There are not many warships in the history of world shipbuilding with so many superlatives which describe their specification. The American battleship Iowa (BB-61), prototype of a four ship class commissioned for the US Navy during World War II is probably the leading contender, as far as superlatives are concerned.
The most powerful battleship built in the USA, the longest and fastest battleship in history, in commission for the longest of the four sisters, and so on and so forth… and she is still in existence today.
It would have seemed that naval operations of the major naval powers during World War I clearly demonstrated the twilight of the battleship era, but that was not going to be the case while these extremely costly war machines still decided the strength of each major naval power. It was no wonder that the danger of the naval arms race had not vanished when Great Britain, the United States, Japan and Italy emerged victorious from the Great War.
The major powers, exhausted by the war, were not inclined to spend huge amounts of money on building new dreadnoughts when their economies were on the verge of collapse. Nevertheless each one embarked on a program of battleship design and construction based on the perceived lessons of the late war, perhaps because it was a way of maintaining a skilled workforce, and reducing the enormous number of unemployed as a result of demobilisation .
Eventually economics forced on the great powers the idea of an international agreement, which in its essence was to stop the frantic arms race or at least limit its scope. The Washington Naval Treaty, signed on February 6, 1922 by the representatives of major naval powers limited the construction of new battleships for a few years. The number of existing battleships was also reduced with numerous useless and obsolete vessels being scrapped.
However new ideas and new designs were emerging, in particular in Germany and Japan, but France and Italy were also active. The result of this activity was the treaty signed by major naval powers at the London Naval Conference in 1930 to extend the period of “building holidays”, since it prohibited the construction of new battleships until 1935. The Second London Naval Disarmament Conference, opened in December 1935, ended in a fiasco. Japan’s representatives withdrew from the agreement since they thought it was unfair, which de facto marked the beginning of a new naval arms race and the end of “building holidays”.
During the aforementioned “holiday” period none of the great powers ceased the study of new battleships, nor did Germany. Despite the fact that in Britain and the USA the design work was in strict compliance with treaty limits as far as armament and displacement was concerned, numerous designs were created, which served as the basis for construction of the first battleships of a new generation. Following the Congressional appropriation on June 3, 1936, the construction of two new battleships was launched in the United States. The North Carolina and Washington set new standards for American battleships. Initially, they were to be armed with reliable 356 mm (14”) guns, but finally the new 406 mm (16”) guns were approved, because American intelligence had been informed that Japan was building a warship with specifications far exceeding limits posed by the treaty.
The North Carolina class battleships were ultimately armed with nine 406 mm (16”) guns mounted in three triple turrets. However, there was no time to modify the design and increase the armour thickness of the ships which were already being built. Thus, these two well armed warships were considered inadequately armoured. Although the General Board of the US Navy was going to request Congressional appropriation for two more battleships of the North Carolina class in the fiscal year 1938, it encountered a strong opposition of the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William D. Leahy, who demanded warships which would be both better designed and armoured.
Therefore, the preliminary design work on a new battleship for the fiscal year 1939 began in March 1937. Meeting the “treaty” displacement limit set at 35 000 standard tons for the new ship was still the main assumption. At that displacement the ships were to have the same armament as the North Carolina, but increased armour protection. It was quite a challenge for the Bureau of Construction and Repair.
Within such limits, it was clear that the new ships had to have shorter hulls, so with the increased armour thickness in comparison to that of the North Carolina, the length of the armoured citadel of the “all or nothing”1 system, commonly used since the construction of the battleship Nevada, had to be shorter. Its reduced length allowing for the increase in armour thickness. Another challenge was to maintain the required speed of 27 knots, which with shorter hull and thicker armour required the installation of a more powerful machinery set than that of the North Carolina, in a smaller space in the shorter hull.
Thus, finding the golden mean was necessary. Installing the side armour within the hull sloped at the angle of 19 degrees outwards turned out to be an excellent idea. It allowed an increase the armour thickness by only 6 mm (.2”) and at the same time retain the resistance against 406 mm (16”) projectile hits. Design of the propulsion plant incorporated the latest achievements of marine engineering, which resulted in a more compact machinery space. Trunking of all uptakes allowed design of a compact superstructure with a single funnel and that in turn shortened the length of the entire armoured citadel.
Although it was impossible to meet the designed displacement of 35 000 standard tons the battleship design thus created had exceptional technical characteristics. The four battleships of the South Dakota class built to those specifications turned out to be most successful.
2. Design and construction of the battleship Iowa
When, in autumn of 1937, first Naval Intelligence reports about the first new generation battleship being laid down at Kure Japan, reached the United States, there were serious doubts that the new battleships which were being designed for the US Navy would be a worthy adversary for the new Japanese ships. Although the detailed technical specifications of the Nagato class battleships built in the 1920s and refitted in the second half of the 1930s were not known, they were considered to be well-designed. Their characteristics well exceeded those of any contemporary US designs. Therefore, it was assumed that the Japanese had began construction of an even more modern and powerful warship that the Nagato class.
It was thought apparent that the South Dakota class battleships would not be a match for the new Japanese battleship design.
Since Japan provided non-committal replies to questions concerning the new battleships, Great Britain, France and the United States invoked the escalation clause added to the London Naval Treaty and increased displacement limit for new battleships from 35 000 to 45 000 standard tons.
With additional 10 000 tons at their disposal, American designers could either increase the armour thickness and the armament of the new battleships, or their speed. Numerous concepts and designs were created, but finally, the concept of a fast battleship won, although the specifications were not exceedingly increased. The armament would remain as nine 406 mm (16”) guns with speed increased to 33 knot, within displacement limit of 45 000 standard tons. The design of the South Dakota class battleships was a starting point. It was calculated that a 220 000 HP propulsion plant, which would guarantee speed of 33 knots, required a hull no longer than 240 metres (779ft) and standard displacement would be approximately 40 000 tons. However, because the maximum beam could not exceed 33.5 m, (109ft) in order to allow for passage through the locks of the Panama Canal, the hulls of the new warships had to be lengthened.
The decision to choose a design of a “fast battleship” seems to be obvious by today’s standards, but in the late 1930s it was not so. At that time, it was difficult to predict whether naval strategy drawn up by Naval staff and high ranking officers, whose experience was that of the World War I, in which the battle fleet had been seen as a major tool for solving naval conflicts was correct, or if long-term thinking involving naval aviation was a better option. The primary concern was, whether new carrier-borne aircraft and aircraft carriers could/would be able to play a decisive role in the future naval conflict.
Aircraft carriers were fast warships, but none of the battleships launched before the “building holidays” and then commissioned in the US Navy was capable of serving as their escort, even after modernization. Therefore, the idea of building a few or even a dozen modern, and above all, fast battleships that would be able to keep up with fleet aircraft carriers was rather obvious. Especially in the face of intelligence reports about the modernization of the Japanese Kongo class battleships, which were then able to steam at 32 knots, effectively capable of serving as a very powerful aircraft carrier escort. Actually, these considerations took precedence and became a deciding factor in the approval of a class of fast battleships.
It is worthy of mention, that there were plans to arm the new battleships with 457 mm (18”) guns. However, preliminary calculations proved that, due to their massive weight, the number would have to be reduced from nine to six. Even then, displacement would be considerably increased and the ships would certainly not be able to exceed the speed of 21 to 23 knots. Ultimately, the new ships’ main battery layout would be similar to that of the South Dakota class battleships, consisting of nine 406 mm (16”) guns mounted in three triple turrets.
Since there was a large number of 406 mm (16”)/50 calibre Mark II guns available from inventory, which had been manufactured for the cancelled Lexington class battlecruisers and never built South Dakota2 class battleships, there was a proposal to mount them in the turrets of the new, fast battleships. However, there was a problem, since their more powerful recoil required longer turrets than those designed for the South Dakota class. Moreover, it turned out that a longer and therefore more spacious turret required a larger diameter barbette, which was out of the question in the situation when each saved ton of the displacement could have been used to improve other characteristics of the ship.
Instead, the Bureau of Ordnance designed a turret and barbette for the new16”/50-cal Mk 7 guns with a diameter almost identical to that installed on the North Carolina and the South Dakota class battleships. Thus, approximately 2 000 tons of displacement were conserved and the design of the battleship would remain within the 45 000 tons limit.
On May 17, 1938 Congress appropriated funds for the construction of the first two ships of the new class of so-called “fast battleships”, which were designated BB-61 Iowa and BB-62 New Jersey. The consecutive two vessels of the same class were appropriated on June 6, 1939, and would be named Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64). A year later, on July 19, 1940, two more battleships of that class, Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66), were appropriated, but although their construction was started, they were never completed.
The order for the first warship of the class of six new battleships was placed with the New York Navy Yard on July 1, 1939.
3. The characteristics of the battleship USS Iowa
The shape of the battleship Iowa and her sister ships’ hull was decided by two factors. The beam could not exceed 33.5 m (109ft) in order to pass through the locks of the Panama Canal. The other factor was the need to achieve high speed, which meant installing powerful machinery. That required much space, therefore the hulls had to be lengthened and slender in form, especially in the bow section.
The 270.43m (878ft) long, flush deck hull is characterized by a slim bow section with raised and curved stem, while the bulbous bowfoot improves drag characteristics. Its shape and dimensions provide excellent seagoing qualities in the Pacific Ocean even in extreme weather conditions, but they were proved to be relatively poor seaboats in the North Atlantic when operating post war with NATO fleets. it was those length to beam proportions that made a great “pacific” hull that made them unsuitable for prolonged operations in North Atlantic weather systems.
The stern section is arranged in such a way, that the outboard propeller shafts are installed in streamlined fins constituting an integral part of the hull, thus improving stability and integrity of the entire structure. There are twin rudders, 31.59 m² (102.6 sq ft) each.
The hull has three continuous decks. The main or weather deck, the second deck, which is the principal armoured deck and the third lower deck, which covers the machinery spaces and steering mechanisms. All the lower decks or “platforms”, are not continuous decks, as they are interrupted by the machinery spaces. The third platform deck from the top forms the internal layer of the triple bottom system, which extends from the main battery barbette No. 3 to barbette No. 1.
To meet the 33 knot speed requirement the Iowa class battleships had to have powerful machinery capable of 212 000 HP output. To achieve that goal, four boiler rooms and four engine rooms were installed amidships alternating with each other.. There are two boilers in each of the four boiler rooms, which generate steam for the engine room adjacent to its bulkhead. Exhaust fumes from each boiler are carried by a single uptake trunked by four into two separated massive funnels. The first funnel, located over boiler room No. 2 and faired into the rear of the fore superstructure fire control tower, vents the forward boiler rooms, while the second funnel, located over the engine room No. 3, vents the aft boiler rooms.
The Babcock & Wilcox three drum water tube boilers generate steam at the working pressure of 39.7 kg/cm² and temperature of 454° C, which power four sets of General Electric geared steam turbines with the power output of 53 000 HP each. The turbines could be overloaded by 20%, which generated the power output of approximately 254 000 HP. According to calculations the ship could then exceed the designed speed of 33 knots.
The electrical devices (there are over 900 electrical motors on board the ship!) and lighting installation were designed to operate on 450 V, 60 Hz alternating current provided by eight turbo-generators installed in four pairs of 1250 kW each.
The main battery of the Iowa class battleships consists of nine 406mm 16”/50-calibre, Mark 7 guns. Initially, it was planned to use the existing Mark II guns, but since the Ordnance Bureau submitted a successful design for a turret and barbette that would accommodate the latest Mark 7, yet with dimensions that did not exceed those of the barbettes installed aboard the battleship South Dakota, it was decided to use the latter guns. The guns are mounted in three three-gun turrets, two in super-firing position fore and the third aft.
Technical specifications of the main and secondary battery guns mounted aboard the battleship Iowa.
Parameter 16”(406 mm)/50 Mk 7 gun 5”(127 mm)/38 gun
Gun length oa 20.73 m 67.25ft 4.38 m 14.2ft
Gun weight including breech 121.52 t 1.8 t
Grooves 96 45
Rifling length 17.43 m 56.6ft 3.99 13ft
Groove depth 8.81 mm .3” -
Recoil 1.22 m 4ft -
Projectile weight 1 225 kg, 2,695lbs 24.43 kg 79lbs
Muzzle velocity 762 m/s 2,474ft/s 792 m/s 2,571ft/s
Chamber pressure 2913 kg/cm2 2835 kg/cm2
Barrel life 290 rounds 4 600 rounds
Rate of fire 2 rounds/min 15 rounds/min
Maximum elevation 45 degrees 85 degrees
The battleship’s secondary comprising 20 127mm 5”/38-calibre, 1934 pattern Mark 12 guns mounted in ten Mark 28 twin turrets could provide anti-aircraft fire at elevations up to 85 degrees, in addition to anti ship defence.
The designed layout of the anti-aircraft armament was altered during the course of the battleship’s construction. The planned 28 mm 1.1” anti-aircraft guns were not mounted and in their place the more effective quadruple 40 mm Bofors gun mounts were installed. When the ship commissioned in 1943, there was a total of sixty 40 mm guns mounted on board. The anti-aircraft battery was supplemented by 60 very effective 20 mm Oerlikon guns installed in 1943 after commissioning.
The armour protection scheme of the Iowa class battleships was modelled on the proven system used on the battleship South Dakota. The side or belt armour, installed within the hull, is inclined at 19 degrees to the ship’s axis of symmetry, which would protect the battleships against 406mm 16” projectile hits. It is 11.74m
38ft wide and stretches between frame 50 forward of No.1 barbette to frame 166 aft of No.3 barbette. It is 307mm 12” thick in its upper portion, but tapers downwards to only 41mm 1.6”. The lower lip touches the double bottom, which in practice would serve as protection against diving projectiles. The armoured citadel is enclosed by the fore and aft transverse armoured bulkheads.
The horizontal armour consists of the 38mm 1.5” thick main deck and 121mm
4.8” thick second deck, which is the main armoured deck that protected the ship’s vitals against aerial bomb hits. The third deck was only 16mm .6” thick. The details of the main battery turrets and other components of the armour protection scheme are presented in a table.
The underwater protection scheme of the Iowa class battleships consisted of the series of bulkheads and tanks between them, which were created by the outer plating and three consecutive longitudinal bulkheads. Two outer tanks could be filled with fuel or ballast water. Two inner ones would remain empty. The liquid-filled tanks were to absorb the energy of torpedo explosion, the third, empty tank was to prevent hull leaks, while the fourth, also empty, tank served as protection of the machinery spaces.
The bottom of the hull was protected by the inner bottom stretching between the longitudinal anti-torpedo bulkheads at the entire length of the ship. The double bottom was a storage area for the drinking and process water supplies, as well as the fuel reserve. The space between the second and third bottom always remained empty. The purpose of the triple bottom system was similar to that of the anti-torpedo bulkheads; it was to absorb the shock of underwater explosions.
Technical specifications of the battleship USS Iowa (1943-1945)
Displacement: 43 875 t (light)
48 425 t (standard)
55 424 t (optimum battle)
57 540 t (full load)
59 331 t (maximum)
Length 270,427m 878ft oa
262,689m 852.8ft on waterline
Beam 32,971m 107ft maximum
8,744m 28.4ft – at 43 875 t.
10,687m 34.7ft– at 55 424 t.
11,030m 35.8ft – at 57 540 t.
11,328m 36.8ft – at 59 331 t.
11,506m 37.4ft max.
Propulsion 8 Babcok & Wilcox boilers, 4 General Electric geared steam turbines with combined output of 212 000 HP
two 5.182m 16.8ft diameter five blade propellers (inboard)
two 5.563m 18ft diameter four blade propellers (outboard)
Speed 33.0 kn (designed)
Endurance 15 000 NM at 15 kn
Fuel capacity 8 624 t
Armament nine 406 mm 16/50 Mk 7 guns (3 x 3)
twenty 127 mm 5”/38 Mark 12 guns (10 x 2)
sixty 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns (15 x 4)
sixty 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns(60 x I)
Eighty 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns (20 x 4)
Fifty-two 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns (52 x I)
Armour Belt – 307/307 – 41mm 12” - 1.6”
Steering gear – 343mm 13.5”
Armoured decks – 38mm 1.2”, 121mm 4.8”, 16 mm .6”
Main battery turrets – face 432mm 17”, sides 241mm 9.5”, rear 305mm 12”, roof 184mm 7.2”.
Barbettes – 439 – 295mm, 17.2” - 11.6”
Armoured conning tower – 439mm 17.2”, 184mm roof 184mm 7.2”
Communication shafts – 406mm 15.9”
Complement 117 officers and 1 804 sailors (1943)
151 officers and 2 637 sailors (1945)
The keel of the battleship designated BB-61 was ceremonially laid down on June 27, 1940, at the New York Navy Yard. She was in an advanced stage of construction when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, dragging the United States into war. The battleship, sponsored by Mrs. Ilo Wallace, wife of Vice President Henry Agard Wallace who was a citizen of Iowa, was launched during a ceremony on August 27, 1941.
The launched hull was towed by tugs over the waters of the East River to the fitting-out berth, where construction continued at impressive pace under pressure of time, since deployment of the battleship to the Pacific theatre of operations was a matter of the utmost necessity.
Although there were no provisions for radar equipment in the original design of the Iowa class battleships as these devices had still been in their infancy, the rapid progress in their development, sped up by the outbreak of the war produced a decision to install the first battle-tested radar systems on board the still unfinished battleship. Rectangular SK air-search radar antenna was installed on the mainmast. The radar was capable of detecting approaching enemy aircraft from a distance of 3 km. The battleship was also equipped with two SG surface search radars. They were installed atop the forward fire-control tower and at the top of the aft mast, respectively. They were capable of detecting large enemy warships from a distance of approximately 40 km, and destroyer size ones from about 28 km.
The battleship was commissioned on February 22, 1943 with Captain John L. McCrea in command. Spring and early summer of 1943 were spent on sea trials and training in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. On July 16, the ship had a stroke of bad lack. On the way back from the training cruise, passing through the Hussey Sound to Casco Bay, the Iowa hit the rocky bottom of bay. The battleship had to be dry-docked, because the damage was serious. The bottom plating was deformed at the length of approximately 77 metres, rivets were torn and sixteen fuel tanks located in the double bottom were opened to the sea.
At the end of August 1943, Iowa put to sea on her first Atlantic patrol. Operating from Argentia in Newfoundland she was to provide cover for convoys, should the German battleship Tirpitz attack from her base in Norway. At the end of October 1943, Iowa returned to the United States, where she was dry docked at the Norfolk Navy Yard for a two-week overhaul. Next, the ship was appointed to perform an unusual mission. She carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the Atlantic to meeting of the “Big Three” in Teheran.
Iowa departed the American coast on November 13. She steamed across the Atlantic at about 22.5 knots to avoid the U-boat threat. In the Mediterranean, she was joined by the awaiting light cruiser Brooklyn and five destroyers.
The Iowa completed her Presidential escort mission on December 16, 1943 by returning the President to the United States, and was then immediately ordered to depart for the Pacific as flagship of the Battleship Division 7, within which she was to co-operate with her sister ship the New Jersey. After resupplying, the ship put to sea on January 2, 1944, and five days later entered the Panama Canal. At the end of January, Iowa joined the warships of Admiral Sprunace’s 5th Fleet and then took part in the Operation “Flintlock” - the invasion of the Marshall Islands. From January 23, the battleships formed the escort of the aircraft carriers Bunker Hill and Monterey during their operation against Eniwetok and Kwajalein Atolls. Another joint operation with the New Jersey was a strike at the Japanese base in Truk Lagoon, which is a part of the Carolina Islands.
Between February 23 and 26, Iowa bombarded Saipan, Tinian, Rota and then Guam. In March the ship bombarded the Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands and on the last day of the month, she protected and supported Task Force 58 in its operations, first against Palau and Woleai, and then against Aitape and Wake. On April 22, 1944, she provided fire support for the marines landing on Aitape and Tanahmerah. In mid-June she bombarded Saipan and Tinian. On July 19, 1944, during the battle of the Philippine Sea, her gunners shot down three Japanese planes.
In July, Iowa provided artillery support during the landing on Guam and between July 25 and 27 she bombarded Palau, Yap and Ulithi. Then, until August 10, she again bombarded Tinian. At that time Iowa with New Jersey joined Admiral Halsey’s 3rd Fleet as a part of Task Group 38.2. The entire September and June was a busy period for both ships, during which they bombarded consecutive islands in the Philippine Sea. On October 14, Iowa was attacked by a single Judy dive bomber which was spotted at a distance of 3 miles and shot down in a spectacular manner, crashing to the surface about 300 metres from the battleship’s side.
From October 20, Iowa was involved in the campaign to recapture the Philippines and in the battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese, aware of the American superiority, devised a plan to lure Admiral Halsey’s main screen force battleships away from the Japanese main task force by using some of their aircraft carriers as a bait. That would allow the Japanese to strike at the amphibious force in the Leyte Gulf. Admiral Halsey, known for being an aggressive commander, decided to pursue the “bait” despite protests of his subordinate commanders and thus, the Iowa, the New Jersey and the other battleships lost their chance to duel with the Japanese battleships.
Until the end of 1944, Iowa and New Jersey bombarded Japanese positions on Luzon. The ships were often a target of aerial strikes. During a kamikaze attack on November 25, Iowa fired seventy-eight 126 mm rounds and approximately six thousand 40 and 20 mm ones within 10 minutes, downing three Japanese aircraft.
At the beginning of December, Iowa, which had been in continuous service since January, had to be sent to a dry-dock. The propeller shaft bearings, which caused strong vibration at speeds over 25 knots, required an overhaul and repair. However, before the ship reached Ulithi, she was overtaken by a typhoon, which further damaged the propeller shaft and swept away one of the battleship’s float planes. The overhaul in the floating drydock at Manaus confirmed the need for repairs in the mainland United States. After crossing the Pacific, on January 15, 1945, Iowa entered Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, where she remained until March 19.
During the repair work the ship changed her appearance slightly. The conning tower was rebuilt, the bridge area was enclosed and new windows were fitted, similar to those on the battleships Missouri and Wisconsin. The paint scheme was also altered, the characteristic camouflage was replaced by Measure 22 scheme. It is worthy of mentioning that, at that time all the Iowa class battleships wore the same camouflage scheme, and from a distance they seemed to look identical.
Upon her return to the Pacific, Iowa was deployed to shell enemy positions on Okinawa, where on April 15, she relieved her sister ship, New Jersey.
On July 1, along with the battleships Missouri and Wisconsin, she departed towards the Japanese home islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. Their task was the bombardment of the shore targets which were still out of range of B-29 bombers. On August 27, 1945, Iowa, along with Missouri, entered Sagami Bay, and two days later steamed into Tokyo Bay. During the surrender ceremony that took place on board the battleship Missouri, the Iowa provided radio communication.
The ship remained in the Japanese waters until September 20, when she left for the United States. On the way, approximately 1.5 thousand building workers from Okinawa were embarked. They were taken to the United States as part of the Operation “Magic Carpet”. The ship called at Seattle on October 15. Until January 1946 she was engaged in training operations, steaming along the western coast of the United States. Then, she left home waters and after crossing the Pacific, on January 27, 1946, again entered Tokyo Bay, where she served as flagship of the 5th Fleet. On March 25, 1946, Iowa returned to Long Island to resume her role as a training ship, participating in various exercises.
She served in that role until September 1948, when in San Francisco she was being prepared for deactivation. On March 24, 1949, the battleship was officially decommissioned into United States Navy reserve fleet.
The outbreak of the Korean War brought her reactivation and recommissioning The reactivation work and assembling of her complement, who in the meantime was being trained on board the heavy cruisers, began on August 25 1951. It is worthy of mentioning, that during the reactivation work all the 20 mm Oerlikon guns were dismounted as they were deemed obsolete in the jet aircraft era. Both catapults were also removed and so were the floatplanes. The crane for operating the floatplanes was retained for working the ship boats. The removal of Oerlikons and catapults made the quarterdeck more spacious and therefore a perfect place for operating helicopters, which saw large scale use during the Korean conflict.
After trials and training exercises along the west coast, the fully operational battleship was deployed to the Far East. She called at the US naval base in Yokosuka on April 1, 1952, and by relieving the battleship Wisconsin, became the flagship of the 7th Fleet. Her service during the Korean War, similarly to that in the closing month of World War II, was passed in bombarding North Korean positions. The guns of the battleship destroyed ammunition dumps, supply depots and bunkers of the North Korean army, thus supporting the South Korean troops. Apart from those tasks, the ship often participated in search and rescue mission for pilots of the downed American aircraft.
On October 17, 1952, Iowa left Korean waters and returned to the naval base in Yokosuka, only to put to sea for a long journey to the Norfolk Naval Base on the east cost of the United Sates. There she was dry-docked and prepared to serve as a training ship. For the years to come, Iowa made numerous training voyages and international courtesy calls.
In the middle of 1953, the battleship served as flagship of the US 2nd Fleet during the NATO Operation “Mariner” in north European waters. In June 1954, on her way to the base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Iowa had a rare opportunity to meet with her three remaining sister ships. For the next few weeks, the “Quadruplet” operated as a task force in Caribbean waters. At the turn of 1954-55, Iowa served in the Mediterranean Sea as a flagship of the consecutive commanders of the US 6th Fleet. In September 1957, she took part in the NATO’s Operation “Strikeback” in the North Atlantic.
At the end of 1957 a decision was made to decommission the battleship, because of her high maintenance costs. Iowa was towed to Philadelphia and on January 24, 1958, deactivated for 24 years, becoming a part of the so-called “Mothball Fleet” with other similarly treated warships.
Over the quarter of the century, during which the battleships remained in their cocoon sleep, many more and less daring plans of their further use were conceived. Some designs concentrated on converting each of the four vessels into modern missile warships or command ships, while others on transforming them into hybrid battleship/aircraft carriers. There was also an idea to use not the warships themselves, but their powerful artillery. One of such designs, the completion of which was seriously discussed, called for a monitor armed with a single 406 mm three gun turret. Such warship would have been employed mainly as an artillery support for seaborne assaults
All of these designs remained on paper and although the professional journals in the 1960s and 1970s reported, from time to time, on subsequent projects concerning the use of the existing warships, they all remained deactivated until the early 1980s.
At the beginning of the 1980s the US Navy received additional financial resources that enabled the reactivation of some “mothballed” warships of the reserve fleet. The battleship Iowa was one of such ships, since her active service life at the time of launching was estimated at 50 years, yet she served only for a few.
In 1981 a small sum was assigned from the budget for reactivation of the Iowa, followed by larger amounts for modernization in the years 1982 and 1983.
And thus, after 24 years in “mothballs”, the giant was awakened and given another chance for active service. On September 1, 1982, she was towed to the dry-dock at Avondale Shipyard, where her hull was being repaired through to January 30 1983, when the ship was towed to Ingalss Shipbuilding for completion of her modernization. The battleship was scheduled for recommissioning in 1985, but since her sister ship New Jersey, reactivated earlier, had already served in the Philippines, Nicaragua and the Mediterranean Sea during 1983, the process was accelerated. Modernization work was completed earlier and the modernized Iowa was ready for recommissioning on April 28, 1984.
Modernization altered the ship’s appearance. All the 40 mm Bofors guns and their shields were removed, as were four out of ten 127 mm twin turrets. The lattice mast installed around the second funnel during the 1950s was completely removed and a large lattice mast, necessary for installation of modern electronic warfare systems, was installed on the forward superstructure. The ship retained all three main battery turrets.
Iowa was ceremonially recommissioned on April 28, 1984 and the Naval Station Norfolk on the east cost became her home port.
The first weeks of commission were taken up with a period of gunnery exercises and complement training in the Caribbean waters of Guantanamo Bay and Puerto Rico. In June 1984 the ship called at some South American ports and in August was deployed to the Pacific, where she operated off the coasts of Nicaragua and Guatemala. Iowa returned to the Caribbean on August 26, to perform gunnery exercises, during which, the main battery fired with remarkable accuracy at the distance of 32 km. That impressive show of the ship’s power brought about the resources from the budget of the US Navy for reactivation of another “mothballed” battleship – the USS Missouri.
In September 1984 the Iowa returned to Norfolk. At the beginning of 1985, she took part in relief missions near Costa Rica and Honduras. Then she underwent an overhaul at Norfolk Navy Yard, where she remained until July 1985. During that time the boilers, propeller shafts and artillery were overhauled and new means of communication were installed. On completion of the overhaul, the ship went for five-day sea trials.
In August and September the battleship crossed the Arctic Circle. Between October 12 and 18, Iowa took part in the NATO Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 85 and at their conclusion visited Copenhagen, Aarhus and finally at Kiel. She returned to Norfolk on November 5, 1985.
In the period between January and March 1986 she visited Central American ports. In July, Iowa visited New York, where she served as flagship for the celebration of the centennial of the State of Liberty. In the second half of August, she departed Norfolk and headed for the North Atlantic to take part in the NATO’s Operation “Northern Wedding”, returning to Norfolk at the end of October 1986.
The beginning of 1987 was another period of naval exercises, “BLASTEX 1-87”, that took part in the Caribbean. At that time Iowa visited ports in Honduras, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Vieques Island and the American base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In May the ship took part in exercise SACEX near the coast of Puerto Rico and in July 1987 she was in the Western Atlantic participating in exercise FLEETEX 3-87.
On September 10, Iowa left her base in Norfolk and crossed the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea, where she joined the warships of the 6th Fleet in exercise “Display Determination”. She also visited the City of Istanbul. In October she was detached from the 6th Fleet and departed for North Atlantic calling at Trondheim in Norway.
In November the ship transited the Suez Canal and steamed into the Persian Gulf. In December 1987 and January 1988 the battleship operated in the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea. In mid-January, the ship returned to the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal and then set for the United States, arriving at Norfolk on March 10, 1988.
The battleship’s lucky career was disturbed by a tragic accident on April 19, 1989. During gunnery exercises in the Caribbean the main battery was to fire for the first time in six weeks. Turret No. 1 fired first, but the left gun misfired. Things like that had happened before, so there was no cause for alarm. Turret No. 2 was to fire next, but the charge was not properly loaded into the chamber of the centre gun and before its crew managed to remedy the situation, there was an internal explosion.
Its force was so powerful, that the fittings of all three guns were destroyed and hot gases expanding through the openings of the ventilation system, sights and rangefinders partially burned the deck planking around the turret. The systems that prevented the explosion of the powder magazine were triggered. The entire turret crew of 47 was killed. Within 8 minutes from the explosion the magazines of No. 2 turret were flooded.
Iowa was forced to end the exercise and return to base in Norfolk. On the way, in Puerto Rico, the bodies of the crew members killed in the explosion were disembarked. The investigation started immediately upon her arrival at the base. The necessary repairs were also commenced. On their completion the ship was operational with the exception of No. 2 turret.
The commission thoroughly investigating all the aspects of the April 19, 1989 explosion had reached conflicting conclusions. Only a few hypotheses were accepted, although none of them was unconditionally obvious.
When the “Cold War” period ended in 1990, the command of the US Navy decided to decommission Iowa once again. It was officially done on October 16, 1990. The ship remained in reserve for almost five years, when on January 12, 1995, she was finally stricken from the Navy list.
Iowa was towed from Philadelphia to Newport, where she remained until March 17, 2006, she was officially stricken from the Navy list and towed to Suisun Bay near San Francisco. Efforts of various associations and individuals saved the battleship and on October 27, 2011, the ship embarked on her final journey, being towed from Suisun Bay to the quay in San Diego, where she was going to serve as a museum ship after necessary preparation work was completed.
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Dulin R.O., Garzke W.H., „Battleships – United States Battleships, 1935-1992”, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1995,
Friedman N., „U.S.Battleships An Illustrated Design History“, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1985,
Newhart M.R., “American Battleships”, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula, 1995
Palasek J., „Amerykańskie pancerniki typu „Iowa“ cz. 1, Wydawnictwo Okręty Wojenne, Tarnowskie Góry 1998,
Palasek J., „Amerykańskie pancerniki typu „Iowa“ cz. 2, Wydawnictwo Okręty Wojenne, Tarnowskie Góry 2000,
Śmigielski A., “Amerykańskie olbrzymy”, Magnum X, Warszawa 2000,
Sumrall R., „Iowa Class Battleships – Their Design, Weapons & Equipment“, Conway Maritime Press, London 1988,
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Morze; Morze Statki i Okręty; Okręty Wojenne; Warship; Warship International; Ships Of The World
1 The “All or nothing” armour scheme, first incorporated into the design of the battleship Nevada, became so effective, that ever since it was commonly used on all consecutive battleships of the US Navy. It was also accepted by other naval powers building new battleships.
2 Those are no to be mistaken with the later built class of warships with the same name. The unbuilt South Dakota class battleships were to be designated BB-49 South Dakota, BB-50 Indiana, BB-51 Montana, BB-52 North Carolina, BB-53 Iowa and BB-54 Massachusetts, while the four warships of the new class were designated BB-57 South Dakota, BB-58 Indiana, BB-59 Massachusetts and BB-60 Alabama.
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