In my endless quest to see everything I have ever been interested in since I was a kid, I recently walked across the Ben Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River from Philadelphia, PA to Camden, NJ to see the mighty Iowa Class Battleship the USS New Jersey (BB-62) known as “The Big J“. She served from 1942 to 1991 and today this former US Navy Battleship continues on as a floating museum.
You can take a very informative tour to get a great understanding of the sheer size and firepower of this giant Battleship. She has a displacement of 45,000 tonnes, is 887 feet / 270.54 metres in length, with a beam (width) of 108.2 feet /33.0 metres, a draft (ships hull below the water’s surface) of 28.9 feet / 8.8 m and a crew of 1,921 (this would have been much larger in World War Two).
The USS New Jersey was launched in 1942 (built in the nearby Philadelphia Naval Shipyards) and during World War Two she was the flagship of the US 5th Fleet under Admiral Spruance until August 1944 (and again at the end of the war between August to September 1945) and then the flagship of the US 3rd Fleet under Admiral Halsey until January 1945, then serving under Admiral Badger and successive Pacific Fleet commanders until the end of the war. Her role in World War Two was integral to protecting aircraft carriers from Japanese aircraft and included important battles such as the Battle of the Philippine Sea or as it is commonly known “The Marianas Turkey Shoot” of 1944 where the Japanese lost about 400 aircraft (the anti-aircraft fire from ships such as the New Jersey proved almost impenetrable), the Battle for Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945.
During the Korean War (various tours between 1951-1953) the USS New Jersey provided massive fire support for United Nations troops with her devastating 16 inch / 406 mm guns (3 turrets with 3 cannons each that could fire an approximate distance of 23.4 nautical miles /40 km). Once again she was called on to perform the same duties during the Vietnam War between 1967-1969 firing upon Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces.
In 1969 she was mothballed until reactivation in 1982 where she served again off the coast of Beirut between 1983-84 as part of a peacekeeping force during the Lebanese Civil War. In the 1980’s this class of ship were refitted with missiles (Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles) to accompany her massive guns and she served on various tours around the world including the Persian Gulf. Given the end of the Cold War and rising operating costs due to her age the USS New Jersey was decommissioned in 1991, struck of the naval reserve fleet register in 1999 and became a museum in 2000.
During this long and distinguished career the USS New Jersey received many military honours and awards including 19 battle stars (9 from World War Two, 4 from the Korean War, 2 from the Vietnam War and 4 from Lebanon and the Persian Gulf). This makes her the most decorated Battleship in the history of the US Navy.
The tour aboard “The Big J” takes you from the upper deck, through a gun turret, into the Captains and Admirals quarters (including how they looked in both 1991 and World War Two), the bridge, the missile operations room, crew and officers quarters, the mess deck, the helicopter deck and much more. There are also docents providing guided tours in parts of the ship and options are available for a full guided tour of the Battleship. To walk in the footsteps of great military leaders such as Admiral Halsey is a fascinating experience.
On the same side of the country in Norfolk, VA I also recently saw one of the sister ships to “The Big J“, USS Wisconsin (BB-64) known as “Wisky” which served in the US Navy between 1944-1991 (serving as a training ship from 1952-1958, then decommissioned in 1958 but reactivated in 1986) and remained in the reserve fleet until 2006 when she also became a floating museum.
USS Wisconsin served during World War Two including the Battle of Iwo Jima and bombardment of the Japanese mainland, the Korean War (tours between 1950-1952) and the Gulf War of 1991 where missiles were fired from the Battleship and her guns fired in anger for the first time since 1952! Her distinguished career included receiving many military awards and honours including 6 battle stars (5 from World War Two and 1 from the Korean War). Although I didn’t tour the “Wisky” she was still impressive to see up close from the waterfront.
The other Battleships of this class were USS Iowa (BB-61) known as “The Big Stick” and USS Missouri (BB-63) known as “Mighty Mo“. USS Iowa served between 1943-1990, at first serving in the Atlantic before transferring to the Pacific theatre in World War Two, she also provided fire support in the Korean War before being mothballed in 1958, reactivated in 1984 and following an accidental turret explosion in 1989 she was mothballed once again and struck off the reserve fleet in 2006. During her service the USS Iowa received 11 battle stars (9 in World War Two and 2 in the Korean War) and today she is a museum in San Pedro, CA.
USS Missouri served between 1944- 1992, in World War Two she participated in the Battle for Iwo Jima and Okinawa; and is particularly famous for being the location in which the Japanese formally signed a petition of surrender on September 2nd, 1945. She also served in the Korean War before being placed in the reserve fleet in 1955 and was reactivated along with the other Iowa Class Battleships in 1986 and finally served in the Gulf War of 1991. During her service USS Missouri also received 11 battle stars (3 in World War Two, 5 in the Korean War and 3 during the Gulf War) and she became a museum in Hawaii in 1999.
A battleship once represented the military might of a nation, but today they represent a lost age of sea power that in modern warfare has been replaced with powerful surface to surface missiles and super carriers equipped with heavily armed aircraft. If you get the chance to tour any of these mighty Battleships I thoroughly recommend it as they are steeped in history and offer a fascinating insight into the past that could so easily have been lost for ever.
Addendum: I eventually managed to see all the Iowa Class battleships. In November 2013 I made it out to Hawaii to see USS Missouri (BB-63) “Mighty Mo” at Pearl Harbour and then in late 2014, whilst in California I saw “The Big Stick” USS Iowa (BB-61) in San Pedro. Impressive ships!