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Iowa Class Battleships: The Best in Its Class

Construction

The USS Iowa (BB.61) was launched on August 27, 1942. It was the first of 4 Iowa Class battleships constructed. These were the last battleships to enter the U.S. fleet.

They displaced 57,000 tons fully loaded. They had nine 16-inch (406mm) guns. Their combination of speed and maneuverability, combined with state-of-the-art fire control systems probably made them the best battleships ever made.

The last Iowa class battleship that was completed, the USS Missouri (BB.63), was launched on January 29, 1944. The USS Illinois was 22% complete when it was cancelled in August 1945. The USS Kentucky was 73% complete when construction stopped. The USS Kentucky was stricken from the Naval inventory in June 1958.[i]


[i] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

Iowa Class Battleship Stats

Source: Fighting Ships of the World (c) Phoebes Publishing COmpany Ltd, 1980.

 

 

 

Displacement - Standard

48,000 tons

 

Displacement - Full Load

57,000 tons

 

Length

887' 3" (270.43m)

 

Beam

108' 2" (32.97m)

Machinery

4-shaft geared steam turbine (212,000 shp)

Speed

33 knots

Armor

307mm (belt), 121-33mm (deck), 432mm (turrets)

Armament

9x16-in, 20 5-in, 60-80 40mm, 49-60 20mm

Compliment

2,77 (1,636 for New Jersey in Vietnam)

Aircraft WWII

3 Kingfisher floatplanes

World War II Combat Histories

In August 1943 the USS Iowa sailed with a convoy in the North Atlantic. The USS Iowa was sent to protect the convoy in case the KMS Tirpitz attempted to attack the convoy. The Tirpitz never attempted to attack the convoy. The Iowa took President Franklin D. Roosevelt to North Africa for the Cairo Conference and subsequent Tehran Conference.[i] There was a drill during this voyage. An error by torpedo-man Lawton Dawson, on the destroyer USS William D. Porter, caused a live torpedo to be launched at the Iowa. The Porter broke radio silence to warn the Iowa. The Iowa took evasive action and the torpedo caused no damage. Dawson was given a 14-year sentence. President Roosevelt commuted the sentence.[ii]

On February 16, 1944 the USS Iowa sank the Japanese light cruiser Katori. On March 18 the USS Iowa bombarded the Mili Atoll. Japanese store batteries struck the Iowa twice. These strikes by 5” and 6” shells caused only minor damage. On May 1 the Iowa bombarded an airfield and other facilities at Ponape. The Iowa destroyed an ammunition dump during the shelling of Saipan and Tinian.

The Navy credited the Iowa with shooting down 3 enemy aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19, 1944. The Navy credited the Iowa with shooting down 3 more aircraft on November 25. Typhoon Cobra caused serious damage on December 17. The Iowa lost one of its aircraft in the storm. The storm also damaged the Iowa’s shaft. The damage forced the Iowa to return to San Francisco for repairs. The Iowa reached Okinawa on April 15, 1945 to relieve the USS New Jersey. On July 15 the Iowa, along with the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin, bombarded Muroran. The bombardment damaged the Nihon Steel Company and Wanishi Ironworks. The Iowa bombarded Kahoolawe on July 29 and 30.[iii]

The USS New Jersey was launched on December 7, 1942. The New Jersey bombarded shore installations at Truk on April 29-30, 1944. The USS New Jersey and the other ships in her formation shot down two Japanese bombers. The USS New Jersey bombarded Ponape on May 1. The New Jersey and Iowa destroyed a headquarters building, damaged the airfield, and destroyed fuel tanks. On June 12 the New Jersey shot down a bomber. The New Jersey bombarded Saipan and Tinian.[iv] On October 27 the New Jersey shot down a plane that was attacking the carrier USS Intrepid. The anti-aircraft fire on the intrepid struck the New Jersey and wounded 3 of the New Jersey’s sailors. On November 25 the New Jersey shot down a plane that was diving towards the carrier USS Cabot (CVL-28).[v]

The USS Wisconsin was launched on December 7, 1943.[vi] On March 24, 1945 the Wisconsin bombarded Japanese positions on Okinawa. On April 17 the Wisconsin shot down 3 enemy planes. A USS Wisconsin seaplane rescued a downed pilot on June 8. On July 17 the USS Wisconsin bombarded Muroran, Hokkaido. The USS Wisconsin earned 5 Battle Stars during World War II.[vii]

The USS Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944. On April 11, 1945 a Japanese Zero struck the Missouri. There was a fire but no explosion. The crew quickly extinguished the fire. The Zero pilot was the only fatality. The Missouri crew gave the pilot a burial at sea with full military honors.[viii] The Japanese signed the surrender documents on the Missouri’s quarterdeck on September 2, 1945.

The Korean War

The U.S. and other navies decommissioned their battleships soon after World War II ended. James F. Dunnigan explained in his book “How to Make War”:

The modern battleship, heavily armored, with many large guns and a price tag to match, was built in large quantities. Some 170 were built between 1906 and 1945 at a cost of $180 billion 1988 dollars. These were supposed to be the primary naval weapon, yet most never saw action against another battleship. Battleships were rarely exposed to combat; they were literally too expensive to lose.[ix]

The USS Missouri was not decommissioned in the 1940s. She ran aground in 1950 and suffered severe hull damage.[x] All the Iowa class battleships served in the Korean War.

The USS Missouri reached the Korean coast in September 1950. It bombarded the Korean shore as a diversion for the Inchon landing. On December 23 the Missouri provided gunfire support to evacuating United Nations (U.N.) forces at Hungnam. Missouri remained on station until the last of the U.N. troops evacuated on December 24. The USS Missouri carried out bombardments of Korea’s east coast until March 1951.[xi]

The USS New Jersey was recommissioned and carried out its first bombardment of the Korean War on May 20, 1951. The next day Communist artillery returned fire and a shell hit the number 1 turret. The round killed a crew member and wounded two others.[xii] The New Jersey lost an anchor when raising it. [xiii] The Communist artillery also slightly damaged the destroyer USS Brinkley Bass, killed one of its crew and wounded 9 others. The New Jersey neutralized the Communist artillery. The New Jersey had another artillery duel with the Communist shore artillery on the 28th. The New Jersey neutralized the artillery and destroyed some gun emplacements. The New Jersey supported a UN advance from July 4-12. This included a landing of the Republic of Korea (ROK) 1st Division. The New Jersey struck mortar positions, supply dumps, and troop concentrations. On the 18th the New Jersey destroyed 5 artillery emplacements at Wonsan.[xiv]

From August 17 – 20 the New Jersey bombarded Communist troops that were launching counterattacks against the ROK 1st Division. From August 29-31 the New Jersey bombarded Changjon. The Changjon bombing destroyed 4 buildings and some road junctions, and heavily damaged railroad marshalling yards. On September 23 shore batteries heavily damaged the frigate USS Apnok (PF-62). The New Jersey took aboard the Apnok’s wounded. The New Jersey destroyed a bridge, a dam, two ammunition dumps, and some firing positions. A bombardment on October 16 destroyed 10 artillery positions, and destroyed trenches and bunkers. The New Jersey ended its first tour of duty in Korea in November. That month the New Jersey destroyed 4 bridges and heavily damaged 2 marshalling yards.[xv]

On November 21, 1951 the USS Wisconsin relieved the USS New Jersey. From December 2 the Wisconsin provided gunfire support to the 1st ROK Corps in the Kasong-Kosong area. The gunfire destroyed a tank, 2 artillery emplacements, and a building. On one occasion the Wisconsin fired three star shells that illuminated Communist troops that were attacking 1st ROK Corps positions. ROK forces repulsed the attack. [xvi]

On February 19, 1952 the USS Wisconsin destroyed railroad bridges and bombarded the shipyard at Kosong. On March 15 the USS Wisconsin destroyed an enemy troop train. An enemy 155mm gun struck the USS Wisconsin. The 155mm shell caused slight damage and wounded 3 sailors. The USS Wisconsin destroyed the 155mm gun. [xvii]

The USS Iowa relieved the USS Wisconsin on April 1, 1952. On April 13 the USS Iowa destroyed 6 artillery emplacements and heavily damaged a divisional headquarters.[xviii] Near Tanchon USS Iowa gunfire closed 4 railroad tunnels. On May 25 the USS Iowa destroyed the Chongjin industrial center. The bombardment was 48 miles (77 Km) from the Soviet border. On May 27 the USS Iowa closed 6 railroad tunnels and heavily damaged some bridges.[xix]

On June 9 USS Iowa helicopters rescued two downed pilots from the USS Princeton. On August 20 a Chinese battery struck the destroyer USS Thompson. The hit killed 4 USS Thompson sailors and wounded 9. The USS Iowa took USS Thompson’s wounded onboard and covered the USS Thompson as it withdrew.[xx]

Commander-in-Chief of UN Forces, General Mark Clark, was aboard the USS Iowa on September 23. The Iowa destroyed a large ammunition dump. The USS Iowa ended its Korean tour in October 1952.[xxi]

The USS Missouri began her second tour of duty in Korea in October 1952. The USS Missouri carried out her last bombardment mission on March 25, 1953. After the Missouri’s Korean tour her commanding officer, Captain Warner R. Edsall, died from a heart attack when the ship arrived at Sasebo, Japan.[xxii]

The USS New Jersey began her second Korean tour on April 1953. The USS New Jersey bombarded Chongjin on April 12. The New Jersey scored 7 direct hits that destroyed half of the main communications building. On April 20 the New Jersey neutralized the shore batteries near Wonsan Harbor. On April 23 the New Jersey struck a railroad tunnel and took out two railroad bridges. From May 27-29 the New Jersey 5-inch guns neutralized enemy shore batteries. Her 16-inch guns destroyed 9 artillery emplacements and a target that was either a fuel storage or ammunition depot. The USS New Jersey provided troop support from June 7. In this role she destroyed 2 artillery positions, an observation post, and some trench lines. On June 23 the USS New Jersey destroyed a cave and closed 4 others. On July 11-13 the New Jersey destroyed 10 artillery pieces, damaged many others, a radar control position, damaged bridges, and closed caves and tunnels. On July 22-24 she closed a cave. During July 1953 the USS New Jersey also destroyed bunkers, tanks, and other weapons.[xxiii]

[i] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

[ii] Weapons and Warfare, The Iowa Incident, 14 November 1943, https://weaponsandwarfare.com/2017/09/08/the-iowa-incident-14-november-1943/, last accessed 1/3/20.

[iii] Battleship Iowa, https://www.pacificbattleship.com/learn-the-history/world-war-ii/, last accessed 1/3/20.

[iv] Battleship New Jersey Organization, https://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/the-ship/full-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[v] Hullnumber.com, U.S.S. New Jersey, http://www.hullnumber.com/BB-62, last accessed 1/9/20

[vi] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

[vii] USS Wisconsin Organization, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[viii] USS Missouri Organization, https://ussmissouri.org/learn-the-history/world-war-ii-1/kamikaze-story, last accessed 1/11/20.

[ix] How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare, by James F. Dunnigan © 1988, P. 560.

[x] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

[xi] USS Missouri Organization, Korean War, https://ussmissouri.org/learn-the-history/korean-war/, last accessed 1/7/20.

[xii] Hullnumber.com, U.S.S. New Jersey, http://www.hullnumber.com/BB-62, last accessed 1/7/20.

[xiii] Battleship New Jersey Organization, Korea, by Andrew Adams, https://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/the-ship/korea/, last accessed 1/7/20.

[xiv] Hullnumber.com, U.S.S. New Jersey, http://www.hullnumber.com/BB-62, last accessed 1/9/20.

[xv] Hullnumber.com, U.S.S. New Jersey, http://www.hullnumber.com/BB-62, last accessed 1/9/20.

[xvi] USS Wisconsin Organization, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xvii] USS Wisconsin Organization, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xviii] Pacific Battleship.com, https://www.pacificbattleship.com/learn-the-history/the-korean-conflict/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xix] USS Wisconsin Organization, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xx] USS Wisconsin Organization, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xxi] USS Wisconsin Organization, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xxii] USS Missouri.org, https://ussmissouri.org/learn-the-history/korean-war/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[xxiii] Battleship New Jersey Organization, https://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/the-ship/full-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

USS New Jersey and Vietnam

The US Navy decommissioned the USS Iowa in 1953, the USS Missouri in 1955, and the USS New Jersey in 1957. In 1956 the USS Wisconsin collided with the destroyer USS Eaton (DDE-510).[i] The mishap heavily damaged both ships there was one injury on the USS Eaton. Commander Richard Varley of the USS Eaton was court-martialed and found negligent.[ii] The never completed USS Kentucky provided its bow to replace Wisconsin’s damaged bow. The US Navy decommissioned the USS Wisconsin in 1958. [iii]

With the USS Wisconsin decommissioning it seemed the age of the dreadnaught was over. In 1968, the height of the Vietnam War, the US Navy decided the heavy guns of a battleship could strike targets further inland than the guns then in the naval inventory. The navy removed the USS New Jersey’s 40mm battery and added a helicopter landing pad and upgraded its electronics.[iv]

On 30 September 1968 the USS New Jersey destroyed two artillery positions and two supply areas. On October 1 the New Jersey rescued the crew of a downed aircraft. During its Vietnam tour the New Jersey fired 3,000 16-inch rounds and 7,000 other artillery rounds at enemy positions. The USS New Jersey was returning to the United States when a North Korean MiG-17 shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121 on April 15, 1969. The attack killed the EC-121 crew of 31. The USS New Jersey joined an ad hoc task force should the situation escalate. The U.S. decided not give a military response to the provocation and the USS New Jersey returned to Long Beach, California.[v] A shortage of 16-inch barrel liners forced the U.S. Navy to decommission the USS New Jersey in December 1969.[vi]


[i] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

[ii] USS Eaton DD-510 Guestbook 1997-2002.

[iii] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

[iv] Battleship New Jersey Organization, https://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/the-ship/full-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[v] Battleship New Jersey Organization, https://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/the-ship/full-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[vi] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited.

The 1980s and 1990s

The 1980 publication, Fighting Ships of the World, stated of the USS New Jersey’s 1968 deployment, “…she recommissioned in April 1968 for what must surely be the last operation involving battleships.”[i] Soon after President Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981, he announced plans to reactivate the Iowa class battleships.

The recommissioning program had the usual opposition from those who believe money spent on the military could be better used for other purposes. There were also those who questioned the wisdom of recommissioning 40-year-old warships. One detractor claimed the battleships would remain active for about 5 years.

Many were enthusiastic about recommissioning the battleships. They believed these ships would add an awesome amount of firepower to the U.S. Navy quicker and cheaper than other options. Some battleship veterans wanted to join the Navy so they could again serve on these battleships.

The navy recommissioned the USS New Jersey on December 28, 1982. Her upgrades include 16 Harpoon and 32 Tomahawk missiles. On December 14, 1983 the New Jersey fired 11 rounds from its 16-inch guns at targets in Beirut, Lebanon. President Reagan announced the end of the U.S. participation in the Lebanon peacekeeping force. The next day the New Jersey fired almost 300 rounds at Druze and Syrian positions in the Bekka Valley. The targets hit included a Syrian command post. The bombardment killed the general commanding Syrian forces in Lebanon and other senior officers.[ii] The Druze were impressed with themselves that the U.S. brought their biggest guns against them. The U.S. Navy found the New Jersey’s 5-inch (127 mm) guns weren’t as effective as the 5-inch guns on their modern ships. The peacekeeping effort in Lebanon was a costly failure. The navy decommissioned the USS New Jersey on February 8, 1991.

The navy recommissioned the USS Iowa on April 8, 1984. On April 18, 1989 an explosion in the Iowa’s Number Two 16-inch gun turret killed 47 sailors. The navy suspended live fire exercises of 16-inch guns pending the investigation’s outcome.

Naval investigators and the Federal Bureau of Investigation concocted a story that one of the victims, Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Clayton Hartwig planted a bomb in the gun to kill himself and his lover, Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Kendall Truitt, because Hartwig felt scorned. Navy investigators coerced another crewman, David Smith, to say Hartwig propositioned him. Truitt survived the blast. Truitt and Hartwig were not homosexuals. The Navy investigators’ story soon fell apart. According to retired Commander Ward Carroll, a spokesperson for the Naval Safety Center at the time, the USS Iowa failed its first inspection and inspectors recommended the Iowa be decommissioned. Sandia National Laboratories determined the powder was rammed 24 inches too far. That compressed the powder charge against the base of the dummy projectile before it ignited. The Navy made changes based on the Sandia National Laboratories report. The Navy decommissioned the USS Iowa in October 1990.[iii]

The Navy recommissioned the USS Missouri on May 10, 1986. The USS Missouri launched cruise missiles against Iraqi targets on the opening night of Operation Desert Storm, January 17, 1991. The Missouri launched 27 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 112 16-inch rounds against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. It launched 60 rounds off Khafji. The allied forces wanted the Iraqis to believe there would be an amphibious landing in Kuwait. As part of this feint the USS Missouri fired 133 16-inch rounds against Iraqi forces. Iraq launched a Silkworm missile at the Missouri. The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Gloucester shot down the Silkworm. The USS Missouri left the Persian Gulf on March 21, 1991.[iv] On March 31, 1992 the Navy decommissioned the USS Missouri.[v]

The Navy recommissioned the USS Wisconsin on October 22, 1988. The USS Wisconsin fired 8 Tomahawk cruise missiles on the first night of Operation Desert Storm. The Wisconsin launched another 24 Tomahawks over the next two days. On February 6, the Wisconsin destroyed an Iraqi artillery battery. The next day the Wisconsin heavily damaged an Iraqi communication facility, she destroyed and damaged piers and 15 small boats. On February 21 the Wisconsin destroyed or heavily damaged 10 buildings with 50 16-inch rounds. On the 23rd she destroyed infantry and artillery positions, command posts and Surface to Air Missile sites with 94 16-inch rounds. Over the next two days the Wisconsin suppressed two bunker complexes in Kuwait City. The USS Wisconsin fired her last round on February 28. On September 30, 1991 the Navy decommissioned the USS Wisconsin.[vi]


[i] Fighting Ships of the World, © 1980 Phoebus Publishing Company/BPC Publishing Limited. Pg. 212.

[ii] Battleship New Jersey Organization, https://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/the-ship/full-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

[iii] “First came the explosion. Then, the cover-up”, by Jeff Schogol, April 19, 2019, https://taskandpurpose.com/iowa-explosion, last accessed 1/11/20.

[iv] USS Missouri.org, https://ussmissouri.org/learn-the-history/operation-desert-storm, last accessed 1/11/20.

[v] USS Missouri.org, https://ussmissouri.org/learn-the-history/the-last-battleship, last accessed 1/11/20.

[vi] USS Wisconsin.org, https://www.usswisconsin.org/wp/ships-history/, last accessed 1/11/20.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on May 31, 2020:

Ships and planes are bad places when it comes to communicable diseases. Glad the person you know didn't catch the virus.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2020:

A worry these days for personnel stationed aboard battleships, or submarines, etc. is how quickly COVID-19 can spread. After several deaths aboard the Roosevelt, military personnel were allowed to disembark, quarantine, and when deemed safe, once again came back on board. We know the family of one such person. Fortunately, she did not contract the virus.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 14, 2020:

Liz Westwood - Here's to a wide release of the book.

Mary Norton - Thank you for reading and commenting I visited the USS Wisconsin. The size is amazing. Attack carriers are even bigger. These large ships are amazing.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 14, 2020:

Thanks for your interest, Robert. At the moment the book is destined for private publication. But, who knows what the future might hold for it. I will be sure to let you know if it becomes more widely available.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 13, 2020:

My husband was really interested in these battleships that we visited several already moored onshore now. I would like to see the new ones, now. They must truly be powerful.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 13, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

FlourishAnyway - In the United States battleships were named after states. Japan named theirs after ancient provinces. I agree with you about the Navy's behavior after the accident. Militaries have a habit of picking a fall guy. It's convenient to blame it on a dead guy. I'm glad they didn't get away with it that time.

Liz Westwood - By writing HubPages I realized much of what was current events for me is now history. The book you are editing, is it due to hit the shelves soon?

Liz Westwood from UK on January 12, 2020:

I have often overlooked the period of history after World War 2, but I have recently been editing a book about National Service in this period and learnt a little about the UK army at this time. In my childhood it was too recent to study, but now the years have passed I am starting to look at it with interest.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 12, 2020:

I was struck by the sentence of that torpedo man for accidentally firing at the ship. Granted the passenger was pretty important but it was a terrible error. Good for him it was commuted. That falsified story the Navy made up to frame innocent people for the death of those sailors was really pretty evil. So sad.

Question- how do they determine the naming of battleships?

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 12, 2020:

After World War II western countries went on a big disarmament binge. When the Korean War broke out America did a lot of scrounging for WWII surplus hardware. During Vietnam they tried a lot of things with mixed success. In 1980 the U.S. military was at a low point in many areas. The battleships seemed to give the Navy a morale boost. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 12, 2020:

I was interested to read how these ships were brought in and out of service over a period spanning many years. They certainly proved to be useful.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 12, 2020:

Thank you both for reading and commenting. This article really snowballed. Up until the last minute I was thinking about cutting it into 2 articles but It seems the information flow is best as a single article.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 12, 2020:

I really liked learning about the history of these four battleships. You gave us a wealth of well-documented information and i appreciate it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 12, 2020:

It is interesting knowing some of the backgrounds of these battleships and where they were sent. You certainly do educate us about the history of airplanes, and now battleships. Good job!