The USS Missouri has the distinction of being the last battleship built by the U.S. Navy, and the last one to decommission.
You may recognize it as the ship where the Japanese surrendered to end World War II in 1945. But the Missouri fought more than one war during its history – the Iowa-class battleship lived many lives. It earned five battle stars for the Korean War in addition to the three it won during World War II. It was also honored for service during Operation Desert Storm, wrapping up the honors of a 51-year career.
The Missouri supported the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa during WWII’s Pacific campaign. The battleship also escorted the aircraft carriers that sent bombers to attack Japan toward the end of the war. It blasted North Korean positions during the Korean War, participating in the Battle of Inchon and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
By 1955, the Missouri was decommissioned. But it wasn’t done. The battlewagon came out of retirement in 1986 and cruised the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers. The Missouri finally reported to duty in the First Gulf War, where it shelled Iraqi targets in Kuwait and fought in the Battle of Kafji in 1991.
The USS Missouri Was a Faster, Mightier Ship
After Pearl Harbor, the Navy knew it would need a faster battleship to improve on the South Dakota-class. Larger size and more powerful weapons were also required if the Navy was to dominate the Japanese. The “Mighty Mo” Missouri and the ships of its class would have to steam at 33 knots (five knots speedier than the South Dakota-class) to keep up with the Essex-class carrier battle groups. This made the Iowa-class the fastest battleships ever built. The narrower beam of the class helped the ships make it through the Panama Canal, and at 58,000 tons and nearly 900 feet long, the Missouri was one of the biggest warships ever.
The Missouri’s guns were an improvement over earlier battleships. The nine 16-inch .50-caliber guns fired a heavier round with better range than the South Dakota-class. The shell could penetrate deeper, and sailors could operate the gun easier and quicker.
The Missouri joined active service in 1944 and immediately sailed with a carrier task force. Despite being the target of kamikaze strikes and enduring some damage, the Missouri was later able to function as the flagship of the Third Fleet for Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. The Missouri then shelled Honshu and Kyushu and traveled to Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender.
Keep On Plugging and Chugging
Unlike many other naval ships, the Missouri was not retired after World War Two. It lived on to serve in the Mediterranean Sea in 1946, kickstarting what would become the containment strategy known as the Truman doctrine against the Soviet Union. The United States wanted to project naval power against the spread of Communism in Greece and Turkey, and former President Harry Truman had an affinity for the ship that was named after his home state. The Missouri then served for three years in the Korean War, and it worked as a training vessel until retirement in 1955.
While the USS Missouri was not in service during Vietnam, the battleship did get a new lease on life during the Reagan administration, especially as the massive Kirov-class Soviet battlecruisers were seen as a threat the Missouri could answer. The ship came back into active duty in 1986, and what a refit it received. Modern weapons such as Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles adorned its decks. Phalanx close-in weapons systems and modern surface-to-air missiles were also added.
The USS Missouri had a unique mission during Operation Desert Storm: Make it look like the United States and its allies were going to conduct a massive amphibious invasion in Kuwait. This was really a feint, as the coalition delivered a left hook flanking maneuver to win the war. But the Missouri was able to show off its big guns and missiles to hit Iraqi targets and fool them into thinking an invasion from the sea was imminent. That was the last time a battleship fired its guns in war.
The USS Missouri retired to become a museum ship in Pearl Harbor. The legacy of the Mighty Mo lives on with a program that allows young people to spend the night on the ship to learn what it’s like to be a sailor – a fitting role for such a majestic and history-making battleship.
Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.
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