Indiana was admitted to the Union as the 19th state on 11 December 1816, and derives its name from its original habitation by American Indians.
The second Indiana (BB-58) was laid down 20 November 1939, by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.; sponsored by Margaret R. Robbins, the daughter of Governor Henry F. Schricker of Indiana; and commissioned 30 April 1942, Capt. Aaron S. Merrill in command.
An act of Congress, approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and popularly known as the Vinson-Trammell Act after the two members of Congress who sponsored the measure, Carl Vinson (D., Ga.) and Park Trammell (D., Fla.), authorized the construction of the ship on 27 March 1934. The act established the composition of the Navy at the limits prescribed by the Washington and London Naval Limitation Treaties of 1922 and 1930, respectively. President Roosevelt approved the name Indiana for the battleship on 21 September 1938.
The people gathered for the commissioning ceremony on Pier No. 1 at 1100 on 30 April 1942 included Secretary of the Navy William F. (Frank) Knox, Rear Adm. Manley H. Simons, Commandant Fifth Naval District, Governor James H. Price of Virginia, and Governor Schricker and an entourage of Indiana dignitaries who traveled by train to Virginia. The commissioning included the presentation of artifacts from the ship’s predecessor, Indiana (Battleship No. 1), which had participated in the Spanish American War. Comdr. Walter B. Decker, Jr., contributed the colors, the same that the first Indiana flew during the Battle of Santiago de Cuba on 3 July 1898. The pennant that flew from the first Indiana during her decommissioning in 1919 flew during the commissioning of the new battleship. Leo J. Murray, then a Lt. j.g., had made the final entry in the log of the first Indiana, and he fittingly wrote the first log entry of the second Indiana. The Shortridge High School band from Indianapolis performed.
Indiana fitted out for sea while moored starboard side to Pier No. 1 Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. (1–20 May 1942). The ship sailed at 1102 on 21 May for Operating Area C in Chesapeake Bay, anchoring off Wolf Trap Shoals degaussing range in Operating Area D at 1627. Indiana carried out further trails in the bay (26–29 May). The battleship test fired her 20 millimeter guns on 26 May, the following day conducted engine trials and anchor drop tests, test fired her 5-inch guns on 28 May, and on 29 May completed ship handling drills. Indiana steamed from Chesapeake Bay at 1455 on 31 May 1942, anchoring at 2018 in berth G-3 at Hampton Roads, Va.
Indiana began her speed trails at sea escorted by destroyers Charles F. Hughes (DD-428), Hilary P. Jones (DD-427), Ingraham (DD-444), and Woolsey (DD-437) on 1 June 1942. At 1415, she made a speed turn to port at 26.9 knots, allowing for a greatest list of 8° and a decrease in speed to 17 knots. Indiana reached a maximum speed during her trials of 27.5 knots. The ship returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., mooring north side at Pier No. 1 on 2 June.
Former Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams visited Indiana on 31 July 1942. Later that evening, the ship filled her ammunition stores. The battleship stood out of Hampton Roads with destroyers Eberle (DD-430), Erickson (DD-440), Roe (DD-418), and Wilkes (DD-441) at 0755 on 3 August. Throughout the month, Indiana sailed between Newport News, Lamberts Point, and Hampton Roads, all Va. The ship reached a speed of 27.8 knots during a full power test on 3 August. During the mid and morning watches the following day, she practiced zigzagging tactics. Additional testing into September concentrated on practice firing of her main 16-inch batteries, and antiaircraft drills shooting the 5-inch, 20 millimeter and 40 millimeter batteries.
Indiana sailed from Chesapeake Bay on 29 September 1942. Three destroyers that had rendezvoused with the battleship on 7 September accompanied her to Casco Bay at Portland, Maine. Following her arrival, Indiana carried out radar and firing practice. Rear Adm. Oscar C. Badger, Commander Destroyers Atlantic Fleet, embarked on board to observe gunnery exercises on 4 October. The battleship fired 63 of her 16-inch shells and 292 of her 5-inch rounds. Indiana was declared ready for sea and battle on 9 November. The Indiana War Diary noted:
“We of the Indiana know that she will make a name for herself as a ‘fighting ship’ and justify the pride that the Captain, officers and men have in her. We of the Indiana firmly believe, too, that the Indiana will be in the final battle in which our enemies are overwhelmingly defeated. We only hope and pray that all our fine comrades starting this cruise will be here when the last enemy gun is silenced. If they are not, we will always remember that they were ‘fighting men’ on a ‘fighting ship.’"
The plight of the Marines on Guadalcanal led U.S. leaders to a series of crucial decisions. Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., relieved Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley as Commander South Pacific Area and South Pacific Force, on board flagship Argonne (AG-31) at Nouméa on New Caledonia, on 18 October 1942. The dispatch of further reinforcements to the area ultimately included Indiana from the Atlantic Fleet.
Indiana sailed from Hampton Roads for the Panama Canal at 1330 on 9 November 1942. While cruising in the swept channel, she launched a ‘radio controlled plane’ that simulated a torpedo run on the ship. The 20 millimeter and 40 millimeter guns destroyed the drone on its second pass. Indiana arrived at Cristóbal in the Canal Zone at 0800 on 13 November. The ship steamed through the Panama Canal (0931–1810), mooring in Balboa, where she spent the next morning fueling and provisioning.
Task Group 2.6, comprising Indiana,light cruiser Columbia (CL-56), and destroyers De Haven (DD-469) and Saufley (DD-465), formed at noon on 14 November 1942. Four hours later, Task Group (TG) 2.6 sailed from Balboa for Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands. Indiana conducted firing tests of 5-inch illuminating projectiles on the evening of 16 November. On 17 November 1942, the ship crossed the equator. The crew assembled for inspection as “Davy Jones, of the Dominion of Neptunus Rex,” appeared in his official finery. Capt. Merrill announced the justice of “his Royal Highness and Royal Court” upon those who received subpoenas issued to “landlubbers, beach combers, plough deserts, draft dodgers, park bench warmers, parlor dunnigans, sea lawyers, lounge lizzards, hay tossers, chit signers, sand crabs, four-flushers, squaw men and liberty hounds falsely masquerading as seamen.” The initiation of the Pollywogs began at 0900 the following morning, the men emerging from the ceremony as Shellbacks.
Indiana anchored at Tongatabu at 1430 on 28 November. She enjoyed fair weather during her voyage of 6,102 miles from Balboa to Tongatabu, recording an average speed of 19 knots. Indiana then received 1,339,800 gallons of fuel from tanker W.C. Yeager. Indiana sailed as part of TG 66.6 on 30 November, under orders to join the South Pacific Force at Nouméa. Frequent rain interrupted the voyage before she reached Dubea Bay, Nouméa, at 1315 on 2 December. The ship then received 175,000 additional gallons of fuel from oiler Neches (AO-47). Indiana participated in several sea exercises with ships of Task Force (TF) 64 during the next three days.
The ship made her first enemy contact, on 19 December 1942. Lookouts sighted an unidentified plane six miles from the battleship at 1229, followed sixteen minutes later by two additional unidentified planes. The radar screens displayed an unidentified aircraft group soon after, and at 1249 Indiana sounded general quarters in anticipation of a possible air attack. The Japanese planes of the group did not close to visual identification and flew out of range, and the ship secured from battle stations at 1330. At 2150, the radar plot discovered further planes, and Indiana manned her antiaircraft battery. The planes disappeared from the radar and the gunners stood down. These instances marked a milestone for the crew, the Indiana War Diary noting: “With our first contact it appears that we are at last ‘in the war’ and maybe business will pick up.”
Japanese scout planes shadowed Indiana more than once during the remaining weeks of December, but no attacks materialized against TF 64. The force received orders to return to Nouméa on 23 December, and at 1656, Indiana dropped both her anchors in berth A-7, Great Harbor, Nouméa.
Rewritten and expanded by Joseph M. Soriero and Mark L. Evans