Iowa (1943)

The profile shows USS Missouri as it appeared in 1944–45. It was on board Missouri that the Japanese surrender was formally signed on 2 September 1945, ending World War II.

Lead-ship of the US Navy’s last and largest class of battleships, pennant number BB61, Iowa was planned and built as a ‘supership’, to have a combination of armament, speed and armour superior to the best of any other nation.

The US Congress authorised the building of six large, fast battleships in 1938, but preliminary design work had already been going on for three years. In the event only four were constructed, Iowa, Misssouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Work began at the New York Navy Yard on 27 June 1940, it was launched on 27 August 1942 and commissioned on 22 February 1943 – a remarkably short period for the first capital ship of a new design. Building cost was slightly over $100 million.

The four Iowa class ships differed from the preceding South Dakota class in significant ways. Armour protection was external and kept flush with the hull to reduce drag. The relation of beam to length was smaller – maximum width was governed by the requirement that the ship should fit the Panama Canal locks. Almost 9072 tonnes (10,000 tons) heavier than South Dakota, these were the fastest battleships the world had seen, with a speed of 33 knots, enabling all four to form a fast division.

Instead of independently mounted masts the foremast was attached to an upper level of the tower, and the aftermast was mounted on the aft funnel. Originally both were of pole form, but the aftermast, heightened in 1945, was replaced by a cantilevered tripod in 1948. In 1958 a pole mast was added to operate a derrick, following the removal of the aircraft crane.

Anti-aircraft defences

By the time Iowa entered service, the vulnerability of capital ships to air attack was very well known to the Allied forces. Consequently a massive battery of AA guns was fitted. A length 48.5m (159ft) greater than South Dakota allowed for more mountings, and the extra 8164 tonnes (9000 tons) provided a more substantial platform. In 1943 it carried 80 40mm (1.6in) Bofors guns and 49 20mm (0.79in) AA Oerlikon cannon mounted on both sides of the superstructure. Three reconnaissance floatplanes were carried, launched from two stern-mounted catapults. Also vital was the radar detection equipment. In 1943 SK and SRA aerials were fitted on the foremast and in 1945 type SK-2 was added, with type SC-2 on the aft mast. Further additions followed, with necessary alterations to the mast configurations.

Battleship Division 7

After training off Newfoundland from August to October 1943 in anticipation of an action against Tirpitz (which never happened), in November Iowa carried President Roosevelt across the Atlantic to Casablanca for the first Teheran conference with Churchill and Stalin. From 2 January 1944 it was in the Pacific, as flagship of Battleship Division 7, operating as escort to carrier groups and support for amphibious operations, seeing action at Guam, the Marshall Islands, in the Philippine Sea with Fast Carrier Task Force 58 and off Luzon and Formosa. In March it took some hits from Japanese coastal batteries on Mili Atoll, and a propeller shaft was damaged by Typhoon Cobra on 15 December. From 15 January to 19 March 1945 it underwent a refit at Hunters Point Yard, San Francisco, before returning to active service at Okinawa from April to June. During July and August its 406mm (16in) guns shelled positions on the Japanese mainland, and it arrived off Tokyo on 29 August,15 days after the Japanese ceased hostilities, to serve as Admiral Halsey’s flagship for the formal surrender on 2 September.

After 1945 there was much debate about the future role of the Iowa class ships. Their speed in particular kept them viable while many other battleships were mothballed or scrapped. All were fitted with modernised bridges and other modifications were made, primarily to accommodate new radar equipment. Iowa was flagship of the Fifth Fleet in 1945–46. From 24 March 1949 to 25 August 1951 it was put in reserve, then with the outbreak of the Korean War returned to action, relieving and supporting army units off the coast of Korea and shelling shore positions.

Nuclear capability

In October 1952 it underwent a refit at Norfolk Navy Yard, following which it remained on the eastern side with the Atlantic Fleet. In 1954 the four ships of the class formed Battleship Division 2. Iowa also served from January–April 1955 as flagship of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. As the Cold War with Soviet Russia intensified from the mid-1950s, Iowa and Wisconsin were equipped with shells carrying nuclear warheads with an explosive force equal to that of the Hiroshima atom bomb.

Decommissioned on 24 February 1958, it remained on reserve at Philadelphia until 1984, when President Reagan’s enlarged Navy policy restored it to service on 28 April. At this time the now-obsolete AA armament was removed and new weapons fitted, including four MK 141 quad cell launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, mounts for 32 BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles and four Phalanx CIWS Gatlings for anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence. Eight Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) replaced the spotting helicopters which themselves had replaced floatplanes. Iowa served in the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War of 1987, but its return to service was cut short by an explosion in No.2 turret on 19 April 1989, which killed 47 men. Finally decommissioned in 1990 and struck from the Naval Register in 1995, it was nominally reinstated between 1999 and 17 March 2006. It is now a museum ship at the Port of Los Angeles.



Length 270.4m (887ft 2in), Beam 33.5m (108ft 3in), Draught 11.5m (38ft), Displacement 47,173 tonnes (52,000 tons); 52,118 tonnes (57,450 tons) full load


8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 GE steam turbines developing 158,088kW (212,000hp), 4 screws


9 406mm (16in) guns in 3 turrets, 20 127mm (5in) guns, 60 40mm (1.6in) 4-barrelled AA guns


Belt 310mm (12.2in), Barbettes 440–287mm (17.3–11.3in), Turret faces 500mm (19.7in), Deck 152mm (6in)


3, replaced by helicopters (1949) and UAVs (1984)


23,960km (12,937nm) at 12 knots


33 knots



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.