Spectacular Photos Of The US Navy's Most Powerful Battleship Ever

Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever

This is the USS Iowa, the first of the largest, most powerful battleship class ever in the United States Navy, equipped with nine 16-inch (406mm) guns that could fire nuclear shells -- the only American ship in history with this capability. This photo series is old but still stunning.

Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever
Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever
Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever
Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever
Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever
Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever
Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever

Those nine guns firing simultaneously is a terrible but awesome sight. In a real battle situation, however, it wasn't the optimal way to attack. The shells' shockwaves were so powerful that they affected each other, making their trajectories too imprecise. They solved this problem by firing the guns in rapid succession -- all the individual guns were capable of firing independently.

Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever

It may seem really simple, but it isn't. This fascinating old film shows how the guns -- and the more than 70 men that operated each of the turrets -- worked:

Spectacular photos of the US Navy's most powerful battleship ever

The death of the battleship

The Iowa's were used in the Pacific during World War II, but soon everyone realised that the battleship days -- when they were the heart of the fleet and its most powerful component -- were over. The aircraft carrier, its fighter and bombers, became the most powerful force at sea. The United States cancelled two of the six Iowa-class battleships before the war was over. The US had planned to build an entirely new battleship class after Iowa too: The 65,000-ton Montana-class with twelve 16-inch (406mm) guns. However, the Navy cancelled their construction by 1943.

Still, during that war and those that followed until their final retirement in the 1990s, the four built Iowa-class battleships -- USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Missouri, and USS Wisconsin were an active part the mightiest war fleet the world has ever known for a few decades (the ships were decommissioned and commissioned again a couple times.) The 80s saw 32 Tomahawk and 16 Harpoon missiles, as well as four Phalanx systems designed to defend the Iowas against anti-ship missiles, added to these impressive war vessels.

Nuclear guns

The Iowa battleships were also the only ships in the US Navy capable of firing nuclear shells. They gained that capability in the 1950s and, in theory, they had it until the ships' retirement (the US Navy's nuclear shells weren't completely decommissioned until 2004.) The shells were called W23, "an adaptation of the W19 nuclear artillery shell was developed specifically for the 16-inch (406 mm) guns" with a "estimated yield of 15 to 20 kilotons of TNT [which made the] Iowa-class battleship's 16 in guns the world's largest nuclear artillery." Can you imagine those guns firing nuclear shells?

Perhaps the Navy should send one of these to the game against Germany next Thursday. It seems like the only way to stop Muller und freunde.



    With the potential rail guns to come into service in the US Navy, the Battleship may rise again.

      Aircraft are way more versatile in comparison, and the ocean isn't flat. It might show up in CIWS or other anti-air systems, but it wouldn't have much use in ship to ship combat outside of something like 20 kms which is roughly how far the horizon is from the high of the top deck, or thereabouts.

      Last edited 23/06/14 5:52 pm

        I think the idea is they fire up and let the shell fall, I cant be bothered to look but I know they did target tests with the railgun at 100km+ destroying armored vehicles and such.

    Always thought that photo set was pretty impressive, but while Iowa's 16-inch guns are impressive, but most of the big Battleships of the day had similar caliber and the whole nuclear gun thing is a type of shell, not a type of cannon. In some ways it's a shame that neither of Japan's Yamato-class battleships survived WW2. I'd have loved to see high-quality color photos of a salvo from the 46cm guns on one of them. Instead they were barely even used in the war, antiquated before they were even laid down.

      They weren't antiquated when in service and especially not before they were laid down- in fact, if the Japanese hadn't hamstrung the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour at the start of the war then the US wouldn't have placed so much emphasis on their backup strategies with the aircraft carriers.
      Japan's biggest mistake was allocating so much of their resources into the two Yamoto class ships, not because of the technology being dated but because it meant less resources for the rest of their armed forces and navy in particular. It'd be like Australia buying a couple of US supercarriers (or worse; building them)... all our military budget would be tied up in those alone.

        Worse than that actually, there were three Yamato-class battleships laid down. Shinano was converted to a carrier during construction in 1942 after the majority of Japan's carrier fleet was sunk at Midway. They had laid down a fourth, unnamed ship after completing Yamato as well but it was scrapped before being completed, and had plans to build a subsequent battleship class that could mount 51cm guns (!).

        However even if not outdated when laid down, they were outdated by the time they were commissioned. One of the main reasons they weren't used in combat was that they were too slow to keep up with a carrier battle group. By the point they entered the war, tactics had shifted to be centered around strike forces built around carrier pairs and if ships couldn't keep up with the carriers it limited their effectiveness. Additionally Musashi was commissioned just after Midway when the need for new carriers was much greater than the need for another slow battleship.

        I don't think it's correct to say they shouldn't have invested in big ships though. Just invested in the wrong type. They had no hope of competing with the US navy in numbers, so they had planned to compete by making their ships better. Bigger, more powerful, better armed, more advanced. Worked for them early on too. Possibly would have continued to work if they had kept their tactics up to date along with their equipment.

          Much of their lack of success was attributed to the toxic relationship between the Army and the Navy, so much so, that towards the end of the war (well, onwards from Yamamoto's death), they pretty much operated independently of each other in most operations. The Imperial Army even operated their own makeshift CVLs.

            It's interesting that this was also a lot of why the German military fell apart in the same conflict

        So it's kind of like Australia buying a bunch of F-35s?

    I was able to go aboard a active Iowa class when it called into Brisbane (New Jersey visit in 1988). You were allowed to go on the foredeck under the 16 ich guns. It was a massive ship, but what really left an impression with me was the marines carrying submachine guns on the superstructure who looked deadly serious. The whole ship looked very deadly with weapons everywhere as it had Tomahawk missiles, 5 inch guns and Phalanx close in weapons.

    I assume live rounds weren't fired in that picture, but can't help but be reminded of Mass Effect 2
    "That is why you check your damn targets! That is why you wait for the computer to give you a damn firing solution! That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not "eyeball it!""

    I went about the New Jersey and the Missouri a few times when they visited here on active service during the first gulf war and before, I even got to look inside one of the turrets on the Missouri.
    It was pretty cool to see the exact spot where Emperor Hirohito and General MacArthur stood when the surrender of Japan was singed.

      I got to see the Mo in Hawaii, it was fantastic! Everything about that ship was epic!

    I just wish we would use these against the Arabs

    I'm sure one of these ships was used against Lebanese militia back in 1981-2 before that marine compound was destroyed in Lebanon. Therefore, It would be a bad idea for those things to be used against arabs in my opinion.

      They just basically shelled a coastal town, lots of civilians were killed. Just another insanely useless, idiotic chapter in Regan's cold War tenure.
      When he says "Arabs" I think he means Syrians or Iraqis or something? Not sure... racists usually group Persians and Muslim people all under the term "Arab" for reasons known only to themselves so it's hard to understand what they mean.

      But yes, all these guns are pretty short range for anything but shelling coasts. Makes you realise how terrible they'd be use nuclear shells! You'd be very well protected from fallout and even close blasts of X-rays and gamma rays from an almost point blank hit inside the armoured citadel but going outside of there would be a death sentence.

    a big part of a battleship's purpose is an aid to diplomacy as it has an effect on the morale of the country it's sitting at.
    The aircraft carrier has that role now, put something big in front of the country you want to negotiate with

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