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BB-55 North Carolina Class

The two battleships of the North Carolina class, the first US Navy big-gun warships authorized in nearly two decades, were built with Fiscal Year 1937 appropriations. Since USS North Carolina was the first modern American battleship constructed in two decades she was built using the latest in shipbuilding technology. Constrained to 35,000 tons standard displacement by the Washington and London Naval Treaties, to a beam of less than 110 feet by the locks of the Panama Canal, and to 38-foot draft to enable the ship to use as many anchorages and navy yards as possible, she was a challenge to the designers of day.

USS North Carolina was the first modern American battleship built after World War I. She was the class leader for a new generation of American battleships and set a standard for new shipbuilding technology that combined high speeds with powerful armament and formidable protection. As the first modern American battleship to enter the war against Japan, USS North Carolina symbolized the determination of the American people to win the war and the growing industrial might that would make the eventual victory possible.

With the decision made to design and build a new class of battleships, the numbers game began. The design of any battleship had to consider three basic factors: speed, firepower, and armor. Conventional wisdom said that a designer had to sacrifice performance in one category in order to gain performance in the other two.

Their 35,000-ton standard displacement was the maximum allowed under the Naval Limitations treaties then in effect, as were the ships' main batteries of twelve 14-inch guns in three quadruple turrets. However, when the treaty collapsed after Japan's withdrawal in 1936, it became apparent that new foreign construction was favoring larger caliber guns. North Carolina's main battery was changed to nine 16"/45 guns in triple turrets instead, though armor remained at a level intended to protect against 14-inch shellfire at expected battle ranges. The designers of USS North Carolina (BB-54) still wanted the 35,000-ton vessel (the maximum displacement under the Washington Naval Treaty) to be able to steam at 28 knots. As a result, North Carolina 's armor was relatively light and was only able to stop a 14-inch shell.

To save weight, USS North Carolina was built using the new technique of welded construction. Her machinery arrangement is unusual in that there are four main spaces, each with two boilers and one steam turbine connected to one of the four propeller's shafts. This arrangement served to reduce the number of openings in watertight bulkheads and conserve space to be protected by armor.

The long sweeping flush deck of North Carolina and her streamlined structure made her far more graceful than earlier battleships. Her large tower forward, tall uncluttered stacks, and clean superstructure and hull were a sharp break from the elaborate bridgework, heavy tripod masts, and casemated secondary batteries which characterized her predecessors.

The LaFollette Law of 1926 governing living accommodations on American merchant ships was voluntarily applied to the design of North Carolina. This contributed to a large volumed superstructure and complex forced ventilation system. She was the first major combatant ship without portholes in the hull.

The North Carolina class included two ships, both constructed at east coast Navy Yards.USS North Carolina (BB-55) was built, by the New York Naval Shipyard and was launched on June 13, 1940. When commissioned on April 9, 1941, she was considered the most powerful warship afloat in any navy. The North Carolina's were completed in 1941 and underwent extensive shakedowns to control initial teething problems and to prepare ships and crews for combat. They served throughout World War II, mainly in the Pacific, where they were valuable members of the surface battle force and the aircraft carrier task groups. Their 27-knot maximum speeds allowed them to keep station with the fast carriers under most circumstances, and their heavy anti-aircraft batteries were effective in reducing the threat of Japanese air attacks on the "new queens' of the sea", the aircraft carriers.

During the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942, USS North Carolina was assigned to escort the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga. Her superior performance during this action proved the concept of the fast battle ship providing antiaircraft coverage for the carrier. Her antiaircraft fire was so intense that USS Enterprise signaled her in alarm, "Are you afire?" This action established the primary role of the fast battleship throughout World War II as the protector of the aircraft carrier.

The new battleships' big guns were mainly used to bombard targets ashore. They were in action against enemy capital ships just once, on 15 November 1942, when Washington fatally disabled the old Japanese battleship Kirishima off Guadalcanal. Their armor was never seriously challenged by hostile gunfire, but a September 1942 Japanese submarine torpedo hit gave North Carolina's underwater protection system a severe test.

Both ships were placed in reserve shortly after the end of World War II, and stayed in "mothballs" until the early 1960s, when the Navy decided they were no longer needed for possible active duty. North Carolina then became a memorial and museum, while Washington was scrapped. USS North Carolina had the best war record for any surviving American battleship for the war in the Pacific. USS North Carolina received 15 battle stars for her World War II service.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:35:46 ZULU