USS Illinois (BB-65)

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For other ships with the same name, see USS Illinois.
USS Illinois (BB-65)
USS Illinois in July 1945, just weeks before construction was canceled
United States
Namesake: State of Illinois
Ordered: 9 September 1940
Builder: Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
Laid down: 15 January 1945
Launched: Canceled prior to launch
Struck: 12 August 1945
Fate: Dismantled on builder's ways September 1958
General characteristics
Class and type: Iowa-class battleship
Displacement: 45,000 tons (planned)
Length: 887 ft 3 in (270.43 m) (planned)
Beam: 108 ft 2 in (32.97 m) (planned)
Speed: 33 kn (38 mph; 61 km/h) (planned)
Complement: 151 officers, 2,637 enlisted (planned)
  • Belt: 12.1 in (310 mm)
  • Bulkheads: 11.3 in (290 mm)
  • Barbettes: 11.6 to 17.3 in (290 to 440 mm)
  • Turrets: 19.7 in (500 mm)
  • Decks: 7.5 in (190 mm)

Illinois (BB-65) was to have been the fifth Iowa-class battleship constructed for the United States Navy and was the fourth ship to be named in honor of the 21st US state.

Hull BB-65 was originally to be the first ship of the Montana-class battleships, but changes during World War II resulted in her being reordered as an Iowa-class battleship. Adherence to the Iowa-class layout rather than the Montana-class layout allowed BB-65 to gain eight knots in speed, carry more 20 mm and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns, and transit the locks of the Panama Canal; however, the move away from the Montana-class layout left BB-65 with a reduction in the heavier armaments and without the additional armor that were to have been added to BB-65 during her time on the drawing board as USS Montana.

Like her sister ship Kentucky, Illinois was still under construction at the end of World War II. Her construction was canceled in August 1945, but her hull remained until 1958 when it was broken up.


The passage of the Second Vinson Act in 1938 had cleared the way for construction of the four South Dakota-class battleships and the first two Iowa-class fast battleships (those with the hull numbers BB-61 and BB-62).[1] The latter four battleships of the class, those designated with the hull numbers BB-63, BB-64, BB-65, and BB-66 were not cleared for construction until 1940,[2] and at the time BB-65 and BB-66 were intended to be the first ships of the Montana class.[3]

Originally, BB-65 was to be the United States Navy's counter to the Empire of Japan's Yamato-class battleships, whose construction at the time was known to the highest-ranking members of the United States Navy, along with the rumors that the Yamato-class ships would carry guns of up to 18 in (460 mm). To combat this, the United States Navy began designing a 58,000 ton ship with an intended armament of twelve 16 in (410 mm) guns. This battleship took shape in the mid-1930s as USS Montana, the lead ship of her class of battleships. She would have fielded three more 16 in (410 mm) guns than those mounted aboard the Iowa class, a more powerful secondary battery of 5 in (130 mm)/54 caliber Mark 16 dual purpose mounts, and an increase in armor designed to enable Montana to withstand the effects of enemy guns comparable to her own.[4]

The increase in Montana's firepower and armor came at the expense of her speed and her Panamax capabilities, but the latter issue was to be resolved through the construction of a third, much wider set of locks at the Panama Canal. As the situation in Europe deteriorated in the late-1930s, the USA began to be concerned once more about its ability to move warships between the oceans. The largest US battleships were already so large as to have problems with the canal locks; and there were concerns about the locks being put out of action by enemy bombing. In 1939, to address these concerns, construction began on a new set of locks for the canal that could carry the larger warships which the US had either under construction or planned for future construction.[a] These locks which would have enabled Montana to transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without the need to sail around the tip of South America.[4] As USS Montana, BB-65 would have been the only battleship class commissioned by the US to approach the Imperial Japanese Navy's Yamato class on the basis of armor, armament, and tonnage.[5][6]

By 1942 the United States Navy shifted its building focus from battleships to aircraft carriers after the successes of carrier combat in both the Battle of the Coral Sea, and to a greater extent, the Battle of Midway.[7] As a result, the construction of the US fleet of Essex-class aircraft carriers had been given the highest priority for completion in the US shipyards by the US Navy.[8] The Essex-class carriers were proving vital to the war effort by enabling the Allies to gain and maintain air supremacy in the Pacific War, and were rapidly becoming the principal striking arm of the United States Navy in the ongoing effort to defeat the Empire of Japan.[9] Accordingly, the United States accepted shortcomings in the armor for their North Carolina-class battleships, South Dakota-class, and Iowa-class battleships in favor of additional speed, which enabled these battleship classes to steam at a comparable speed with the Essex-class and provide the carriers with the maximum amount of anti-aircraft protection.[9][better source needed]


When BB-65 was redesignated an Iowa-class battleship, she was assigned the name Illinois and reconfigured to adhere to the "fast battleship" designs planned in 1938 by the Preliminary Design Branch at the Bureau of Construction and Repair.[b][10] Her funding was authorized via the passage of the Two-Ocean Navy Act by the US Congress on 19 July 1940, and she would now be the fifth Iowa-class battleship built for the United States Navy.[10][11] Her contract was assigned on 9 September 1940, the same date as Kentucky.[12] Illinois's keel was laid down at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, on 6 December 1942;[13] her projected completion date was 1 May 1945.[12] This amounted to a construction time of about 30 months. She would be tasked primarily with the defense of the US fleet of Essex-class aircraft carriers. In adherence with the Iowa-class design, Illinois would have a maximum beam of 108 ft (33 m) and a waterline length of 860 ft (260 m), permitting a maximum speed of 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h).[3]

Like Kentucky, Illinois differed from her earlier sisters in that her design called for an all-welded construction, which would have saved weight and increased strength over a combination riveted/welded hull used on the four completed Iowa-class ships. Engineers considered retaining the original Montana-class armor for added torpedo and naval mine protection because the newer scheme would have improved Illinois's armor protection by as much as 20%.[14][better source needed] This was rejected due to time constraints and Illinois was built with an Iowa-class hull design.[3] Funding for the battleship was provided in part by "King Neptune", a Hereford swine auctioned across the state of Illinois as a fundraiser, ultimately helping to raise $19 million in war bonds.[15]


Bell from the USS Illinois at the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium at the Urbana-Champaign Campus in Champaign, Illinois

Illinois's construction was put on hold in 1942 after the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway, while the Bureau of Ships considered an aircraft carrier conversion proposal for Illinois and Kentucky. As proposed, the converted Illinois would have had an 864-foot (263 m) long by 108-foot (33 m) wide flight deck, with an armament identical to the carriers of the Essex class: four twin 5-inch gun mounts and four more 5-inch guns in single mounts, along with six 40 mm quadruple mounts. It was abandoned after the design team decided that the converted carriers would carry fewer aircraft than the Essex class, that more Essex-class carriers could be built in the same amount of time to convert the battleships, and that the conversion project would be significantly more expensive than new Essexes. Instead, Illinois and Kentucky were to be completed as battleships, but their construction was given very low priority.[16]

Ultimately, the ship was canceled on 11 August 1945, when she was about 22% complete.[11] She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 12 August 1945.[17][18] Her incomplete hulk initially was retained on the belief that it could be used as a target in nuclear weapons tests. The cost to complete the ship enough to be able to launch her—some $30 million—was too great, however, and the plan was abandoned. She remained in the dockyard until September 1958, when she was broken up on the builder's ways.[11][19]

The ship's bell was cast, and is now at the Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It reads USS Illinois 1946. The bell is on loan from the Naval Historical Center (Accession #70-399-A), Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC, to the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) at the university. The bell is traditionally rung by NROTC members when the football team scores a touchdown or goal.[20]


  1. ^ The work proceeded for several years, and significant excavation was carried out on the new approach channels; but the project was canceled after World War II. Enlarging the Panama Canal Alden P. Armagnac. Popular Science. September 1940, Vol 137, No 3 Enlarging the Panama Canal for Bigger Battleships
  2. ^ This was not the first time that changes to the Iowa class had been proposed: at the time the battleships were cleared for construction some policymakers were not sold on the U.S. need for more battleships, and proposed turning the Iowa-class ships into aircraft carriers by retaining the hull design, but switching their decks to carry and handle aircraft (This had already been done on the battlecruisers Lexington and Saratoga). The proposal was countered by Admiral Ernest King, the Chief of Naval Operations. "BB-61 Iowa-class Aviation Conversion". Retrieved 19 May 2007. [better source needed]



  1. ^ Rogers, p. 7.
  2. ^ Rogers, p. 8.
  3. ^ a b c Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 99.
  4. ^ a b Gardiner & Chesneau, p. 100.
  5. ^ Garzke & Dulin 1995, p. 171.
  6. ^ Friedman, p. 239.
  7. ^ Naval Historical Center. Bureau of Ships' "Spring Styles" Book # 3 (1939–1944) – (Naval Historical Center Lot # S-511) – Battleship Preliminary Design Drawings. Retrieved 1 December 2007.
  8. ^ Minks.
  9. ^ a b "Top Ten Fighting Ships: Iowa Battleship". Combat Countdown. The Discovery Channel. 
  10. ^ a b Johnston & McAuley, pp. 108–123.
  11. ^ a b c Dulin & Garzke 1976, p. 137.
  12. ^ a b Whitley, p. 310.
  13. ^ Whitley, p. 306.
  14. ^ "Iowa Class: Armor Protection". Archived from the original on 24 December 2007. Retrieved 22 December 2007. 
  15. ^ Beth Py-Lieberman. Any Bonds Today? Smithsonian. February 2002.
  16. ^ Garzke & Dulin 1995, p. 288.
  17. ^ DANFS Illinois (BB-65).
  18. ^ NVR Illinois (BB 65).
  19. ^ Whitley, p. 311.
  20. ^ Herman 2007.


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