The Battleship USS Iowa

Over the quarter of the century, during which the battleships remained in their cocoon sleep, many more and less daring plans of their further use were conceived. Some designs concentrated on converting each of the four vessels into modern missile warships or command ships, while others on transforming them into hybrid battleship/aircraft carriers. There was also an idea to use not the warships themselves, but their powerful artillery. One of such designs, the completion of which was seriously discussed, called for a monitor armed with a single 406 mm three gun turret. Such warship would have been employed mainly as an artillery support for seaborne assaults
All of these designs remained on paper and although the professional journals in the 1960s and 1970s reported, from time to time, on subsequent projects concerning the use of the existing warships, they all remained deactivated until the early 1980s.
At the beginning of the 1980s the US Navy received additional financial resources that enabled the reactivation of some “mothballed” warships of the reserve fleet. The battleship Iowa was one of such ships, since her active service life at the time of launching was estimated at 50 years, yet she served only for a few.

Iowa 5

In 1981 a small sum was assigned from the budget for reactivation of the Iowa, followed by larger amounts for modernization in the years 1982 and 1983.
And thus, after 24 years in “mothballs”, the giant was awakened and given another chance for active service. On September 1, 1982, she was towed to the dry-dock at Avondale Shipyard, where her hull was being repaired through to January 30 1983, when the ship was towed to Ingalss Shipbuilding for completion of her modernization. The battleship was scheduled for recommissioning in 1985, but since her sister ship New Jersey, reactivated earlier, had already served in the Philippines, Nicaragua and the Mediterranean Sea during 1983, the process was accelerated.  Modernization work was completed earlier and the modernized Iowa was ready for recommissioning on April 28, 1984.
Modernization altered the ship’s appearance. All the 40 mm Bofors guns and their shields were removed, as were four out of ten 127 mm twin turrets. The lattice mast installed around the second funnel during the 1950s was completely removed and a large lattice mast, necessary for installation of modern electronic warfare systems, was installed on the forward superstructure. The ship retained all three main battery turrets.
Iowa was ceremonially recommissioned on April 28, 1984 and the Naval Station Norfolk on the east cost became her home port.
The first weeks of commission were  taken up with a period of gunnery exercises and complement training in the Caribbean waters of Guantanamo Bay and Puerto Rico. In June 1984 the ship called at some South American ports and in August was deployed to the Pacific, where she operated off the coasts of Nicaragua and Guatemala. Iowa returned to the Caribbean on August 26, to perform gunnery exercises, during which, the main battery fired with remarkable accuracy at the distance of 32 km. That impressive show of the ship’s power brought about the resources from the budget of the US Navy for reactivation of another “mothballed” battleship – the USS Missouri.
In September 1984 the Iowa returned to Norfolk. At the beginning of 1985, she took part in relief missions near Costa Rica and Honduras. Then she underwent an overhaul at Norfolk Navy Yard, where she remained until July 1985. During that time the boilers, propeller shafts and artillery were overhauled and new means of communication were installed. On completion of the overhaul, the ship went for five-day sea trials.
In August and September the battleship crossed the Arctic Circle. Between October 12 and 18, Iowa took part in the NATO Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 85 and at their conclusion visited Copenhagen, Aarhus and finally at Kiel. She returned to Norfolk on November 5, 1985.
In the period between January and March 1986 she visited  Central American ports. In July, Iowa visited New York, where she served as flagship for the celebration of the centennial of the State of Liberty. In the second half of August, she departed Norfolk and headed for the North Atlantic to take part in the NATO’s Operation “Northern Wedding”, returning to Norfolk at the end of October 1986.
The beginning of 1987 was another period of naval exercises, “BLASTEX 1-87”, that took part in the Caribbean. At that time Iowa visited ports in Honduras, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Vieques Island and the American base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In May the ship took part in exercise SACEX near the coast of Puerto Rico and in July 1987 she was in the Western Atlantic participating in exercise FLEETEX 3-87.
On September 10, Iowa left her base in Norfolk and crossed the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea, where she joined the warships of the 6th Fleet in exercise “Display Determination”. She also visited the City of Istanbul. In October she was detached from the 6th Fleet and departed for North Atlantic calling at Trondheim in Norway.
In November the ship transited the Suez Canal and steamed into the Persian Gulf. In December 1987 and January 1988 the battleship operated in the Indian Ocean and North Arabian Sea. In mid-January, the ship returned to the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal and then set for the United States, arriving at Norfolk on March 10, 1988.
The battleship’s lucky career was disturbed by a tragic accident on April 19, 1989. During gunnery exercises in the Caribbean the main battery was to fire for the first time in six weeks. Turret No. 1 fired first, but the left gun misfired. Things like that had happened before, so there was no cause for alarm. Turret No. 2 was to fire next, but the charge was not properly loaded into the chamber of the centre gun and before its crew managed to remedy the situation, there was an internal explosion.
Its force was so powerful, that the fittings of all three guns were destroyed and hot gases expanding through the openings of the ventilation system, sights and rangefinders partially burned the deck planking around the turret. The systems that prevented the explosion of the powder magazine were triggered. The entire turret crew of 47 was killed. Within 8 minutes from the explosion the magazines of No. 2 turret were flooded.
Iowa was forced to end the exercise and return to base in Norfolk. On the way, in Puerto Rico, the bodies of the crew members killed in the explosion were disembarked. The investigation started immediately upon her arrival at the base. The necessary repairs were also commenced. On their completion the ship was operational with the exception of No. 2 turret.
The commission thoroughly investigating all the aspects of the April 19, 1989 explosion had reached conflicting conclusions. Only a few hypotheses were accepted, although none of them was unconditionally obvious.
When the “Cold War” period ended in 1990, the command of the US Navy decided to decommission Iowa once again. It was officially done on October 16, 1990. The ship remained in reserve for almost five years, when on January 12, 1995, she was finally stricken from the Navy list.
Iowa was towed from Philadelphia to Newport, where she remained until  March 17, 2006, she was officially stricken from the Navy list and towed to Suisun Bay near San Francisco. Efforts of various associations and individuals saved the battleship and on October 27, 2011, the ship embarked on her final journey, being towed from Suisun Bay to the quay in San Diego, where she was going to serve as a museum ship after necessary preparation work was completed.

Grzegorz Nowak



Breyer S., “Schlachtschiffe und Schlachtkreuzer 1921-1997 – Internationaler Schlachtschiffbau”, Bernard & Grafefe Vergalg, Bonn 2002.
Dulin R.O., Garzke W.H., „Battleships – United States Battleships, 1935-1992”, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1995,
Friedman N., „U.S.Battleships An Illustrated Design History“, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1985,
Newhart M.R., “American Battleships”, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula, 1995
Palasek J., „Amerykańskie pancerniki typu „Iowa“ cz. 1, Wydawnictwo Okręty Wojenne, Tarnowskie Góry 1998,
Palasek J., „Amerykańskie pancerniki typu „Iowa“ cz. 2, Wydawnictwo Okręty Wojenne, Tarnowskie Góry 2000,
Śmigielski A., “Amerykańskie olbrzymy”, Magnum X, Warszawa 2000,
Sumrall R., „Iowa Class Battleships – Their Design, Weapons & Equipment“, Conway Maritime Press, London 1988,
Sumrall R., USS Iowa BB-61 – Warship’s Data“, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Missoula 1986,
Terzibaschitsch S., „Comeback Der Iowa Klasse – Die amerikanischen Schlachtschiffe von 1941 bis heute”, Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Koblenz 1998,


Morze; Morze Statki i Okręty; Okręty Wojenne; Warship; Warship International; Ships Of The World


1 The “All or nothing” armour scheme, first incorporated into the design of the battleship Nevada, became so effective, that ever since it was commonly used on all consecutive battleships of the US Navy. It was also accepted by other naval powers building new battleships.  
2  Those are no to be mistaken with the later built class of warships with the same name. The unbuilt South Dakota class battleships were to be designated BB-49 South Dakota, BB-50 Indiana, BB-51 Montana, BB-52 North Carolina, BB-53 Iowa and BB-54 Massachusetts, while the four warships of the new class were designated BB-57 South Dakota, BB-58 Indiana, BB-59 Massachusetts and BB-60 Alabama.



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