on its deck and this set off a chain of explosions from ammunition stores which claimed the lives of about fifty crew members.  Although the USS California sank, the hull was salvaged for repairs. Once it was made seaworthy, it was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for more permanent repairs.

USS California (BB-44) forward superstructure and 356 mm (14-inch) gun turrets

The repairs completely changed the appearance of the USS California. Most of its systems were replaced with more modern solutions. The smoke funnels were combined into a single, more efficient funnel, and the FCS was upgraded. In January 1944, the ship was tested and declared battle-ready.

Its assignment then was to support allied forces in the invasion of the Marianas and later in Guam and Tinian in August of the same year.

BB-44, USS California, Flag for Battle Force, passing in review, New York

In October 1944, it took part in the Surigao Strait battle, helping the allies to gain victory and liberate not only Leyte Island but also the entire Philippines.

Battleship USS California BB-44 photographed before the WW2

In January 1945, the USS California suffered another hit in a Kamikaze strike. Although it remained part of the war effort until the end of the war when it was sent back to Puget Sound for substantial repairs.

Battleship USS California flame at Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941


A bell from California on display at the California State Capitol Museum.

The USS California entered reserve status in Philadelphia on 7th December 1945, exactly four years after Pearl Harbor. It was decommissioned on the 14th of February 1947, removed officially from the naval register on the 1st of March 1959 and scrapped on July 10th of the same year.

Airship USS Macon over Battleships USS California and USS Nevada 1933


At high speed, 1921


At sea, during the middle-1930s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.


Battleship USS California BB-44 Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941


Battleship USS California BB-44 Raised at Pearl Harbor 1942


Battleship USS California BB-44 Towed to Dock at Pearl Harbor 1942


Battleship USS California sinking Pearl Harbor attack 7 December 1941


Firing a broadside.Photo Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10189 CC-BY-SA 3.0


Forward 14-Inch guns of USS California


USS California (BB-44) being hit by Japanese aerial torpedoes and bombs


USS California (BB-44) interwar period


USS California (BB-44) underway 1944


USS California bow view


USS California is painted in camouflage Measure 32 Design 16D


USS California off New York 1934


USS California sinking during the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December 1941

Read another story from us: John D. Bulkeley, Commander of the USS Endicott – A daring attack in WWII

View of sailors on board the battleship USS California
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