USS Indiana (BB-58)
The USS Indiana was one of several battleships built and used during World War II. Like many of the other U.S. battleships, she served during the war and was decommissioned shortly after the war ended. Battleships like the Indiana are obsolete today, but in the past were an important part of winning battles and asserting naval dominance. The Indiana won nine battle stars for her and her crew’s actions during the war.
Despite the bravery shown by the men who served aboard her and the importance of the USS Indiana to the war effort, the ship also caused harm to many sailors. Like other ships built for World War II, she was loaded with asbestos. The fibers from this mineral helped fireproof ships and insulate components, but they also caused harmful exposure that led to many navy veterans developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer decades after service.
About the USS Indiana
The USS Indiana, designated BB-58, was the third navy ship to be named for the state of Indiana. Nearly all of the U.S. battleships were named after states, and the Indiana belonged to the South Dakota class. There were four in this class of fast battleships, including the Alabama and Massachusetts. These four were first designed in the 1920s, but were not constructed until the 1940s after being canceled under treaty terms. The preceding class was the North Carolina class and the new ships were more compact and included better armor and protection.
The Indiana was built between 1939 and 1941. She was commissioned in 1942 and decommissioned in 1947. She was not struck from the U.S. Naval registry until 1962 and was scrapped in 1963. Eight Babcock & Wilcox boilers and four General Electric steam turbines powered the Indiana. She was 680 feet long and displaced more than 44,000 tons when loaded. Her peace time crew was 1,793 men, but during war she carried nearly 2,500.
The Indiana underwent one set of major repairs after suffering damage in the Pacific theater in 1943. She had been operating early in the morning and was blacked out to hide from Japanese forces. The USS Washington was similarly blacked out and the two ships collided. The damage included a destroyed propeller shaft and damaged belt armor and torpedo defenses. Three men were killed and one injured in the incident. The Indiana went to Pearl Harbor for major repairs.
Active Service and Deployments
The USS Indiana was laid down in 1939 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Virginia. She launched on November 21, 1941, sponsored by the daughter of the governor of Indiana. She was commissioned under Captain Aaron Stanton Merrill on April 30, 1942. During commissioning she flew the flag that had been on a previous battleship Indiana that served at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba in 1898.
The Indiana completed her first trials along the east coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. She sailed for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean in November of 1942, where she would join the Guadalcanal Campaign. She participated in multiple operations until the collision with Washington. These included invading Tarawa, raiding Marcus Island, and taking down Japanese aircraft.
After undergoing repairs at Pearl Harbor, the Indiana joined the Task Force 58 and raids on the Truk Atoll as well as the invasion of the Mariana Islands. She participated in what would be the largest carrier air battle in the war, the Battle of the Philippine Sea. During the battle the Indiana shot down planes and avoided being hit by torpedoes. After more operations around the Philippines, the Indiana returned to Pearl Harbor for training.
In late 1945, the Indiana left again for the Pacific theater and participated in the bombardment and invasion of Iwo Jima. She supported the raids on Tokyo and air strikes on Okinawa. She then participated in the invasion of Okinawa and supported further air raids while also helping to fend off kamikazes. After the Japanese surrendered, the Indiana returned to the U.S. and was placed on reserve status. She was decommissioned just a year later but was not scrapped until 1963. Some of the components of the ship, such as the mainmast, anchor, and gun are displayed in various places in Indiana.
Asbestos Use on the USS Indiana
The USS Indiana is documented as having been made with asbestos. Before the U.S. entered World War II, the government and military had begun stockpiling asbestos. At the time it was considered a necessary material for shipbuilding, crucial for insulating and fireproofing and desirable because it was lightweight and inexpensive.
The heat-generating equipment, such as boilers and turbines were insulated with asbestos, as were the pipes carrying steam or hot water throughout the ship. Walls, ceilings, and floors may also have contained asbestos to help insulate but also to prevent the spread of fire, a serious hazard on a ship at sea. The men who manned the guns on the Indiana likely wore asbestos gloves and clothing and the gear used to fight any fires on board were also made with asbestos. Smaller parts also had asbestos including valves and gaskets.
Exposure to Asbestos on the USS Indiana
Because there was asbestos throughout the ship, anyone who served on the Indiana was at risk of being exposed to it. When asbestos is disturbed, such as through accidents, collisions, repair work, or simply wearing out over time, it releases harmful fibers to the air which can then be inhaled. In the close confines and poor ventilation of a battleship, that inhalation is even more likely.
Those who were most at risk handled or wore asbestos equipment and safety gear, worked in the engine, turbine, or boiler rooms, or performed repairs or maintenance that required handling asbestos materials. In addition to the documented use of asbestos on the Indiana, there are records of veterans’ claims with the Veterans Administration (VA). These include one in which the family of a veteran filed for compensation after losing him to mesothelioma related to asbestos used on the USS Indiana, where he served.
If you served on the USS Indiana or other battleships that used asbestos, you may be at risk for developing an asbestos illness. You can file a claim with the VA for compensation and healthcare for your service-related illness.
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