USS Iowa BB-4 - History

USS Iowa BB-4 - History

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USS Iowa BB-4

(BB-4: dp. 11,346; 1. 360'; b. 72'2", dr. 24'; s. 17 k.cpl; 727; a. 4 12", 8 8", 6 4", 20 6-pdrs., 4 1-pdrs,, 24 14’tt)

The second Iowa (BB-4) was laid down by William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia, 5 August 1893, Iaunched 28 March 1896; sponsored by Miss M. L. Drake, daughter of the governor of Iowa; and commissioned 16 June 1897, Captain W. T. Sampson in command.

After shakedown off the Atlantic Coast, Iowa was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and was ordered to blockade duty, 28 May 1898, off Santiago de Cuba. On 3 July 1898, she was the first to sight the Spanish ships approaching and fired the first shot in the Battle of Santiagode Cuba. In a 20-minute battle with Spanish cruisers
Maria Teresa (flagship) and Oquendo, her effective fire set both ships aflame and drove them on the beach. Iowa continuing the battle in company with converted yacht Oloucester, sank the Spanish destroyer Pluton and so damaged destroyer Furor that she ran upon the rocks. Iowa then turned her attention to the Spanish cruiser Viscaga which she pursued until Visoeva ran aground. Upon the conclusion of the battle. Iowa received on board Spanish Admiral Cervera and the officers and crews of the Viscaya, Furor and Pluton.

After the Battle of Santiago, lowa left Cuban waters for New York, arriving 20 August 1898. On 12 October 1898, she departed for duty in the Pacidc, sailed around Cape.Horn, and arrived San Francisco 7 February 1899. The battleship then steamed to Bremerton, Wash., where she entered drydock 11 June 1899. After reds, Iowa served in the Paclfic Squadron for 21/2 years, conducting training cruises, drills, and target practice Iowa left the Pacific early in February 1902 to become flagship of the South Atlantic Squadron. She sailed for New York 12 February 1903 where she decommissioned 30 June 1903.

Iowa recommissioned 23 December 1903 and joined the North Atlantic Squadron. She participated in the John Paul Jones Commemoration ceremonies, 30 June 1905. Iowa remained in the North Atlantic until she was placed in reserve 6 July 1907. She decommissioned at Philadelphia 23 July 1908.

Iowa recommissioned 2 May 1910 and served as an nt sen trnining ship and as a component of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. During the next 4 years she made a number of training cruises to Northern Europe and participated in the Naval Review at Philadelphia, 10 to 15 October 1912. She decommissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard 27 May 1914. At the outbreak of the first World War, Iowa was placed in limited commission 23 April 1917. After serving as Receiving Ship at Philadelphia for 6 months, she was sent to Hampton Roads, Va., and remained there for the duration of the war, training men for other ships of the Fleet, and doing guard duty at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. She decommissioned for the final time 31 March 1919.

On 30 April 1919, Iowa was renamed Coast Battleship No. 4, and was the first radio controlled target ship to be used in a fleet exercise. She was sunk 23 March 1923 in Panama Bay by a salvo of 14-inch shells.

BB-53 was laid down as Iowa at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., 17 May 1920, but on 8 February 1922, work was suspended when the ship was 31.8 percent complete. Construction was cancelled 17 August 1923 in accordance with the terms of the Washington Treaty limiting Naval armaments. She was sold for scrap 8 November 1923.

Iowa-Class: GOAT Battleships That Have a Special Place in Naval History.

They have a story that would be worthy of a movie--and one of these famed battleships was even IN a movie.

If the film Under Siege were made today it would be a lot less exciting – as the centerpiece of this "Die Hard at Sea" story involved rogue operators hi-jacking the USS Missouri (BB-63) to steal its Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles and sell them on the black market. Today the best that any team of highly trained mercenaries would get would be some toys from the gift shop.

That's because, along with the other three Iowa-class battleships, USS Missouri is now a floating museum. It was decommissioned on March 31, 1992 – the same year the film came out – and struck from the Naval Vessel Register in early 1995, before being donated to become a museum ship at Pearl Harbor – as a matter of note another museum ship, USS Alabama (BB-60) stood in for the USS Missouri in the film.

However, the fact that a warship built in World War II would be the centerpiece of a film that involves the theft of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War Era actually highlights how versatile the Iowa­-class actually was. Six of the fast capital ships were ordered, and four were constructed– including the lead ship of her class, USS Iowa (BB-61) along with her sisters USS New Jersey (BB-62) and USS Wisconsin (BB-64). Two additional ships, the planned Illinois and Kentucky were laid but canceled with both hulls scrapped.

Yet, even as the Second World War marked the end of the "Age of Battleships," all four ships remained on the Naval Vessel Registry while all older U.S. battleships were decommissioned.

The class improved upon the earlier South Dakota-class, with more powerful engines and longer-caliber guns that offered far greater range. More importantly, the Iowa-class were designed as "fast" battleships that mixed speed and firepower and this enabled it to travel with a carrier force. While sleek in design, these battleships were actually constructed so as to be able to travel through the Panama Canal, which enabled the warships to respond to threats around the world.

It was aboard the USS Missouri, where in September 1945 the Emperor of Japan officially surrendered and ended World War II. That could have marked the end of this class of warships, and for a while it actually did. By the outbreak of the Korean War, only the USS Missouri remained on active duty. During the war, her three sisters were reactivated and provided naval gunfire support. While the range of the 16-inch guns was limited to just 20 miles, the warships operated on both coasts and that put a quarter of the Korean peninsula within range.

Following the war, all four ships were decommissioned – with the USS New Jersey briefly being called up during the Vietnam War – until the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan called for a 600-ship U.S. Navy. All four of the ships were reactivated and upgraded with new combat systems that replaced the many of the ships' smaller five-inch guns with a launcher for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles and four Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS) – the latter is seen in use in the aforementioned Under Siege film.

By the end of the decade of excess the Cold War was nearly won, and the horizon was setting for battleships. Iowa and New Jersey were actually in the process of being decommissioned when Missouri and Wisconsin were deployed to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Storm, where they launched Tomahawk missiles at Iraqi targets. Both ships conducted naval fire missions to convince the Iraqi Army that the coalition forces would engage with an amphibious assault, tying up thousands of Iraqi units.

But by 1992 the sun finally set on the Age of the Battleship, and all four were converted to museum ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (USS Missouri), Los Angeles, California (USS Iowa), Norfolk, Virginia (USS Wisconsin) and Trenton, New Jersey (USS New Jersey).

One of the reasons that the ships were converted into museums, yet not altered in any way that would impair their respective military ability, is because theoretically each could be reactivated for service if the need came. While there have been calls for the battlewagons to return to the sea, for now, their job is simply to help preserve the memories of the sacrifices made by those who served and to highlight the history of the American battleship.

Remembering the USS Iowa explosion and aftermath

It’s been more than 30 years since an explosion inside the number two gun turret on the USS Iowa killed 47 American sailors, but for Mike Carr, it still feels like yesterday.

“I knew all 47 guys inside that turret because as part of the ship’s policy we had rotated between all three turrets,” Carr, who served as a gunner’s mate in the Iowa’s aft 16-inch turret, told Task & Purpose. “We all knew each other rather intimately.”

On April 19, 1989, the day of the blast, the ship was preparing for live-fire training at Vieques, Puerto Rico Naval Training Range.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 19, 2019.

Carr was wearing headphones that allowed him to hear what the crews in the other turrets were saying.

“At 10 minutes to 10 a.m., somebody came over the phones and said, ‘We’re having a problem, Turret 2, center gun,'” Carr recalled. “Then approximately two minutes later, I recognized Senior Chief [Reginald] Ziegler, who was the chief in charge of Turret 2, yell into the phones: ‘Fire, fire, fire! Fire in center gun, turret 2. Trying to contain it.'”

Then came the blast, which was so strong that it ripped the headphones right off Carr’s head.

Black smoke poured out from the burning No. 2 turret as Carr and other sailors donned their firefighting gear. Then they found two sailors who had been blown from the turret onto the deck.

“I held one in my hands as he passed,” Carr said. “He died in my arms.”

Carr was eventually able to climb into the wrecked turret. The scene inside was too terrible to describe. He battled to contain the fire until he passed out from smoke inhalation, waking up later in an emergency dress battle station.

It took the sailors eight hours to douse the blaze. Luckily, the fire did not set off the powder bags in the other two guns.

In the years since the blast, Carr has surmised what might have happened. It’s possible that the powder bags began to smoke because they were old, so the gun captain rammed the bags with too much power.

“This is just from my experience of three years of working and shooting those guns: Eventually the powder bags ripped … and the rammer head or the rammer chain sparked, and that’s what set off the first explosion,” Carr said.

The guns’ lubricants were the next to ignite, he said.

“The powder door was still open to the center gun — that armored hatch was still open,” Carr said. “That fireball went straight to the bottom of the turret. When we’re doing a shot with more than three shells, you would stage powder bags inside the powder flats. So when that flame came down, all those powder bags went off, and that was the third and final detonation.”

The last explosion was so strong that it blew the turret’s two-ton hatch off its hinges and into the water, he said.

The deadly blast aboard the Iowa marked the first explosion in a battleship turret since 1943, when 43 sailors aboard the USS Mississippi were killed, the Government Accountability Office later determined. But unlike other explosions, the 16-inch gun in the No. 2 Turret was cold, meaning it hadn’t been fired yet.

The loading process for the 16-inch guns. First, the shell is loaded on the tray and rammed into the gun breech. Then powder bags are rolled into the tray. Finally, the rammerman operates a lever to ram them into the breech, which is then closed and locked.

The blame game

It wasn’t long after the Iowa returned home that the Navy seemed to be looking for someone to blame the disaster on. Those people turned out to be Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Clayton Hartwig, whom the Navy had initially claimed had loaded the gun before it exploded, and his best friend, Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Kendall Truitt.

“Interestingly, I was never read my rights, nor did I realize that I was a suspect,” Truitt told Task & Purpose. “I just thought they had some really strange questions for what I assumed was an honest attempt at an investigation.”

Truitt was in the magazine below the No. 2 turret when the gun exploded above him. He braved the flames, smoke, and carnage inside the turret to turn on sprinklers so that bags of gunpowder would not go off, and he secured hatches so that the accumulating water would not sink the ship, he told Penthouse in a January 1990 interview.

Petty Officer Clayton Hartwig (right)Photo: US Navy

But when investigators learned that Hartwig had named Truitt the beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy, they claimed that Hartwig — who died in the blast — had planted a bomb in the gun. They further claimed Hartwig became suicidal because he and Truitt – who was married at the time – had been lovers but Truitt had rebuffed him.

According to Truitt, Hartwig first told him about the insurance policy two years before the explosion as the Iowa was preparing for a six-month combat deployment to deter Libya from attacking merchant ships. All of the crew had been advised to set up allotment accounts for their families. While at Navy Federal, bankers told Hartwig that buying an extra life insurance policy would only cost $4 per month. He already had policies that named his parents and another friend as beneficiaries.

“He hit me on the shoulder one day, and he’s like, ‘If I ever die, you’re going to be a rich man,'” Truitt recalled. “I was like: OK I’ll bite why? He said: “It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about collecting. You’re 19, I’m 23, it’s going to be a while.’ I said, again, this is weird. He said: ‘No, it’s the same thing my dad did.”

Hartwig’s father had seen combat in the Navy as a gunner’s mate, Truitt said. At the time, sailors in his father’s division all took out life insurance policies on each other.

After the explosion, Truitt mentioned the insurance policy in passing to Hartwig’s family. They subsequently wrote lawmakers saying that it was unfair Truitt would receive the money instead of Hartwig’s parents.

“Thus helping Kendall suddenly become a suspect,” Truitt said. “That’s sort of what started the whole thing.”

Another sailor, David Smith, claimed that Navy investigators had coerced him into telling them Hartwig propositioned him and discussed how to use a bomb’s timer, the Washington Post reported in September 1989.

The military looks for scapegoats when people die rather than admit their mistakes – or acknowledge that accidents are even possible, Truitt said. In the case of the Iowa, the devastating blast happened toward the tail end of the Cold War, when the Navy felt it needed 600 ships to counter the Soviets. Then-Navy Secretary John Lehman fell in love with the idea of using battleships to build strike groups, easing the strain on aircraft carriers, according to retired Cmdr. Ward Carroll, a naval aviator who was a spokesman for the Naval Safety Center at the time.

Iowa fires a full broadside of nine 16-inch (406 mm)/50-caliber and six 5-inch (127 mm)/38 cal guns during a target exercise near Vieques Island,

But it soon became apparent that the World War II-era battleships required too much time, money, and manpower to be overhauled, Carroll said. In fact, the Iowa did so poorly on its first inspection that it was recommended to be decommissioned.

The Iowa subsequently went to the shipyard so its power plant could be improved, but its gun systems weren’t updated, he said. It was also clear that each 16-inch gun turret required more sailors than the Navy could afford to assign.

“It’s a classic example of Navy leaders not being willing to speak truth to power and make the hard decisions,” Carroll said. “If this story sounds familiar, it’s because this is kind of the oldest story ever told around the U.S. Navy.”

Rather than admitting that the age of the battleship was over, Navy leaders cut corners on training, manpower, and maintenance to get the Iowa back out to sea, he said.

“The sad thing is I understand what they were doing and why they were doing it,” Truitt told Task & Purpose. “They were trying to build up the Navy. The military eats their own – it takes a while to realize that.”

Facts later emerged that undermined the Navy’s first investigation into the explosion, Truitt said. For example, Hartwig had not been responsible for loading the gun, as the Navy initially claimed.

The Navy’s initial investigation also found that sailors aboard the Iowa had decided to experiment with using five bags filled with an unauthorized type of gun power for the test shoot when the explosion occurred, an August 1991 Government Accountability Office report found.

Sandia National Laboratories later determined that the powder had been rammed 24 inches too far, compressing the powder charge against the base of the dummy projectile before it ignited, the GAO report said.

“Imagine an old timey cap gun, where you remove the caps, and bang them with a hammer,” Truitt said. “This is essentially what happened.”

Although the Navy never officially determined what caused the Iowa explosion, it made a series of changes to how 16-inch guns were operated after independent tests by Sandia National Laboratories showed that powder bags could detonate when accidentally rammed too hard.

Those changes included inspecting the Navy’s entire inventory of powder bags, discarding any bags packed in a certain way that could lead to an accidental explosion, and making sure the rammer control level on 16-inch guns could not be moved to the high speed position while loading powder bags, according to a 1991 Navy-wide message.

Navy pallbearers carry the remains of one of the 47 crew members killed in an explosion aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61). The explosion occurred in the No. 2 16-inch gun turret as the IOWA was conducting routine gunnery exercises approximately 300 miles northeast of Puerto Rico on April 19th. Photo: US Navy

More than two years after the deadly explosion, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Frank Kelso reluctantly apologized to Hartwig’s family in October 1991. He offered no apology to Truitt or Smith.

“We did not accuse Kendall Truitt of anything in the investigation or the other gent,” Kelso said. “I regret the accident occurred, obviously. I’m very sorry it ever occurred. I think it was a terrible, terrific tragedy that we had. I’m sorry for anyone’s personal grief or personal anguish over that.”

“I extend my sincere regrets to the family of Hartwig,” he said. “We’re sorry Clayton Hartwig was accused of this.”

‘It smacked of a cover-up’

For Carroll, the former Naval Safety Center spokesman, the Iowa explosion and the Navy’s first attempt to explain it sounded eerily similar to the USS McCain and Fitzgerald collisions in 2017.

“This dynamic is kind of classic with respect to a catastrophe and the that follows it,” said Carroll.

Navy leaders hoped that the media would accept the theory that Hartwig was responsible for the blast so they would not have to answer questions about the underlying causes of the disaster, said Carroll, now director of outreach and marketing for the U.S. Naval Institute.

“What became obvious in time was this was another classic circumstance of mishandling the initial information and creating these causal factors that proved to be inaccurate – and a bit sensational, really, with respect to the homosexual love triangle,” Carroll told Task & Purpose.

“When it’s all said and done, it smacked of a cover-up. Certainly, the families of the fallen sailors were not satisfied with the initial report – and in some ways, those questions have never been fully answered.”

The explosion meant the end of the line for the Iowa. The ship was decommissioned in October 1990.

The other three Iowa-class battleships that had been reactivated were also decommissioned over the next couple years because they were too expensive to operate, their manning needs could not be met, and sailors had to train to operate equipment on them that was not found on other warships, said Ryan Peeks, a naval historian with Naval History and Heritage Command.

“While negative publicity from the Iowa turret explosion did not help the case for keeping the battleships in service, the decision to decommission them was simply a case of Navy leadership finding that other classes of warship provided more capability (especially with regard to carrying cruise missiles) for less money,” Peeks told Task & Purpose.

Coping in the aftermath

Truitt is currently unemployed and looking for work. It’s been hard for him to hold down a job since the explosion 30 years ago.

He left the Navy, attended college, and worked for different contractors that his uncle hired when he developed properties. Eventually, the media attention surrounding him faded away.

But the experience of defending Hartwig from false accusations has left a lasting impression on Truitt that has made it difficult to avoid conflicts.

“I’ve found that I have a heightened sense of right and wrong and I don’t suffer fools very well,” he said. “I have lost a few jobs based on principles when a normal person might have been able to shrug it off. I don’t play politics very well. I’m incredibly direct. It serves me well with managers that appreciate that. It has not served me well in the larger corporations.”

Truitt had been married for four months at the time of the explosion. He and his wife divorced in 1991.

“My wife was supportive for a couple of years, and then had had enough of the press conferences, enough of the drama,” he said.

“My wife’s family was very supportive, but unfortunately, it cost them their business. (They had recently opened a small restaurant in a strip mall that had been growing, “but once they openly supported me in the press, their business quickly failed due to loss of customers,” he said.)

A few of Truitt’s family members could not understand why it was so important for him to clear Hartwig’s name. They just wanted all the notoriety to go away, and eventually, they urged him to move on with his life.

“I didn’t feel like anyone else could defend Clay the way I could, so I felt very alone in my pursuit to clear him and his family name,” Truitt said.

Admiral Jerome Johnson’s image is reflected in a window as he is interviewed by reporters on 26 October 1990 during Iowa’s decommissioning. Behind the window is a plaque commemorating the turret explosion.

Every year, former sailors who served aboard the Iowa gather in Norfolk, Virginia, to commemorate the accident’s anniversary.

“These men still suffer from PTSD because of everything that happened that day and from the fallout of that tragic accident,” said John Schultz, a crewman on the Iowa from 1983 to 1987. “The biggest thing we concentrate on every year is our shipmates and their healing.”

The annual ceremony allows sailors to talk about the pain they are still going through, said Schultz, the emcee at each year’s event.

Up to 300 former Iowa sailors are expected to attend Friday’s ceremony, which has proven to be a catharsis for veterans still trying to cope with past trauma, he said.

“A wise man once said: ‘Funerals and memorial services are for the living,'” Schultz said. “I see new guys come every year and they sit alone in a chair. I can see the weight that PTSD has put on them. I see that they’re alone. I see that they’re hurt. They just look devastated.

“But yet, one of their shipmates that they served with comes in and they sit down and they start talking. This man, who 30 minutes earlier was just depressed and looked dead to the world is now smiling and laughing and drinking a beer with his friend. That’s the way the healing starts.”

Iowa’s Battleship Legacy

USS Iowa BB-61 was one of four battleships in the Iowa Class, the finest class of battleship ever built. The Iowa class battleships had an unmatched combination of firepower, armor and speed.

The USS Iowa BB-61 was built in the New York Shipyards. The ship was christened by Vice President (and Iowa native) Henry A. Wallace’s wife, Ilo Browne Wallace, when she popped a bottle of champagne on the ship’s bow on February 22 1943.The ship officially entered service in August 1943, part of Operation Tirpitz Watch. The crew was charged with watching the German Battleship, Tirpitz. Tirpitz posed a threat against Allied Forces and Supply Convoys traveling the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.

In November 1943, the USS Iowa carried President Roosevelt and select members of his staff to the secret Tehran Conference, where he met with Stalin and Churchill. Before boarding the ship, architects had a special bathtub installed in the Presidential Suite to accommodate President Roosevelt’s polio.

Less than a year later, the USS Iowa BB-61 was moved to the Pacific Coast of the United States. As a member of the Pacific Fleet Task Force 58, USS Iowa BB-61 supported carrier strikes against the Japanese in the Philippine Sea in throughout 1944, until the Japanese surrender.

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese surrendered on the USS Missouri BB-63, an Iowa Class Battleship. The USS Iowa BB-61 was just miles away serving communication needs of the US Navy.

In 1958 the USS Iowa BB-61 was decommissioned. It was recommissioned in 1982 after being refitted for modern combat. USS Iowa BB-61 was used in the Korean War.

Throughout its service, USS Iowa BB-61 was home to one of many Navy service dogs: Victory. Regularly called ‘Vicky,’ the pup was tasked with keeping the crew’s morale high. She is commonly considered the most traveled dog in the US Navy.

After a 1989 explosion of the 16-inch turrets aboard the ship, USS Iowa BB-61 was finally decommissioned. Along with the three other Iowa Class Battleships, the USS Iowa BB- 61 had become too expensive to maintain. Due to defense budget cuts and a lack of Soviet threat after the fall of the USSR, the ship was decommissioned for the last time in the 1990s.

After decommissioning, the USS Iowa BB-61 was reconditioned and moved to a permanent home at the Pacific Battleship Center in Los Angles. Today, the ship is open as the only battleship museum on the West Coast, commemorating its service to the United States.

Sarah Grant and her talented team of designers and artists created interpretive panels, telling the story of the USS Iowa BB-61. Awaiting transportation to the battleship, they can be found on display in the atrium of the State Historical Building of Iowa. Additionally, the State Historical Museum of Iowa has original silver from the USS Iowa BB-61 on display in an exhibit on the second-floor of the building.

Iowa Class Battleships From 1940 to Present

September 30, 1940. Workers lay out the bottom hull plates for the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) about one month into her construction. Iowa would be the leadship for a new class of battleship design was free of the limitations imposed by the Second London Naval Treaty.

1941. The ceremonial driving of the first rivet for the battleship USS Missouri.

December 7, 1942. The Battleship USS New Jersey slides down the ways on the one year anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The day that saw the loss of many battleship of the United States Navy now sees one of its most powerful take to the water.

1943. The hull of the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) looks like she is ready to take to the water. In a few months she would finally slide down the ways during her christening on December 7, 1943.

November 1944. USS Wisconsin (BB-64) ties up to the hulk of the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) while stopping at Pearl Harbor. Wisconsin was 304′ longer than Oklahoma and displaced almost twice as much. Oklahoma was sunk at Pearl Harbor three years earlier. Now it was Wisconsin’s turn to go on the offensive as she headed to the front lines.

September 2, 1945. Swarms of aircraft fly over the battleship Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender to the Allies by the Empire of Japan.

April 5, 1946. USS Missouri anchored off of Istanbul, Turkey. She brought home the body of the Turkish Ambassador Mehmet Munir Ertegun. She is accompanied by the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz, formally the battlecruiser SMS Goeben of the Imperial German Navy.

May 24, 1947. USS Iowa (BB-61) anchored in San Francisco Bay.

June 1948. USS New Jersey being moved from the New York Navy Yard to the Bayonne Shipyard in New Jersey for decommissioning. The dome shaped structures adorning her are covers for her 40mm anti-aircraft guns.

Summer 1949. USS Missouri tied up to the pier at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Photos like this really show off just how amazingly large these leviathans truly were.

October 21, 1950. USS Missouri fires a salvo into Chong Jin, Korea. Missouri was the first battleship to arrive off of Korea and she quickly set to work pummeling targets of opportunity. The firepower of the battleships was devastating to North Korean and Chinese forces.

November 10, 1951. USS New Jersey (BB-62) unleashes a broadside into the region surrounding the 38th Parallel during the Korean War. A haze of smoke in the background marks the location of a previous salvo.

April 1952. USS Wisconsin is used to test the lifting power of the largest drydock available to the United States Navy, AFDB-1. AFDB-1, named Artisan was first used during the Second World War. It was one of the only floating drydocks capable of handling an Iowa class battleship. She was moved to Guam to serve as a forward repair base during the Korean War.

1953. New Jersey lends her firepower during the Korean War. Judging by the elevation of her 16″ guns, she is firing at extreme range. The Iowa class were capable of sending a 2,700lb shell to just over 42,345 yards (24.05 miles).

June 7, 1954. All four battleships of the Iowa class steam together as Battleship Division 2. This was the only time that all four sisters were together. The ships (from nearest to farthest) are USS Iowa, USS Wisconsin, USS Missouri, and USS New Jersey.

1955. USS New Jersey takes on fuel from the fleet oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-144) along with the destroyer USS Bordelon (DDR-881). New Jersey was operating in the Mediterranean Sea at this time.

May 1956. USS Wisconsin steams to port with a chunk of her bow missing. On the sixth of May, she had collided with the destroyer USS Eaton (DD-510). Wisconsin was repaired by replacing her damaged bow with that of her never finished sister, USS Kentucky (BB-66).

June 13, 1957. USS Iowa at Hampton Roads, Virginia. She was there to take part in the International Naval review.

1958. USS Wisconsin cruising off of Hampton Roads. This was one of the last cruises she would conduct before being decommissioned later that year.

February 6, 1959. The sixth ship of the Iowa class, USS Kentucky (BB-66) is towed up the Chesapeake Bay on her way to the scrappers. Her deck is littered with unused material including 5″ gun barrels and their turrets. Kentucky and her sister, Illinois (BB-65), were both cancelled during construction.

1962. Three Iowa class battleships mothballed at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. From back to front: USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, and USS Wisconsin. New Jersey was originally stored at Bayonne, New Jersey but had been moved to Philadelphia the previous year.

July 4, 1963. USS Missouri continues sit in mothballs at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Missouri was mothballed on the West Coast while her sisters were on the East Coast.

April 10, 1964. Despite her mothballed status, Missouri served as the location of the memorial service that honored General Douglas MacArthur following his passing.

April 1965. The battleships New Jersey (Left) and Iowa (Right) tied up together at Philadelphia. Wisconsin had been temporarily moved to another location at the time.

1966. Though she as not a battleship, the fast combat support ship USS Sacramento (AOE-1) was very much related to the Iowa class. Before scrapping, the boilers and turbines of the sixth Iowa class battleship USS Kentucky were removed. Half of the power plant would be placed into USS Sacramento while the other half would go to her sister USS Camden (AOE-2).

April 1967. Three of the Iowa class sisters tied up together in mothballs. From left to right: USS Wisconsin (BB-64), USS New Jersey (BB-62), and USS Iowa (BB-61).

September 11, 1968. USS New Jersey cruising off of Hawaii before she would head for Vietnam. In interesting feature of this photograph is the 40mm gun tubs just forward of the 5″ guns. These were used as swimming pools by the crew. New Jersey was the only one of her sisters to have such a lavish feature!

March 1969. USS New Jersey (BB-62) fires a shell into South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. During the war, New Jersey performed brilliantly. During her brief time off Vietnam, she fired 5,688 rounds of 16 inch shells, and 14,891 rounds of 5-inch shells.

March 19, 1970. The battleship Missouri is mothballed at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. She is accompanied by several other ships including the cruisers Roanoke (CL-145) and Worcester (CL-144). Perhaps one of the few images showing America’s last battleships alongside its last light cruisers.

July 1974. A large assortment of mothballed ships at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. USS Missouri is at the bottom of the photo while her sister USS New Jersey can be seen farther up. Following her tour of service off Vietnam, New Jersey was decommissioned and placed at here.

1976. The battleship Missouri still quietly moored at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

1978. USS Iowa (Right) and USS Wisconsin (Left) mothballed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Iowa was mothballed from 1958 until 1984. Wisconsin was mothballed from 1958 until 1988. They are accompanied by the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La (CVS-38).

April 1980. Years of neglect are apparent in this photo taken from the bow of USS Wisconsin.

1981. The Iowa class battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS New Jersey (BB-62) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Due to her being reactivated for service in Vietnam, New Jersey looks very different from Missouri.

December 28, 1982. The USS New Jersey is recommissioned at Long Beach California with President Ronald Regan in attendance. The Iowa class had finally returned to service thirteen years after being decommissioned.

June 17, 1983. USS Iowa (BB-61) undergoing modernization at the Ingalls Shipbuilding Yard to prepare for her recommissioning. Following her modernization, she would finally be recommissioned on April 28, 1984.

July 1, 1984. With a thunderous roar, USS Iowa demonstrates her firepower by firing all nine of her 16″/50 as well as six of her 5″/38 guns. The blast of her main guns is easily seen o the water surrounding them.

November 19, 1985. USS Iowa (BB-61) uses all of her 212,000 shaft horsepower during a full power run in the Chesapeake Bay. She is kicking up an unbelievable amount of water in her wake.

December 30, 1986. USS New Jersey (BB-62) fires all of its 16″ guns during a spectacular firepower demonstration.

October 17, 1987. The Battleship USS Iowa (BB-61) leads the aircraft carriers Coral Sea (CV-43) and Saratoga (CV-60) plus their respective battlegroups into Augusta Bay, Sicily.

1988. Tugboats guide USS New Jersey into Port Jackson. New Jersey had arrived in Sydney to take part in the Australian Bicentennial.

February 1, 1989. USS Missouri having her hull scrapped and other work done while in drydock. Her outer four bladed screws are 18.25′ in diameter while her inner five blades screws are 17′ in diameter. Couple with the powerful 212,000 shaft horsepower turbines, the Iowa class could exceed 32 knots.

1990. USS Wisconsin steaming alongside the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60) during their 1990-1991 deployment in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

January 18, 1991. USS Wisconsin uses her 5″/58 secondary guns to pound targets ashore during the Gulf War. Wisconsin spent eight months in the Persian Gulf. During that time, she fired 319 16″ shells, 881 5″ shells, and 5,200 20mm rounds in addition to her 24 cruise missiles.

August 1992. The battleship New Jersey is tied up to the same pier at USS Hornet (CVS-12) at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

September 1993. The mothballed battleships USS Iowa (BB-61) and USS Wisconsin (BB-64) tied up together at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

October 30, 1995. A photo of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard along with a wide assortment of warships. Among the battleships Iowa and Wisconsin can be seen at the right.

June 22, 1998. Crowds gather as USS Missouri enters the channel leading to Pearl Harbor. She was being moved to Pearl Harbor to serve as a museum ship. The location that saw the entrance of the United States into World War II would now host the vessel that saw its end.

November 11, 1999. The battleship USS New Jersey is towed up the Delaware river towards the Philadelphia Shipyard. She would go on to be restored and converted into a floating museum.

December 12, 2000. USS Wisconsin located at her new home in Norfolk, Virginia.

January 31, 2003. The battleship Missouri watches over the USS Arizona. In the background, nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) enters Pearl Harbor.

April 16, 2004. In celebration of the ship’s 60th anniversary of her commissioning, sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) man the rails aboard USS Wisconsin.

January 7, 2010. Workers work early in the morning to prepare USS Missouri for her undocking later that day. Missouri had undergone an 18 million dollar overhaul aimed at preserving her so that future generations could continue to visit her.

May 25, 2015. The crew renders honors aboard the USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) as they pass the battleships Arizona and Missouri.

August 30, 2016. Iowa fires her secondary guns in salute to the assault carrier USS America (LHA-6) as she arrives at Los Angeles Harbor. Though it might not look like it, at full load the Iowa (58,000 tons) displaced roughly 13,000 more tons than USS America (44,971 tons).

From harbingers of war to the setting for peace. From World War II to the Gulf War. From instruments of destruction to tools of education. The Iowa class battleships have seen plenty of change throughout the years. Thanks to the dedicated people who maintain them today, we will ensure that they remain around for another 78 years.


Work on what would eventually become the Iowa-class battleships began on the first study in early 1938 at the direction of Admiral Thomas C. Hart, head of the General Board. It was an expanded South Dakota, carrying either twelve 16-inch/45 caliber Mark 6 guns or nine 18-inch (460 mm) guns—the latter armament being dropped after the 31 March agreement—with more armor and a power plant large enough to drive the larger ship through the water at the same speed as the South Dakotas, 27 knots (50 km/h 31 mph). Α] These studies had no further impact on the design of the Iowa class, but development of this design continued and eventually evolved into the design for the Montana class. Β]

Another design, pursued by the Design Division section of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, was a "cruiser-killer." Beginning on 17 January 1938 under Captain A.J. Chantry, the group drew up plans for ships with twelve 16-inch and twenty 5-inch guns, Panamax capability but otherwise unlimited displacement, a top speed of 35 knots (65 km/h 40 mph) and a range of 20,000 nautical miles (37,000 km 23,000 mi) when traveling at the more economical speed of 15 knots (28 km/h 17 mph). Their plan fulfilled these requirements with a ship of 50,940 long tons (51,760 t), but Chantry believed that more could be done if the ship were to be this large with a displacement greater than that of most battleships, its armor would only have protected it against the 8-inch (203 mm) weapons carried by heavy cruisers. Γ]

Three improved plans—"A", "B", and "C"—were designed at the end of January. An increase in draft, vast additions to the armor, [N 1] and the substitution of twelve 6-inch (150 mm) guns in the secondary battery was common between the three designs. "A" was the largest, at 59,060 long tons (60,010 t), and was the only one to still carry the twelve 16-inch guns in four triple turrets. It required 277,000 shaft horsepower (shp) to make 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h 37.4 mph). "B" was the smallest at 52,707 long tons (53,553 t) like "A" it had a top speed of 32.5 knots, but "B" only required 225,000 shp to make this speed. It also carried only nine 16-inch guns, in three triple turrets. "C" was similar but it added 75,000 shp (for a total of 300,000 shp), to make the original requirement of 35 knots. The weight required for this and a longer belt—512 feet (156 m), compared with 496 feet (151 m) for "B"—meant that the ship was 55,771 long tons (56,666 t). Δ]

In March 1938, the General Board followed the recommendations of the Battleship Design Advisory Board, which was composed of the naval architect William Francis Gibbs, William Hovgaard (then president of New York Shipbuilding), John Metten, Joseph W. Powell, and the long-retired Admiral and former Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance Joseph Strauss. The board requested an entirely new design study, focusing on increasing the size of the 35,000 ton South Dakota class. The first plans made for this indicated that 30 knots (35 mph 56 km/h) was possible on a displacement of about 37,600 long tons (38,200 t). 33 knots (38 mph 61 km/h) could be bought with 220,000 shaft horsepower and a displacement of around 39,230 long tons (39,860 t), which was well below the treaty's maximum limit of 45,000 long tons (46,000 t). Ε]

These designs were able to convince the General Board that a reasonably well-designed and balanced 33-knot (61 km/h) battleship was possible within the terms of the "escalator clause". However, further studies revealed major problems with the estimates. The speed of the ships meant that more freeboard would be needed both fore and amidships, the latter requiring an additional foot of armored freeboard. Along with this came the associated weight in supporting these new strains: the structure of the ship had to be reinforced and the power plant enlarged to avoid a drop in speed. In all, about 2,400 long tons (2,400 t) had to be added, and the large margin the navy designers had previously thought they had—roughly 5,000 long tons (5,100 t)—was suddenly vanishing. Ζ]

With the additional displacement, the General Board was incredulous that a tonnage increase of 10,000 long tons (10,000 t) would only allow the addition of 6 knots (11 km/h 6.9 mph)s over the South Dakotas. Rather than retaining the 16"/45 caliber Mark 6 gun used in the South Dakotas, they ordered that future studies would have to include the more powerful (but heavier) 16"/50 caliber Mark 2 guns left over from the canceled Lexington-class battlecruisers and South Dakota-class battleships of the early 1920s. It also allowed the draft of the ships to be increased, meaning that the ships could be shortened (lowering weight) and the power reduced (since a narrower beam reduces drag). Η]

The 50-caliber gun weighed some 400 long tons (410 t) more than the 45 caliber did the barbette size also had to be increased so the total weight gain was about 2,000 long tons (2,000 t), putting the ship at a total of 46,551 long tons (47,298 t)—well over the 45,000 long ton limit. An apparent savior appeared in a Bureau of Ordnance preliminary design for a turret that could carry the 50 caliber guns in a smaller barbette. This breakthrough was shown to the General Board as part of a series of designs on 2 June 1938. ⎖]

However, the Bureau of Ordnance continued working on a larger barbette design, while the Bureau of Construction and Repair utilized the smaller barbettes in the final planning of the new battleships. As the bureaus were independent of one another, they did not realize that the two plans could not go together until November 1938, when the design was in the final stages of refinement. By this time, the ships could not use the larger barbette, as it would require massive alterations to the design and would result in substantial weight penalties. The General Board was astounded one member asked the head of the Bureau of Ordnance if it had occurred to him that Construction and Repair would have wanted to know what turret his subordinates were working on "as a matter of common sense". A complete scrapping of plans was only avoided when designers within the Bureau of Ordnance were able to design a new 50-caliber gun, the Mark 7, that was both lighter and smaller in outside diameter this allowed it to be placed in a turret that would fit in the smaller barbette. ⎗] The redesigned 3-gun turret, equipped as it was with the Mark 7 naval gun, provided an overall weight saving of nearly 850 long tons (860 t) to the overall design of the Iowa class. ⎘]

In May 1938 the United States Congress passed the Second Vinson Act which "mandated a 20% increase in strength of the United States Navy". ⎙] The act was sponsored by Carl Vinson, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia who was Chairman of the House Naval Affairs and Armed Services Committee. ⎚] The Second Vinson Act updated the provisions of the Vinson-Trammell Act of 1934 and the Naval Act (1936), which had "authorized the construction of the first American battleships in 17 years", based on the provisions of the London Naval Treaty of 1930 ⎙] this act provided the funding to build the Iowa class. Each ship cost approximately US$100 million. ⎛]

As 1938 drew to a close the design of the Iowas was nearly complete, but it would continuously evolve as the battleships were under construction. These revisions included changing the design of the foremast, replacing the original 1.1"/75-caliber guns that were to be used for anti-aircraft work with 20 mm and 40 mm guns, and moving the combat information center into the armored hull. ⎜] Additionally, in November 1939 the New York Navy Yard greatly modified the internal subdivision of the machinery rooms, as tests had shown the underwater protection in these rooms to be inadequate. The result of this was clearly beneficial: "The prospective effect of flooding was roughly halved and the number of uptakes and hence of openings in the third deck greatly reduced." ⎝] Although the changes meant extra weight and added 1 foot (0.30 m) to the beam, this was no longer a major issue the United Kingdom and France had renounced the Second London Naval Treaty soon after the beginning of the Second World War. ⎞]

For half a century prior to laying [the Iowa class] down, the U.S. Navy had consistently advocated armor and firepower at the expense of speed. Even in adopting fast battleships of the North Carolina class, it had preferred the slower of two alternative designs. Great and expensive improvements in machinery design had been used to minimize the increased power on the designs rather than make extraordinary powerful machinery (hence much higher speed) practical. Yet the four largest battleships the U.S. Navy produced were not much more than 33-knot versions of the 27-knot, 35,000 tonners that had preceded them. The Iowas showed no advance at all in protection over the South Dakotas. The principal armament improvement was a more powerful 16-inch gun, 5 calibers longer. Ten thousand tons was a very great deal to pay for 6 knots. ⎟]


Battleship Wisconsin (BB-64), an Iowa-class battleship, was the second ship of the United States Navy named in honor of the 30th state. Her keel was laid down on January 25, 1941 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She was launched on December 7, 1943 sponsored by Mrs. Walter S. Goodland, and commissioned on April 16, 1944, with Captain Earl E. Stone in command.

After her trials and initial training in the Chesapeake Bay, Wisconsin departed Norfolk, Virginia, on July 7, 1944, bound for the British West Indies. Following her shakedown, conducted out of Trinidad, the third Iowa-class battleship to join the Fleet returned to her builder’s yard for post-shakedown repairs and alterations.


  • Displacement – 45,000 tons
  • Displacement – 58,000 tons loaded
  • Length – 887′ 3″
  • Beam – 108′ 2″
  • Draft – 37′ 8″
  • Speed – 33 knots
  • Complement – 1,600
  • Armament – 9 16″, 20 5″, 80 40mm., 49 20mm.
  • Propulsion: Steam turbines, 8 600 psi boilers, 4 shafts, 212,000 shp
  • Class – Iowa

Battleship Wisconsin Chronology

  • January 25, 1941 – Keel Laid Down by Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard
  • December 7, 1943 – Launched
  • April 16, 1944 – Commissioned
  • July 1, 1948 – Decommissioned
  • March 3, 1951 – Recommissioned for Korean War Service
  • March 8, 1958 – Decommissioned
  • October 22, 1988 – Recommissioned as part of President Reagan’s 600 Ship Navy
  • September 30, 1991 – Decommissioned
  • February 12, 1998 – Reinstated on the Naval Vessels Register, in reserve
  • December 7, 2000 – Battleship Wisconsin Moved To Nauticus Berthing


Both decks of Iowa were above sea-level, permitting a dryer, sturdier ride than previous vessels, with less gun maintenance.

Crewmen pose under the gun turrets of Iowa in 1898

The second half of the 19th century saw radical changes in shipbuilding design. Wood-built sailing ships with cannons were replaced by steam-powered warships armored with steel. There was great interest in new shipbuilding techniques and a search for stronger metal alloys, and discussion of new designs, centerboards, ventilating techniques, with active participation between private builders and naval designers. Δ]

The Congress of the United States authorized a 9,000 long tons (9,100 t) warship on 19 July 1892. Specifically, it was for a 'seagoing coastline battleship', to fill the Navy's desire for a ship that could sail and fight effectively in open waters the preceding Indiana class— authorized by Congress as 'coast-defense battleships'— had many problems with endurance and speed. Ε]

Iowa had a unique design and did not belong to a specific ship class. Ζ] She represented an upgrade from the Indianas. Ζ] Iowa ' s keel was built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 5 August 1893, Ώ] who also built the coal-powered, 11,000 ihp (8,200 kW) vertical reciprocating steam engines. Β] It had twin above-board 14 in (360 mm) torpedo tubes. Β] She carried 1,795 short tons (1,628 t) of coal. Iowa was based on the earlier Indiana-class with similar armament layout and four 12 in (300 mm) guns in twin turrets fore and aft, supplemented by four twin 8 in (200 mm) turrets. Η] There was extensive testing of new armor plating at one point, Iowa was fired on in testing to assess the strength of the steel shell. Δ] Like Indiana, Iowa was made using "Harveyized steel". Ζ]

Several design modifications made Iowa a far more powerful warship than its predecessors. Η] The diameter of the main four largest guns was 12 in (300 mm) ⎖] ⎗] and they were hydraulically powered. Η] The vessel had a larger margin of freeboard and a longer hull and forecastle, which resulted in a more stable and seaworthy ship. Η] ⎘] The raised height made the gunnery area drier and further reduced the risk of malfunctions due to wet weather. Η] By utilizing the Harvey process, Iowa ' s armor was thinner but stronger than the nickel-steel used in the Indianas. ⎘] Compared to British warships, Iowa had excellent speed (18 kn (21 mph 33 km/h)) but was 3,500 long tons (3,600 t) lighter. Η]

The newly built USS Iowa (BB-4) in New York Harbor in 1898

By Jon Hoppe

The history of naval architecture is replete with designs that, however innovative, never made it out of the concept phase. Some, like the large surface effect ship, seemed promising but could not deliver their designed performance even as smaller prototypes Others, like the sea control ship escort concept, were cancelled because of budget cuts. Still others, however mercifully, never made it off of paper.

Such was the Iowa-class interdiction/assault ship, a late-1970s proposal that would have transformed the four battleships into “battlecarriers”—one-ship power-projection force with a landing deck for short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft operations.

The idea of adding a flight deck to a capital ship was not a new one. In November 1910, Eugene B. Ely was the first to fly an aircraft off of a warship in February he became the first person to land on one, putting his Curtiss pusher down on a temporary wooden landing platform erected on the armored cruiser Pennsylvania‘s (ACR-4) stern.

Eugene B. Ely lands his Curtiss pusher biplane on the USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), anchored in San Francisco Bay, California, on 18 January 1911. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

As a proof-of-concept, the idea was sound, at least when the aircraft were made of wood and fabric. During the First World War, most carriers built served seaplanes, but the idea of an aircraft launch/recovery platform on a capital ship was further developed and refined. The British modified battlecruiser HMS Furious during construction, sacrificing armor and armament to accommodate a flying deck forward.

HMS Furious, photographed in 1918. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Neither Furious nor another cruiser conversion, the Vindictive, proved particularly successful, owing to difficulties caused by the presence of the warships’ superstructures. Interestingly, Furious was later converted to a full-length deck carrier, but Vindictive was re-converted back into a heavy cruiser.

During the interwar period, several countries, including the United States, considered and abandoned aviation cruisers. It was necessity that would revive the concept during World War II.

Following the disastrous loss of its carriers at Midway, Japan rebuilt two of its obsolete battleships into hybrid carriers as an emergency stopgap measure. Both Ise and Hyūga had their rear turrets removed and flight decks and hangars constructed in their place. Neither had much success as carriers before they were sunk at Kure in 1945.

Japanese battleship Ise sunk at Kure. Note the flight deck at right. (Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Naval architect Gene Anderson had the opportunity to study the Ise post-war. In 1981, he recalled:

Immediately after the war, I was sent to Japan for duty with Physical Damage Team One of the U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey to study atomic bomb damage at Hiroshima. Since the Ise was sunk up to her main deck in a bay nearby, I was able to study this hybrid warship at close range.

While with the survey, I had the opportunity to discuss this warship with members of the Naval Analysis Group. From this discussion, I learned that the Ise was reported to have never launched an aircraft in combat and that the conversion of a battleship into half of an aircraft carrier was at the time considered a failure. As one member of the group put it, “It was a silly waste of a battleship.”

There were many reasons given why this conversion failed. At the time, it was felt that the flight deck lacked length and area for the high-performance Zeros to be launched and recovered in spite of two catapults and a proven arresting gear system. The high massive “Pagoda” mast, the broad stack, and the main mast support superstructure just ahead of the flight deck all had combined to generate such severe wind turbulence across the flight deck that it made flying operations extremely difficult and unsafe while the ship was steaming at proper launch and recovery speeds. It was also pointed out that both the lack of highly experienced pilots and fuel late in the war also contributed to this failure.

During the war naval planners on the other side of the Pacific had considered converting two Iowa-class battleship hulls then under construction—Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66)—to full-deck carriers, but the expense proved too great and the two ships were ultimately cancelled. Following the Korean War, the four ships of the class that had been completed were laid up in reserve. A proposal to convert the ships to amphibious assault carriers in the vein of the the Thetis Bay (CVHA-1/LPH-6) was reviewed in 1961, but any ideas for conversion were ultimately dropped—that is, until the 1970s, when the Navy began the Sea Control Ship (SCS) program.

With the Vietnam War winding down, the Navy sought to modernize the fleet and produce a lighter ship that could carry aircraft to effect control of the sea. As Admiral Zumwalt wrote to one petty officer in 1973, conversion of the Iowa-class battleships had been considered and studied, but all had reached the same conclusion: the ships were too old, too manpower intensive, too expensive to operate, and too costly, especially in comparison to the new sea control ship design.

Three Iowa-class battleships in reserve—Wisconsin (BB-64), New Jersey (BB-62), and Iowa (BB-61). (Naval Institute Photo Archive)

By 1978, the SCS program was dead and the Soviet navy was resurgent with their successful deployment of Kiev-class flight-deck cruisers within a year the Iranian revolution would change the dynamics of the Middle East. With these changes, American planners began to revisit the idea of modernizing the Iowas. There now was a need not just for power projection, but also for an “all-weather fire support from a warship that could engage successfully protected targets located in the littoral ribbons of the world.” The idea for the interdiction/assault ship was born.

The Soviet aviation cruiser Kiev in 1985.(Department of Defense)

One of the more radical proposals for this one-stop-shop for force-projection called for rebuilding the Iowa-class battleships to provide that support. Charle E. Myers described the rationale for doing so in a 1979 Proceedings article:

The concept of operations for the interdiction ship involves working inside the ten-fathom line (less than 60-foot depth) where she would be relatively immune to interference from submarines. The draft of the ship at 55,000 tons is 35 feet. The aircraft carrier providing air cover will operate from a station 50 to 200 miles at sea to minimize exposure to enemy air and shore defenses. Air cover and spotting sorties can easily be provided from such proximity.

Martin Marietta’s design for an interdiction/assault ship based on the USS New Jersey, designated here as BB(V)-62. (Courtesy Martin Marietta Aerospace)

Commenting early in 1980, a program manager at Martin Marietta, who were developing the concept, offered his own assessment. These converted interdiction/assault ships, in his opinion,

could carry an effective antiair warfare suite, a contingent of airmobile marines, vertical missile launchers and long-range missiles, and six 16-inch guns forward. Thus configured, the IAS would become an excellent crisis control ship—an integral military part of a new foreign policy able to deal out flexible responses matched to the strategic and tactical situation. Ordered into a trouble area, the IAS would create an awesome, meaningful presence. Asked to initiate a naval blockade, the IAS could engage any challengers with an incredible array of options—ranging from her simple presence, to the ominous slewing of her massive guns toward the object of her interest, to clearing off the intruder’s bow with the sweep of a ten-ton salvo, to boarding the trespasser with airborne marines, to destroying an enemy with gunfire or missiles.

Starboard quarter view of the New Jersey interdiction/assault ship model, showing aircraft on the flight deck. (Courtesy Martin Marietta Aerospace)

Reactivation of the battleships would be done in stages: in Phase I, the battleships would be reactivated with only minimal modifications to get them into to service as quickly as possible. After long and fierce debate in Congress in 1980 and 1981, Phase I was approved, and the four battlewagons were recommissioned with much fanfare.

Phase II battleship configuration with aft hangar, ski-jump flight deck, and VLS. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Phase II would have been dramatic and transformative. As Myers described later, among other modifications, the converted interdiction/assault ships would have offered:

  • Six 16-inch guns that could fire a variety of modern munitions
  • A 320-tube vertical launch system (VLS) capable of firing Tomahawks, Standard Missiles, ballistic missiles, and the Army Tactical Missile System family
  • Flight and hangar decks in place of the after turret, for various mixes of AV-8B Harriers, heavy-lift and attack helicopters, and MV-22 Ospreys
  • Accommodations for SEALs and 800 Marines for short periods
  • Logistics spaces and machine shops
  • Medical facilities and operating rooms

Close-up view of the proposed VLS on the New Jersey interdiction/assault ship model, located within the flight deck. (Courtesy Martin Marietta Aerospace)

On the pages of Proceedings, designers worked to refine the concept. Martin Marietta’s version featured twin ski-jumps for the launch of STOVL aircraft. Harold Pulver suggested refining the design to include more weaponry like the 5-in./54 cal. Mk-45 automatic weapon system and several Phalanx close-in weapon system and a variety of missiles.

Harold Pulver’s design for the interdiction/assault ship. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Gene Anderson, the naval architect, improved on Pulver’s design, extending the flight deck, reconfiguring the stack and superstructure to reduce turbulence during flight operations, and adding back in a ski-jump that ended up looking much more like the Soviet Kievs.

Gene Anderson’s design for the interdiction/assault ship (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, the design went nowhere. By 1984, the plan was all but dead. Following Desert Storm, the Navy recapitalized its assets and decommissioned the Iowas, though Charles Myers continued to push for the conversions as late as 1995.

Today, the four battlewagons are museum ships, having never gotten the transformative overhauls that would have turned their iconic profiles into the capital ship of the 1980s. кредит на карту

The History of the U.S.S. Iowa at San Pedro and Long Beach

With the exciting news that the USS Iowa (BB-61, commissioned in February 1943) will soon be towed to the Port of Los Angeles where she will become a major waterfront attraction, it's worth taking a look back at the prior visits of the battleships named Iowa to the Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor areas.

USS Iowa (BB-4)
"Queen of the Navy"

The BB-61 will not be the first battleship named Iowa to anchor at San Pedro.

March 11-12, 1900: the Los Angeles Times reported 4,000 people visited an earlier battleship with the same name, the BB-4 (commissioned on June 16, 1897) -- at San Pedro Harbor. This ship sailed from San Diego and was on her way to Santa Barbara when she visited Los Angeles Harbor for a couple of days, coated in dust from the coaling she had received down south. Three tugs from the Banning Company, the Warrior, Collis, and Falcon, helped ferry visitors for 50 cents each to the famous battleship.

USS Iowa (BB-4) at anchor early 1900s.
U.S. Naval Historical Center photo
Late October 1900, the BB-4 returned and, along with the cruiser Philadelphia (C-4), lay about a mile off San Pedro. (The Philadelphia had served as the flagship of the Pacific Station until February 1900, when it transferred its flag to the Iowa.) Two tugboats from San Pedro and smaller launches from Terminal helped ferry visitors to the Iowa. As reported at the time, the whole of the ship, from "conning tower to stoke hole was thrown open to the visitors." The conning tower was made with walls that were two feet thick.

Before her arrival at San Pedro and the West Coast, the BB-4 had played an important role in the Spanish-American War in the Battle of Santiago (July 1898), helping to smash Spain's naval forces in the Western Hemisphere. The BB-4 served along the West Coast until 1902.

Group under 12-inch guns on the BB-4,
1898 Library of Congress photo

The USS Iowa (BB-4) was largely tied up during World War I, and afterwards the aging battleship was used for experimentation concerning "the control of ships by wireless." In December 1922, the Iowa's death sentence was read aboard Admiral E.W. Eberle's flagship California in Los Angeles Harbor. The Iowa, once referred to as the "Queen of the Navy," was to be used as long-range target practice.

USS Iowa (BB-61)
"The Big Stick"

U.S. Naval Historical Center

The Iowa crew's calls for help from Long Beach and Los Angeles residents apparently worked. A report a couple of weeks later states that Vicky was aboard the ship in Long Beach Harbor playing with Times newspaper carriers who were visiting. It was also noted that Vicky's "201,778-mile voyage aboard the Iowa has earned him the reputation of the most-traveled dog in the Navy."

December 3, 1945: Fifteen hundred Southern California transplants, former residents of the state of Iowa, visited the Big Stick which was at anchor off Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbors. Captain Frederick I. Entwistle, commanding officer of the ship, presented the Iowans with a "ship's pennant, the ship's banner and the American Flag flown by the Iowa in its raid off the shores of Japan." The Long Beach Iowa Society gladly accepted these historic gifts. Long Beach Mayor Herbert E Lewis proclaimed at the time that "Long Beach is as proud of the Iowans as the Iowans are of the U.S.S. Iowa."

December 16, 1945: The Times also reported that the USS Iowa, "the biggest battleship in the world," went into the "biggest drydock on the North American continent," -- the 1100-foot long Morreel Drydock on nearby Terminal Island. This was the first drydocking the Iowa had received since the war ended.

This drydock was described as an enormous bathtub able to accommodate any ship afloat. While Morreel handled the 887-feet long, 45,000-ton battleship with ease, due to the ship's weight, the drydock pumps emptied the "bathtub" in less than an hour. This operation usually took up to two and one-half hours.

Captain George T. Paine, commander of the Terminal Island Naval Shipyard, boasted how this showed that the area had the facilities to care for "any and all needs of the Fleet." It was also reported that more than 70 naval vessels were then undergoing repair or conversion at the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors.

April 7, 1946: The USS Iowa, flagship of the U.S. 5th Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, dropped anchor in Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor after a 13-day sail from Japan. According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, from about this time through September 1948, the Iowa "operated from West Coast ports, on Naval Reserve and at sea training and drills and maneuvers with the Fleet."

August 7, 1948: 850 midshipmen from colleges around the country steamed into Los Angeles Harbor aboard the Iowa, where they transferred to four destroyers inside the breakwater and went to San Diego. The Iowa, along with other warships, had just completed an eight-week cruise near Hawaii.

August 12, 1950: 50,000 Iowans gathered at Recreational Park in Long Beach for the 45th annual Iowa picnic. Although this event did not occur on the battleship, W. Ward Johnson of the Iowa Association of Long Beach presented an important gift to the state of Iowa: the flag that had flown on the mast of the Iowa through World War II and was given to the association in 1945 (see the Dec. 3, 1945 entry above). Governor Earl Warren also made ominous remarks at the festivities, warning that the Korean War could reach American shores and that a single atomic bomb dropped on a large city could lead to 400,000 casualties and 200,000 deaths.

November 3, 1951: The Times reported that the Iowa dropped anchor in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Outer Harbor, which was then to become her home port. Captain William R. Smedberg III was in command and after a two-hour inspection, granted many sailors of the ship liberty. The Iowa stayed near Long Beach until November 19, when she went to Hawaii for a month-long training cruise and then planned to return to the area.

The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships notes that "after Communist aggression in Korea necessitated an expansion of the active fleet" the Iowa was recommissioned in August 1951, and "operated off the West Coast until March 1952, when she sailed for the Far East."

December 1951: As part of Navy repair contracts awarded to local shipyards, the Long Beach Marine Repair Yard was awarded a small contract for work on the Iowa. The reported amount for the work was $815.

USS Iowa in 1952, U.S. Navy Photograph
January 13, 1952: 5000 Iowans and former Iowans flocked aboard the Iowa at the shipyard in Long Beach. The ship's crew held hosted an open house for members of the Iowa State Society of Long Beach. Visitors inspected the nine 16" guns, ship's silver and anchor chains. It was also reported at the time that this open house was just one of several slated for the shipyard and the Iowa for the coming weeks. The shipyard was said to have employed have more than 6,000 workers.

January 16-17 1952: The crew of the Iowa donated 1020 pints of blood to the Long Beach Chapter of the Red Cross.

January 20, 1952: About 12,000 people, including employees, descended upon the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, to tour the Iowa for an open house, and also visited the escort carrier U.S.S. Sicily, and other fighting ships. They also watched "Herman the German" lift and move a 270-ton railroad crane from one pier to another. Herman the German was an enormous floating crane seized from Germany at the end of World War II. A model of this crane can be seen at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro.

YD-171, more commonly known as "Herman the German" at the LBNS
Port of Long Beach image

February 1, 1952: Dense fog caused a series of mishaps in the Los Angeles area, including one involving the Iowa. As reported at the time, the Admiral, a 58-foot long boat "transporting 49 sailors to the USS Iowa in the Outer Harbor, struck the Long Beach breakwater at about 2:15 a.m." The seamen and two members of the Admiral crew climbed onto the rocks and had to yell off and on until 10:00 a.m. until a fishing vessel named the American Star heard their pleas and rescued them.

USS Iowa (BB-61) off Koje, Korea,
firing her 16-inch guns at the enemy coast
October 17, 1952
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph
November 3, 1952: The Times reported that the Iowa had earned the name "The Gray Ghost of the Korean Coast," during the previous eight months. On this day, the Iowa tied up at her home port at Long Beach where thousands were on hand to greet the ship's crew. The paper noted the Iowa fired "4000 16-inchers and 8000 five-inchers while steaming 40,000 miles in Korean waters" and although enemy batteries fired at her, she was never hit.

*If you know of any other historical visits of the USS Iowa to the Port of Los Angeles, please post!

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center, Popular Mechanics

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