100 years ago Friday, Battleship Texas hit water


On Friday, exactly 100 years to the day, the Battleship Texas remains afloat -- albeit barely -- so unlike with the Titanic no remote-controlled camera or deep-sea underwater vehicle will be needed to wander its decks.

"It is amazing when you think about it," said Andy Smith, manager of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department battleship site east of Houston. "From what still exists, the bulk of the ship is still the same."

Authorized in 1910, Battleship Texas got its name officially when it was launched May 18, 1912. Texas formally joined the Navy two years later when it was commissioned.

It's now the only remaining U.S. battleship to survive World Wars I and II and the oldest of the eight existing and obsolete battlewagons.

Texas voters some five years ago approved a bond package that included money to save the deteriorating ship and ensure its long-term future along the Houston Ship Channel across one of the world's largest petrochemical complexes. Work on developing that plan is ongoing, and officials hope to settle on a design that will accommodate a $29 million budget. Construction bidding is anticipated within a couple of years and the target date for completion of the project is 2017.

The storm surge from Hurricane Ike in 2008 lifted the ship and allowed silt to fill its slip. When the water went down, the ship then rested on the bed of new silt. That muddy quicksand-like material actually has helped ease some of the flooding that requires removal of about a ton of water each day by pumps, down from the nine tons before the hurricane.

The plan now being considered would construct a berm around the ship and include a cofferdam to isolate it from the channel. Workers would get under the ship and dredge out the silt, replace it with granulated, controlled sand atop the natural clay bed, then level it out and drain the berth so the ship rests on the sand.

"The point is to put her in a condition where you stabilize her and quit the deterioration of her being in a brackish water environment and you can make repairs in your time frame," Smith said.

He hopes to be able to find out early next month if the plan, known as a dry berth, will fit the budget. A project on this scale never has been tried.

A birthday celebration was planned for Saturday at the ship with invitations sent to as many as 500 crewmen believed still alive. Someone who joined the Navy at 16 in 1945 and was assigned to the Texas now would be in his 80s. At its peak, the ship had a crew of 1,800.

"At the end of the day this is a hunk of steel, it's a shared piece of our heritage," Smith said. "But what really makes it alive is those men who served aboard ... We've lost all the World War I vets. We've come across few guys in the (later) war years but they're passing. We're losing that direct connection between its active life and its inactive life."

In 1948, Battleship Texas was decommissioned and came under care of the state. A berth at the San Jacinto Battleground was carved out of a swamp that empties into the Houston Ship Channel.

The Texas is the last the Super Dreadnought class of battleships, patterned after the British battleship that featured unprecedented speed and armaments at the turn of the 20th century.

In World War I, the Texas served as U.S. flagship in the British Grand Fleet. In 1940, it was named flagship of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and participated in D-Day in 1944. It experienced casualties when hit by German artillery off France, then provided support for World War II battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific, using its main battery of 10 14-inch guns to fire 1,500-pound shells up to 12 miles.

About 100,000 visitors a year visit the Texas, including more than 4,000 who participate in a program where they sleep overnight aboard the ship.

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