It was exactly 10:53 a.m. (E.S.T.) on the morning of November 21, 1941, when, with a crash of glass and splash of champagne, amidst shrieking whistles, the roar of airplanes overhead and the wild cheering of thousands, a huge mass of steel slid slowly and gracefully into the James River at Newport News, Virginia.
At 10:54, I stood gazing upon this gigantic hulk of steel as it floated majestically in the river, engrossed with realization that our two-ocean Navy would soon be reinforced with an additional 35,000 tons of fighting power — the USS Indiana.
From this, one would think the launching of a battleship resembled somewhat the relatively simple task of pushing a canoe into the Wabash River. Really that is what it seemed like. Nor do you grasp the magnitude of the real accomplishment until you consider the fact that this "canoe" represents the skillful fabrication and assembling of thousands of tons of steel by experts guided by American engineering genius — a coordinated effort over a period of many months, with the result that at a given moment, six months in advance of its production schedule, it moved off of its foundation with the ease of a baby buggy rolling downhill.
The christening of the USS Indiana was a very impressive ceremony which moved with the same precision as that prevailing since the placing of the first section of its keel on November 20, 1939. High dignitaries from both Indiana and Washington were very much in evidence. The Indiana delegation, some 700 strong, was headed by Governor Henry F. Schricker, while the Washington contingent was led by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Some of the other distinguished celebrities present were: Governor James H. Price of Virginia; Rear Admiral Marley H. Simons, Commandant, Fifth Naval District; Rear Admiral John Downs; Booth Tarkington, Indiana author; and Homer R. Ferguson, President of Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, builders of the Indiana.
Activities preparatory to the actual launching began at 1:45 a.m. on the morning of November 21 when workingmen in the trigger pit started knocking out the thousands of wood props, and putting the ways in readiness for the final trigger pulling scheduled for the exact moment of high tide, 10:53 a.m. One of the interesting operations included in this task was the placing of tons of special grease on the ways so as to reduce the frictional losses to an absolute minimum. Before the completion of these operations the ceremony began on the specially constructed platform some twenty feet high at the prowl of the ship which carried the speakers' stand and special guests from Indiana. Prior to the speaking the crowd was entertained by the Shortridge High School band consisting of 102 Indianapolis youths.
The ceremonies opened with a few remarks from a fellow Hoosier, V. M. Armstrong, national vice commander of the American Legion. Governor Price of Virginia then introduced Governor Schricker, who delivered a very stirring short address reviewing the history of the two previous "Indiana's" and accepting the honor now bestowed upon our state. He also expressed the sentiments of 3,500,000 Hoosiers, when he pledged to the President and Congress of the United States Indiana's "unswerving loyalty and unstinted support." He closed with the following poem by E. Z. Richardson of Evansville:
"New Battleship — Indiana! Pride of the Hoosier state,
We now proclaim your noble name, and proudly designate.
"In time of peace or reign of war, At home or far away,
Display the stars and crimson bars, And their commands obey.
"Long may you guard Americans, And their democracy.
We wish you well and bid farewell And send you out to sea."
Governor Schricker then presented Secretary Knox, who delivered the principal address. Speaking of the speed with which the Indiana was brought to the launching point, he said:"She stands here as the expression of the nation's will. "It is no accident that the Indiana is on the launching ways six months ahead of schedule. When our industry and labor are united there is nothing on earth can stop them.."As she slides down the ways the Indiana takes with her the hopes and prayers of 130,000,000 Americans."May the day come when she will ride the seas as a symbol of a peace regained."
After Secretary Knox concluded, Mrs. Margaret Schricker Robbins, 27, of Wichita Falls, TX, daughter of Governor Schricker, and sponsor of the Indiana was introduced to the audience. By this time it was 10:52 a.m. A tense silence followed for some thirty seconds, with thousands of eyes focused on the big ship. As the seconds ticked away the zero hour approached and with the "all clear" and "ready" signals, the final trigger was released and the ship started moving very slowly. Mrs. Robbins swung the ribbon bedecked bottle of champagne across the prow of the ship, and cried:
"I christen thee Indiana."
In a few minutes a fleet of tugs had the Indiana in tow toward the finishing docks where her equipment now is being installed. Veteran shipbuilders labeled it, "A perfect launching."
The ceremony was marked by simplicity and by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, estimated to be at least 10,000, which included many of the 18,000 yard workers. Batteries of official photographers were perched on a special stand above the crowd and the speakers' stand was armed with microphones representing all major networks and many individual radio stations which carried the story of the launching to every corner of our country and possessions as well as to many foreign and friendly neighbor countries.
The weather was clear and very crisp. The special delegation of over 500 Hoosiers, in two special 16-car trains, were met at Newport News by President Ferguson of the shipbuilding company, whose daughter, Mrs. Lyman S. Ayres, lives in Indianapolis. After the launching the Hoosiers had a tour of the shipyard and a boat tour of Hampton Roads. The Shortridge Band then boarded a ferry to Washington, DC where they had time to visit many of the city's historical sites, capping the bus tour by playing on the south lawn of the White House.
The Indiana is 680 feet long with a beam of 108 feet, 2 inches, and a draft of 34 feet. Her designed speed is in excess of 27 knots, (31 miles per hour) and she has a standard displacement of 35,000 tons. She will carry a complement of nine 16-inch guns mounted in three turrets, supported by the latest type of antiaircraft armament and other modern fighting equipment, the nature of which cannot be divulged. She will be mannned normally by seventy-five officers and 1,000 men and will join the fleet early in 1942. Her total cost will be $70,000,000.
Sixteen days later, America would be at war
Last Updated 12 February 2001
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