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Why Battleship USS North Carolina Can’t Ever Be Moved

USS North Carolina

Sixty years ago, on Oct. 2, 1961, thousands of onlookers came out to the Wilmington, North Carolina waterfront on the Cape Fear River to see the arrival of the state’s namesake World War II battleship. USS North Carolina (BB-55) wasn’t making a port visit to the city, which at the time was essentially on a downward trek after the closure of the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company after the end of the war.

Instead, the mighty battle wagon, which was the lead vessel of a new class of “fast battleships” constructed just before the Second World War under terms imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty, was arriving at her new home. The warship that had proved her worth during the conflict had survived many close calls and near misses, including being hit by a Japanese torpedo. The Japanese had claimed six times that the battleship had been sunk, yet North Carolina continued to fight on.

And while other majestic warships that helped ensure an Allied victory met an ignominious end as they were broken up and sold for scrap, BB-55 was saved and preserved as a museum ship and memorable to the brave sailors of the “Greatest Generation.” Since April 1962 the warship has served as a floating museum in Wilmington, North Carolina, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in November 1982 – in part because the application noted that the ship was in excellent condition and had remained largely in its wartime configuration.

For the past 60 years, the 728-foot decommissioned vessel has been a vital part of the downtown Wilmington skyline. However, as the city was transformed and today is a hub in the American film-industry, the gallant warship has suffered. The elements have proven to be a far more vicious enemy than even the Imperial Japanese Navy, but the efforts to save and preserve the ship have continued.

It didn’t always look good for the future of the North Carolina however. While Operation Ship Shape, a donation drive to secure funds was launched in 1998, the damage was so great that in 2009, the United States Navy issued two directives: either restore or scrap the ship. The former was decided upon and that resulted in a multi-year Generations Campaign – which has raised $23 million in public and private funds.

According to locals, it would be hard to imagine the modern Wilmington waterfront without the warship. She remains the area’s number one tourist attraction apart from the beach, while the battleship is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of eastern North Carolina.

Efforts are ongoing and while the hull of the vessel has been repaired and perhaps even improved while retaining the visual appearance of the original construction; engineers are continuing to address the threats from the environment and climate change. Unlike other historic attractions – notably the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – that have been moved to deal with encroaching water, this isn’t possible with the warship.

“The Battleship will never be moved. People don’t realize how big it is,” explained U.S. Navy Cpt. Terry Bragg (Retired), executive director of the Battleship N.C.

While it is a ship, it couldn’t actually sail under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, which wasn’t built until 1967, after the museum ship was already in place. It is simply home.

“We have a suitable site, even though the Cape Fear River is not the Cape Fear River of 60 years ago,” Bragg told The Star News Online.

Instead, the solution has been to make the North Carolina sustainable well into the future via a project dubbed “Living with Water.” The first phase included constructing wetlands or a “living shoreline” that can better handle the effects of a changing climate. And while developers have eyed the waterfront for future projects, the fact that the battleship was named a National Historic Landmark in 1986 affords it certain protections.

For now, the efforts to restore and maintain the ship continue, and Bragg and the museum remain committed to ensuring the warship that the Japanese couldn’t sink won’t lose its fight to the elements anytime soon.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.



  1. Tyler

    September 30, 2021 at 11:38 pm

    As a former Wilmington resident in the 90’s and early 2000’s I have visited the Battleship many times and have always followed its progress.

    An interesting story that you didn’t mention about when it was first moved to Wilmington…

    You mentioned having everyone lined up to watch its arrival, what you didn’t mention is how they misjudged the length of the ship. When they went to turn it so they could back it into its current and permanent home, they misjudged the bow of the ship and it tore up the dock and I think a small restaurant on the Wilmington side of the river. (For those who have never been to Wilmington, the Battleship is actually located across the river from Wilmington in Brunswick County.)

    Of course it all worked out in the end, and though I wasn’t even born at the time , the downtown area around the river was a rapidly degenerated area. Now it’s home to $400,000 loft apartments from bridge to bridge. The arrival of the Battleship was a big part of that happening, though many would argue the fairness of closing the very first public housing project, which was admittedly in great need of repairs, and selling it to developers who turned it into a gated $1000 a month apartments. Hard to say. I guess things just change.

    I also remember the fundraising efforts around that time to specifically replace the teak decking on the ship. In order to raise funds you could buy little blocks of the old deck for like $10 I think. So I have an actual, original piece of the USS North Carolina. Pretty cool, huh?

    Well thanks for listening to my rambling, if anyone even reads this! Lol! I think I am getting old!!!

  2. Legacy Driver

    October 1, 2021 at 9:24 am

    “CLIMATE CHANGE”??????

    It’s called WEATHER. Stop with the propaganda. The global warming hoaxers have been busted multiple times falsifying data to drive this ridiculous agenda.

    KNOCK IT OFF, Goebbels.

  3. Kam

    October 1, 2021 at 10:12 am

    My father was w my grandmother on the steps of the courthouse to watch them tug her into place. He remembers the dock getting torn up.

    One thing not mentioned is in the mid 80’s when the North Carolina’s sister ship, the New Jersey was recommissioned; the Navy took parts off her for spares for the NJ!

    She was also welded into place on some racks so the ship wouldn’t list over time. A major project has been ongoing for repairs to the system holding her in place.

    The county line is just on the other side of the parking lot but the North Carolina does reside in New Hanover county. Developers have lusted after Eagle Island property for years. Just this past week they were given the go-ahead to develop “battleship point”…I guess it was only a matter of time.

  4. LibertyToad

    October 1, 2021 at 10:24 am

    More accurately, it’s not climate change, it is called weather. There is a big difference. Climate change is the wrong term.

  5. Sic-O-Despots

    October 1, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    You lost me at climate change.

  6. Charles Johnson

    October 1, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    There’s no such rank in the U.S Navy as “Cpt.” There is a rank, Captain, abbreviated CAPT. “CPT” is an Army rank, pay grade O-3, equivalent to Navy Lieutenant (LT). Navy CAPT is pay grade O-6, equivalent to an Army Colonel (COL). Pedantic, perhaps, but not trivial.

  7. Michael Kearins

    October 1, 2021 at 3:11 pm

    Another lefty author. Climate change is left wing propaganda. Falsifying data and claiming that Manhattan would be under water a decade ago by al gore who became rich off the hoax is left wing bs. All an effort to push battery and alternate energy industries where the rich lefty’s have investments. This website is censored so don’t be surprised if they erase comments like this.

  8. Michael Kearins

    October 1, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    Remove the bridge with a lift and get it out of there. It’s probably bottoming out and the hull will crush over time with the weight.

  9. Jack Thomas

    March 23, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    The day I visited the ship in the early 1990s there was an airshow nearby and I got to see a B-17 with a P-51 escort fly over. It was an unexpected treat.

  10. Marc Clark

    July 1, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    Actually, stating that the Battleship North Carolina can’t be moved is factually incorrect. In fact, plans to remove part of the ship’s superstructure would be undertaken if and when it leaves Wilmington for much-needed repairs. As a former member of the BB-55’s living history crew, decision-makers know she needs to be removed from her current mooring, towed to Virginia and repaired, and a new mooring built out in the inlet, rather than putting her back in the same flawed mooring.

    The design of its current mooring failed to consider the abrasive action of sand due to tides, as well as salt water have caused the ship’s hull to leak. BB-55 now sits basically “encased” in sand and being “sanded” as the tides rise and lower, plus the additional damage salt water does. One of the possible “fixes” was to drain its slip, remove the sand and encase the hull in concrete. Unfortunately,
    that wouldn’t address the inevitable degradation of the ship’s overall integrity and her ultimate collapse. Of course, just like the “experts” who failed to consider what would happen mooring her in a slip off the inlet, and most likely dead, the current “experts” will probably be gone as well when she finally collapses, if they are foolish enough to encase her in concrete. Nevertheless, plans have been discussed about patching her leaks and towing her to Virginia for major hull repairs and other needed maintenance to preserve a very important part of US history, unfortunately, she will probably won’t see her 100th birthday because NC won’t spend the money to ensure she does.

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