Battleship USS North Carolina Has a Record 15 Battle Stars

USS North Carolina Battleship
December 21, 2023 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: USS North CarolinaBattleshipBattelshipsWWIIWorld War II

Battleship USS North Carolina Has a Record 15 Battle Stars

The North Carolina-class battleships were the first American capital ships to be built after the lifting of the Washington Treaty, which limited her displacement and armament.

The USS North Carolina Fought Across the Pacific but is Now Fighting Time - During the Second World War, the USS North Carolina (BB-55), the lead ship of a class of U.S. Navy fast battleships – the first vessel of the type built – took part in the Battles of Eastern Solomons, the Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. She survived a Japanese torpedo strike and made it through Typhoon Cobra in December 1944. Unlike many other warships built during the war, BB-55 was preserved as a museum ship.

However, she had been losing a battle with time and the elements. That is until efforts were stepped up to preserve the historic warship.

History of BB-55, Battleship USS North Carolina 

The North Carolina-class battleships were the first American capital ships to be built after the lifting of the Washington Treaty, which limited her displacement and armament.

Still, it resulted in a vessel that could keep up with the faster-moving aircraft carriers. As part of a clause in the Second London Navy Treaty, her armament was increased from the original nine 14-inch guns to nine 16-inch guns. She also was armed with twenty 5-inch/38 caliber guns in ten twin mounts.

Her wartime complement consisted of 144 commissioned officers and 2,195 enlisted men, including 86 marines.

Laid down in 1937, she was completed in April 1941, and at the time of her commissioning, she was considered among the world's greatest sea weapons.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of that year, she was mobilized and originally sent to counter threats from German warships, notably the battleship Tirpitz, before being transferred to the Pacific where she took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign. She went on to take part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific and earned fifteen battle stars – the most of any American battleship.

USS North Carolina survived many close calls and near misses and was hit by a Japanese torpedo in September 1942. The quick response from the crew ensured the battle wagon was able to remain operational and keep up with the fleet. By war's end, she lost ten men in action while another sixty-seven had been wounded. Despite that fact, the Japanese claimed six times the battleship had been sunk.

Decommissioned after the war in June 1947, she remained in the Inactive Reserve Fleet in Bayonne, New Jersey until it was announced she would be scrapped. However, a statewide campaign in North Carolina saved the ship and she was transferred to Wilmington, where she became the state's memorial to its World War II veterans and to those 11,000 North Carolinians who gave their lives during the Second World War.

While other majestic warships that helped ensure an Allied victory met an ignominious end as they were broken up and sold for scrap, BB-55 was saved and preserved as a museum ship and memorable to the brave sailors of the "Greatest Generation."

A Floating Museum

Since April 1962 the retired warship has served as a floating museum in Wilmington, North Carolina, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in November 1982 – in part because the application noted that the ship was in excellent condition and had remained largely in its wartime configuration.

For the past 60 years, the 728-foot decommissioned vessel has been a vital part of the downtown Wilmington skyline. However, as the city was transformed and today is a hub in the American film industry, the gallant warship has suffered. The elements have proven to be a far more vicious enemy than even the Imperial Japanese Navy, but the efforts to save and preserve the ship have continued.

It didn't always look good for the future of the former USS North Carolina, however. While Operation Ship Shape, a donation drive to secure funds was launched in 1998, the damage was so great that in 2009, the United States Navy issued two directives: either restore or scrap the ship. The former was decided upon and that resulted in a multi-year Generations Campaign – which has raised $23 million in public and private funds.

According to locals, it would be hard to imagine the modern Wilmington waterfront without the warship. She remains the area's number one tourist attraction apart from the beach, while the battleship is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of eastern North Carolina.

Efforts are ongoing and while the hull of the vessel has been repaired and perhaps even improved while retaining the visual appearance of the original construction; engineers are continuing to address the threats from the environment and climate change. Unlike other historic attractions – notably the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – that have been moved to deal with encroaching water, this isn't possible with the warship.

"The Battleship will never be moved. People don't realize how big it is," explained U.S. Navy Cpt. Terry Bragg (Retired), executive director of the Battleship N.C.

USS North Carolina Battleship

While it is a ship, it couldn't sail under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, which wasn't built until 1967, after the museum ship was already in place. It is simply home.

Instead, the solution has been to make the USS North Carolina sustainable well into the future via a project dubbed "Living with Water." The first phase included constructing wetlands or a "living shoreline" that can better handle the effects of a changing climate. And while developers have eyed the waterfront for future projects, the fact that the battleship was named a National Historic Landmark in 1986 affords it certain protections.

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.