USS Iowa (BB-61)
USS Iowa was the lead ship of a class of battleship that were the last ships of this type built. Serving in World War II and the Korean Conflict, USS Iowa is also remembered for the tragic turret explosion which killed a large number of sailors, and caused investigators - as well as the United States Navy - to place blame for the accident on an innocent man.
World War II history
The third ship named Iowa was laid down at New York Navy Yard, 27 June 1940, launched 27 August 1942, and sponsored by Mrs. Henry A. Wallace, wife of Vice President Wallace. She was commissioned 22 February 1943, and placed under the command of Captain John L. McCrea. On 24 February, Iowa put to sea for shakedown cruise in Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic coast. She got underway, 27 August for Argentia, Newfoundland to neutralize the threat of German battleship Tirpitz which was reportedly operating In Norwegian waters.
In the fall, Iowa carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Casablanca, French Morocco, on the first leg of his journey to the Teheran Conference in November, returning him afterwards. As flagship of Battleship Division 7, Iowa departed the United States 2 January 1944 for the Pacific Theatre and her combat debut in the campaign for the Marshalls. From 29 January to 3 February, she supported carrier air strikes made by Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman's task group against Kwajalein and Eniwetok Atolls in the Marshall Islands. Her next assignment was to support air strikes against the Japanese Naval base at Truk, Caroline Islands. Iowa, in company with other ships was detached from the support group 16 February 1944 to conduct an anti-shipping sweep around Truk to destroy enemy naval vessels escaping to the north. On 21 February, she was underway with Fast Carrier Task Force 58 while it conducted the first strikes against Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam in the Marianas.
On 18 March, Iowa joined in the bombardment of Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Although struck by two Japanese 4.7" projectiles during the action, Iowa suffered negligible damage. She then rejoined Task Force 58 on 30 March, and supported air strikes which continued for several days against the Palau Islands and Woleai of the Carolines.
From 22 to 28 April 1944, Iowa supported air raids on Hollandia, Aitape, and Wake Islands to support Army forces on Aitape, Tanahmerah Bay, and Humboldt Bay in New Guinea. She then joined the task force's second strike on Truk, 29-30 April, and bombarded Japanese facilities on Ponape in the Carolines, 1 May.
In the opening phases of the Marianas campaign, Iowa protected the flattops during air strikes on the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Rota, and Pagan on 12 June. She was then detached to bombard enemy installations on Saipan and Tinian on 13-14 June. On 19 June, in an engagement known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Iowa, as part of the battle line of Fast Carrier Task Force 58, helped repel four massive air raids launched by the Japanese Middle Fleet. This resulted in the almost complete destruction of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. Iowa then joined in the pursuit of the fleeing enemy fleet, shooting down one torpedo plane and assisting in splashing another.
Throughout the following July, Iowa remained off the Marianas supporting air strikes on the Palaus and landings on Guam. After a month's rest, Iowa sortied from Eniwetok as part of the 3d Fleet, and helped support the landings on Peleliu on 17 September. She then protected the carriers during air strikes against the Central Philippines to neutralize enemy air power for the long awaited invasion of the Philippines. On 10 October Iowa arrived off Okinawa for a series of air strikes on the Ryukyus and Formosa. She then supported air strikes against Luzon on 18 October and continued this vital duty during General MacArthur's landing at Leyte on 20 October.
In a last ditch attempt to halt the United States campaign to recapture the Philippines, the Japanese Navy struck back with a three-pronged attack aimed at the destruction of American amphibious forces in Leyte Gulf. Iowa accompanied TF-38 during attacks against the Japanese Central Force as it steamed through the Sibuyan Sea toward San Bernardino Strait. The reported results of these attacks and the apparent retreat of the Japanese Central Force led Admiral Halsey to believe that this force had been ruined as an effective fighting group. Iowa, with Task Force 38, then steamed after the Japanese Northern Force off Cape Engano, Luzon.
On 25 October 1944, when the ships of the Northern Force were almost within range of Iowa's guns, word arrived that the Japanese Central Force was attacking a group of American escort carriers off Samar. This threat to the American beachheads forced her to reverse course and steam to support the vulnerable "baby carriers." However, the valiant fight put up by the escort carriers and their screen had already caused the Japanese to retire and Iowa was denied a surface action. Following the Battle for Leyte Gulf, Iowa remained in the waters off the Philippines screening carriers during strikes against Luzon and Formosa. She sailed for the West Coast late in December 1944.
Iowa arrived San Francisco on 15 January 1945 for overhaul. She sailed 19 March 1945 for Okinawa, arriving 15 April 1945. Commencing 24 April 1945, Iowa supported carrier operations which assured American troops vital air superiority during their struggle for that bitterly contested island. She then supported air strikes off southern Kyushu from 25 May to 13 June 1945, and then participated in strikes on the Japanese homeland 14-15 July, bombarding Muroran, Hokkaido, destroying steel mills and other targets. The city of Hitachi on Honshu was given the same treatment on the night of 17-18 July 1945. Iowa continued to support fast carrier strikes until the cessation of hostilities, 13 August 1945.
Iowa entered Tokyo Bay with the occupation forces, 29 August 1945. After serving as Admiral Halsey's flagship for the surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945, Iowa departed Tokyo Bay 20 September 1945 for the United States.
Arriving Seattle, Washington on 15 October 1945, Iowa stayed for a few months before returning to Japanese waters in January 1946 and becoming the flagship of the 5th Fleet. She continued this role until she sailed for the United States 25 March 1946. From that time on, until September 1948, Iowa operated from West Coast ports, on Naval Reserve and at sea training and drills and maneuvers with the Fleet. Iowa decommissioned 24 March 1949.
After Communist aggression in Korea necessitated an expansion of the active fleet, Iowa was recommissioned 25 August 1951 and operated off the West Coast until March 1952, when she sailed for the Far East. On 1 April 1952, Iowa became the flagship of 7th fleet commander Vice Admiral Robert T. Briscoe, and departed Yokosuka, Japan, to support United Nations forces in Korea. From 8 April to 16 October 1952, Iowa was involved in combat operations off the east eoast of Korea. Her primary mission was to aid ground troops by bombarding enemy targets at Songjin, Hunguam, and Kojo, in North Korea. During this time Admiral Briscoe was relieved by Vice Admiral J. J. Clark, who continued to use Iowa as his flagship until 17 October 1952. Iowa departed Yokosuka, Japan on 19 October 1952 for overhaul at Norfolk and training operations in the Caribbean Sea.
Iowa embarked midshipmen for at sea training to Northern Europe, July 1953, and immediately after took part in Operation Mariner, a major NATO exercise, serving as flagship of 2nd Fleet commander Vice Admiral E. T. Woolfidge. Upon completion of this exercise, until the fall of 1954, Iowa operated in the Virginia Capes area. In September 1954, she became the flagship of Rear Admiral R. E. Libby, Commander, Battleship-Cruiser Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
From January to April 1955, Iowa made an extended cruise to the Mediterranean as the first battleship regularly assigned to Commander, 6th Fleet. Iowa departed on a midshipman training cruise 1 June 1955 and upon her return, she entered Norfolk for a four-month overhaul. Following refit, Iowa continued intermittent training cruises and operational exercises, until 4 January 1957 when she departed Norfolk for duty with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. Upon completion of this deployment, Iowa embarked midshipmen for a South American training cruise and joined in the International Naval Review off Hampton Roads, Va., 13 June 1957.
On 3 September 1957, Iowa sailed for Scotland for NATO Operation Strikeback . She returned to Norfolk, 28 September 1957 and departed Hampton Roads for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, 22 October 1957. She decommissioned a second time on 24 February 1958.
After two and a half decades in mothballs, Iowa was modernized under President Ronald Reagan's the 1981 defense buildup, which included $1.7 billion dollars in upgrades for her and her three sister ships. Towed from Philadelphia to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, she spent the next three years receiving the latest weapons technology - including Tomahawk cruise and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and the Phalanx close-in weapons system; some of the upgrades necessitated the removal of four 5-inch gun mounts, reducing her compliment of these guns to twelve. Iowa was recommissioned 28 April 1984, becoming, along with her sisters, an integral part of surface action groups assigned for a tactical mission. She went to European waters in 1985, 1986 and 1987 through 1988, with the latter cruise continuing into the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.
On 19 April 1989 while conducting gunnery excersizes in the Atlantic, an explosion of undetermined cause ripped through her number two sixteen-inch gun turret killing 47 crewmen. Within weeks blame for the incident centered on Gunners Mate 2nd-Class Clayton Hartwig, the gun captain of Turret Two's center gun, who the Navy stated was suicidal and depressed following the breakup of an alleged homosexual affair with another sailor . Despite vehement denials from the Hartwig family and many others, the Navy stuck by its "official" version of the explosion until Congress forced the Navy to conduct tests on the 16-inch powder bags used in the firing of Iowa's big guns. At Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren, Virginia, drop tests were done on several powder bags from a height of fifteen feet, simulating the approximate speed of what was suspected by critics of the Naval investigation to be the prime cause of the explosion: an over-ram into the gun's breech as the powder was mechanically inserted. The resulting test explosions caused the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank B. Kelso III, to publicly apologize to the Hartwig family and state there was no proof that Hartwig caused the explosion.
Turret Two remained unrepaired when she decommissioned in Norfolk, Va., for the last time 26 October 1990.
Iowa, as part of the Reserve Fleet, was berthed at the Naval Education and Training Center in Newport, R.I., from 24 September 1998 to 8 March 2001 when she began her journey under tow to San Francisco. She arrived at Suisan Bay, San Francisco, on 21 April 2001 and is part of the Reserve Fleet there.
Iowa earned nine battle stars for World War II service and two for Korean service.
After 21 years in the reserve fleet, USS Iowa is currently moored at Richmond, California, where she is being refitted as a museum ship. When the refit is complete she will move to Los Angeles as the centerpiece of the Pacific Battleship Center.
Article incorporates text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain
- Bonner, Carolyn. USS Iowa At War. Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Press (2007)