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USS Iowa: The Greatest Battleship To Ever Serve in the US Navy?

Battleship USS Iowa
The former USS Iowa (BB 61) sits at anchor off Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Calif. The battleship is being prepared for berthing in San Pedro, Calif., as a floating museum. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Eli J. Medellin/Released)

USS Iowa – The Best US Navy Battleship Ever?: The USS Iowa, the first of the Iowa-class battleships, symbolized American power in many respects for decades, even though the age of the battleship was over. When it came time for a show of force, Iowa was called into action. Most associate it with gallant service in World War Two, but it also had a sizable role during the Cold War. The combat history of the USS Iowa was impressive, and it earned 11 battle stars, which was more than its sister-ship the USS Wisconsin – a venerable combat vessel itself.

Battleship USS Iowa: The Concept 

The idea behind the Iowa is that the Navy during World War Two needed a battleship that could steam 30 knots to keep up with the Essex-class carrier strike groups. The Navy also required Iowa to have the firepower to protect aircraft carriers, bully enemy shipping, and eliminate targets on land.

And this class of vessels did all of that and more. Iowa’s 16-inch guns were busy during World War Two capitalizing on their 24-mile range. Iowa saw service in the Marshall and Mariana Islands, during the Okinawa campaign, and in the summer of 1945, even took part in the shelling of the Japanese home islands Honshu and Hokkaido.

The Big Stick Was Survivable  

Nicknamed the “Big Stick,” Iowa soon showed it could take a punch.

It received its first hit when struck by two Japanese shells. A 6-inch projectile knocked into the second turret and the 5-inch round struck the hull. But that enemy attack caused little damage to the huge vessel.

USS Iowa turned the tables on the Japanese and assisted with the island-hopping campaign by supporting American amphibious landings during various battles. Its final World War Two mission was to appear with the USS Missouri where the Japanese surrendered in Tokyo Bay. It then took a break with decommissioning orders in 1949, but then was activated again in 1951 to serve as a flagship during the Korean War. It participated in various bombardment missions against North Korean positions.

Hard to Beat a Versatile Battleship

The Iowa had almost 3,000 sailors. It boasted four engines and four propellors with 212,000 horsepower. The World War Two firepower included nine 16-inch guns and 20 five-inch guns.

But that’s not all. Like the USS Wisconsin, Iowa got a new lease on life in the Cold War and became a modern missile ship in 1984 with a formidable assortment of Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

USS Iowa: It Had One Blemish On Its Record

Iowa ended its stretch of good luck in 1989 when an explosion in the number two turret resulted in the death of 47 sailors. It then patrolled around Europe for a year before final decommissioning in 1990. Iowa later became a museum ship based in San Pedro, California, and hereinafter, the USS Iowa will be remembered as a stalwart warship.


An aerial port bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61) firing its No. 2 turret 16-inch 50-cal. guns off the starboard side.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry office.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.