The USS Iowa (BB-61) was the lead ship of the massive and powerful Iowa-class battleships of World War 2. She was followed by sister ships USS New Jersey (BB-62), USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Wisconsin (BB-64). The battleship was born out of a need to deter the Imperial Japanese Navy from continuing work on their new Washington Naval Treaty-violating designs and was therefore meant to pack quite a punch while offering adequate speed in deep waters. With the new and fast Essex-class aircraft carriers also being laid down for the US Navy at this time, the American fleet was in need of protection vessels that could keep pace with these new carriers, speeds in excess of 30 knots. The design challenge was in developing a vessel fast enough to do so while also providing the needed firepower of a traditional battlecruiser to combat Japanese vessels in turn.
The USS Iowa was ordered on July 1st, 1939 and laid down on June 27th, 1940 by the New York Naval Yard. She was officially launched on February 27th, 1942 and was formally commissioned on February 22nd, 1943. She set out from Chesapeake Bay that same month under the motto of "Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Maintain". She garnered the nickname of "The Big Stick" over her storied tenure.
By August of that year, the USS Iowa was already on open seas assignment, escorting ships in the Atlantic and transporting the United States President - Franklin Roosevelt - to North Africa. It was not long before the system was eventually made part of the Pacific Fleet where she would end up seeing most of her combat action concerning World War 2. Once active in the Pacific Theater, the USS Iowa took part in the Marshall Islands campaign, the Philippines, the Okinawa landings, and the assault on targets in Honshu and Hokkaido. Her massive battery of 16" guns pummeled fortified shoreline positions and targets of interest. In the attacks, she sustained only relatively light damage from incoming Japanese artillery.
The entire Iowa-class was characterized by their 9 x 16" main guns, three guns fitted to each turret with two turrets fore and one aft. These were augmented by the 20 x 5" guns, and further defensed by 80 x 40mm anti-aircraft and 49 x 20mm anti-aircraft cannon systems. Onboard reconnaissance and patrol could be conducted through the use of up to three Vought-type Kingfisher floatplane aircraft held aboard, launched by catapult and recovered by crane. The vessel's crew complement totaled 1,921 personnel during 1943. Power was derived from geared steam turbines delivering 212,000 horsepower to four shafts, which allowed for the required maximum surface speed of 33 knots to be reached in ideal conditions.
At the end of the war, the USS Iowa served with the massive flotilla of navy vessels standing guard in Tokyo Bay, Japan. Shortly thereafter, she was made flagship for a time until final decommissioning in 1949 only to be called back into service by 1951 in time for the Korean War (1950-1953). Serving once again as flagship, she pounded enemy shore and inland positions with her usual precision and supported ground offensives in turn. Before the armistice of 1953, the Iowa was already on her way back home for a needed overhaul and further crew training. She was decommissioned again in 1958.
By 1982, the Iowa-class ships were undergoing a period of heavy modernization that included the installation of 32 x BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 16 x RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and 4 x 20mm Phalanx digitally controlled Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWSs). These new additions surpassed the capabilities of the 16" main guns, for the Iowa could now reach farther targets with more precision and defend herself from incoming missile threats and low-flying strike aircraft. The 16" guns retained their ferocious value, however, and would be called to action again. The Iowa-class ships were reactivated for service once again, and the USS Iowa was used in the Persian Gulf for escort duties, providing watch over Kuwaiti tankers under threat.
During a gunnery exercise observed in April of 1989, the USS Iowa suffered a catastrophic explosion in her number two turret (second forward mounting) when five powder bags of the center gun ignited. The result was the loss of 47 souls with the likely culprit later to found to be static electricity of the 1930s-era magazines. This event led to several changes in the handling and storing of the powder for future's sake. With the investigation complete, the Iowa set off once more on the high seas, this time to ports across Europe. By 1990, the USS Iowa was officially decommissioned for good and landed at port in Suisun Bay, San Francisco, California. On July 7th, 2012, the USS Iowa opened to the public as a floating museum in Los Angeles, California.
USS Iowa Update:
The four vessels of the Iowa-class have survived history. The USS Missouri (BB-63), residing in Honolulu, Hawaii, was donated in 1998. The USS New Jersey (BB-62), now in Camden, New Jersey, was donated in 2000. The USS Wisconsin (BB-64), making its home in Norfolk, Virginia, was donated in 2009. USS Iowa (BB-61), in mothballs for the last 21 years, became the last of the four Iowa-class battleships to be donated for preservation.
In 2006, the US Congress, under the National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law 109-163, authorized the Secretary of the Navy to strike USS Iowa (BB-61) from the US Naval Vessel Register and offer the ship for donation to an entity that would display the vessel in a proper military and historical on the waters of the state of California. After a number of proposals were evaluated by the US Navy, the Pacific Battleship Center was selected as the recipient of the ship on Sept. 6th, 2011.
On April 30th, 2012, Vice Admiral Mark Skinner, the military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, formally transferred ownership of the historic Iowa (BB-61) to Robert Kent, president of the Pacific Battleship Center. The ship donation contract documents were signed in the Capitol Hill office of Iowa Representative Tom Latham. Vice Admiral Mark Skinner commented "Today marks the transition from the ship's storied naval career to a brand new career as a museum and memorial that will serve for generations to come. I look forward to seeing her brought back to life for public display, continuing to serve our country and its citizens in a new capacity."
The USS Iowa has since been undergoing final repairs at the Naval Port of Richmond, California to prepare her for museum ship status. On May 20th, 2012, USS Iowa (BB-61) was towed from Richmond to its new permanent home at the Pacific Battleship Center located at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.
Iowa was the lead ship of the most powerful and heavily armed American fast battleships ever built. The Iowa-class were the last battleships constructed by the US Navy and, in fact, the world. Iowa transported President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the Atlantic for the conference with Allied war leaders in Tehran, Iran, in 1943. Iowa also served in fast carrier task forces across the Pacific and received Battle Stars for conducting shore bombardments against Japanese forces at the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, and during the Okinawa Invasion of World War 2. She then went on to serve during the Korean War (1950-1953) and participated in US Navy operations to protect Kuwaiti ships from Iranian attacks from 1987 and 1988. The USS Iowa was decommissioned for the last time in 1990.
On July 4th, 2012 the historic battleship was permanently berthed for the formal opening for the Iowa (BB-61) as a floating museum ship, joining her sisters across the country. The US Navy donates some historic ships to promote public interest in American naval heritage and to explain the cost of the defense of the nation. Perhaps it is more to honor the men and women who built and sailed in these fighting ships. Now that Iowa has found a new home, the Iowa-class is the only complete class of warship to have been preserved for public display.