I happened to stumble across this US Navy video from 1988 chronicling the reactivation of the USS Missouri and her Iowa class sister ships.


Shortly after Desert Storm, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and consequently the Soviet fleet, the manpower costs associated with the battleships led to their inactivation. The hazards and logistical issues with their bagged powder guns likely played a part as well.

Let’s back up a moment and discuss the role of the battleship in World War II. The common wisdom is that the defeat of the Pacific Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor sounded the death knell of the battleship, and heralded the rise of the carrier as the primary capital ship of the fleet. The battleship was relegated to shore bombardment. That’s only partly true.

The US battleship fleet in World War II consisted of two distinct types of ships. The older “standard” slower battleships built before the Washington Naval Treaty, and the later, post-treaty “fast battleships” of which the Iowa class was the third and final batch.

Some of the  old battleships were used early in the war in the Atlantic to escort convoys, as the threat of German surface raiders was seen as potentially as devastating as the U-boat threat. As fast battleships became available, they too served in the Atlantic. As the threat of German surface raiders declined, the fast battleships were transferred to the Pacific Fleet where they were integrated with the then nebulous Fast Carrier Task Force. The slow battlewagons increasingly became the experts on shore bombardment.

The fast battleships, the North Carolinas (2 ships in class), the South Dakotas (4 ships in class) and the Iowas (4 ships in class) did tend to provide a massive anti-aircraft screen to the carrier task force.

But their role was more than that. It is important to remember that the carrier had only the most limited ability to attack at night or in foul weather. The battleships still maintained a critical anti-ship warfare mission, one that they would execute, perhaps not as often or as decisively as pre-war doctrine envisioned, but more than popular history seems to recall.

And while the reactivated Iowa class was used almost exclusively in the shore bombardment role (via either their guns or as Tomahawk missile launchers), the impetus for reactivating them was as the nucleus of powerful Surface Action Groups to face off against Soviet surface fleets.

The Iowas are now but museum pieces, and never again will we see their like upon the waves. But my, what a sight to see one with a bone in her teeth.

12 thoughts on “Battleship!”

  1. If it were me all 4 Iowas would be retained in ordinary. Let the public walk upon the decks and peer into a turret or two, but the main reduction gear lube oil heaters/pumps and jacking gear should always be live. We won’t need them often, but when we need them there will be nothing else that can fulfill that role.

  2. One of the fondest memories of my Navy time was in company with USS Iowa (BB-61). We were told to do DIVTACS with her. Now, I had done DIVTACS before in a Spruance DD with destroyers, cruisers and frigates and was familiar with the rules of corpens, search turns and line ahead / abreast etc.

    With a battleship, the rules were different. It was out of a different section of ATP-1B. The maneuvers were for Jutland fleets to use, not a tiny surface action group.

    I had the conn and deck as we went through those maneuvers. It was a special hour or two. Whee!!! What fun.

  3. Spru-cans can dent other Spru-cans (or TiCos for that matter). Iowas don’t leave dents.

    To conn trying to keep station with an Iowa at 30+ knots, welcome to the WWII Navy.

    1. We were saving taxpayer money by going at 13 kts. Never did any DIVTACS at higher than 15 kts. Ever. Well, some operational screen kilos at 25-27 kts, but not always.

  4. One of my favorites. Far from being obsolescent the BBs of the USN and RN were nearly worked to death during WWII and there never seemed to be enough to go around in the early days of the war. The major fault of the older BBs in the USN in the early days (’42 and ’43) was mostly fuel inefficiency – they sucked a LOT of bunker oil and there were limited fleet tankers available.
    When the Iowas were brought back on line in the ’80s they (in a weird way) were replacing the CAs that had finally worn out after steady and heavy use. Very cool ships and useful as all get out. Manpower intensive, though.

  5. I agree with the Cap’n, They shouldn’t be left to rust up. We may need them again, and they should be used again.
    I have memories of the Missouri.
    While visiting family in Bremerton, I walked her decks when I was only 8 yrs old. They had her mostly closed up. this was in the 70’s.
    While on active duty in Hawaii , I managed to get a tour of her while she was in port. I was 24
    Then while I was home in Portland, I made the trip to Astoria before she left for Hawaii again. I was 33
    Sorry, just being remembering being in awe of that beautiful ship.
    I just hope that we don’t forget them.

  6. Wisconsin spent some time in the Philadelphia Shipyard during the reactivation process. I walked under her when she was in drydock, and was part of the shipyard team that went with her on sea trials, and yes, I try to work the statement, “When I was at sea on the battleship Wisconsin …..,” into conversation whenever I can.

    We yardbirds normally took a great pride in our work, but the Wisconsin job was extra special.

    John in Philly

  7. What the Captain said about a higher ready condition of the Iowa’s plus about as beautiful a class of ships. My only walk time on a Battleship was the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay…impressive and that one is a “light” battle wagon.

    1. The part I fear is that when the Iowas were moved to museum status, the Navy did something like welding the main reduction gears or slicing out several feet of each shaft in order to de-mil them to museum spec. Shafts can be replaced and rebalanced. If they messed with the main reduction gears it’s over, at least economically.

    2. Don’t worry – part of the deal with the IOWA’s is that they have to be readily usable for military purposes on demand. Gears are fine, so are the shafts.

      I’d be more worried about MISSOURI’s armor belt than anything else, if some of the rumor traffic I’ve heard can be believed …

  8. I’m not a naval expert, by any means. But I’ve always been a little confused by this conventional wisdom conceit that Pearl Harbor sounded the “death knell” for battleships.

    I mean, if you catch any warship in its harbor, anchored at dockside, in a surprise attack, and are able to basically pound it at leisure with bombs and torpedoes in the face of minimal defenses, that ship will… probably not fare well.

    If the PacFlt carriers had been at Pearl on 12/7, instead of at San Diego for training, I don’t imagine they would have fared any better than the battleships. In fact, they would probably have fared worse, since they were not nearly as heavily armored and did not possess as much air defense weaponry.

    1. What Pearl Harbor and Taranto (from which Yamamoto & company learned much) showed was that the naval combat radius had now expanded from the range of a large caliber naval rifle to the range of a bomb-carrying plane. After all, of all the carriers (fleet or jeep or whatever) ever sunk, only 3 went down to gunfire (HMS Glorious, USS Gambier Bay, and IJN Chiyoda).

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