Wednesday, September 17, 2014

America's Most Decorated Battleship: The USS New Jersey

America's Most Decorated Battleship: The USS New Jersey
Written by NJ Historian

Today America's most decorated and largest battleship floats gracefully in the peaceful waters of the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, across from Philadelphia, where she was built over seventy years ago. A source of pride for the New Jerseyans who contributed to her construction, "Big J" as she is commonly referred to as, quickly became one of the nation's most powerful warships and served in that capacity until her final decommissioning after forty-eight years of service in 1991. Since 2001, the USS New Jersey has served as a museum, bringing together the young and old and  veterans and civilians,

The USS New Jersey, BB-62, berthed on the Camden Waterfront.
The USS New Jersey is an Iowa-class battleship. They were a class of fast battleships ordered by the United States Navy in 1939 and 1940 to escort the Fast Carrier Task Forces that would operate in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Four were completed; two more were laid down but canceled at war's end and scrapped. The completed ships are the USS Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The ships were designed by naval architect Captain A. J. Chantry. He designed this class of battleships for speed, firepower, and protection. They were approximately 200 feet longer than the preceding South Dakota class of battleships. They were capable of traveling six knots faster, were better armored, and possessed more powerful guns than their predecessors.

The USS New Jersey or BB62, was ordered July 4, 1939. She was completed and launched from the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard on December 7, 1942, one year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thousands of New Jersey residents were employed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during WWII. This included welders, riveters, pipe fitters, draftsman, and other skilled laborers, including minorities and women employed in the defense industry. Proud of the ship named after their home state, the workers deliberately made the hull four inches longer than designed, ensuring that BB-62 would be longer than her three sister battleships. The day she was launched from the shipyard, she glided across the Delaware River and buried her stern into the soft shoreline of New Jersey, in effect "kissing" her namesake.

USS New Jersey at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, July 1942.
As designed, the ship contains five decks above the main deck and five below deck. Her total length is 887.4 feet long. Armor on the ship ranges from 1.51" on the main deck to 17.5" on the conning tower, a raised armored platform from which an officer can conn, or give directions, to the helmsman. The ship contains many amenities for sailors such as a full medical suite, dentist's office, barber shop, laundry facility, laundry press, dry cleaning, chapel, library, print shop, bakery, TV studio, crew mess decks, and commissary. There was also a brig (Navy's term for jail/prison) on board for unruly occupants. Officers had staterooms and there was a wardroom, which is where officers ate their meals. This area also doubled as a hospital in battle. Other rooms vital to the ship's operations and maintenance included a radio room, plot room, a machine shop, and carpentry shop.

The main deck of the ship was covered in teak wood. Teak was used to help absorb shrapnel, sound, heat and cold. It served as an insulator prior to air-conditioning being installed. Teak contains a great deal of oily resin which helps the wood resist dry rot and other wood-destroying fungi. It also protects the steel from the effects of sun, salt and water, and provides more cushion underfoot. Sailors were required to holystone the deck, which meant using a piece of sandstone, sedimentary rock, or bricks to scrub it with salt water, soap, and pumice. The oily resin in the wood rose to the top and refinished the deck. The Iowa-class battleships were the last four vessels commissioned with teak decks.

As for defense, there are three turrets which hold 16 inch guns. During World War II, the USS New Jersey was also armed with over eighty medium and fifty 20mm anti-aircraft guns for protection against an air attack. The ship was also designed to have multiple redundancies. For example, the same weapons could be fired from multiple locations on the ship in the event that areas were damaged and the ship could be navigated from four different locations. These redundancies prevented the ship from becoming a paperweight in the event of an attack that crippled communications, firepower, or the ability to navigate the vessel.

Analog systems inside the plot room on the USS New Jersey.
The USS New Jersey was commissioned on May 23, 1943 and sailed into the Pacific Theater of World War II. She participated in almost all of the Western Pacific campaigns until the end of World War II. During World War II, hundreds of New Jerseyans served on the battleship, including Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey of Elizabeth, New Jersey. At the height of World War II, 151 officers and 2,637 enlisted were stationed on the ship.

New Jersey was decommissioned for the first time in June 1948 and was awarded nine battle stars. Almost three years later, she was recommissioned in May of 1951 to serve in the Korean War, the first military confrontation of the Cold War period. During the Korean War, the ship pounded targets at Wonsan, Yangyang, and Kansong. After the war, New Jersey conducted numerous peacetime training cruises until she was decommissioned for a second time in 1957 at Bayonne, New Jersey. For her service during Korea, she was awarded four battle stars.

In the late 1960s, America was suffering many casualties during Vietnam. It was determined that a battleship was necessary to cut down on the loss of pilots and aircraft. In June of 1967, New Jersey underwent a $21.5 million overhaul at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The New Jersey was chosen because she was in the best condition out of all the battleships and could be reactivated for the least expense.

The analog computers that directed the fire of the 16 inch guns.
New Jersey entered into service in 1968 and reported to the gunline off the Vietnamese coast, and shelled North Vietnamese targets. It is said that the battleship's guns saved one hundred servicemen each day during the Vietnam tour. In 1968, 70 officers and 1,558 enlisted resided on the ship. The Navy pulled her from Vietnam in December 1968 and she was decommissioned for a third time in May 1969. During Vietnam she earned three battle stars and one campaign star for national defense.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan reactivated the New Jersey, after thirteen years in mothballs, under the 600-ship Navy program. She underwent a $326 million renovation which included new phalanx guns for anti-missile defense, Tomahawk cruise missiles, sea-skimming harpoon missiles, a Close-In Weapon System (CIWS), and the Mark 36 Super Rapid Bloom Offboard Chaff. Upon her recommissioning in December 1982, was sent to the coast of Lebanon to protect U.S. interests and U.S. Marines, firing her main guns at Druze and Syrian positions in the Beqaa Valley east of Beirut. During this time, 74 officers and 1,579 enlisted were stationed on the ship. She returned to the United States on May 15, 1984 and remained in commission for seven more years. During her final commission, she earned two campaign stars for her service off the coast of Beirut and the Middle East.

Typical sleeping berths on the USS New Jersey.
She was decommissioned for the fourth and final time on February 8, 1991. She sailed more miles and fired more shells than any other battleship in history. In total nineteen battle and campaign stars were awarded, making her the most decorated battleship in U.S. naval history.

In 1998, the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act of 1999 passed through the United States Congress, which required the USS New Jersey to be removed from the Naval Vessel Register and transfer the battleship to a not-for-profit entity in the State of New Jersey.

Two requests for the battleship were filed, one by the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission of Bayonne, New Jersey, and one by the Home Port Alliance of Camden, New Jersey. The Navy selected the Home Port Alliance and on October 15, 2000, the USS New Jersey arrived in Camden. Shortly thereafter, she opened as a museum and was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 2004. Since coming to Camden, hundreds of volunteers have spent countless hours repairing, replacing, and renovating sections of the ship so they could be made accessible to the public. Each year, more areas become available for tours and new, interactive exhibits are added to truly immerse visitors in the battleship experience.

Sailor art from 1989 - 1990.
Sailor Art
Throughout the USS New Jersey are murals in out-of-the-way places. Although the Navy did not officially have regulations regarding art, it was up to each Commanding Officer to approve designs by sailors. It was viewed as a morale-boosting activity. Most sailor art was of humorous or patriotic theme. A few pieces on the ship can be considered "adult-themed." The Battleship New Jersey offers tours of the usually off-limits sections of the ship and the adult-themed sailor art once per month.

Additional photos of my trip to the Battleship New Jersey on Pinterest

For More Information
Battleship New Jersey

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Wonderful Thank You for this post.

I love your writing and sense of history. You need to write a book.

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