Commissioning and the Mexican Crisis
The operational career of Texas spanned a period of over 30 years, played a major role in two world wars, and helped to establish a strong national defense posture during the peacetime period between the wars.
USS Texas (BB35) was commissioned at Norfolk, Virginia, on 12 March 1914 with Captain Albert W. Grant, USN, commanding. Texas joined the fleet at a time when great events in history were about to take place. Trouble in the Western Hemisphere kept her from making the normal shakedown cruise that a newly commissioned vessel usually makes and she was immediately assigned to the Atlantic Special Service Squadron.
The United States had added ten battleships to the fleet in four years. Shortly after Texas joined the fleet the Panama Canal was opened, enabling ships to be moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in a few days instead of taking weeks to steam around Cape Horn.
The Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, announced, “the science of aerial navigation has reached the point where aircraft must form a large part of our naval force for offensive and defensive operations.” At this time the U.S. Navy had only 12 aircraft, all slow speed seaplanes, but 30 years later their high speed descendants had made all battleships obsolete.
Texas was on the fringe of war before her paint had dried. In late March 1914, she sailed to New York for installation of gun sights. On her return to Hampton Roads orders were received to take on coal and ammunition before sailing for Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Texas was part of the squadron that landed a force of 800 Marines and seamen at Vera Cruz on 22 April 1914 to protect U.S. citizens and rights during a period of political unrest in Mexico. Texas remained on that station, engaging in tactical maneuvers, until August when she steamed north to New York.
The casual reader may overlook three very important words in the brief statement of the preparations to be made before sailing for Vera Cruz – Mexico. They were “take on coal.” Texas, and all her smoky sisters, were coal burners; no matter how spic and span they might be forward of the bridge, the clouds of black smoke, soot, and cinders belched by the funnels left the after part of the ship a little less than spotless.
Every time a ship reached port, the first thing to be done was take on coal. A typical battleship of 1914 carried about 2,600 tons of coal. Coal usually came out to the ships in open lighters, or barges, where men shoveled it into canvas bags holding about 800 pounds each. With ten coaling booms rigged on the main deck, the grimy crew could take on about 400 tons of coal an hour, the bunkers (coal bins) could be filled in eight to ten hours time.
Coal-fired boilers not only make smoke; they produce tons of ashes. At least twice a day the word was passed to “hoist ashes,” and the men got dirty all over again getting them topside and into the sea. No one was worried about pollution in those days.