USS North Carolina (BB-55)
|Namesake:||State of North Carolina|
|Ordered:||1 August 1937|
|Builder:||New York Naval Shipyard|
|Laid down:||27 October 1937|
|Launched:||13 June 1940|
|Sponsored by:||Isabel Hoey, daughter of Clyde R. Hoey, governor of North Carolina|
|Commissioned:||9 April 1941|
|Decommissioned:||27 June 1947|
|Struck:||1 June 1960|
|Status:||Museum ship since 29 April 1962 in Wilmington, North Carolina|
|Class and type:||North Carolina-class battleship|
|Length:||728.8 ft (222.1 m)|
|Beam:||108.3 ft (33.0 m)|
|Draft:||33.0 ft (10.1 m)|
|Speed:||28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)|
|Range:||17,450 nmi (32,320 km; 20,080 mi) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)|
|Complement:||about 2,339 (144 officers and 2,195 enlisted)|
|CXAM-1 radar beginning in 1940|
|Aircraft carried:||3 × Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes|
|Aviation facilities:||2 × trainable catapults on her fantail|
USS North Carolina (Battleship)
|Location||Wilmington, North Carolina|
|Architect||Brooklyn Navy Yard|
|NRHP reference #||82004893|
|Added to NRHP||10 November 1982|
|Designated NHL||14 January 1986|
USS North Carolina (BB-55) is the lead ship of North Carolina-class battleship and the fourth warship in the U.S. Navy to be named for the State of North Carolina. She was the first newly constructed American battleship to enter service during World War II, and took part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific Theater of Operations; her 15 battle stars made her the most decorated American battleship of World War II.
During World War II, North Carolina participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations. In the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942, the battleship’s anti-aircraft barrage helped save the carrier USS Enterprise, thereby establishing the role of fast battleships as protectors of aircraft carriers. In all, North Carolina steamed over 300,000 miles, carried out nine shore bombardments, sank an enemy troopship, destroyed at least 24 enemy aircraft, and assisted in shooting down many more. Her anti-aircraft guns helped halt or frustrate scores of attacks on aircraft carriers. Although Japanese radio announcements claimed six times that she had been sunk, she survived many close calls and near misses with one hit when a Japanese torpedo hit her port side on 15 September 1942. A quick response allowed the ship to keep up with the fleet. By war’s end, she had lost only ten men in action and had 67 wounded. She is now a museum ship and memorial kept at the seaport of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Construction and shakedown
North Carolina was laid down on 27 October 1937 at the New York Naval Shipyard and launched on 13 June 1940, sponsored by Miss Isabel Hoey, the daughter of Clyde R. Hoey, the Governor of North Carolina. She was commissioned in New York City on 9 April 1941, with Captain Olaf M. Hustvedt in command. The first of the U.S. Navy's fast battleships to be commissioned, she carried a powerful main battery of nine 16 in (410 mm)/45 caliber Mark 6 guns. The ship received so much attention during her completion and sea trials that she won the lasting nickname "Showboat".
North Carolina was limited to a standard displacement of 35,000 long tons (36,000 t) by both the Washington Naval Treaty and the London Naval Treaty, to a beam of less than 110 ft (34 m) by the width of the locks of the Panama Canal, and to a draft of 38 ft (12 m) so she could use as many anchorages and shipyards as possible. Thus constricted, she proved a challenge to design.
As the first American battleship to be built in two decades, North Carolina was given the latest in shipbuilding technology. Her propulsion was divided into four main spaces, each with two boilers and one steam turbine per propeller shaft. This resulted in fewer openings in watertight bulkheads and minimized the area requiring protection by additional armor plate. Her propulsion systems (boilers/turbines/shafts/propellers) suffered numerous teething troubles which were reflected in long post-commissioning defect correction period which lasted April–December 1941. Her sister Washington suffered equally, and neither ship was ever able to achieve their designed deep load speed of 28 knots. On the plus side however, she was also one of just 14 ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 radar, and a strong (for the day) light anti-aircraft armament.
Aesthetically, her large tower forward, tall uncluttered stacks, and clean superstructure and hull were a sharp break from the elaborate bridgework, heavy tripod masts, and casemated secondary batteries of World War I-era battleships. Combined with her long sweeping flush deck and streamlined structure, she was far more graceful not only than her predecessors but also than the South Dakota-class battleships that succeeded her, but were nearly 50 ft (15 m) shorter.
Service during World War II
North Carolina completed her final shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Early in 1942 she was scheduled to steam there, but remained in the Atlantic Ocean for a few more months as a potential counter if the German battleship Tirpitz began to attack supply and troop convoys destined for Great Britain. By summer she was ordered to join the Pacific Fleet.
After intensive war exercises, North Carolina departed for the Pacific theater of Operations. She was the first new battleship to arrive in the Pacific since the beginning of the war, transiting the Panama Canal on 10 June, four days after the Battle of Midway in the Central Pacific. She steamed to the port of San Pedro, California, and then to San Francisco before proceeding to Hawaii. The ship arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 11 1942; according to sailors there, North Carolina was "the most beautiful thing they had ever seen", and her arrival in Hawaii greatly increased the morale of the Pacific Fleet. North Carolina departed 15 July in a task force of the aircraft carrier Enterprise, the heavy cruiser Portland, the light cruiser Atlanta, and eight screening destroyers headed for combat in the South Pacific.
North Carolina joined the long island-hopping campaign against the Japanese by assisting in the landing of U.S. Marines on the islands of Guadalcanal and Tulagi on 7 August 1942, thus beginning the long battle for Guadalcanal. The only battleship in the naval force in the South Pacific, she escorted the aircraft carriers Saratoga, Enterprise, and Wasp, surrounded by their cruisers and destroyers. After helping to screen Enterprise in the air support force for the amphibious landing, North Carolina guarded the carrier during her mission of protecting the supply and communication lines to the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal.
She participated in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, on August 24–25, 1942. The Americans struck first, sinking the carrier Ryūjō. The Japanese counterattacked with dive bombers and torpedo bombers, covered by fighters, striking at Enterprise and North Carolina. In a mere eight-minute action, the ship's antiaircraft batteries shot down between 7 and 14 enemy aircraft, her gunners remaining at their posts despite the jarring detonations of seven near misses. One sailor was killed by strafing, but the ship was undamaged. Her antiaircraft fire was so heavy that the officers of Enterprise asked, "Are you afire?"
North Carolina fired 841 5-inch (127 mm) shells, 1037 rounds of 1.1-inch (28 mm) shells, 7425 rounds of 20-mm shells, and 8641 rounds of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition during the attack. The gunners of her 5-inch antiaircraft guns "...estimated that the rate of fire exceeded 17 rounds per minute on all guns...", but reported both that vibrations hampered their optical range-finding and the Mark 4 FD radar had difficulty acquiring targets. The protection North Carolina could offer Enterprise was limited as the speedier carrier plunged ahead of her. Enterprise took three direct hits while her aircraft severely damaged seaplane carrier Chitose and hit other Japanese ships. With the loss of 100 Japanese aircraft, the U.S. Navy won control of the air and averted a threatened Japanese reinforcement of Guadalcanal.
North Carolina next was assigned to protect Saratoga. Twice during the following weeks of support to Marines ashore on Guadalcanal, North Carolina was attacked by Japanese submarines. On 6 September, she maneuvered successfully, dodging a torpedo that passed 300 yd (270 m) off the port beam. Nine days later, while sailing with Wasp, Hornet, and ten other warships, North Carolina suffered a torpedo hit on her port side just forward of her number 1 gun turret, 20 ft (6m) below her waterline making a hole 32 ft by 18 ft, and killing five seamen. Torpedoes from the same salvo from I-19 sank Wasp and the destroyer O'Brien. Skillful damage control by North Carolina's crew and the excellence of her construction prevented disaster; a 5.6° list was righted quickly, and she maintained her station in a formation at 26 kn (30 mph; 48 km/h).
After temporary repairs in New Caledonia, the ship proceeded to Pearl Harbor to be dry docked for a month for repairs to her hull and to receive more antiaircraft armament. Following repairs, she returned to action, screening Enterprise and Saratoga and covering supply and troop movements in the Solomons for much of the next year. She was at Pearl Harbor in March and April 1943 to receive advanced fire control and radar gear, and again in September, to prepare for the Gilbert Islands operation.
With Enterprise, in the Northern Covering Group, North Carolina sortied from Pearl Harbor on 10 November for the assault on Makin, Tarawa, and Abemama. Air strikes began on 19 November, and for ten days mighty air blows were struck to aid Marines ashore engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific War. Supporting the Gilberts campaign and preparing the assault on the Marshalls, along with five other fast battleships (USS Massachusetts, USS Indiana, USS South Dakota, her sister Washington, and USS Alabama), North Carolina's highly accurate big guns bombarded Nauru on 8 December, destroying air facilities, beach defense revetments, and radio installations. Later that month, she protected Bunker Hill in strikes against shipping and airfields at Kavieng, New Ireland and in January 1944 joined the Task Force 58 (TF 58), Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher in command, at Funafuti, Ellice Islands.
During the assault and capture of the Marshall Islands, North Carolina illustrated the classic battleship functions of World War II. She screened carriers from air attack in pre-invasion strikes as well as during close air support of troops ashore, beginning with the initial strikes on Kwajalein on 29 January 1944. She fired on targets at Namur and Roi, where she sank a cargo ship in the lagoon.
The battlewagon then protected carriers in the massive air strike on Truk, the Japanese fleet base in the Carolines, where 39 large ships were left sunk, burning, or uselessly beached, and 211 planes were destroyed, another 104 severely damaged. Next she fought off an air attack against the flattops near the Marianas 21 February 1944, downing an enemy plane, and the next day again guarded the carriers in air strikes on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.
With Majuro as her base, North Carolina joined in the attacks on Palau and Woleai on 31 March–1 April 1944, shooting down another enemy plane during the approach phase. On Woleai, 150 enemy aircraft were destroyed along with ground installations. Support for the capture of the Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura) area of New Guinea followed (13–24 April 1944); then another major raid on Truk (29–30 April 1944), during which North Carolina downed yet another enemy aircraft. At Truk, North Carolina's planes were catapulted to rescue an American aviator downed off the reef. After one plane had turned over on landing and the other, having rescued all the airmen, had been unable to take off with so much weight, Tang saved all involved. The next day, North Carolina destroyed coastal defense guns, antiaircraft batteries, and airfields at Ponape. The battleship then sailed to repair her rudder at Pearl Harbor.
Returning to Majuro, North Carolina sortied with Enterprise's carrier group on 6 June 1944 (D-Day in Europe) for the Marianas. During the assault on Saipan, North Carolina not only gave her usual protection to the carriers, but starred in bombardments on the west coast of Saipan covering minesweeping operations, and blasted the harbor at Tanapag, sinking several small craft and destroying enemy ammunition, fuel, and supply dumps. At dusk on invasion day, 15 June 1944, the battleship downed one of the only two Japanese aircraft able to penetrate the combat air patrol.
On 18 June 1944, North Carolina cleared the islands with the carriers to confront the Japanese 1st Mobile Fleet, tracked by submarines and aircraft for the previous four days. Next day began the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and she took station in the battle line that fanned out from the carriers. American aircraft succeeded in downing most of the Japanese raiders before they reached the American ships, and North Carolina shot down two of the few which got through.
On that day and the next, American air and submarine attacks, with the fierce anti-aircraft fire of such ships as North Carolina, virtually ended any future threat from Japanese naval aviation: three carriers were sunk, two tankers damaged so badly they were scuttled, and all but 36 of the 430 planes with which the Japanese had begun the battle were destroyed. The loss of trained aviators was irreparable, as was the loss of skilled aviation maintenance men in the carriers. Not one American ship was lost, and only a handful of American planes failed to return to their carriers.
After supporting air operations in the Marianas for another two weeks, North Carolina sailed for overhaul at Puget Sound Navy Yard. She rejoined the carriers off Ulithi on 7 November 1944 as a furious typhoon, Typhoon Cobra, struck the group. Unable to refuel in the storm, three destroyers capsized and sunk, killing 790 sailors. The ships fought through the storm and carried out air strikes against western Leyte, Luzon, and the Visayas to support the struggle for Leyte. During similar strikes later in the month, North Carolina fought off her first kamikaze attack.
As the pace of operations in the Philippines intensified, North Carolina guarded carriers while their planes kept the Japanese aircraft on Luzon airfields from interfering with the invasion convoys which assaulted Mindoro on 15 December 1944. Three days later the task force again sailed through a violent typhoon, but Halsey, having learned from the previous Cobra storm, dispersed the ships from formation. Although severe damage was caused to ships and carriers, the dispersal resulted in the death toll being reduced to only six seamen. With Ulithi now her base, North Carolina screened wide-ranging carrier strikes on Formosa, the coast of Indo-China and China, and the Ryūkyūs in January 1945, and similarly supported strikes on Honshū the next month. Hundreds of enemy aircraft were destroyed which might otherwise have resisted the assault on Iwo Jima, where North Carolina bombarded and provided call fire for the assaulting Marines through 22 February 1945.
Strikes on targets in the Japanese home islands laid the ground-work for the Okinawa assault, in which North Carolina played her dual role, of bombardment and carrier screening. Here, on 6 April 1945, she downed three kamikazes, but took a 5 in (130 mm) hit from a friendly ship during the melee of anti-aircraft fire. Three men were killed and 44 wounded. Next day came the last desperate sortie of the Japanese Fleet, as Yamato, the largest battleship in the world, came south with her attendant ships. Yamato, as well as a cruiser and a destroyer, were sunk, three other destroyers were damaged so badly that they were scuttled, and the remaining four destroyers returned to their fleet base at Sasebo badly damaged. On the same day, North Carolina shot down an enemy plane, and then two more on 17 April 1945.
After overhaul at Pearl Harbor, North Carolina rejoined the carriers for a month of air strikes and naval bombardment on the Japanese home islands. Along with guarding the carriers, North Carolina fired on major industrial plants near Tokyo, and one of her scout plane pilots performed a daring rescue of a downed carrier pilot under heavy fire in Tokyo Bay.
North Carolina sent both sailors and members of her Marine Detachment ashore for preliminary occupation duty in Japan immediately at the close of the war, and patrolled off the coast until anchoring in Tokyo Bay on 5 September 1945 to re-embark her men. Carrying passengers from Okinawa, North Carolina sailed for home, reaching the Panama Canal on 8 October 1945. She anchored at Boston 17 October 1945, and after overhaul at New York exercised in New England waters and carried United States Naval Academy midshipmen for a summer training cruise in the Caribbean.
Decommissioning and battleship memorial
After inactivation, North Carolina was decommissioned at New York on 27 June 1947. Stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1960, she was transferred to the state of North Carolina on 6 September 1961. The brainchild of James S. Craig, the "Showboat" was purchased from the U.S. Navy for $330,000 raised by the efforts of North Carolina school children, who saved their spare change and lunch money for the "Save Our Ship" campaign. In 1961, a fleet of tugboats maneuvered the 728 ft (222 m) ship through a stretch of the Cape Fear river 500 ft (150 m) wide. During this the ship struck the restaurant "Fergus' Ark", a former U.S. Army troopship docked near Princess Street. It was damaged severely and ceased operation. On 29 April 1962, she was dedicated at Wilmington as a memorial to North Carolinians of all services killed in World War II.
During the mid-1980s under President Reagan, many of the ship's systems were scavenged for spare parts to recommission the Iowa-class battleships. The removal of large items such as high pressure air compressors have left large holes in her mechanical systems and turret 1 is an empty shell.
The memorial is administered by the Friends of the Battleship North Carolina, established on 10 December 1986. The memorial operates tax free, relying upon its own revenues and donations.
Visitors to the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial can tour the ship's main deck, many interior compartments, and two of her three 16" gun turrets. There is an admission charge, and self-guided tours normally require two hours.
Visitors may also view one of the nine surviving OS2U Kingfisher aircraft, displayed near the stern of the ship. This particular aircraft was salvaged from a mountainside in British Columbia in 1964 and donated by Lynn Garrison. It was restored by Vought Aeronautics retirees in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Various events are held at the memorial, including the annual Fourth of July fireworks display from the adjacent battleship park; spaces may be rented for special events. A Roll of Honor in the Wardroom lists the names of North Carolinians who gave their lives in service in all the branches of the military during World War II. The site is accessible by car or a short water taxi ride from downtown Wilmington, and also features a gift shop, visitors center and picnic area.
In 1999, a reunion was held on the ship. While standing on the signal bridge, the site of a friendly fire strike during the Okinawa assault of 6 April, former PFC Marine Gunner Richard R. Fox described how he helped carry a severely injured sailor down to sickbay. Fox had never known whether the man had survived. During his story he was interrupted by fellow North Carolina veteran Richard W. Reed, who identified himself as the injured sailor and offered his thanks. Neither man had known the other's identity for over a half-century.
Recent maintenance projects include replacing the ship's more than 1-acre (4,000 m2) of teak decking, made possible by the most generous donation in her history: Following a visit by officials from Myanmar, two tractor-trailer loads of the highest quality teak decking in the world arrived, valued at approximately one quarter million dollars, accompanied by a very substantial discount on another eight loads valued at an additional quarter million dollars.
Several near-term restoration projects are planned, starting with a crucial refit of the ship's hull. Initially it was announced this work would require her to be towed to Norfolk or Charleston. However, on 31 May 2010, the Battleship Commission opted to have the repair done in place using the same cofferdam process recently employed to restore the museum ship USS Alabama. This is expected both to save $16 million and to allow the memorial to remain open to the public during the lengthy repair. In late 2016 construction of the cofferdam started and as of 2017 is still ongoing.
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- List of museum ships
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- "History of BB 55". Battleship North Carolina. Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
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- "Hokkaido Rescue". Battleship North Carolina. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
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"Accompanying Photos (13 photos, exterior and interior, from 1946 and 1981–1984)". National Park Service. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
- "History of the Friends". North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
- "What If? Small, Fast Seaplane Observation/Attack Fighters on every U.S. Navy surface ship". U.S Navy in Danger. 27 October 2009. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- "Letters: Rescued, rescuer reunited". Press-Telegram. Long Beach, California. 18 March 2007. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- "U.S.S. North Carolina – Helping Preserve A Landmark". Dean Hardwoods. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
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- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- The History Channel. "Battle 360°: USS Enterprise – Jaws of the Enemy" (episode 3)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to USS North Carolina (BB-55).|
- USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial official website
- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships: USS North Carolina
- USS North Carolina (BB-55) at Historic Naval Ships Association
- NAVSOURCE Photo Gallery: Numerous photos of USS North Carolina
- United States Navy photos of North Carolina
- Maritimequest USS North Carolina Photo Gallery
- USS North Carolina Video
- War Service Fuel Consumption of U.S. Naval Surface Vessels FTP 218
- Report of North Carolina's first Action in WWII