Reviving Naval Giants: Multiple U.S. Navy Battleships Are Getting Rebuilt

U.S. Navy Iowa-Class Battleship
March 21, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyNavyMilitaryBattleshipsIowa-ClassUSS Texas

Reviving Naval Giants: Multiple U.S. Navy Battleships Are Getting Rebuilt

The surviving U.S. Navy battleships, each a relic of a bygone era of naval warfare, serve today not as instruments of war but as enduring symbols of American naval heritage and valor. Many are being restored to ensure they can be visited for years to come. 

 

Summary: The surviving U.S. Navy battleships, each a relic of a bygone era of naval warfare, serve today not as instruments of war but as enduring symbols of American naval heritage and valor. These vessels, which include the USS Texas, USS North Carolina, USS Massachusetts, USS Alabama, USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, USS Missouri, and USS Wisconsin, represent the technological advancements, strategic importance, and sheer power of the U.S. Navy throughout the 20th century.

U.S. Navy Battleships are Getting Some Serious Upgrades 

The United States Navy in its current form was founded on March 27, 1794, after the United States Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794, which called for the construction of six heavy frigates – including the USS Constitution, which is now the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.

 

That historic vessel is just one of 164 ships that are preserved as floating museums and members of the Historic Naval Ship Association. What is notable, however, is that today only eight of the 59 battleships of 23 different basic designs (or "classes") completed for the United States Navy also survive.

Fortunately, each of those remaining vessels has been maintained as a museum ship, while efforts continue to ensure those massive warships survive – not because any will ever be returned to service again, but rather to preserve the history and honor those who served.

Here is a recap of the state of each of the U.S. Navy's surviving battleships.

USS Texas (BB-35)

The USS Texas (BB-35) isn't actually the oldest surviving battleship in the world – as that honor goes to the Japanese pre-dreadnought Mikasa, which is preserved in Yokosuka (although her superstructure and guns are replicas or equipment taken from other vessels). However, BB-35 is the oldest U.S. Navy battleship, and the only surviving capital ship to see service in both World Wars.

The vessel was preserved as the first museum ship in the United States after the Second World War, and her greatest enemy has been time and the elements. At one point, the damage had become so significant that there were real fears she might sink.

USS Texas

However, she has been undergoing significant repairs at the Gulf Copper dry dock in Galveston where the warship's hull was recently patched and painted. Nearly 700 tons of steel has been recently replaced, while the hull received a fresh coat of paint. The $75 million restoration effort to preserve the former USS Texas for future generations continues, and it is now hoped that she'll once again be opened to the public next year.

USS North Carolina (BB-55)

The lead ship of the North Carolina -class of fast battleships – the first vessel of the type built for the U.S. Navy – was constructed under the Washington Treaty system, which limited her displacement and armament. However, the U.S. used a clause in the Second London Naval Treaty to increase the main battery from the original armament of twelve 14-inch (356 mm) guns in quadruple turrets to nine 16-inch (406 mm) guns in triple turrets.

The former USS North Carolina (BB-55) has been preserved as the USS Battleship North Carolina since 1961 and is currently located across the Cape Fear River from downtown Wilmington, N.C., serving as one of the Tar Heel State's most-visited tourist sites – receiving 250,000 visitors in 2022.

Declared a National Historic Landmark in November 1982, and having remained in its wartime configuration, efforts to maintain the ship and improve the facility for visitors have been an ongoing effort. In addition to repairs and restoration to the ship, the facility around the retired battle wagon has been recently addressed.

USS North Carolina Battleship U.S. Navy

In February 2024, the USS Battleship North Carolina broke ground for its Living with Water project, which called for a living shoreline that included constructed wetlands and raised the elevation of the parking lot to reduce flooding.

USS Massachusetts (BB-59)

The USS Massachusetts (BB-59) was the third of four South Dakota-class fast battleships built for the United States Navy in the late 1930s – and just one of two to survive with the other being the USS Alabama (BB-60).

BB-59 saw significant service during the Second World War, playing a crucial role in Operation Torch, where she engaged the French battleship Jean Bart and destroyers off Casablanca in 1942. The battleship later served in the Pacific, escorting carriers and bombarding shore targets until the end of World War II.

Battleships

She was decommissioned in 1947, but spared from scrapping through veterans' efforts, and the former USS Massachusetts now resides as a museum at Battleship Cove, Massachusetts. The vessel underwent a major overhaul beginning in late 1998  and emerged from her dry docking period in March 1999.

USS Alabama (BB-60)

The second of the preserved South Dakota-class battleships, USS Alabama (BB-60) also saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific during the Second World War, where she served primarily as an escort for the fast carrier task force to protect the aircraft carriers from surface and air attacks, but also frequently bombarded Japanese positions in support of amphibious assaults.

She was decommissioned after the war, and plans were considered to convert the warship into a guided missile battleship, but the costs of the conversion proved to be prohibitive. Instead, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register, but lawmakers from the Heart of Dixie sought to see the vessel preserved as a museum ship. In June 1964, the U.S. Navy officially awarded the ship to her namesake state – but with the provision that she could be recalled to service in the event of an emergency. During the voyage from Seattle to Mobile, the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) served as escort. It was the longest tow of a vessel that was not an active warship.

USS Alabama

In the 1980s, when the U.S. Navy reactivated its four Iowa-class battleships, parts from the former USS Alabama and the other preserved battleships were cannibalized. That included the engine room components.

BB-60 was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986. As a preserved vessel, she has been used as the set for several movies – notably 1992's Under Siege, and 2016's USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. The vessel underwent significant repairs in the early 2000s, while she was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 but once again repaired.

USS Iowa (BB-61)

The lead ship of the Iowa-class, BB-61 is also the last lead ship of any class of U.S. Navy battleships and the only ship of her class to serve in the Atlantic Ocean during the Second World War – when she carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Mers El Kébir, Algeria, en route to the Tehran Conference. Transferred to the Pacific Fleet in 1944, she supported part in amphibious landings, and served as the Third Fleet flagship, flying Admiral William F. Halsey's flag at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

USS Iowa

She was returned to service during the Korean War, and then again in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan called for a 600-ship U.S. Navy. Since 2012 she has been preserved as a museum ship in the port of Los Angeles – and is now being transitioned into what will be the future National Museum of the Surface Navy, as part of an effort to raise awareness of how the United States was – and still is – a maritime nation.

USS New Jersey (BB-62)

The second U.S. Navy ship to be named in honor of the Garden State, she earned more battle stars for combat actions than the other three completed Iowa-class battleships. In addition, she was also the only battleship used to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War.

As with many of the other former battleships, USS New Jersey has been fighting a losing battle with the elements – a fact that isn't surprising as she has called the Camden, New Jersey, waterfront home since 2001. The combination of hot summers and cold winters has taken their toll.

Fortunately, she will be soon receiving the necessary TLC to preserve the warship for future generations, and she won't have far to go. The impressive warship is set to be transported by tugboats to the North Atlantic Ship Repair facility at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and the 45,000-ton historic vessel will be dry-docked in the very berth where it was built and subsequently launched on December 7, 1942.

USS New Jersey

The bottom of "Big J" will undergo routine maintenance, repairs, and repainting for the first time in 32 years. U.S. Navy maintenance guidelines for inactive ships call for dry-docking every 20 years. It is no small affair as the vessel is larger than the length of two football fields. The $10 million project, which is expected to take about two months, will include inspection of all 1,200 of the zinc nodes that form an electrical circuit protecting the submerged portion of the hull from corrosion. About half likely will need replacement. The goal is to have the retired Iowa-class battleship back in Camden for Memorial Day and the peak tourist season.