The Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) “Mighty Mo”


The USS Missouri (BB-63) is an Iowa Class Battleship launched January 29th, 1944 and commissioned on June 11th, 1944. She served in the US Navy until 1955 when she became part of the ready reserve “Mothball Fleet” but was recommissioned in 1986 and went back into service until 1992. At 270.4 metres (887.3 feet) in length with a displacement of 45,000 tonnes she is a big and powerful battleship most deserving of the nickname “Mighty Mo“. When in service she was fast too with a top speed of 33 knots!

USS Missouri on her shakedown voyage in 1944
USS Missouri on her shakedown voyage in 1944 – note the grey camouflage patterns (Photo Source: US Navy)

WORLD WAR TWO

Upon fit out in World War Two USS Missouri had a crew of 2,700 and was heavily armed with three main gun turrets each fitted with three 16 inch guns that provided enormous firepower (they could reportedly blow a hole in the ground the size of a football field!) along with a further twenty 5 inch guns for closer action.  For air defence the battleship was fitted with eighty 40 mm and forty-nine 20 mm anti-aircraft guns.

USS Missouri (BB-63) August 1944
USS Missouri (BB-63) August 1944 (Photo Source: US Navy)

During 1945 the USS Missouri served in the Pacific theatre as a fleet flagship providing protection to aircraft carrier groups and conducting bombardments of Japanese positions during the invasion of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in February 1945 and the bombardment of Okinawa in March 1945. Her heavy weaponry provided significant fire support to the troops involved in the battles.

USS Missouri sails the Pacific Ocean in 1945 battleship
USS Missouri sails the Pacific Ocean in 1945

On April 11th, 1945 Missouri was struck by a very low flying Japanese Kamikaze aircraft off the coast of Okinawa. This attack caused a fire in a rear gun turret, but was quickly controlled with only minor damage to the battleship and no crew casualties. The pilot’s body was recovered following the attack and he was given a formal burial at sea the next day. The battleship continued to participate in attacks on Okinawa until early June 1945.

This is an amazing photo showing the Kamikaze attack on USS Missouri (BB-63) by a Japanese A6M Zero while operating off Okinawa on April 11th, 1945
This is an amazing photo showing the Kamikaze attack on USS Missouri (BB-63) by a Japanese A6M Zero while operating off Okinawa on April 11th, 1945 (Photo Source: US Navy)

In mid July 1945 she participated in the bombardment of the Japanese home islands destroying targets on Hokkaido and Honshū (respectively the second largest and largest Japanese islands). During this time the battleship also protected the aircraft carriers that were launching raids against Japan (there really was no Japanese fleet to speak of by this stage of the war though). Strikes continued on Japan until the second atomic bomb was dropped on August 9th, 1945 at Nagasaki (the first was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th) which lead to the ultimate surrender of Japan. This is where the USS Missouri played a major part in history.

USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan September 2nd, 1945
USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japan September 2nd, 1945 (Photo Source: US Navy)

On the morning of September 2nd, 1945 Allied Commanders boarded the USS Missouri docked in Tokyo Bay to participate in the signing of the formal surrender by Japan. The surrender ceremony was conducted right there on the deck of the battleship. These men included US Navy Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, US Army General Douglas MacArthur, British Admiral of the Fleet Sir Bruce Fraser, Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey, Canadian Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave, Chinese General Hsu Yung-Ch’ang, French General Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque, New Zealand Air Vice Marshall Leonard Isitt and Soviet Lieutenant-General Kusma Nikolaevich Derevyanko.

General Douglas MacArthur speaking in front of Allied Commanders on September 2nd, 1945 Japanese Surrender
General Douglas MacArthur speaking in front of Allied Commanders on September 2nd, 1945 (Photo Source: US Naval Historical Centre)

As Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific General Douglas MacArthur opened the surrender ceremony with the following statement:

“It is my earnest hope, indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”‘

General Douglas MacArthur signs as Supreme Allied Commander during formal surrender ceremonies onboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (Photo Source: US National Archives)
General Douglas MacArthur signs as Supreme Allied Commander during formal surrender ceremonies onboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (Photo Source: US National Archives)

The Japanese delegation was led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu who represented the Japanese Government and General Umezu who represented the Japanese military. Their signatures on the Japanese Instrument of Surrender formally ended World War Two.

Japanese representatives from the Foreign Ministry, Army and Navy onboard USS Missouri Sept 2 1945
Japanese representatives from the Foreign Ministry, Army and Navy onboard USS Missouri (Photo Source: US Naval Historical Centre)
 Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Japanese Government onboard USS Missouri September 2nd, 1945
Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender on behalf of the Japanese Government onboard USS Missouri September 2nd, 1945 (Photo Source: US Naval Historical Centre)
Japanese General Umezu signing the instrument of surrender on September 2nd, 1945
Japanese General Umezu signing the instrument of surrender on September 2nd, 1945 (Photo Source: US National Archives)
US Navy carrier aircraft fly in formation over the U.S. and British fleets including USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay during Japanese surrender ceremonies on September 2nd, 1945
US Navy carrier aircraft fly in mass formation over the U.S. and British fleets including USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay during Japanese surrender ceremonies on September 2nd, 1945 (Photo Source: US National Archives)
Japan Surrenders newspaper
Japan Surrenders – museum display aboard USS Missouri

The record of the USS Missouri was exemplary during World War Two and she was awarded 3 Battle Stars during the conflict (awarded for meritorious participation in battle or for sustaining damage during battle). The surrender ceremony was held on the battleship as it was US territory and the ultimate display of the power of the US Navy. What better place for a former foe to be humbled into surrender?

POST WAR

Following World War Two the US Navy was significantly downsized and all the battleships were decommissioned except USS Missouri which President Harry S. Truman wanted to remain in the fleet. The battleship predominately served in the Atlantic fleet from 1946-1950 conducting training voyages, exercises and a show of force when needed be to reinforce the US commitment to defending nations against Soviet influence whenever required.

USS Missouri off the coast of Greece 1946
USS Missouri off the coast of Greece 1946

KOREAN WAR

Just 5 years after the end of World War Two the Korean War (1950-1953) broke out. It was the height of the Cold War and it was a battle of the Communist east versus the United Nations made up predominately of US forces. In September 1950 the USS Missouri once again went into action as a flag-ship to provide massive fire support for the troops on the ground fighting the North Koreans and then from October 1950 the Chinese army who had joined the fight to help their Communist allies.

A 16-inch salvo from the USS Missouri at Chong Jin, Korea, in an effort to cut Northern Korean communications. October 21st, 1950
A 16-inch salvo from the USS Missouri at Chong Jin, Korea, in an effort to cut Northern Korean communications. October 21st, 1950. (Photo Source: US Navy)

The battleship stayed on station off various points around the coast of Korea conducting shore bombardment and aircraft carrier escort until March 19th, 1951 when she returned to the base and later resumed other duties. In October 1952 she returned to Korea for a second tour of duty and remained on station there until April 6th, 1953. During the Korean War the USS Missouri was awarded 5 Battle Stars for meritorious participation in battle

Following the Korean War the USS Missouri returned to base for refitting and then participated in various training missions. After almost 11 years of valuable service she was decommissioned on February 26th, 1955 and joined the ready reserve “Mothball Fleet” at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington. For the next few decades she became a tourist attraction up there with people coming to see where the Japanese had surrendered in World War Two (a bronze plaque was placed on the deck to commemorate the spot the surrender documents were signed).

A RETURN TO SERVICE

During the Cold War of the 1980’s as part of the 600 ship fleet plan to rebuild the US Navy after the downsizing that occurred following the Vietnam war it was decided to put the Iowa Class Battleships back into service. This included the USS Iowa (BB-61 was originally decommissioned in 1958), USS New Jersey (BB-62 was decommissioned in 1969 following service in the Vietnam War), USS Missouri (BB-63 decommissioned 1955) and USS Wisconsin (BB-64 decommissioned in 1958). The refit of the USS Missouri commenced in 1984 and she was recommissioned and went back into service in 1986 following an extensive modernization of command and weapons systems.

USS Missouri undergoing reactivation and modernization at Long Beach, CA in 1985 (Photo Source: US Navy)
USS Missouri undergoing reactivation and modernization at Long Beach, CA in 1985 (Photo Source: US Navy)

The weapons systems received a major upgrade including the fitting of Tomahawk cruise missile launchers (32 missiles were carried) and Harpoon anti-shipping missile launchers (16 missiles). The battleship retained the big guns but reduced the 5 inch guns to twelve and replaced the obsolete anti-aircraft guns with four radar guided 20mm Phalanx Close In Weapons Systems (CIWS) for use against incoming missiles.

Tomahawk Cruise Missile lauchers USS Missouri
Tomahawk Cruise Missile launchers aboard USS Missouri
Harpoon Anti-Shipping Missile lauchers aboard USS Missouri
Harpoon Anti-Shipping Missile launchers aboard USS Missouri
5 inch guns on USS Missouri
5 inch guns on USS Missouri
Phalanx 20mm radar controlled CIWS aboard USS Missouri
Phalanx 20mm radar controlled CIWS aboard USS Missouri
Aft 16 inch gun turret on USS Missouri
Aft 16 inch gun turret on USS Missouri

During the refit the USS Missouri was also fitted with extensive electronic counter measures and decoy systems to survive in modern sea warfare. With modern innovation and improved weapons the crew during this period was reduced from 2,700 (WW2) to 1,851.

USS Missouri in the 1980's - the new weapons systems can be clearly seen on the ship BB-63 Battleship
USS Missouri in the 1980’s – the new weapons systems can be clearly seen on the ship (Photo Source: US Navy)

Once ready for duty an around the world voyage was in order. USS Missouri set out from Long Beach, California to Hawaii, Australia, across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal to Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal and then through the Panama Canal to return home. This was the first such voyage by a US Navy battleship since President Theodore Roosevelt ordered “The Great White Fleet” of 16 battleships that were all painted white to circumnavigate the world from 1907-1909 as a show of the growing might of the US military (this fleet included BB-11 the second ship in the US Navy to be called USS Missouri).

The Great White Fleet sets sail in 1907 US Navy
The Great White Fleet sets sail in 1907 (Photo Source: US Navy Heritage Centre)

In 1987 the battleship headed to the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Earnest Will (July 24th, 1987 to September 26th,1988) which was a mission to escort oil tanker convoys to protect them from Iranian aggression. It was a tense time in the region and the battleship was there to protect from Iranian high-speed attack boats and shore based Silkworm anti-shipping missiles (20mm grenade launchers and 25mm chain guns were fitted to the USS Missouri to counter such threats).

In July 1988 the battleship headed to Hawaii for the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) military exercises involving navy ships from Australia, Canada, Japan and the US. This was a great display of the formidable firepower USS Missouri could unleash

A 16 inch broadside from USS Missouri at the 1988 RIMPAC exercise
A 16 inch broadside from USS Missouri at the 1988 RIMPAC exercise (Photo Source: US Navy)
USS Missouri 16 inch guns fire
BOOM! The USS Missouri fires her 16 inch guns at RIMPAC 1988 (Photo Source: US Navy)

In 1989 whilst back in her home port of Long Beach, USS Missouri was bizarrely the setting for the Cher music video for If I Could Turn Back Time where she famously wore a very skimpy outfit and straddled one of the big guns! Crew members also featured in the video.

THE GULF WAR

By January 1991 USS Missouri was back to serious business and found herself in the Persian Gulf once again. This time it was for Operation Desert Storm. In August 1990 Iraq had invaded Kuwait and the US and Coalition forces had assembled to push them out and defeat Saddam Hussein’s forces. During that time the Iraqi navy and air force stood no chance of attacking the ship but they did manage to fire 2 Silkworm missiles from a shore base at the USS Missouri. The first missed and the second was shot down by a British escort ship.

Operation Desert Storm USS Missouri fires upon Iraqi targets on February 6th, 1991
USS Missouri fires upon Iraqi targets on February 6th, 1991 (Photo Source: US Navy)

Operation Desert Storm ended on February 28th,1991 and the USS Missouri returned home on March 21st, 1991. During the Gulf War the battleship was awarded 3 Battle Stars for meritorious participation in battle which included fire support missions, clearing naval mines and the launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles against Iraqi targets

USS Missouri launches a Tomahawk cruise missile at an Iraqi target January 1991
USS Missouri launches a Tomahawk cruise missile at an Iraqi target January 1991 (Photo Source: US Navy)

RETIREMENT

Following the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, military budgets were cut and the expense of maintaining old battleships as part of US Fleet was no longer feasible. On March 31st, 1992 USS Missouri was decommissioned at Long Beach, California. After sitting idle in the “Mothball Fleet” for a few years she was towed to Hawaii from the mainland in 1998.

USS Missouri being towed in Pearl Harbour on June 21st, 1998
USS Missouri being towed in Pearl Harbour on June 21st, 1998 (Photo Source: US Navy)
USS Missouri being pushed into her berth along battleship row at Ford Island in Pearl Harbour on June 21st, 1998
USS Missouri being pushed into her berth along battleship row at Ford Island in Pearl Harbour on June 21st, 1998 (Photo Source: US Navy)

The battleship had played a significant role in US Navy and world history, earning 11 Battle Stars in the process and today she rightfully resides in a sacred place to the US Navy. She is a key part of the memorials and museums at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and is berthed along the famous battleship row on Ford Island right next to the USS Arizona memorial.

USS Missouri Ford Island, Pearl Harbour 2013
Ford Island, Pearl Harbour 2013
USS Missouri battleship pearl harbour
USS Missouri at Pearl Harbour 2013
The big 16" guns of the USS Missouri
The big 16″ guns of the USS Missouri
Looking across the mighty guns of the USS Missouri to the USS Arizona Memorial
Looking across the mighty guns of the USS Missouri to the USS Arizona Memorial
The bridge and the campaign ribbons and awards received by USS Missouri
The bridge and the campaign ribbons and awards received by USS Missouri
USS Missouri at her berth on Ford Island Pearl Harbour
USS Missouri at her berth on Ford Island 2013

Exploring the battleship and walking those hallowed decks is a great experience and a must do if you are ever in Hawaii. Standing under the mighty 16″ guns is a bit overwhelming and exploring the somewhat cramped quarters and the bridge of the battleship give you an appreciation of the inner workings and daily life aboard USS Missouri. It is well worth taking the time to explore the entire battleship.

USS Missouri bridge pilot house
The bridge/pilot house of the USS Missouri really does look like it is straight out of WW2
The bridge/pilot house of the USS Missouri blast door
Look at the thickness of that blast door on the entrance to the bridge/pilot house!
General Quarters USS Missouri BB-63 Pearl Harbour
General Quarters
US Marine Corps Quarters USS Missouri BB-63 Pearl Harbour
US Marine Corps Quarters
Officer Quarters USS Missouri
Officer Quarters
dental clinic USS Missouri
Dental clinic
computer room USS Missouri
State of the art 1980’s technology!
Legal Office USS Missouri
Even a battleship needs lawyers!

Stand where the Japanese Kamikaze plane hit and where the Japanese surrender documents were signed. Soak up the history and remember those that served.

Kamikaze strike location USS Missouri
Kamikaze strike location
USS Missouri Japanese Surrender Plaque
The spot where the instrument of surrender was signed by the Japanese and Allied delegates to formally end WW2
USS Missouri Japanese Surrender Plaque
Commemorative surrender bronze plaque
USS Missouri 2013 Pearl Harbour Instrument of Surrender document
A copy of the Instrument of Surrender document
USS Missouri 2013 Pearl Harbour A copy of the Instrument of Surrender document
A copy of the Instrument of Surrender document

The Battleship was once the might of a navy but today aircraft carriers lead the way. These behemoth battleships are a relic of a bygone era but they are still fascinating to see to take in their sheer size and firepower. I have now been to see 3 of the 4 Iowa Class battleships having also visited both the USS New Jersey in Cambden, New Jersey and USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia in 2013.

USS New Jersey BB-62
USS New Jersey (BB-62)
USS Wisconsin Norfolk Virginia USA Battleship
USS Wisconsin (BB-64)

That just leaves the USS Iowa out in Los Angeles, California which I hope to see some time in the near future (I was in LA in 2013 too, should have gone!). The history around USS Missouri is hard to beat though, so if you can only see one then I would recommend you walk those hallowed decks some day.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2014

I finally got to see USS Iowa (BB-61) in San Pedro, California! It was great to close out seeing the “Big 4” US Navy battleships of World War Two and the Cold War.

USS Iowa BB-61 San Pedro California
USS Iowa (BB-61)

 

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Kamila Pala says:

    Nice post and something new and interesting from history…Bye. Kamila

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks. This ship had such a significant history in the US Navy

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Impressive series of pictures!

    1. Deano says:

      Its an impressive ship! I recently saw USS Iowa BB-61 too (a post will follow)

  3. fred says:

    where is original round plaque from sept 2 1945. and is there any copies out there floating around

    1. Deano says:

      My understanding is that the original was cast about one month after the surrender. It remained on the USS Missouri but was getting pretty worn out so was replaced by an exact duplicate in 1989. The original I believe is in the possession of the US Navy Museum in Washington DC but it was not on display when I visited there in 2013. I do not know of any other duplicates

      1. Fred says:

        I think they lost or original plaque was given to someone by us naval base in california in. 1953 other wise such an inportant plaque would be on display i seen original plaque i think was original was still in teek would luckly someone purchased it it was on its way to be sold as junk metal it should be in a museum so the whole world can see its one of our inportant peices of history and would think priceless wonder how one would go about authenticateing it and should only be sold or auctioned to museum

      2. Deano says:

        Hi Fred – this LA Times article mentioned it went to the Navy Museum in DC http://articles.latimes.com/1989-08-24/news/hl-1206_1_bronze-plaque

      3. Deano says:

        I have emailed the museum for more info. Will let you know

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