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Friday, May 1, 2015

1st Ship in Dry Dock #4 ~ USS Wisconsin

Blog #50.  May 1, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins

Dry Dock #4 at the Norfolk Navy Yard was at one time the largest concrete structure in the world.  With a usable length of 1,110’-10” and a floor thickness of 20’ it can be summarized in one word – “massive”. With a future “History Matters” I shall write and feature photos of the construction of same.

This current week, the NNSY Facebook page posted another one of the many informative sign plaques found outside our northern wall along the Path of History.  That sign pertained to a quick overview of Dry Dock #’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 & 8.  While this blog will look specifically at Dry Dock #4 and the docking of the first ship therein let me put the following mystery issue to bed.
 
Photo #1 ~ Path of History Plaque
(Photo Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins taken on 01/21/2013)

Where was or why was there not a Dry Dock #5?  No, it is not the inner secondary cassion seat of Dry Dock #4 as originally built.  Dry Dock #5 was to be a twin to the immediate south and share the southern side traveling dock crane rail of Dry Dock #4.  All of this is proven on a rare station map; PW 4707 – Proposed Final Layout for Development United States Navy Yard Norfolk, Virginia dated 28 December 1917.  The site later becomes the footprint for Building 261 and is eventually added onto with Building 1579.

So let’s get back to Dry Dock #4.  As a structure it is begun on 8 January 1917 and is declared completed on 1 April 1919.

The 1st ship to enter the Navy’s largest dock to that time is the USS Wisconsin as shown in the below photos, a mere 96 years ago this week.  Dry Dock #4 has been in continual service to the fleet for an almost full 10 decades.

Photo #2 ~ USS Wisconsin
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2225 taken on 5/5/1919)

As taken from the Naval History and Heritage Command website the following information is presented about the ship as background to our story.

The first Wisconsin (Battleship No. 9) was laid down on 9 February 1897 at San Francisco, Calif., by the Union Iron Works; launched on 26 November 1898; sponsored by Miss Elizabeth Stephenson, the daughter of Senator Isaac Stephenson of Marinette, Wis., and commissioned on 4 February 1901, Capt. George C. Reiter in command.
Then 19 years of full operational service follows… and finally:
Placed out of commission on 15 May 1920, Wisconsin was reclassified BB-9 on 17 July 1920, while awaiting disposition. She was sold for scrap on 26 January 1922 as a result of the Washington Treaty.

The ship meets the end of its famous career and is laid to rest at Norfolk until it is sold for scrap after World War I.  As in any deactivation the docking period is critical, Dry Dock #4 provided the needed dry dock facility to support USS Wisconsin’s final mission.

Photo #3 ~ USS Wisconsin
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2226 taken on 5/5/1919)

Again, as I repeated in an earlier blog about Dry Dock #3 a couple of months ago it is true that any place can have a river berth or a pier to safely tie a vessel up to but what sets apart a true shipyard is its ability to perform dry docking.  This location, being the Norfolk Navy Yard along the Elizabeth River has the ability to take any vessel of Uncle Sam’s Navy out of its natural element (water) and allow it to become docked (dry) so craftsmen may preform repairs.

 
Photo #4 ~ USS Wisconsin
(Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Glass Plate Collection, #2227 taken on 5/5/1919)

This final picture of the USS Wisconsin’s stern is a fitting way to say good bye as now we know its story and operational career.  But for a moment focus upon the facility of Dry Dock #4 itself, I conclude with the same word I started with – “massive”.

Dry Dock #4 has provided the United States Navy with over 96 years of nearly continuous service here at “America’s Shipyard" because –“history matters”.