Sunday, June 17th, 2012
Recently the battleship USS Iowa made one more voyage, from Suisun Bay near San Francisco to the Port of Los Angeles. In early July she will be moved into a permanent berth in San Pedro and become a floating museum.
The Iowa was the first of the last battleships built for the United States Navy, the lead ship of a class of battleships ordered in1939 and 1940. The four ships of the Iowa class would be longer, faster, and better armed than any battleship yet built. These ships — the USS Iowa, the USS New Jersey, the USS Missouri, and the USS Wisconsin — would also write a new chapter in naval and military history.
Iowa was built in the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn; her construction required “800 miles of welding, 1,135,000 driven rivets, 16 miles of ventilation ducts, 14,140 valves and 80 miles of piping” according to the Pacific Battleship Center. When fully operational, she displaced 58,000 tons of water. Sailors would call her “the Big Stick.”
The Navy shipyard personnel who welded and drove rivets and built these great ships of war are not remembered in action-packed novels and movies, but they played a vital role in winning World War II. And their work was not without danger. The World War II-era ships were generously insulated with asbestos to protect ships and crews from fires. Now the retired shipyard crews remain at risk for developing the deadly lung cancer mesothelioma because of the exposure to asbestos.
Iowa was launched on August 27, 1942, as the U.S. prepared to fight World War II. The Iowa was first assigned to counter German battleships in the North Atlantic. She also carried President Franklin Roosevelt to North Africa as he traveled to the Tehran Conference in 1943.
Then she was transferred to the Pacific fleet. She fired her weapons in combat for the first time on February 16, 1944, against a Japanese naval base in the Caroline Islands. Through most of 1944 she was actively engaged in the war in the Pacific, supporting action in the Marshall Islands, Palau, Wake Islands, Taipan, the Philippine Sea, and elsewhere U.S. men and ships needed the protection of her formidable guns.
In December 1944 the Iowa was one of a task force of ships in the Philippine Sea. A fierce typhoon struck, sinking three destroyers and seriously damaging cruisers and aircraft carriers. At one point the Iowa rolled to a 45 degree angle, according to her crew. She lost a float plane and suffered some damage, but her crew was safe. She returned to San Francisco for repairs and refitting.
In April 1945 the Iowa arrived at Okinawa to relieve the New Jersey. In July she joined the Missouri and Wisconsin bombarding industrial sites on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. And on August 29, the Iowa and Missouri sailed into Tokyo Bay to prepare for the surrender ceremony that took place on Missouri’s deck on September 2.
In the 1950s Iowa was actively engaged in the Korean War and took part in several NATO maneuvers. Decommissioned in 1958, she was reactivated and refitted in the 1984. Again, she supported NATO exercises as well as humanitarian missions. Her military career was ended by an accidental turret explosion that killed 47 crewmen in 1989. She was decommissioned for the final time in 1990. She has spent most of the past 20 years with the reserve fleet in Suisun Bay.
The new USS Iowa museum, at Berth 87 at the Port of Los Angeles, will open to the public on July 7.