USS Iowa (BB-61), the lead ship of the Iowa class battleship, was the fourth United States Navy ship, and the second commissioned one, to be named in honor of the state of Iowa. The foundations for a small town were laid on 27 June 1940. Named for a place that rested in the harbors of freedom in Middle America, it held much of the same establishments as any other small town: a barbershop, general store, chapel, and local jail. Activities for the inhabitants ranged from boxing matches and outdoor movies, to swimming and an occasional visit from a Hollywood star. Iowa's keel was laid down oat the New York Navy Yard. Nicknamed "The Big Stick," the battleship was launched on 27 August 1942 sponsored by Ilo Wallace (wife of Vice President Henry Wallace), and commissioned on 22 February 1943 with Capt. John L. McCrea in command.
In November 1943, Iowa carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Casablanca, French Morocco, on the first leg of the journey to the Tehran Conference. When USS Iowa (BB-61) was selected to ferry President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Cairo Conference and the Tehran Conference she was outfitted with a bathtub for Roosevelt's convenience. Roosevelt, who had been crippled in 1921, would have been unable to make effective use of a shower facility. This bathtub remains the only one ever installed on a United States Navy warship. in December, after the conference, the ship returned the president to the United States.
As flagship of Battleship Division 7, Iowa departed the United States 2 January 1944 for the Pacific Theater and the ship's combat debut in the campaign for the Marshall Islands. From 29 January to 3 February, she supported carrier air strikes made by Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman's task group against Kwajalein and Eniwetok Atolls. Iowa's next assignment was to support air strikes against the Japanese naval base at Truk, Caroline Islands. In company with other ships, Iowa was detached from the support group 16 February 1944 to conduct an anti-shipping sweep around Truk to destroy enemy naval vessels escaping to the north. On 21 February, she was underway with the Fast Carrier Task Force (TF 58 or TF 38, depending on whether it was part of 5th Fleet or 3rd Fleet) while it conducted the first strikes against Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam in the Mariana
Islands. On 18 March, Iowa, flying the flag of Vice Adm. Willis A. Lee, commander of Battleships, Pacific, joined in the bombardment of Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Although struck by two Japanese 4.7 inch projectiles during the action, Iowa suffered negligible damage. She rejoined Task Force 58 on 30 March and supported air strikes against the Palau Islands and Woleai of the Carolines; these continued for several days.
From 22 April to 28 April 1944, Iowa supported air raids on Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura), Aitape, and Wakde Islands to support Army forces on Aitape, Tanahmerah Bay, and Humboldt Bay in New Guinea. The battleship then joined the task force's second strike on Truk, 29 April and 30 April, and bombarded Japanese facilities on Ponape in the Carolines on 1 May.
In the opening phases of the Marianas campaign, Iowa protected the aircraft carriers during air strikes on the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Rota and Pagan on 12 June. Iowa was then detached to bombard enemy installations on Saipan and Tinian on 13 June and 14 June. On 19 June, in an engagement known as the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Iowa, as part of the battle line of TF 58, helped repel four massive air raids launched by the Japanese Middle Fleet. This resulted in the almost complete destruction of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. Iowa then joined in the pursuit of the fleeing enemy fleet, shooting down one torpedo plane and assisting in splashing another.
Throughout July, Iowa remained off the Marianas, supporting air strikes on the Palaus and landings on Guam. After a month's rest, Iowa sortied from Eniwetok as part of the Third Fleet, and helped support the landings on Peleliu on 17 September. The battleship then protected the carriers during air strikes against the Central Philippines to neutralize enemy air power for the long-awaited invasion of the Philippines. On 10 October, Iowa arrived off Okinawa for a series of air strikes on the Ryukyu Islands and Formosa. The battleship then supported air strikes against Luzon on 18 October and continued this vital duty during General Douglas MacArthur's landing on Leyte on 20 October.
In a last-ditch attempt to halt the U.S. campaign to recapture the Philippines, the Japanese Navy struck back with a three-pronged attack aimed at the destruction of American amphibious forces in Leyte Gulf. Iowa accompanied TF 38 during attacks against the Japanese Central Force as it steamed through the Sibuyan Sea toward San Bernardino Strait. The reported results of these attacks and the apparent retreat of the Japanese Central Force led Adm. William "Bull" Halsey to believe that this force had been ruined as an effective fighting group. Iowa, with TF 38, steamed after the Japanese Northern Force off Cape Engaño, Luzon. On 25 October 1944, when the ships of the Northern Force were almost within range of Iowa's guns, word arrived that the Japanese Central Force was attacking a group of American escort carriers off Samar. This threat to the American beachheads forced the battleship to reverse course and steam to support the vulnerable "baby carriers". However, the valiant fight put up by the escort carriers and their screen in the Battle off Samar had already caused the Japanese to retire and Iowa was denied a surface action. Following the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Iowa remained in the waters off the Philippines screening carriers during strikes against Luzon and Formosa. It sailed for the West Coast late in December 1944.
Iowa arrived in San Francisco, California, on 15 January 1945, for overhaul. The battleship sailed 19 March for Okinawa, arriving 15 April. Commencing 24 April, Iowa supported carrier operations that assured American troops vital air superiority during their struggle for that bitterly contested island. The battleship then supported air strikes off southern Kyushu from 25 May to 13 June. Iowa participated in strikes on the Japanese homeland 14 July and 15 July and bombarded Muroran, Hokkaido, destroying steel mills and other targets. The city of Hitachi on Honshu was given the same treatment on the night of 17 July to 18 July. Iowa continued to support fast carrier strikes until the cessation of hostilities on 15 August.
Iowa entered Tokyo Bay with the occupation forces on 29 August. After serving as Adm. Halsey's flagship for the surrender ceremony on 2 September, Iowa departed Tokyo Bay 20 September for the United States.
Arriving Seattle, Washington on 15 October, Iowa returned to Japanese waters in January 1946 and became flagship of the Fifth Fleet. The battleship continued this role until it sailed for the United States on 25 March 1946. From that time on, until September 1948, Iowa operated from West Coast ports, on Naval Reserve and at sea training and drills and maneuvers with the fleet. She was decommissioned 24 March 1949.
The Korean War
USS Iowa firing a 16-inch shell towards a North Korean target in 1952. The USS Iowa firing a 16-inch shell towards a North Korean target in 1952As America's involvement in the Korean War led to an expansion of the active fleet, Iowa was recommissioned on 25 August 1951 with Capt. William R. Smedberg III in command. She operated off the West Coast until March 1952, when it sailed for the Far East. On 1 April 1952, Iowa became the flagship of Vice Adm. Robert P. Briscoe, commander of the Seventh Fleet, and departed Yokosuka, Japan, to support United Nations forces in Korea. The conflict had entered its stalemate period by this date. From 8 April to 16 October 1952, Iowa was involved in combat operations off the east coast of Korea: the primary mission was to aid ground troops by bombarding enemy targets at Songjin, Hungnam, and Kojo, North Korea. During this time, Adm. Briscoe was relieved as commander of the Seventh Fleet. Vice Adm. Joseph J. Clark, the new commander, continued to use Iowa as his flagship until 17 October 1952. Iowa departed Yokosuka, Japan, on 19 October 1952 for overhaul at Norfolk, Virginia and training operations in the Caribbean Sea. The Korean War came to an end when a cease-fire was reached on July 27, 1953.
1953 to 1958
The USS Iowa firing during target exercises near Vieques, Puerto RicoIowa embarked midshipmen for at sea training to northern Europe, July 1953, and immediately after took part in Operation "Mariner," a major NATO exercise, serving as flagship of Vice Adm. Edmund T. Wooldridge, commanding the Second Fleet. Upon completion of this exercise, until the fall of 1954, Iowa operated in the Virginia Capes area. In September 1954, Iowa became the flagship of Rear Adm. R. E. Libby, commander of the Battleship Cruiser Force, Atlantic Fleet. From January to April 1955, Iowa made an extended cruise to the Mediterranean Sea as the first battleship regularly assigned to the commander of the Sixth Fleet. Iowa departed on a midshipman training cruise 1 June 1955 and upon return, entered Norfolk, Va., for a four-month overhaul. Following refit, Iowa continued intermittent training cruises and operational exercises, until 4 January 1957 when the battleship departed Norfolk for duty with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. Upon completion of this deployment, Iowa embarked midshipmen for a South American training cruise and joined in the International Naval Review off Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 13 June 1957. On 3 September 1957, Iowa sailed for Scotland for NATO Operation "Strikeback". Iowa returned to Norfolk on 28 September 1957 and departed Hampton Roads for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 22 October 1957. She was decommissioned once again, 24 February 1958, and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia.
After a quarter-century in mothballs, Iowa was modernized, primarily at Avondale Shipyards near New Orleans, Louisiana as part of President Ronald Reagan's "600-ship Navy" plan, and recommissioned 28 April 1984. Sister ships New Jersey, Missouri, and Wisconsin were similarly modernized and reactivated at this time. Iowa went to European waters in 1985, 1986 and 1987 through 1988, with the latter cruise continuing into the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. During that cruise, Iowa participated in Operation Earnest Will, escorting Kuwaiti gas and oil tankers "reflagged" as U.S. merchant ships from the Persian Gulf through the Straits of Hormuz. During the 1980s, the Navy proposed to create a homeport at Stapleton, Staten Island in New York City, which was to be the base for Iowa and several other ships, but the project was canceled before its completion.
1989 Turret Explosion
19 April 1989, an explosion ripped through Iowa's number two 16-inch (406 mm) gun turret, killing 47 crewmen. A sailor quickly flooded the #2 powder magazines, annular space and powder flats, likely preventing catastrophic damage to the ship. At first, the NCIS investigators theorized that one of the dead crewman, Clayton Hartwig, had detonated an explosive device in a suicide attempt after the end of an alleged homosexual affair with another sailor. This theory was later abandoned and Hartwig cleared. The cause of the explosion, though never determined with certainty, is generally believed to have been static electricity igniting loose powder.
Testing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia of powder in the same lot was able to reproduce spontaneous combustion of the powder, which had been originally milled in the 1930s and stored during a 1988 dry-docking of the Iowa in a barge at the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Virginia. Gunpowder gives off ether gas as it degrades; the ether is highly flammable, and can be ignited by a spark. Iowa's CO, Capt. Fred Moosally, was severely criticized for his handling of the matter, and the Navy changed the powder-handling procedures. Iowa deployed to Europe and the Mediterranean Sea in mid-year, with Turret Two unrepaired.
Third Decommissioning: October 26, 1990
Struck from Naval Register January 12 1995
Retained as a parts source
On Sept. 24, 1998 Iowa became part of the Reserve Fleet, berthed at the Naval Education and Training Center in Newport, R.I.
Reinstated January 4 1999 on Naval Register and returned to Reserve Status
Moved April 2001 to Susian Bay, Benicia CA
After eleven years as part of the Naval Reserve Fleet at Susian Bay, Benicia CA in May of 2012 USS IOWA is towed to San Pedro, CA to become the focal point of the Pacific Battleship Center.
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