USS Missouri (BB-63) Battleship
USS Missouri and her sister battleships saw an equal amount of combat service in World War 2 and in the decades making up the Cold War.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The USS Missouri (BB-63) is one of the most storied American warships ever constructed. Few can lay claim to having fought in three of the major American engagements of the 20th Century, taking part in World War 2 (Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Guam), the Korean War and the Gulf War before she was retired. As such, the vessel served as a battletested learning ground for generations of American sailors that produced grandfathers, fathers and sons that had all served on the same ship. The Missouri is perhaps best known for her participation in the surrender ceremony of the Empire of Japan at Tokyo Bay to conclude World War 2 in 1945. She was brought back out of retirement in the latter years of the Cold War, modernized with cruise missile capabilities and advanced technology before be decommissioned for good and set up as a floating museum for all to enjoy, self-educate and offer remembrance to those that have led the way. Her colorful history has endeared the vessel to generations of Americans and today, she stands as a symbol of peacekeeper, keeping an ever watchful eye over her fallen comrades at Pearl Harbor. She is berthed a short distance away from the Arizona Memorial whose oil slick drives past the starboard side of the "Mighty Mo" for hundreds of yards.
USS Missouri Specifications
Make no mistake, the USS Missouri was a huge surface vessel. She maintained a running length of 887.2 feet with a beam (width) of 108.2 feet. Her draught (height) was listed at 28.9 feet. The typical World War 2 crew complement consisted of 2,700 personnel made up of officers and sailors of the United States Navy and United States Marines. In 1984, this complement was reduced to 1,851 personnel. She displaced at 45,000 Standard tons but could balloon up to 58,000 tons on a full maximum sea load.
Power was supplied from 8 x Babcock & Wilcox Boiler systems delivering energy to General Electric geared turbines and 4 x screws. This supplied the vessel with speeds up to 31 knots with a 35 knot maximum possible in perfect conditions. Range totaled 14,890 miles of sea terrain, allowing her to be called to service in far off places around the world.
The hull of the USS Missouri was conventional for her time, made slim at the forecastle with a wide girth amidships and a tapered, oblong stern. Much of her height actually sat under the waterline. Her deck was covered over in a special teak wood and appropriately sealed, further protected by 7.5 inches of armor. Her bow showcased a noticeable upward angle to help in cutting through rough waters. Her belt was protected by 12.1 inches of armor. Anchors and their giant spool control systems were held well aft, ahead of the forward turrets. The hull alone maintained six of the vessels eighteen total floors (when including the superstructure). The superstructure was mostly contained at amidships, nestled in between the three main gun turrets, and held twelve floors consisting of the important operational suites as well as the two funnels. The funnels extracted the necessary exhaust smoke from the four turbines buried in the aft portions of the hull. These funnels were fed by four large vents from each turbine. The turbines were arranged in a staggered formation to keep the vessels width in check and powered four massive propellers held under the stern. The outermost propellers were some distance ahead of the inner most pair. A rudder was situated at the base of the stern, aft of the propellers. A large lattice-type antenna array completed the Missouri's tall, imposing appearance.
The forward gun batteries consisted of two turrets with angular faces and flat tops for a low profile. The second turret overlooked the first turret to allow for firing of the two systems against forward placed targets. Each turret held three main guns. The third turret was directly aft of the superstructure and could be called into play if the target was within its arc of fire. Obviously, a broadside approach against a target was the only way the Missouri could bring all three gun batteries to bear on a single target. While limiting in scope, this was the conventional design method for most warships up to this time.
Life at Sea
In all, the battleship was intended from the beginning to be something of a floating island (in much the same way that aircraft carriers serve sailors today), away from land for months at a time. Thusly, the crew needed facilities to maintain healthy "normal" lives away from home. Services such as dental care, sleeping berths, a post office, accounting office, career counseling all added to the benefit of a serving sailor. US Marines added security police detail aboard the Missouri but maintained separate quarters.
The main deck held the main gun battery of turret Number 1, the captain's cabin and gig, main battery turret Number 3, the boat room, a 40' utility boat, the "Officer's Country", the Executive Officer's Stateroom and the ward room. The flight deck was added only after World War 2, when the Missouri's twin aft-mounted seaplane launch rails were removed, and was designed to accept various helicopters temporarily (there was no onboard hangar for storage).
The second deck (this below the main deck) housed the crew's mess hall, library, galley and berths. Additionally, this floor was home to the Chief Petty Officer's mess and quarters, the Master-at-Arms office, the USMC "War Room" and small arms lockers, the bread room and bakery, counselor's office, machine shop, supply office, disbursing office, Command Master Chief's office, the post office, dental facilities, sub-floors of turrets Number 1 and 2, a computer learning center (obviously added only later) and the Warrant Officer stateroom. A small arms lockers contained rifles and pistols for onboard security personnel. Fire control maintained the needed equipment and oxygen stores for fighting onboard fires.
The superstructure consisted of five major levels of note. This began with Level 01 above the main deck (increasing in number the high up one goes). Level 01 held the captain's cabin and several of the 5" gun mounts. Level 02 was home to the USMC mount and officer staterooms. Level 03 became known as the "Tomahawk Deck" after the installation of said missile systems in 1984. The flag bridge and signal shelter were also found here. Level 04 held the binnacle/compass, navigation bridge and the captain's at-sea cabin (the captain was given at least three cabins across the Missouri, some "loaned" out to important political or military figures who happen to be cruising with the Missouri crew. President Harry Truman toured with the Missouri crew on several occasions, giving rise to what became known as the "Truman Line" in the enlisted man's mess hall (the President insisted on eating with the crew and eating the food they ate). Level 05 was home to the second battery director, the CIWS mountings and came to be known as the "flying bridge".
Traversing the various hallways and decks of the Missouri was something of an adventure to the uninitiated. Ladders were steep and required some concentration at first, often being referred to as "knee knockers" for those approaching them incorrectly. Recommended operation was to always face the ladder when climbing up or down. However, in the heat of battle and through years of experience, the young spritely crew of the Missouri found it much viable to simply slide down the rails without ever setting foot on the steps. Additionally, some hatches hung low and became known as "head-bangers" for obvious reasons, requiring personnel to stay alert when entering/exiting an area. Heavy steel fire and flood doors were present throughout her design, intended to contain fires and flooding during battle.
Despite her berthing quarters, sleep was sometimes an elusive activity for the Missouri crew as there were always tasks to complete across such a huge ship. Marines were generally given the better of the berthing options and were kept segregated from the Navy crew for obvious reasons. Navy crew made due with suspended, stacked berths while Marines slept hardily on cubby-hole type bunk berths with more storage space for personal belongings.
USS Missouri Armament
Firepower has always proven to be the lifeblood of any sea-going warship in history and the USS Missouri did not disappoint. Like her sisters, she was fielded with 9 x 16-inch (410mm)/50 caliber Mark 7 main guns held in groups of three across three large turrets. The turrets were identified through a simple numbering system marked from bow to stern, meaning the first turret was known as Number "1" followed by turret Number "2". The turret held aft of the vessel therefore became turret Number "3". Each gun on these turrets could operate independently of the other and each could also fire individually. The most effective form of attack was a full broadside from all three turrets, allowing all nine guns to attack a single target area for a lethal dose of airborne devastation. Each projectile weighed in at 2,700lbs and were armor-piercing in nature, able to fly some 20 to 22 miles towards a target. Turret armor measured in at 19.7 inches (500mm). The inherent firepower from a full broadside from the Missouri was such that the resulting action would actually boil the surrounding waters, causing shockwaves as well. Their immense weight - coupled with the overall weight of the Missouri hull and superstructure - also meant that the Missouri stayed in her place during the firing action, making for one very stable gunnery platform. By the end of her story, her gunnery crews were among the best in the business.
Of interest considering these turret emplacements were the fact that they were designed to sit independently of the hull. They were merely weighed down by their own massive weight within the Missouri structure. This was to ensure that if the vessel ever listed or overturned, the turrets would slip out of their rings and sink to the ocean bottom, giving the hull - and the crew within - a chance at survival instead of having the entire vessel sink under her intense weight. This little known fact was delivered to us by an expert tour guide ( retired military) volunteering aboard the Missouri during our visit.
Backing up the main gun batteries were a network of 20 x 5-inch (130mm)/38 caliber Mark 12 dual purpose cannons. These implements could engage surface vessels, shore-based targets or inland targets as needed. Each barbette was allocated 11.6 to 17.3 inches of protective armor. Some 80 x 40mm/56 caliber Bofors cannons were used as anti-aircraft weapons to protect the vessel at all angles or apply support to vulnerable aircraft carriers she might be escorting/screening. Should an enemy make it past these guns, there were another 49 x 20mm/70 caliber Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannons to contend with.
In 1984, the USS Missouri was upgraded for modern warfare thanks to a Reagan initiative. She retained her massive 9 x 16-inch gun batteries but only 12 x 5-inch /50 caliber Mark 7 cannons. Much of her original close-in support was enhanced by installation of 32 x BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles and an updated weapons suite. Additionally, new threats abounded on the high seas by this time and the Missouri was granted use of up to 16 x RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. For close-in defense, 4 x 20mm/76 caliber Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS) were added to her improving digital arsenal, removing the need to field lower-caliber cannons such as the aforementioned 40mm and 20mm gun systems.
You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Despite her upgraded weapon suites - especially concerning those of the main guns - the digital equipment installed to manage the 9-inch main guns proved too sensitive to the violent abuse inherent in the firing action and forced gunnery crews to revert back to the original 1943-era aiming and firing methodology. Since the young Missouri gun crews held little to no experience in such operation, past gunnery veterans of the Missouri were called back in by the United States Navy to train a new generation of gunners in the old ways of warfare.
The USS Missouri of 1984 was a very different vessel than the one fighting the Empire of Japan in World War 2. She now fielded various sensors and processing suites that put her on par with the latest class of surface fighting warships in service with the United States Navy. Among her new toys included an AN/SPS-49 air-search radar, the AN/SPS-67 surface search radar and the AN/SPQ-9 series surface search /gun fire control radar. For electronic warfare, the Missouri made use of the AN/SLQ-32 series system as well as the AN/SLQ-25 Nixie decoy system. Up 8 x Mark 36 SRBOC Super Rapid Bloom Rocket Launchers rounded out her self-defense protective measures.
The Iowa-class series of battleships were planned to be six in number but two were eventually cancelled and only four made up her final ranks. The class was officially ordered by the United States government for construction in 1939 as World War began to spread across Europe. The lead ship in the class became the USS Iowa (BB-61) followed by the USS New Jersey (BB-62). USS Missouri (BB-63) followed (at least numerically) and the class was complete with the arrival of the USS Wisconsin (BB-64). In fact, the USS Wisconsin was completed ahead of the Missouri, making the Missouri the final battleship to be completed for the US Navy.
The two planned yet cancelled battleships of this class would have been the USS Illinois (BB-65) and the USS Kentucky (BB-66). While construction of the two vessels was begun, they were ultimately scrapped. All four remaining battleships went on to lead successful military careers and all survive even today as preserved mothballed vessels or floating museums. USS Iowa is located at Suisun Bay, California awaiting her fate. USS New Jersey is anchored at Camden, New Jersey as a floating museum. USS Missouri is anchored as a floating museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. USS Wisconsin can currently be found at the Nauticus Maritime Museum at Norfolk, Virginia. The Iowa-class represented the last battleships to be constructed for the United States Navy for the focus in the Cold War now turned smaller budgets, efficient warships and high-tech nuclear submarines and larger aircraft carriers. The class went on to see combat action throughout World War 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War - a statistic that few other vessels can claim.
USS Missouri Basics
The USS Missouri was ordered on June 12th, 1940 and laid down on January 5th, 1941 by Brooklyn Naval Shipyard. She was launched on January 29th, 1944 and officially commissioned on June 11th, 1944. She was officially (and finally) decommissioned on March 31st, 1992 with her name struck from the Naval Register on January 12th, 1995.
Operational History - World War 2 (1944-1945)
Life any other vessel in American Navy service, the Missouri underwent the typical "shakedown", this off the coast of New York. This critical period served to iron out any deficiencies in her design and construction before being committed to active service and, ultimately, war. Gunnery practice was handled in an area at Chesapeake Bay before Missouri set sail for Norfolk, Virginia on November 11th, 1944. From there, she took the required journey through Caribbean waters before reaching the Panama Canal on November 18th. Her next stop was rounding Mexican western shores up to the port of San Francisco, California where she was set up as a fleet flagship. She departed on December 14th and made it out to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 1944.
On January 13th, Missouri arrived at the Ulithi atoll of the West Caroline Islands in the Western Pacific and became the temporary HQ for Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. On January 27th, she was given as an escort to the USS Lexington aircraft carrier as part of Task Force 58, covering the launchings of bombers from the group on February 16th. The launchings were the first offensive measures from American aircraft carriers since the fabled Doolittle Raids in April of 1942 from USS Hornet against mainland Japan.
Next stop for the force was the island of Iwo Jima. American ground forces waded ashore in a vast amphibious operation bent on retaking ground from a determined and fanatical Japanese foe. The operation began on February 19th. The Missouri's 9-inch guns pounded Japanese fortifications on the island in an attempt to "soften" up resistance. The Missouri provided direct support for the duration of the operation and, despite the pounding, US Marines fought a hard and bloody battle to retake the island. The Americans ultimately claimed victory and pushed the Japanese defenders backwards, closer to home waters.
After Iwo, USS Missouri returned with the Task Force to Ulithi on March 5th. There, she was relocated to the USS Yorktown carrier task group where she would once again operate as part of a screening force. The force left Ulithi on March 14th. The objective of the task force was now mainland Japan. The Missouri once again brought her main guns to bear on targets situated along the Inland Sea coast of Japan on March 18th. The force targeted inland positions such as Imperial Japanese Navy bases and Imperial Japanese Army airfields. The Japanese defense included attacking aircraft to which the Missouri crew downed at least four with her close-in weapon systems. The Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Franklin took battle damage in the ensuing action and it was Missouri that came to protect her as she removed herself from the scene. The force moved back to Ulithi before being sent out once more towards Okinawa.