In the months that followed, West Virginia ran her trials and shakedown and underwent post-commissioning alterations. After a brief period of work at the New York Navy Yard, the ship made the passage to Hampton Roads, although experiencing trouble with her steering gear while en route. Overhauling the troublesome gear thoroughly while in Hampton Roads, West Virginia put to sea on the morning of 16 June 1924. At 1010, while the battleship was steaming in the center of Lynnhaven Channel, the quartermaster at the wheel reported that the rudder indicator would not answer. The ringing of the emergency bell to the steering motor room produced no response; Captain Senn quickly ordered all engines stopped, but the engine room telegraph would not answer. It transpired that there was no power to the engine room telegraph or the steering telegraph.
The captain then resorted to sending orders down to main control via the voice tube from the bridge. He ordered full speed ahead on the port engine; all stop on the starboard. Efforts continued apace over the ensuing moments to steer the ship with her engines and keep her in the channel and, when this failed, to check headway from the edge of the channel. Unfortunately, all efforts failed; and, as the ship lost headway due to an engine casualty, West Virginia grounded on the soft mud bottom. Fortunately, as Commander (later Admiral) Harold R. Stark, the executive officer, reported: “…not the slightest damage to the hull had been sustained.”
The court of inquiry, investigating the grounding, found that inaccurate and misleading navigational data had been supplied to the ship. The legends on the charts were found to indicate uniformly greater channel width than actually existed. The findings of the court thus exonerated Captain Senn and the navigator from any blame.
Remembering the Pacific is a video podcast series that presents the personal stories behind World War II’s Pacific Theater. Hear American and Japanese servicemen tell their war stories from December 7, 1941 through the war to the ongoing reconciliation between the two countries. Witness the effects on the home front as American and Japanese civilians recount the emotions of the war years and come to terms with loved ones lost, sacrifices made and recognition of civil rights. Hear about the personal importance of the memorials and the lasting impacts of the Pacific War.