Friday, February 17, 2017

A Class of Their Own: The Four Iowa-class Battleships

The Iowa-class battleships were a class of 6 fast battleships ordered by the United States Navy in 1939 and 1940 to aid the Fast Carrier Task Forces that would operate during World War II. Four were completed- the USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Missouri, and the USS Wisconsin. Two were laid down, but not completed – the USS Illinois and the USS Kentucky. Between the mid- 1940’s and the early 1990’s, the Iowa class battleships fought in a total of four major United States wars.  

(Ship closest to the camera is Iowa (BB-61). The others are (from near to far): Wisconsin (BB-64); Missouri (BB-63) and New Jersey (BB-62).

The Iowa-class battleships are the largest and last U.S. battleships to have ever been produced. Manufactured from the same design, all four ships carry the same characteristics with very minor differences on the armor. They all have three 16 inch triple gun turrets with 50 caliber guns that are the biggest the U.S. has ever built and can go as far as 23 miles using pin point accuracy with projectiles weighing 2,700 pounds at high capacity- 2 rounds per minute per gun. In addition they hold another twelve, 5 inch caliber guns in six dual mounts that can range up to 9 miles with projectiles weighing 55 pounds; shooting 15 rounds per minute per gun.

As the Missouri’s thick side-armor indicates, the Iowa-class battleships were designed in anticipation of sea-to-sea/ship-to-ship combat, but in practice during WWII and the Korean War, their main offense function and purpose became ship-to-shore, more commonly called “shore bombardment.” Additionally, their main defensive response was ship-to-air against attacking aircraft specifically during WWII. Each of the ship’s tanks could carry 2.5 million gallons of fuel oil, 35,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 200,000 gallons of potable water capacity all to perform its task in fighting wars off shore. With two five-bladed propellers 17 feet inboard and two four bladed 18’3” feet propellers outboard, the ships were built to combat any obstacles sea to land floating hours on end. To put in perspective the strength of these powerful ships, if your average car has a 300 horse power, the battleship had a total of 212,000 shaft horsepower.

(Missouri (BB-63) left, Iowa (BB-61) right; USS Missouri transferring personnel to the USS Iowa on 20 Aug. 1945, off the coast of Japan, as Big Mo was preparing for the official surrender of the Japanese Empire on 2 Sept. 1945)

The Iowa class battleships have become a cultural symbol in the United States in many different ways. Battleships were the symbol of naval dominance and national “might.” For decades these battleships were a major factor in both diplomacy and military strategy.  Today, they remain a very important part of our history, the four battleships are now each a floating, living museum- inspiring and educating countless generations to come.

 To learn more about the Iowa Class Battleships please visit each of the living museum’s website:

Battleship Missouri Memorial:

Pacific Battleship Center:

Battleship New Jersey Musuem & Memorial:

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