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.
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.
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:
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.
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.