The Iowa-class was the final series of six battleships constructed for the United States Navy, beginning with authorization in 1940, and ending with the commissioning of the fourth vessel, USS Wisconsin in 1944. The final two vessels were cancelled and scrapped while in the yards before launching, due to the ending of World War II, as well as the battleship's replacement as the apex warship by the aircraft carrier.
At 45,000 tons standard displacement, the six ships of the Iowa class were the U.S. Navy's first new World War II era battleships whose design was not encumbered by treaty limits. They were a new type for the Navy, the "fast battleship", intended to protect aircraft carriers against the threat of similar Japanese "big-gun" ships, as well as to form a "fast wing" for the traditional battle line. Though the even-larger Montana class were designed and ordered, four of the Iowas were the last battleships ever completed for U.S. Navy service. They were also arguably the Navy's most successful battleship design and certainly had the longest service lives.
Built under Fiscal Year 1940 (BB 61 & 62) and 1941 (BB 63-66) appropriations, the Iowa class were much longer, more powerfully engined and considerably faster than the preceding North Carolina and South Dakota classes. Their main battery, nine 16"/50 guns in triple turrets, was also somewhat more powerful than the 16"/45 armament of the two earlier types. The Iowas' internal armor protection scheme was similar in arrangement to that of the South Dakota class, and was designed to keep out the armor-piercing shells originally intended for their guns, though not the heavier (2700 pound) shells ultimately used.
The first two ships, Iowa (BB-61) and New Jersey (BB-62), were completed in the first part of 1943, and served through the rest of the Pacific war in the roles that had become normal for battleships by then: screening fast carrier task forces against air and surface threats, occasional shore bombardment, standing ready to haul into line of battle if the Japanese battle fleet should present itself, and providing flagships for tactical commanders. The second pair, Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64), whose construction was somewhat delayed by other wartime priorities, came out to the Pacific during the war's last year. The conflict formally ended on Missouri's broad decks.
Construction of the last pair, Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66) stopped at or soon after the war's end, and three of the four completed ships were "mothballed" during the later 1940s. During the early 1950s, all four employed their sixteen-inch guns against enemy targets in the Korean War, but they were placed in reserve later in the decade. Thinking they were obsolete, the Navy played with various schemes to convert these fast, spacious and still relatively-new ships to more modern configurations, but nothing came of those ideas. New Jersey was briefly reactivated for Vietnam War bombardment duty, and the entire quartet was modernized and placed back in service during the 1980s' defense buildup, partly as a response to the commissioning of the Kirov class cruisers for the Soviet Navy. Though their active days were numbered, Missouri and Wisconsin provided heavy gunfire support for the 1991 war with Iraq, but soon rejoined their sisters in the reserve fleet. At present, all four are either serving as museums or probably soon will be, though Iowa and Wisconsin technically remain subject to a future call to seagoing duty.
The Iowa class consisted of six ships, four of which were completed. Construction of all was assigned to east coast Navy Yards.
- USS Iowa (BB-61), built at the New York Navy Yard. Keel laid in June 1940; launched in August 1942; commissioned in February 1943.
- USS New Jersey (BB-62), built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Keel laid in September 1940; launched in December 1942; commissioned in May 1943.
- USS Missouri (BB-63), built at the New York Navy Yard. Keel laid in January 1941; launched in January 1944; commissioned in June 1944.
- USS Wisconsin (BB-64), built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Keel laid in January 1941; launched in December 1943; commissioned in April 1944.
- Illinois (BB-65). Under construction at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Keel laid in January 1945. Cancelled in August 1945 when 22% complete. Scrapped on the shipway in 1958.
- Kentucky (BB-66). Under construction at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia. Keel originally laid in March 1942; construction suspended in June 1942, resumed in December 1944 and suspended again in February 1947. Hull launched in January 1950 to clear the building dock. Sold for scrapping in 1958.
- Displacement: 45,000 tons (standard)
- Dimensions: 887' (length overall); 108' 2" (maximum beam)
- Powerplant: 212,000 horsepower steam turbines, producing a 33 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Nine 16"/50 guns in three triple turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery): Twenty 5"/38 guns in ten twin mountings (ten guns on each side of the ship). During their configuration for service in the 1980s, four of these turrets would be replaced by Tomahawk cruise missiles in box canisters. Supplemental defensive batteries consisted of four Phalanx close-in weapons systems.
USS Iowa (BB 61)
Lead ship USS Iowa was built at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York. Commissioned in February 1943, she spent her initial service in the Atlantic and carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to and from Casablanca, Morocco, in November 1943. Early in January 1944, Iowa steamed to the Pacific, where she took part in the Marshalls Campaign later in that month and in February. From then until the end of 1944, she was actively involved in raids against Japanese facilities and campaigns to capture the Marianas, the Palaus and Leyte, including participation in the Battles of the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf.
After overhaul in early 1945, Iowa returned to the western Pacific for the Okinawa campaign and the final operations against Japan. She was present in Tokyo Bay during the formal surrender of Japan on 2 September 1945. She returned to the United States later in that month and operated with the Pacific Fleet until she was decommissioned in March 1949.
The Korean War brought Iowa back into active service. She was recommissioned in August 1951 and made a combat deployment to Korean waters in April–October 1952, during which time she served as Seventh Fleet flagship. Upon return to the U.S., she was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet. Over the next several years, Iowa made several European cruises and was present for the International Naval Review in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in June 1957. She was decommissioned in February 1958.
After two and a half decades in "mothballs", Iowa was modernized under the 1980s defense buildup and recommissioned in April 1984. She went to European waters in 1985, 1986 and 1987–88, with the latter cruise continuing into the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. A fire in her second sixteen-inch gun turret killed 47 crewmen on 19 April 1989, but Iowa was still able to deploy to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea in mid-year. Turret two remained unrepaired when she decommissioned for the last time in October 1990. Iowa is presently part of the Reserve Fleet.
USS New Jersey (BB 62)
USS New Jersey was built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania. Commissioned in May 1943, she spent the rest of that year in the western Atlantic and Caribbean area. New Jersey went to the Pacific in early 1944 and conducted her first combat operations in support of the Marshalls invasion. She was Fifth Fleet flagship during the mid-February raid on the Japanese base at Truk, where she used her guns to sink one enemy ship and join in sinking another. Through the rest of 1944, she took part in raids on Japanese-held islands, the Marianas invasion and Battle of Philippine Sea, the Battle of Leyte Gulf and operations against the Philippines. From August 1944, she was flagship of Admiral William F. Halsey's Third Fleet.
New Jersey continued her Pacific combat operations into 1945, supporting the invasions of Iwo Jima and the Ryukyus. Following overhaul, she again became Fifth Fleet flagship during the final days of World War II and remained in the Far East until early 1946. She went to the Atlantic in 1947 and made one midshipmen's training cruise to Europe before decommissioning in June 1948.
The Korean War brought New Jersey back into commission in November 1950. Two Korean combat tours in 1951 and 1953 were punctuated by a European cruise in the Summer of 1952. After returning home from the western Pacific in late 1953, New Jersey operated in the Atlantic. She deployed to Mediterranean and European waters twice in 1955-56 and was placed out of commission in August 1957.
New Jersey was the only battleship recalled to duty during the Vietnam War. She recommissioned in April 1968 and arrived off Southeast Asia in September. From then until April 1969, she conducted frequent bombardments along the South Vietnamese coast. While preparing for a second Vietnam tour, she was ordered inactivated and decommissioned in December 1969.
The early 1980s defense buildup produced a fourth active period for New Jersey, beginning with her recommissioning in December 1982. She again fired her big guns in combat during the Lebanon crisis of 1983-84 and deployed to the western Pacific in 1986 and 1989–90, with the latter cruise extending to the Persian Gulf area. Decommissioned again in February 1991, New Jersey was towed from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 1999. She is scheduled to become a museum at Camden, New Jersey.
USS Missouri (BB 63)
USS Missouri, built by the New York Navy Yard, was commissioned on 11 June 1944. She spent the remainder of that year preparing for combat, transiting to the Pacific in November. Arriving in the war zone in January 1945, Missouri supported the Iwo Jima invasion, the Ryukyus campaign and raids on Japan's home islands during the following months. In May, she became Third Fleet flagship and was the site of the 2 September 1945 Japanese surrender ceremony that ended World War II.
Following the end of hostilities, Missouri returned to the United States, participating in a great naval review at New York in October 1945. In March 1946, she went to the Mediterranean on a diplomatic mission. Through the rest of the 1940s and into 1950, the battleship operated extensively in the Atlantic area. She was the centerpiece of a major grounding incident off Hampton Roads, Virginia, in January 1950 but was quickly repaired and returned to service.
Missouri was the only U.S. battleship on active duty in June 1950, when the Korean War began, and made two combat deployments to the Western Pacific. Following that action, and several training cruises to Europe, she decommissioned in February 1955. For the next three decades, she was in reserve at Bremerton, Washington, and became an important tourist attraction.
Missouri was recommissioned in May 1986, joining the fleet with her sisters. Her next six years were busy ones, including, among other activities, a cruise around the World and a combat role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. She decommissioned for the last time in March 1992. Stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995, Missouri was transferred to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in June 1998 to become a memorial.
USS Wisconsin (BB 64)
USS Wisconsin was built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, and first commissioned in April 1944. After shakedown in the Caribbean area, she joined the Pacific Fleet in October 1944 and reached the western Pacific combat zone in December. Over the next nine months, Wisconsin took part in operations to capture the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa and raid the Japanese home islands. During this period, she rode out two typhoons without damage and used her sixteen-inch guns to bombard enemy targets in Okinawa and Japan.
With the coming of peace, Wisconsin undertook routine operations, including a cruise to South America in late 1946 and a visit to Europe in mid-1947. She was placed out of commission in July 1948, but reentered active service in March 1951. She made one Korean War combat tour in November 1951-April 1952, during which she served as flagship of the Seventh Fleet and undertook extensive shelling along the North Korean coast. Wisconsin made another cruise as Seventh Fleet flagship in 1953-54. She also carried midshipmen on several training cruises to European and South American waters during the 1950s and took part in several fleet exercises.
Wisconsin was the Navy's last active battleship when she decommissioned in March 1958. She remained in reserve for three decades, but recommissioned in October 1988 in the waning days of the Reagan-era naval expansion. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 brought her to the Persian Gulf area within a few weeks. She was on station there when Operation "Desert Storm" combat operations began in mid-January 1991. During the brief war that followed, Wisconsin fired missiles at targets in Iraq and used her guns to help force the enemy from Kuwait. With the Mid-east war over, and the end of the Cold War producing major cuts in defense expenditures, Wisconsin was decommissioned for a third time in September 1991. She is moored in Norfolk, Virginia, as part of a museum.
- U.S. Navy film of USS Wisconsin firing her 16-inch guns during the 1991 Gulf War
- History Channel film on USS New Jersey
- We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat at IBDEditorials.com
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- Muir, Malcolm. The Iowa Class Battleships: Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri & Wisconsin (1991)
- Sumrall, Robert F., and Thomas Walkowiak. Iowa Class Battleships: Their Design, Weapons and Equipment (1989)