BB-61 Iowa Class
Battleships were tasked to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea, worldwide, in support of national interests. They operated as an element of a carrier battle group or amphibious group. In areas of reduced anti-air warfare threat, they were capable of surface action group and battle group operations, centered on the battleships, with appropriate anti-submarine and anti-air warfare escort ships.
All four Iowa-class battleships authorized for reactivation during the early 1980s have been de-commissioned. They were activated briefly to help the Navy correct a shortage in major fleet deployment elements that developed during the 1970s and 1980s. These powerful, flexible capital ships increased the Navy's ability to provide an important new capability in maritime power, plus much-needed flexibility in carrier deployment schedules. No smaller ship can sustain a comparable level of offensive efforts in terms of volume, weight and duration of firepower and in terms of both guns and cruise missiles, and survivability. Additionally, the cost to reactivate and modernize a battleship is about that of a modern guided missile frigate.
At 45,000 tons standard displacement, the six ships of the Iowa class were the U.S. Navy's first new World War II era battleships whose design was not encumbered by treaty limits. They were a new type for the Navy, the "fast battleship", intended to protect aircraft carriers against the threat of similar Japanese "big-gun" ships, as well as to form a "fast wing" for the traditional battle line. Though the even-larger Montana class were designed and ordered, four of the Iowas were the last battleships ever completed for U.S. Navy service. They were also arguably the Navy's most successful battleship design and certainly had the longest service lives. They were, however, no match for their Japanese counterparts. Designed in 1936, Yamato and her sister ship Musashi were the largest battleships ever built. Compared to the Iowa-class battleships, Yamato and Musashi were almost 20,000 tons larger at 76,000 tons, and carried 18.1-inch main batteries vice the 16-inch cannons used by the Iowa class. Yamato, shrouded in secrecy during her construction, was the pride of the Japanese Imperial fleet,
Built under Fiscal Year 1940 (BB 61 & 62) and 1941 (BB 63-66) appropriations, the Iowa class were much longer, more powerfully engined and considerably faster than the preceding North Carolina and South Dakota classes. Their main battery, nine 16"/50 guns in triple turrets, was also somewhat more powerful than the 16"/45 armament of the two earlier types. The Iowas' internal armor protection scheme was similar in arrangement to that of the South Dakota class, and was designed to keep out the armor-piercing shells originally intended for their guns, though not the heavier (2700 pound) shells ultimately used.
The first two ships, Iowa (BB-61) and New Jersey (BB-62), were completed in the first part of 1943, and served through the rest of the Pacific war in the roles that had become normal for battleships by then: screening fast carrier task forces against air and surface threats, occasional shore bombardment, standing ready to haul into line of battle if the Japanese battle fleet should present itself, and providing flagships for tactical commanders. The second pair, Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64), whose construction was somewhat delayed by other wartime priorities, came out to the Pacific during the war's last year. The conflict formally ended on Missouri's broad decks.
Construction of the last pair, Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66) stopped at or soon after the war's end, and three of the four completed ships were "mothballed" during the later 1940s. During the early 1950s, all four employed their sixteen-inch guns against enemy targets in Korea, but they were placed in reserve later in the decade. Thinking they were obsolete, the Navy played with various schemes to convert these fast, spacious and still relatively-new ships to more modern configurations, but nothing came of those ideas.
The Illinois (BB-65) was built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The ship's keel was laid in January 1945. Cancelled in August 1945 when 22% complete, the hull was scrapped on the shipway in 1958.
The Kentucky (BB-66) was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, but never completed. Her keel was first laid in March 1942. Construction was suspended in June of that year and not resumed until December 1944. Work was again suspended in February 1947. The ship, completed only up to her second deck, was launched to clear the building drydock, so that USS Missouri (BB-63) could undergo repairs for damage received when she went aground on 17 January 1950. Though several schemes were entertained for completing Kentucky as a guided-missile ship, none were pursued. Her bow was removed in 1956 to repair USS Wisconsin (BB-64), and she was sold for scrapping in October 1958. However, Kentucky's engines remain in service to this day, powering the fast combat support ships USS Sacramento (AOE-1) and USS Camden (AOE-2).
BB-64 Wisconsin is allegedly three inches longer than the other Iowa-class battleships. This minor extension in the 887-foot battleship's hull occurred, so the story goes, when shipyard workers placed the bow of unfinished Kentucky (BB-66) on to Wisconsin after her collision with the destroyer Eaton. As Wisconsin is three inches longer, she is the largest battleship currently in the world. A group of New Jersey (BB-62) veterans claim that their magnificent ship is TWO FEET, longer due to a mistake during construction at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1944 making her the largest battleship in the world.
Workers used a torch the size of one's finger to weld the armor plates together, and then these same workers took a month to install each of the 2,100-ton turrets and place them within a 1/4-inch of standards. The Navy designed these warships to be the perfect balance of firepower, speed, and protection. What the Navy got was a work of art that belongs in a major museum. They ares a tribute to American industrial skill, ingenuity, creativity, and the people who assembled them.
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