The battleship USS Missouri (BB-63). Launched in early 1944, the Missouri is without a doubt one of the best known warships of her type.
Visualisation 3D Stefan Dramiński
She was the last battleship to have been commissioned in the US Navy and will always be remembered as the ship whose deck saw the official ceremony ending World War II. The Missouri had a long combat history: she took part in the Korean war in the 1950s and in operations in Iraq in the 1990s. Having had such an outstanding service record, the battleship was spared the chopping block and can today be seen in all her glory at Pearl Harbor.
The signing of the Washington Treaty in 1922 put a cap on shipbuilding for several years. Despite advancements in shipbuilding technology following World War I, the tonnage and firepower of newly designed warships were subject to significant restrictions. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 allowed the Italians and the French to supplement their navies with two types of fast battleships – the Littorio and the Richelieu, respectively. However, in the mid 1930s the political climate changed again when the U.S. intelligence reported the launch of modernization of Japanese Kongō class battlecruisers and Nagato class battleships. The Second London Naval Conference of 1935–1936 imposed limitations on the development of battleships exceeding 35 000 long tons and main battery guns above 14 inches. However, only Great Britain, the U.S. and France agreed to adhere to the treaty’s restrictions. Japan withdrew from all naval treaties in 1937 and started the construction of Yamato class battleships. Under these circumstances the signatory nations could invoke the so called “escalator clause”, which allowed them to exceed the limits imposed by the treaty. The Americans decided to increase the caliber of the main guns of the North Carolina class battleships, although the decision to do so was made too late: by 1937 most of the battleship’s armor had already been manufactured and its strength proved inadequate in comparison with the power of the main artillery.
Because of the inadequate armor protection of the North Carolina class battleships, the U.S. Congress authorized in 1938 the construction of two new South Dakota class battleships, which would mount the same caliber guns, but with much improved armor. As a result of rapid deterioration of international relations the US Navy gave a green light to the construction of two additional South Dakota class warships. In addition, following confusing signals from Japan concerning the Yamato program, the U.S., France and Great Britain signed an agreement allowing the construction of new capital ships displacing up to 45 000 long tons. This way the US Navy could use the extra 10 000 long tons to equip the ships with more powerful weapons, upgrade their armor protection or increase their speed. In the end the latter option was chosen.
On May 17, 1939 the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of two new battleships: the Iowa (BB-61) and her sister ship New Jersey (BB-62). The latter was originally planned to be named Missouri, but following President Roosevelt’s decision the name was reserved for the next battleship to be built. Roosevelt was greatly involved in the fast battleship program and believed that the new warships should be named after states that had not been namesakes for warships for a long time. Orders for the construction of the Iowa and New Jersey were placed on July 1,1939, but the new ships were not laid down until a year later.
The initial plans for 45 000 ton fast battleships were first drawn back in 1935. It was then that a formula was established showing the relationship between the length of a ship’s waterline and her projected speed. The top speed of the North Carolina and South Dakota class battleships (28 knots) was respectable, but not sufficient if the ships were to keep pace with the Essex class aircraft carriers. The design plans of the new battleship were submitted to the US Navy Command on June 2, 1938 and a week later the preliminary design characteristics of the Iowa class battleships were delivered to the Secretary of the Navy. The new vessels were designed to displace up to 45 000 long tons and mount 16”/50 Mk 7 main guns. The battleships would have a phenomenal top speed of 33 knots and their beam would allow the safe passage through the Panama Canal.
In June 1939 the US Navy amended its 1941 budget to reflect the construction of two Iowa class battleships. Four brand new fast battleships operating as centerpieces of battle groups including aircraft carriers and destroyers were to constitute the U.S. response to the Japanese upgraded Kongō class warships. On June 12, 1940, after the project had been formally approved by the Congress, the orders were placed at Brooklyn Navy Yard for the construction of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) and Philadelphia Navy Yard for the USS Wisconsin (BB-64). In late 1939 the increasing threat of German raiders operating in the Atlantic and the reports of the Axis countries developing ever growing battleship fleets led the US Navy Command to order more fast capital ships. As a result, on September 9, 1940 two more battleships were ordered: the USS Illinois (BB-65) and the USS Kentucky (BB-66). However, only four of the six ships were built. The construction of the final two was cancelled when the war drew to a close.
The design of the Iowa class battleships drew heavily from the lessons learned in the construction of the South Dakota class. The US Navy designers worked hard to achieve maximum speed at significant hull length (the hull’s beam was limited by the width of the Panama Canal and could not be increased).The Missouri was designed with an elongated and slender bow section with a bulbous bow which was designed to reduce drag.
The surplus tonnage (compared to the South Dakota class) was used to install upgraded propulsion system delivering an unprecedented 212 000 shp, as well as additional armor. The ship was very well protected against 16” shells fired from distances from 16 000 to 27 000 meters. The main armor belt covered the battleship’s sides and stretched all the way to the bottom and served as a reinforcement for anti-torpedo bulges.
The Missouri’s armament closely resembled the weapons carried by the South Dakota class vessels, with the exception of the new 16”/50 Mark 7 main battery guns. The guns used heavy armor-piercing shells weighing in at 1 220 kg, which had excellent ballistic and penetration characteristics. The dual purpose battery consisted of 20 proven 5-inch guns (5”/38 Mark 12) mounted in ten twin turrets. The ship also carried a large number of standard US Navy AA weapons (40 mm Bofors and 20 mm Oerlikons). In September 1945 80 Bofors and 49 Oerlikons were mounted on the battleship’s decks.
The Iowa class battleships featured a sophisticated and constantly upgraded radar suite. The systems allowed early detection, tracking and engagement of surface and air targets beyond visual range. The ships also carried a pair of OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes launched from stern catapults, which were replaced in 1945 with more modern Curtiss SC-1 Seahawk aircraft.
Construction and service in the Pacific
The “Mighty Mo”, as the Missouri was known to her crew, was the third Iowa class battleship to be built, but the fourth one to be commissioned. She was also the fourth US Navy warship to be named after the U.S. state of Missouri. The battleship was laid down at New York Navy Yard on January 6, 1941 and her construction cost was estimated at 92 million dollars.
The construction of the Missouri, similarly to the other Iowa class battleships, went very smoothly. The ship entered service with the US Navy merely 41 months after she had been laid down. The hull was launched on January 29, 1944 in front of a crowd of 25 000 people. The battleship was christened by 19 year-old Mary Margaret Truman, daughter of then U.S. senator from Missouri and future president of the United States Harry S. Truman. The senator himself opened the ceremony with these words: “The USS Missouri will show … the world her innate seaworthiness, her valiant fighting spirit and the invincible power of the United States Navy.” Very few would have suspected back then that both Harry S. Truman and the new battleship would go on to play such significant roles in the world’s history.
After five months of fitting out the battleship was commissioned on June 11, 1944 under the command of Captain W. M. Callaghan. In November, after shipyard trials and a shakedown cruise in Chesapeake Bay, the Missouri left her base at Norfolk, VA, crossed the Panama Canal and reached Balboa on December 18. On the same day the battleship officially joined the Pacific Fleet. She then arrived in San Francisco Bay before making for Pearl Harbor accompanied by destroyers USS Bailey (DD-492) and Terry (DD-513). The team reached Pearl Harbor after a ten-day passage, on December 24. On January 13, 1945 the Missouri left Pearl Harbor and set course for anchorage at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands. After her arrival the Missouri became part of Task Group 58 commanded by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. One of her assignments was an escort mission in support of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) during the raid on Tokyo launched on February 16, 1945. Later the Missouri supported U.S. landings on Iwo Jima. It was on the day of the invasion (February 19) that the “Mighty Mo” first used her guns in anger when her crew opened fire on formation of unidentified aircraft and scored a probable kill of a Japanese machine. The Missouri remained in the area until February 23 providing fire support for the U.S. Marines.
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