The Battleship USS Missouri

In June 1939 the US Navy amended its 1941 budget to reflect the construction of two Iowa class battleships. Four brand new fast battleships operating as centerpieces of battle groups including aircraft carriers and destroyers were to constitute the U.S. response to the Japanese upgraded Kongō class warships. On June 12, 1940, after the project had been formally approved by the Congress, the orders were placed at Brooklyn Navy Yard for the construction of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and Philadelphia Navy Yard for the USS Wisconsin (BB-64). In late 1939 the increasing threat of German raiders operating in the Atlantic and the reports of the Axis countries developing ever growing battleship fleets led the US Navy Command to order more fast capital ships. As a result, on September 9, 1940 two more battleships were ordered: the USS Illinois (BB-65) and the USS Kentucky (BB-66). However, only four of the six ships were built. The construction of the final two was cancelled when the war drew to a close.

Closeup of the so-called “surrender deck”, the place on starboard side of the ship where Japanese representatives signed the surrender act. A table with documents on it is visible in the center. A nearby mushroom vent has been cut off at its base to provide more space. At the ship’s side there’s a wooden platform constructed specially for photographers and observers. [3D Stefan Dramiński]


The design
The design of the Iowa class battleships drew heavily from the lessons learned in the construction of the South Dakota class. The US Navy designers worked hard to achieve maximum speed at significant hull length (the hull’s beam was limited by the width of the Panama Canal and could not be increased).The Missouri was designed with an elongated and slender bow section with a bulbous bow which was designed to reduce drag.
The surplus tonnage (compared to the South Dakota class) was used to install upgraded propulsion system delivering an unprecedented 212 000 shp, as well as additional armor. The ship was very well protected against 16” shells fired from distances from 16 000 to 27 000 meters. The main armor belt covered the battleship’s sides and stretched all the way to the bottom and served as a reinforcement for anti-torpedo bulges.
The Missouri’s armament closely resembled the weapons carried by the South Dakota class vessels, with the exception of the new 16”/50 Mark 7 main battery guns. The guns used heavy armor-piercing shells weighing in at 1 220 kg, which had excellent ballistic and penetration characteristics. The dual purpose battery consisted of 20 proven 5-inch guns (5”/38 Mark 12) mounted in ten twin turrets. The ship also carried a large number of standard US Navy AA weapons (40 mm Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikons). In September 1945 80 Bofors and 49 Oerlikons were mounted on the battleship’s decks.
The Iowa class battleships featured a sophisticated and constantly upgraded radar suite. The systems allowed early detection, tracking and engagement of surface and air targets beyond visual range. The ships also carried a pair of OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes launched from stern catapults, which were replaced in 1945 with more modern Curtiss SC-1 Seahawk aircraft.

 Fore superstructure in the area just below funnel no. 1. The green and yellow objects among the 5 in turrets are gas cylinders. [3D Stefan Dramiński]


Construction and service in the Pacific
The “Mighty Mo”, as the Missouri was known to her crew, was the third Iowa class battleship to be built, but the fourth one to be commissioned. She was also the fourth US Navy warship to be named after the U.S. state of Missouri. The battleship was laid down at New York Navy Yard on January 6, 1941 and her construction cost was estimated at 92 million dollars.
The construction of the Missouri, similarly to the other Iowa class battleships, went very smoothly. The ship entered service with the US Navy merely 41 months after she had been laid down. The hull was launched on January 29, 1944 in front of a crowd of 25 000 people. The battleship was christened by 19 year-old Mary Margaret Truman, daughter of then U.S. senator from Missouri and future president of the United States Harry S. Truman. The senator himself opened the ceremony with these words: “The USS Missouri will show … the world her innate seaworthiness, her valiant fighting spirit and the invincible power of the United States Navy.”  Very few would have suspected back then that both Harry S. Truman and the new battleship would go on to play such significant roles in the world’s history.

Funnel no. 1 seen from the back. Note the two Mk 37 directors on its sides and compasses on platforms at its back.  [3D Stefan Dramiński]

After five months of fitting out the battleship was commissioned on June 11, 1944 under the command of Captain W. M. Callaghan. In November, after shipyard trials and a shakedown cruise in Chesapeake Bay, the Missouri left her base at Norfolk, VA, crossed the Panama Canal and reached Balboa on December 18. On the same day the battleship officially joined the Pacific Fleet. She then arrived in San Francisco Bay before making for Pearl Harbor accompanied by destroyers USS Bailey (DD-492) and Terry (DD-513). The team reached Pearl Harbor after a ten-day passage, on December 24. On January 13, 1945 the Missouri left Pearl Harbor and set course for anchorage at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands. After her arrival the Missouri became part of Task Group 58 commanded by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. One of her assignments was an escort mission in support of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) during the raid on Tokyo launched on February 16, 1945. Later the Missouri supported U.S. landings on Iwo Jima. It was on the day of the invasion (February 19) that the “Mighty Mo” first used her guns in anger when her crew opened fire on formation of unidentified aircraft and scored a probable kill of a Japanese machine. The Missouri remained in the area until February 23 providing fire support for the U.S. Marines.


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