USS New Jersey: The Only Navy Battleship to Fight in the Vietnam War

USS New Jersey Iowa-Class Battleship
February 23, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Vietnam WarMilitaryDefenseUSS New JerseyIowa-ClassBattleships

USS New Jersey: The Only Navy Battleship to Fight in the Vietnam War

The USS New Jersey (BB-62), known as "Big J," stands out in naval history as the only U.S. battleship to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War, marking a unique chapter in its distinguished service

Summary: The USS New Jersey (BB-62), known as "Big J," stands out in naval history as the only U.S. battleship to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War, marking a unique chapter in its distinguished service. Commissioned and decommissioned four times across the latter half of the 20th century, its periods of active duty were 1943-1948, 1950-1957, 1968-1969, and 1982-1991. Reactivated in 1968 to support U.S. forces in Vietnam, the New Jersey underwent modernization, removing outdated anti-aircraft guns and upgrading electronic and radar systems. It demonstrated exceptional speed during trials and was deployed off the Vietnamese coast, delivering devastating firepower against enemy targets. After firing thousands of rounds in support of ground forces, the New Jersey's Vietnam tour ended in 1969. It was reactivated once more in the 1980s, participating in Operation Desert Storm before its final decommission in 1991, subsequently becoming a museum ship. This storied battleship's contributions across multiple conflicts highlight its significant role in American naval history.

Sailing Through History: The Distinguished Career of the USS New Jersey

Nicknamed “Big J,” the USS New Jersey (BB-62), was the second Iowa-class battleship, and a participant in both the Second World War and the Korean War. But the New Jersey’s participation in the Vietnam War is what sets her apart from her peer vessels; the New Jersey ws the only US battleship to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War.

The New Jersey’s Ressurection

The New Jersey was commissioned, and decommissioned, on four separate occasions. As a result, the New Jersey has a patchwork service record that spans the back half of the twentieth century. Here are the dates during which the New Jersey was commissioned: 1943-1948; 1950-1957; 1968-1969; 1982-1991.

During the third commissioning, 1968-1969, the New Jersey was activated to participate in what is remembered as America’s most polarizing war, the Vietnam War.

At the onset of the Vietnam War, the US suffered heavy aircraft loss rates. Concerned, the US commissioned studies to understand how to alleviate aircraft losses, and deliver more ordnance on target. Relatedly, on May 31st, 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara greenlit a study to understand what would be required to activate the dormant New Jersey battleship. The study concluded that reactivating the New Jersey was feasible, prompting McNamara to recommission the battleship “for employment in the Pacific Fleet to augment the naval gunfire support force in Southeast Asia.”

McNamara selected New Jersey because she was in better condition that her peer Iowa-class battleships – thanks to an extensive overhaul that was completed just before her most recent decommissioning. Still, once reactivated, the New Jersey required some retrofitting, in which the 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns were removed, and her electronic warfare systems and radar were upgraded.  After being modernized, the New Jersey set forth for sea trials, during which she set a battleship world speed record, achieving 35.2 knots (40.5 miles per hour), for six straight hours.

Deployed to Vietnam

After sailing from Long Beach, California, to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to Subic Bay, Philippines, the New Jersey joined the gun line near the 17th parallel off the Vietnamese coast, in October 1968. The New Jersey then fired 29 sixteen inch rounds against People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) targets – it was the first time the battleship had fired her guns in sixteen years.

The New Jersey’s most intensive shore bombardment would come a month later, in November 1968, when she spent two days concentrating her fire at Viet Cong storage areas near Quang Ngai. The New Jersey is credited with destroying 182 structures and 54 bunkers, while heavily damaging 93 more structures and several tunnel complexes, during this bombardment.

USS New Jersey

The New Jersey stayed on the gunline, in various Vietnamese coastal locations, until April 1st, 1969, when she departed for Japan. The storied battleship would not return to Vietnamese waters; her tour concluded having fired 5,688 rounds of 16-inch shells, and 14.891 rounds of 5-inch shells.

From WWII to Desert Storm: The Epic Journey of the USS New Jersey

Remarkably, the New Jersey was reactivated again, in the 1980s, when President Reagan decided to expand the Navy to 600 vessels. The New Jersey was modernized once more, before enjoying a relatively quiet 1980s, and participating in Operation Desert Storm.

USS New Jersey

The New Jersey was decommissioned, for the final time, in 1991, and has since served as a museum ship.

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.