USS New Jersey: Looking for a battleship that won the most awards in U.S. naval history? The USS New Jersey retained that honor after serving during World War Two, in Korea, Vietnam, and Lebanon. Overall, it garnered incredible 19-battle stars and two presidential unit citations along with one navy unit commendation.
Let’s examine just how the USS New Jersey got that good.
History of the USS New Jersey
An Iowa-class battleship, the New Jersey was part of the naval build-up before World War Two. Work began in 1940 at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. The ship was complete by 1942, and after sea trials, was commissioned in 1943.
The New Jersey was 860-feet long, with a displacement of 57,350-tons. The warship boasted four General Electric steam turbines with a top speed of 33-knots. The New Jersey, like other battleships in the Iowa-class, was meant to take on the best and biggest warships in the German and Japanese navies.
World War Two Battle Wagon
But it soon found its calling in World War Two when supporting amphibious landing with fire from its nine 16-inch guns. That’s not all – like all battleships of its class – it was heavily armed. The New Jersey sported twenty 5-inch dual purpose guns, eighty 40mm anti-aircraft guns, and forty-nine 20mm anti-aircraft guns.
It Served with Distinction in the Pacific Theater
The New Jersey arrived in the Western Pacific in January 1944 and quickly made its presence known. First, it supported the landings on the Marshall Islands. Next, it was time to dominate the battle space in support of the invasions of Saipan and Tinian. In the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the New Jersey escorted aircraft carriers and formed an impassable wall of warships to protect the flat-tops against enemy airplanes during that engagement. Then it was service in the battles of Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. You just couldn’t keep this ship out of some of the most consequential battles of the war. It had a nose for combat.
It Refused to Leave Combat Service
The New Jersey stayed active in the Korean War during two combat tours by shelling enemy positions with its 16-inch guns. It had to make a comeback before Vietnam because it was decommissioned in 1957 after the Korean war ended. Then it was recommissioned yet again for Vietnam in 1968. It was during the war in Vietnam where the vessel really shined.
New Jersey Brings Thunderous Gunfire to Vietnam
The New Jersey shelled North Vietnam repeatedly. This was important to support troops without putting pilots and airplanes in harm’s way. Soldiers and marines knew they could depend on the big guns from the New Jersey to blast enemy positions in any weather night and day. It’s hard to imagine but the New Jersey fired nearly 20,000 shells during Vietnam in only one year of service.
Answering the Call in the Middle East
Then it was back to retirement. But President Ronald Reagan valued naval strength and wanted more ships to dominate the Soviet navy. The battleship got an influx of modern weapons such as cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. Thinking the threat would be in the Atlantic, Reagan didn’t foresee that the Middle East would become a crisis zone. The U.S. Marine Corps was deployed in Lebanon during the civil war there and the New Jersey was re-commissioned in 1982. New Jersey was instrumental in supporting this marine deployment.
In 1984, in one of the biggest engagements of the Lebanon crisis, the New Jersey shelled Syrian and Druze gun positions. The shelling lasted nine hours. The New Jersey sent more than 250 16-inch shells downrange. The battleship earned three battle stars for this and other Middle East deployments.
In all the New Jersey must be given an ‘A’ grade for its stalwart efforts over the decades. It’s a major undertaking removing ships from retirement and getting them ready for combat again and the New Jersey went through this difficult process repeatedly. But Lebanon would be the last go-round for the New Jersey, and it is now a museum ship so people can learn about the most decorated American battleship in history.
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 officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.