When the 15-year 'holiday' in battleship construction came to an end in 1937, the US Navy had plans to lay down two modern capital ships as soon as possible. The 35,000-ton limit was still in force, but the 1936 London Naval Treaty had reduced gun calibre from 406 to 356 mm (16 to 14 in). The specification which emerged was very similar to the original design of HMS King George V, with three quadruple 356-mm (14-in) mountings and a speed of 28 kts. However, unlike the British the Americans could afford to wait, and when the Japanese refused to ratify the 1936 treaty the USN announced that it would exercise its right to go back to 406-mm (16-in) guns. On the dimensions it was only possible to have three triple mountings, and nothing could be done to increase protection, which had been planned to withstand 356-mm (14-in) shellfire.
USS Washington (BB.56) was the second of the two 'North Carolina' class; she was laid down in June 1938 and commissioned in May 1941. She went to the Home Fleet for a while in 1942, and on 1 May was damaged by the explosion of HMS Punjabi's depth charges after the destroyer had been rammed by HMS King George V just ahead of her. By September that year she was back in the Pacific, with Task Force 17 in the Solomons.
On the night of 14/15 November the Washington and USS South Dakota were stalking a Japanese task force attempting to bombard Henderson Field, but just before the US ships could open fire the blast of a 127-mm (5-in) gun knocked out the South Dakota's electrical system. Fortunately the Washington had not yet switched on her searchlights, and remained undetected while the Japanese concentrated their fire on the South Dakota.
From a range of about 7315 m (8,000 yards) the Washington closed the range to 1830m (2,000 yards) before opening fire; in seven minutes she fired 75 406-in (16-in) and hundreds of 127-mm (5-in) shells, crippling the Kirishima with nine 406-mm (16-in) hits. Her intervention saved the South Dakota from serious damage and not only sank the Kirishima but badly damaged two heavy cruisers as well and saved Henderson Field from bombardment.
On 1 February 1944 the Washington was badly damaged in a collision with the Indiana, but she was repaired in time for the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 and the final onslaught on Okinawa and the Japanese Home Islands. She was decommissioned in June 1947 and was stricken in 1960.
Specification USS Washington (BB.56) Displacement: 36,900 tons standard, 44,800 tons full load Dimensions: length 222.12 m (728 ft 9 in) overall; beam 33.0 m (108 ft 3 in); draught 10.82 m (35 ft 6 in) Machinery: 4-shaft geared steam turbines delivering 121,000 shp (90230 kW) Speed: 27 kts Armour: belt 165-305 mm (6.5-12 in); decks38-140 mm(l.5-5.5 in); turrets 178-406 mm (7-16 in) Armament: nine 406-mm ( 16-in), 20 127-mm (5-in) DP, 1628-mm(l.l-in) AAand 12 12.7-mm(0.5-in) AAguns Aircraft: three Vought Kingfisher floatplanes Complement: 1,880 officers and men