HELENA - Earlier this year, the USS Montana, a Virginia-class fast attack submarine, was commissioned by the Navy, but it is far from the first naval watercraft named in honor of Big Sky country.
Since 1897, the Navy has commissioned 30 boats or ships of various types starting with the first USS Helena. The Helena was a gunboat that saw action on several occasions in the waters near Cuba and eventually the Philippines during the Spanish-American war.
The most recent ship or boat to bear a Treasure State name is the second USS Montana, a Virginia-class submarine commissioned in June.
Individual ships are not the only vessels named for Montana. Before the United States entered World War II, the Navy had named an entire class of battleships after the state.
The Montana-class battleships were designed to be larger, stronger, and have more firepower than their predecessors, the Iowa class. The Navy initially ordered five Montana-class battleships, but leaders scrapped those plans before building the first ships.
"By that time, the U.S. had won or fought at the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, and it was recognized very quickly that aircraft carriers were going to become a priority," said Guy Nasuti, a historian with Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). "And therefore, the need for battleships was going to be much less. So again, unfortunately, a Montana battleship never emerged.”
Among the 30 ships and boats with Montana namesakes, 21 were built during World War II. One of the few built after World War II was the fourth USS Helena, a Los Angeles class submarine commissioned in 1987.
The Secretary of the Navy is responsible for naming ships as part of a law passed by congress in 1819. And while that responsibility still rests with the Secretary today, the NHHC says, “the procedures and practices involved in Navy ship naming are as much, if not more, products of evolution and tradition than of legislation.”
Currently, Navy command compiles a list of suitable names for new ships. Those recommended names are forwarded to the Chief of Naval Operations who forwards them to the Secretary of the Navy for final approval.
To learn more about the history of Navy ships and their names visit the NHHC website