USS NEW JERSEY: THE WORLD’S GREATEST BATTLESHIP
USS New Jersey (BB-62) is the most decorated battleship in Navy history, earning distinction in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and conflicts in the Middle East. The New Jersey’s history spanned over half the 20th century, from her design in 1938 until 1991. She was launched on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and went on to steam more miles, fight in more battles, and fire more shells than any other battleship in history. In World War II, the New Jersey led the Pacific Fleet under Admirals Spruance and Halsey and fought in the two largest naval battles in history. She was reactivated to fight in the Korean War, and again to fight in the Vietnam War, when she was the world’s only operating battleship. She was reactivated for a third time in the Cold War to halt Soviet expansionism and resolve conflicts in the Middle East. After fighting fascism, communism, and terrorism, she was decommissioned for the final time in February 1991. Today the New Jersey continues her service as a living museum and memorial in Camden, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia where she was built.
USS NEW JERSEY AND THE IOWA-CLASS: THE BEST OF THE BEST
USS New Jersey is an Iowa-class battleship – the ultimate battleships, and the epitome of the gun-armed ships of the line that ruled the sea for almost three centuries. The Iowa-class ships were the last class of American battleships built, and the last battleships in service in the world. They were the largest American battleships, and the longest and fastest of all battleships. They also served over a longer period than any other battleships, from 1943 until 1992.
The four Iowa-class were the only battleships fast enough to keep up with the fast carriers in World War II. Together they spearheaded the American counteroffensives in the Pacific that won the largest naval war in history. After fighting enemy ships and planes, escorting carriers, and bombarding hostile islands across the Pacific, they carried home thousands of American troops.
All four Iowa-class battleships served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War, and some fought in the Gulf War. Only USS New Jersey served in the Vietnam War and the conflict in Lebanon, and she served in the Persian Gulf. To counter the Soviet military and naval expansion, the New Jersey led her three sisters into the Missile Age, adding cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and anti-missile weapons to their massive 16-inch guns and numerous 5-inch guns, making them the most formidable surface warships ever put to sea by the Navy. They were also the only ships for which nuclear projectiles were designed.
No Iowa-class battleship gave more distinguished service than USS New Jersey. In World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf, the New Jersey earned a total of 19 Battle and Campaign stars, making her the most decorated battleship in American history, the most of any surviving U.S. Navy ship, and the second-most decorated ship in American history. (The carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), which the New Jersey frequently escorted, earned 20 battle stars in World War II but sadly was scrapped after the war.) The New Jersey also received a Naval Unit Commendation for her service in Vietnam, and Presidential Unit Citations from the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Korea. The Guinness Book of World Records awarded USS New Jersey the title as the fastest battleship in history.
The New Jersey rendered more active service than any other Iowa-class ship. Launched on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, she fought in World War II, was the first battleship reactivated for the Korean War, the only battleship to serve in the Vietnam War, and the first battleship reactivated to end the Cold War. USS New Jersey was in active service for over 21.5 years – 2.5 years more than Iowa, 5 years more than Missouri, and 8.5 years more than Wisconsin. For several years – more than her three sisters combined – she was the world’s only operational battleship.
USS New Jersey also saw more combat in World War II than any other Iowa-class battleship. Only the New Jersey played a role in every major amphibious invasion after 1943: the Marshall Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marianas Islands, New Guinea, the Palau Islands, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. She twice attacked Truk, Japan’s Gibraltar of the Pacific, and with Iowa sank fleeing Japanese warships – the only surface combat by the Iowa-class ships. The New Jersey bombarded Japanese bases and escorted carriers attacking Japanese forces on Pacific islands and the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Indochina, and Japan, including the first major carrier raid on Tokyo. She helped shoot down twenty Japanese warplanes and kamikazes, and rescued downed American pilots. The New Jersey also fought in the two largest naval battles of the Pacific War. First, in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the largest carrier battle in history, she helped throw up the impenetrable wall of antiaircraft fire which, with Navy fighters, decimated Japan’s naval air arm in the Marianas Turkey Shoot. Second, she led the Navy’s main fleet in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the largest sea battle of all time, which destroyed the Japanese fleet as a fighting force.
Moreover, USS New Jersey surpassed the other Iowa-class battleships as a flagship of America’s fleets. The New Jersey was the only ship to serve as a flagship for both of America’s greatest fighting admirals in World War II: Raymond Spruance and William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr. She is the only surviving flagship of Admiral Spruance, who commanded the Navy’s main fleet from the New Jersey twice, from February to April 1944 for the first attack on Truk, and from August to November 1945 to enforce Japan’s surrender as his last seagoing assignment. From August 1944 through January 1945, the New Jersey was Admiral Halsey’s first fleet flagship, leading the Navy’s main fleet during the Battle of Formosa, the invasions of Peleliu, Leyte, Mindoro, and Luzon, and its sweep through the South China Sea. As Halsey’s flagship in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the New Jersey was the site of some of the most dramatic and controversial command decisions of the war. She was also Halsey’s flagship during the devastating Typhoon Cobra and was featured in Herman Wouk’s resulting Pulitzer-prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny. Moreover, the New Jersey was the first ship on which Admiral Chester Nimitz flew his five-star flag as admiral of the fleet. In addition to Spruance’s Fifth Fleet and Halsey’s Third Fleet, the New Jersey subsequently served as flagship for the occupation of Japan, the post-war Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean Fleet, the Seventh Fleet during the Korean War, and the Second Fleet during the Cold War.
Furthermore, USS New Jersey engaged in more shore bombardment than the other Iowa-class ships. In fourteen months during World War II, she bombarded Japanese bases and landing beaches in Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa, Wake, and other Japanese-held islands in the Marshalls and the Carolines to pave the way for the American advance across the Pacific. In two Korean War tours lasting nine months, she was credited with “some of the best shooting ever seen.” The New Jersey fired nearly twelve million pounds of shells in six months off Vietnam, where she saved “thousands of American lives,” according to one Marine Corps Commandant. According to another Commandant, she had a “tremendous psychological effect” on enemy troops: “nobody ever stood up to the New Jersey.” For six months, the New Jersey supported the beleaguered Marines in Lebanon with the unrivaled “visible symbol of enormous power represented by the battleship,” and with the shells of her powerful 16-inch and rapid-fire 5-inch guns. The New Jersey was the only American warship to fire in anger in four wars. As stated by the New Jersey’s captain in 1969, she provided “firepower for freedom.”
President Ronald Reagan echoed that remark in 1982 when he personally recommissioned USS New Jersey – the only battleship ever commissioned by a sitting president. He described her as “still in the prime of life, a Gallant Lady, the New Jersey.” Recommissioning the New Jersey was the centerpiece of his 600-ship Navy program that helped convince the Soviet Union to end the Cold War. The New Jersey led battleships into the missile age, being the first warship to launch a Tomahawk cruise missile, and the first battleship to fire a Harpoon missile, the anti-ship version of the Tomahawk, and the Phalanx anti-missile gun. She was also the first battleship to enter the Persian Gulf, and the first battleship in thirty years to lead her own battle group – a role in which Tom Clancy featured her in his best-selling novel The Hunt for Red October.
For length of service, combat service, shore bombardment, fleet leadership, and decorations, USS New Jersey is second to none.
A SCIENTIFIC, TECHNOLOGICAL, ENGINEERING AND MILITARY MARVEL – USS NEW JERSEY
USS New Jersey has an overall length of 887 feet, 7 inches, with a waterline length of 860 feet. She has a mean draught of 28 feet, 11 inches at a hull load of 45,000 tons, and a full load draught of 37 feet, 9 inches when at a full displacement of 57,540 tons. She had a maximum waterline beam of 108 feet, 2 inches, able to fit through the Panama Canal with barely a foot to spare on either side. The length of the hull is divided with 4-foot frame section spacings into a total of 216 frames. These frames and spacings along with the many other bulkheads provide the ship with approximately 1,100 individual compartments.
The New Jersey’s armament evolved continuously over her career. While her main battery remained unchanged, lighter weapons were frequently added and subtracted. The Iowa-class ships’ great size and reserve of buoyancy allowed them to carry the heavy anti-aircraft armament needed to defend themselves and the carriers they escorted in the Air Age, and to incorporate the latest cruise missile and anti-ship missile technology to keep them relevant in the Missile Age.
USS New Jersey’s main battery consisted of three turrets, each with three Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber gun barrels. That is, the barrels’ mouth could fire 16-inch shells, and the barrels’ length was 50 times 16 inches, or 66.66 feet long. These rifled guns could fire a 2,700 lb. armor-piercing round, or a 1,900 lb. high-explosive round, to a maximum range of 41,622 yards (23.6 miles). Each of the three turrets weigh over 2,200 tons. Two turrets are forward, and one is aft. During the 1950s, a version of the W19 nuclear artillery shell was developed specifically for the 16-inch guns, making them the world’s largest nuclear artillery, and making the Iowa-class battleships the only US Navy ships ever to have nuclear projectiles designed for them.
The New Jersey’s secondary battery from 1943 through 1982 consisted of twenty 5-inch/38-caliber Mark XII guns with rifled barrels. These dual-purpose guns could hit stationary targets up to 9 miles away, and aircraft at closer ranges. The 5-inch guns were in ten twin-mount turrets: five each were on the port and starboard beam. Four turrets were removed in 1982 to make room for Tomahawk cruise missile and Harpoon anti-ship missile batteries. This still left the New Jersey with twelve 5-inch guns – gunpower unmatched by any ship in the Navy other than the other Iowa-class ships.
USS New Jersey’s other anti-aircraft armament evolved with experience with air attacks during World War II, and with reduced air threat and higher jet speeds after the war. The planned 1.1-inch/75-caliber quadruple mounted “Chicago Piano” guns were shelved during construction. Instead, she fielded sixteen and then twenty quadruple mounts for Bofors 40-millimeter guns for a total of 80 barrels distributed along the main deck and the superstructure, with a firing rate of up to 160 round per minute and a range of 11,000 yards. Moreover, forty-nine single Oerlikon 20-millimeter guns were distributed throughout the lower five levels of the superstructure and main deck, with a firing rate of up to 450 rounds per minute and a range of 4,800 yards. By 1945, eight twin-mounted 20mm guns replaced some of the single 20mm guns. By her reactivation for the Korean War, the rest of the single 20mm guns had been removed and were replaced by eight more twin-mounted 20mm guns were added, but all the twin-mounted 20mm were removed by late 1951. All the 40mm guns were removed in 1967. The New Jersey displays one of her original quad 40mm guns, and displays two single 20mm guns.
During World War II, USS New Jersey carried a complement of up to three observation floatplanes, initially OS2U Kingfishers and then Curtiss SC Seahawks. Two were stored on the catapults located aft near the stern and one was stored on the aft deck. By 1950 these had been replaced by helicopters, for which the New Jersey has a landing pad and flight control tower. The New Jersey displays a Kaman SH-2 Seasprite helicopter, the type assigned to the ship in the 1980s for target-spotting. A ground control station, hanger structure, and recovery system were added to the New Jersey in the 1980s to operate up to eight RQ-2 Pioneer Remotely Piloted Vehicles for spotting.
In 1982, USS New Jersey was retrofitted with new batteries of state-of-the-art missiles. Four quadruple Mark 141 Launchers were mounted on the superstructure to fire sixteen RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, each with a warhead of almost 500 pounds. Aft and amidships, the ship was fitted with eight quadruple Mark 143 Armored Box Launchers to fire thirty-two Tomahawk missiles. The New Jersey carried three different types: the BGM-109A Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Nuclear (TLAM-N) with a W80 nuclear warhead; the RGM/UGM-109B Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile (TASM) with a 1,000-pound warhead; and the BGM-109C Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Conventional (TLAM-C) with a 1,000-pound warhead. The New Jersey still has all eight armored box launchers for the Tomahawks and two launchers for the Harpoons.
To fool incoming anti-ship missiles, USS New Jersey’s 1967 refit installed a new ULQ-6B electronic countermeasures system and four new Mk 28 Chaffroc chaff rocket launchers. In 1982, the New Jersey received updated systems to protect against incoming missiles. The refit added a pair of SLQ-32 electronic countermeasure units to detect, classify, and scramble the radars of incoming missiles. For another layer of defense, eight sextuple Mark 36 Super Rapid Bloom Offboard Countermeasures Chaff and Decoy Launching Systems were installed. As a final layer of defense against anti-ship missiles, she received four Mark 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System 20-millimeter Gatling guns located on each corner of the superstructure. The New Jersey still has her full complement of Phalanxes.
USS New Jersey’s electronics systems also evolved, sprouting different antennae on her superstructure over time. She was launched with SK and SG air and surface search radars, upgraded to SPS-6 and SG-6 respectively by 1952. In her 1967 refit, the New Jersey received SPS-53 surface radar, on-line automatic encryption and decryption gear, and receivers and transmitters for infrared, HF, VHF, and UHF bands. She also got two Mark 48 shore bombardment computers and a target-designation system. In 1982, she acquired new SPS-10 and SPS-49 surface and air search radars, and later the SPS-67 surface radar. Also, in 1982, the New Jersey’s interior spaces were reconfigured for greater crew comfort, including new bunks and lockers, air conditioning systems, and other amenities such as a chapel and a TV studio.
USS New Jersey’s armor protection is extensive and layered, using both Class A and Class B armor. Her main belt is 12.1 inches of armor on 0.875 inches of special treatment steel (STS) with concrete in between, inclined 19 degrees and tapering to 1.625 inches. The main belt is one of five layers of armor that comprise the sides and torpedo defenses of the armored citadel. Her bulkheads are 11.2 inches thick and form the forward and aft ends of the citadel. Her 55,000 sq. ft. deck is covered by 2 inches of teak on top of 1.5 inches of STS. Her armored deck below that is 5 inches armor on 1.25 inches STS. Below that is a splinter deck of 0.625 inches. On the turrets, the armor on the face plate is 17 inches plus 2.7 inches STS, on each side is 9.5 inches, on the back is 12 inches, and on the roof is 7.25 inches. The barbettes are 17.3 inches armor above 1.5 inches STS tapering as they descend deeper into the ship. The conning tower armor is 17.3 inches with a roof at 7.25 inches, deck at 4 inches, and the tube at 16 inches. The armor was designed to give a zone of immunity against fire from 16-inch/45-caliber guns at ranges of between 18,000 and 30,000 yards and is impenetrable by smaller guns. To protect her from torpedoes, the New Jersey also had an extension of the armor belt to the triple bottom, an internal bulge, and torpedo bulkheads.
The propulsion system on USS New Jersey incorporated eight Babcock and Wilcox three-drum double-furnace express-type boilers with an operating pressure of 565 PSI at a temperature of 850 degrees Fahrenheit. The generated steam supplied four sets of Westinghouse geared, double reduction turbines to provide an output shaft horsepower to the four propeller shafts totaling 212,000 horsepower, with the shafts turning up to 202 RPM. This shaft horsepower is sufficient to produce a speed of 33 knots at normal displacement.
USS New Jersey’s four propeller shafts attach to four driving propellers. The inboard are two five-bladed 17-feet diameter units mounted in the ship’s twin-skeg hull while the outboard are two four-bladed 18.25-feet diameter units. Just aft of the propellers are the two semi-balanced streamlined type rudders with a projected area of 340 square feet each. Her original fuel oil capacity of over 7,250 tons (over 2,175,000 gallons) gave her an endurance range of over 15,000 nautical miles when cruising at 15 knots, allowing her to operate without resupply for a month and to refuel smaller ships. Her internal piping system can handle up to 125,000 gallons of fresh water per minute, while the salt-water distilling plan can produce 100,000 gallons of fresh water daily. The ship’s eight electric generators each produced 450-volt, 3-phase alternating current totaling 1,250 kW. Two emergency diesel generators each produced an additional 250 kW.
The New Jersey was designed to have a crew complement of 117 officers and 1,804 crew. During World War II, due to her increasing anti-aircraft armament, her complement eventually peaked at over 2,700. By the 1980s, new technology enabled as few as 1,600 crew to operate her.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BATTLESHIPS BEFORE THE NEW JERSEY
USS New Jersey and the other Iowa-class ships were the result and the crowning achievement of centuries of naval history. They were the culmination of a three-century naval tradition of cannon-armed ships of the line, the ultimate development of the armored turreted warships such as the Monitor and Dreadnought, and the last ships designed to fight in the line of battle.
Battleships trace their lineage back to the ships-of-the-line. These multideck wooden sailing vessels carried 64 to 140 cannons and were designed to fire broadsides at each other while sailing in a line of battle – the dominant form of naval combat from the 17th to the 20th centuries. These “line of battle ships” or “battleships” were the mainstays of their fleets and decided the fate of empires. The fledgling United States Navy relied on smaller sailing vessels (such as the frigate USS Constitution) that had too few cannons to serve in the line of battle, and instead were used as scouts, escorts, and raiders. Only after the War of 1812 did America operate ships-of-the-line, which were named after states starting in 1820.
Modern battleships are directly descended from the USS Monitor and its armored successors –steel-hulled, coal-burning, steam-powered, screw-propelled warships carrying multiple cannons in revolving turrets. These ironclads helped win the American Civil War and led to seagoing warships, such as the cruiser Olympia, now berthed near the New Jersey on the Delaware. Beginning in the 1880s, armored, turreted battleships became the capital ships of the world’s major naval powers. Fleets of these battleships fought each other in climactic battles that determined the outcomes of the Spanish-American War and the Russo-Japanese War.
Starting around 1890, the United States built its own battleships (designated BB). All but Kearsarge (BB-5) were named after states. As in other navies, they were the pride of the fleet. The initial battleships (BB-1 through BB-4) had four 12-inch or 13-inch guns and numerous smaller guns, displaced 10,000 tons, and could steam at only 17 knots or less. After winning the Spanish-American War with these battleships, America built new battleships (BB-5 through BB-25) with greater endurance and displacement up to 16,000 tons. Sixteen of them, with white-painted hulls, comprised President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet that circumnavigated the world in 1907-09, announcing America’s arrival as a global naval power. One of these ships was the first battleship USS New Jersey (BB-16), which displaced 15,000 tons and could reach 19 knots. She served in the Atlantic, was a training ship during World War I, and was sunk in tests of aerial bombardment by General Billy Mitchell in 1923.
By 1906, the United States had built, or was building, enough battleships to give her the third-largest battleship fleet in the world. However, all battleships worldwide were made obsolete by Britain’s commissioning in 1906 of the all-big-gun, heavily armored, turbine-driven HMS Dreadnought, which had twice their firepower and could reach 21 knots. Her introduction led to the major powers building great fleets of ever more powerful “dreadnought” battleships. This naval arms race contributed to the tensions leading to World War I, and dreadnought battleship fleets fought at Jutland and elsewhere.
Even before Dreadnought was built, the United States had started building all-big-gun battleships, with the first one commissioned in Camden in 1908. These South Carolina-class dreadnoughts mounted their forward turrets so one could fire over the other, setting the pattern for all future battleships. By 1912, America pioneered the innovative “all or nothing” armor scheme to protect vital areas more heavily by leaving other areas unarmored. American dreadnought battleships (BB-26 through BB-44), built just before and during the First World War, grew in armament from eight 12-inch guns to twelve 14-inch guns, in displacement from 16,000 to 32,000 tons, in speed from 18 to 21 knots, and in propulsion from coal-fired expansion engines to oil-fired turbines. Many of these battleships served in World War I and provided shore bombardment in World War II.
After World War I, America completed her first battleships with eight 16-inch/45-caliber guns (BB-45, -46 and -48). However, they still had limited speed (21 knots) and displacement (32,600 tons), and in World War II were used primarily for shore bombardment.
Fear of another expensive naval arms race led to the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. It restricted battleships to 35,000 tons and 16-inch main guns and limited the total tonnage of the major fleets. This limited the United States Navy to 18 battleships totaling 525,000 tons displacement. As a result, the United States scrapped, or converted to other uses, all battleships commissioned before 1911 (BB-1 through BB-30), scrapped the battleships under construction (BB-47, BB-49 through BB-54), and launched no battleships for almost twenty years.
In 1934, Imperial Japan indicated its intent to terminate the treaty. It rapidly revamped its Kongo-class battlecruisers as 30-knot fast battleships, and reputedly began designing new battleships to have unprecedented tonnage and armament. In April 1937, the allied powers invoked the escalator clause in the Second London Naval Treaty which enabled them again to build battleships with 16-inch guns. Meanwhile, Imperial Japan invaded China in July 1937, and Nazi Germany rebuilt its navy.
The initial American response to these escalatory measures was to resume construction of battleships displacing 35-38,000 tons with nine 16-inch/45-caliber guns, but with greater speed and endurance. Six new battleships (BB-55 through BB-60) of the North Carolina and South Dakota classes would be launched in 1940-42 and fought in World War II. However, these battleships had a maximum speed of only 27-28 knots, could not keep up with the fast carriers or the Japanese fast battleships, and were no match for the bigger treaty-busting battleships reportedly being built in Japan.
DESIGNING AND BUILDING THE ULTIMATE BATTLESHIPS, INCLUDING USS NEW JERSEY
Studies began in early 1938 to design faster battleships which could keep up with America’s fast carriers, outclass the Japanese fast battleships, and handle the big battleships which intelligence believed were being built in Japan. Design was begun by naval architects of the Design Division section of the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair. They produced a variety of plans offering different solutions to the competing needs of displacement, armament, armor, internal protection, speed, endurance, seakeeping, and stability. The result was the Iowa class, including the New Jersey.
Design work for the Iowa class was premised on the recent South Dakota class and the calculations that a ship 108’ wide and 860’ long at the waterline would make the fastest possible hull form that could fit through the 110’-wide Panama Canal. The basic armor scheme from the South Dakota class was already proof against 16-inch/45-caliber projectiles at expected battle ranges, so that armor scheme was applied to the longer hull. The three-turret layout for the main battery remained the same but the size of the main guns was increased from 16-inch/45 caliber to 16-inch/50-caliber, meaning the guns were 80 inches longer and their shells would travel almost a mile further. Propulsion was where the Iowa-class ships were most improved; their power plant was designed to be 60% more powerful to propel the larger vessels 6 knots faster than the South Dakota class, making the Iowa class the first battleships fast enough to keep up with the fast carriers.
The designers thus achieved a well-balanced fast battleship, with a higher 33-knot speed, heavier armament, and the same armor protection as the South Dakota class. This required a greater displacement of over 45,000 tons, the adoption of a lighter turret design, and the use of special treatment steel (STS), a high tensile steel with armor properties comparable to heavier Class B armor, to replace armor and structural steel in some areas. The design’s huge size, sleek lines, teak decks, and massive armament made the ships lovely, fast, and deadly, as indicated by the New Jersey’s nicknames, “Black Dragon” and “Big J.”
The design was recommended by the Battleship Design Advisory Board, which included America’s premier naval architect William Francis Gibbs, who designed ocean liners such as SS United States, and William Hovgaard, MIT’s professor of naval design, who investigated the sinkings of Titanic and Lusitania. The Navy’s General Board approved the design.
At President Roosevelt’s request, Congress on May 17, 1938, passed the Naval Act of 1938. It authorized adding 135,000 tons worth of capital ships and permitted capital ships in excess of 35,000 tons to be laid down, if the President determined “that the interests of national defense so require.” Roosevelt believed it did, as Imperial Japanese troops advanced in China and Nazi Germany annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia. The first three Iowa-class battleships were built under this authorization. The Navy ordered the first two battleships in July 1939. Two months later, World War II broke out in Europe when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.
The first two battleships – Iowa (BB-61) and New Jersey (BB-62) – were to be built by the New York and Philadelphia Navy Yards, respectively. When the contract was awarded in July 1939, Charles Edison, son of the famous New Jersey inventor Thomas Edison, was acting Secretary of the Navy. For the Philadelphia-built ship, he chose the name “New Jersey” to honor his home state. BB-62 was the second warship named for the State of New Jersey.
Before the new battleship New Jersey could be built, the slipway in Philadelphia had to launch USS Washington (BB-56) on June 1, 1940. The slipway then had to be lengthened by 325 feet and reinforced to accommodate the New Jersey which was 12% longer and 30% heavier. On September 16, 1940, with the war in Europe already a year old, the New Jersey was laid down at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Charles Edison, now the former Secretary of the Navy, welded the first two keel plates together.
Even before she was launched, the New Jersey began serving her country. The United States was still recovering from the Great Depression. To build the New Jersey required expenditures of approximately $100 million dollars ($1.8 billion in 2020 dollars) and 32,800,000 manhours. Her design and construction provided work to people from 34 separate states who labored at the Philadelphia Navy Yard or manufactured parts elsewhere. Between 1939 and 1946, full-time employment at the Navy Yard rose from 4,500 to 47,000 civilians, with many more part-time civilians and subcontractors passing through her gates every day. The increased spending and employment to gear up for World War II finally ended the Great Depression. Constructing the New Jersey in Pennsylvania also bolstered support for Roosevelt in the November 1940 election, when he won his historic third term and Charles Edison became Governor of New Jersey.
Roughly half the workforce building the New Jersey was from New Jersey and took the ferry across the Delaware River to the Yard, making the New Jersey one of the few battleships built by laborers from her namesake state. One-third of the ship’s workforce was comprised of women, now known collectively as “Rosie the Riveters.”
Work on USS New Jersey proceeded around the clock. On July 19, 1940, Congress passed the Two-Ocean Navy Act, authorizing the construction of three more Iowa-class battleships. The next two ships – Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64) – were to be built in the New York and Philadelphia Navy Yards respectively alongside the Iowa and the New Jersey. Because the Philadelphia Yard finished the New Jersey nine months ahead of schedule, freeing up many skilled workers, the Wisconsin ultimately was launched and commissioned before the Missouri even though she had a higher hull number. The need for speed was demonstrated on December 7, 1941, when Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor sank or damaged eight battleships, enabled a string of Japanese invasions across the Pacific, and launched a full-scale naval war in which new, fast battleships were desperately needed.
On December 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, USS New Jersey was christened by Governor Edison’s wife Carolyn Hawkins Edison with a bottle of New Jersey white wine, and Kate Smith sang “God Bless America.” Launched stern first, the New Jersey’s stern slid across the river to touch her namesake state briefly. USS New Jersey was the largest ship that had been built on inclined ways since the Queen Mary.
Once launched, USS New Jersey was towed to drydock so her four propellers and two rudders could be fitted. She was then floated pier side where a huge crane could aid in the final stages of construction, including the installation of the three massive, armored gun turrets and much of the topside equipment. Prior to the end of construction, the ship’s crew began arriving to learn the equipment they would operate.
USS NEW JERSEY ENTERS WORLD WAR II: FROM ATLANTIC TO PACIFIC
USS New Jersey was commissioned into the Navy on May 23, 1943. The main speech was by James Forrestal, Under-Secretary of the Navy, later the last cabinet-level Secretary of the Navy and the first Secretary of Defense. Her first commander, Captain Carl F. Holden, predicted the New Jersey would be “a lovely lady who will have her angry moments.”
The New Jersey first set sail under her own power on July 8, 1943, training her crew and testing her guns and engines under Forrestal’s gaze. After further exercises in the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, on August 9 the new battleship started a one-month shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, and then returned to Philadelphia Navy Yard for improvements, including an enclosed curved bridge, the only battleship with that feature.
On October 18, 1943, many months ahead of schedule, USS New Jersey was ready for duty. She was deployed to Maine until mid-December in case the German battleship Tirpitz, which had attacked Spitzbergen in September, attempted to leave Norway to raid the critical North Atlantic convoys. However, Tirpitz sustained enough damage from British midget submarines that she required months of repairs. With Tirpitz neutralized, the New Jersey was the last U.S. battleship deployed to the North Atlantic during the war.
USS New Jersey sailed back to the Philadelphia Naval Yard and received four more quadruple 40mm guns to augment her anti-aircraft protection. On January 2, 1944, the New Jersey and the Iowa set sail for the Pacific. On January 7, they squeezed through the Panama Canal, with less than a foot to spare on each side.
On January 22, 1944, the New Jersey and Iowa reached the Ellice Islands. There they joined the Central Pacific Force, the Navy’s main fleet, containing the fast carriers and fast battleships intended to fight the Japanese fleet. That fleet had started the Central Pacific offensive in November 1943 with liberation of Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert Islands. Those landings had been so bloody as to cast doubt on America’s ability to sustain an offensive through Japan’s many Pacific island strongpoints, which it had had decades to fortify. However, the Navy and Marines quickly absorbed the lessons of Tarawa and were able to make future offensives far less costly.
USS New Jersey promptly supported the next offensive, the assault on the Marshall Islands. From January 25 to February 4, the New Jersey protected carriers striking the Japanese bases on Kwajalein and Eniwetok atolls, enabling the Army and Marines to invade Kwajalein and Majuro atolls. The seizure of Kwajalein, the world’s largest coral atoll and the heart of Japan’s bases in the Marshalls, was the beginning of the successful island-hopping campaign that seized key island airfields and anchorages while bypassing other Japanese-held islands, leaving them isolated and unsupplied.
USS NEW JERSEY BECOMES SPRUANCE’S FLAGSHIP, AND TAMES TRUK
On February 4, 1944, at the newly seized base on Majuro, USS New Jersey became the flagship of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Spruance, raised in New Jersey, had led American forces to victory in the Battle of Midway in 1942 and was the commander who retook Tarawa and Makin. Spruance used the New Jersey as his flagship until April 10. He first raised his four-star flag as the youngest full admiral on USS New Jersey, making her the flagship of the highest-ranking officer at sea. The New Jersey is the only one of Spruance’s flagships still in existence.
When he became the commander of the Central Pacific Force in November 1943, Spruance decided not to have a battleship for a flagship so his own movements would not weaken his fleet. Now, he shifted his flag to USS New Jersey because he was leading Operation Hailstone, a bold attack on the Japanese Combined Fleet base at Truk atoll in the Caroline Islands. Truk was Japan’s main fleet base outside of the Home Islands, had been fortified against naval and air attack, and was known as “the Gibraltar of the Pacific.” Spruance hoped to catch Japanese ships fleeing the attack, and he knew the New Jersey with her 33-knot speed and 16-inch guns would be at the center of the action.
After conferring on USS New Jersey with carrier commander Admiral Marc “Pete” Mitscher, Pacific battleship commander Admiral Willis “Ching” Lee, and amphibious commander Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner on February 11, 1944, Spruance in the New Jersey directed five fleet carriers and four light carriers – the largest carrier concentration of the war so far – 1,000 miles west to attack Truk on February 17 and 18. The Japanese main fleet had already fled, but Spruance’s carrier planes pounded the atoll and the remaining ships in its lagoon.
Meanwhile, USS New Jersey led Iowa, two cruisers, and four destroyers in a sweep around Truk to engage Japanese vessels attempting to escape. Admiral Spruance on the New Jersey took tactical command of this force – the first time a four-star Navy admiral was on a ship in a sea action. After the New Jersey’s float plane spotted fleeing Japanese ships 25 miles away, the New Jersey raced towards them, avoiding enemy torpedoes and fighting off enemy aircraft. Her ten-gun 5-inch broadside blew up an armed minesweeper/trawler, and she finished off the destroyer Maikaze.
USS New Jersey’s float plane spotted the fleeing destroyer Nowaki over the horizon. The New Jersey charged forward at over 30 knots and fired her 16-inch guns straight ahead, the speeding ship recoiling with each blast. The New Jersey’s shells straddled the hidden destroyer at around 35,700 yards (21.3 statute miles) – the longest-ranged straddle in history. Nowaki escaped, but it would not escape its next encounter with USS New Jersey and her consorts. This was the first time Iowa-class battleships performed their primary function of engaging enemy warships, and proved to be the last, although other opportunities arose in later battles.
After triumphantly circling Truk in USS New Jersey, Admiral Spruance ordered his ships to hoist their large Victory Flags, and a victory it was. Led by the New Jersey, Admiral Spruance’s ships and planes at Truk sank a total of two light cruisers, four destroyers, three auxiliary cruisers, the armed minesweeper/trawler, two subchasers, two sub tenders, a plane ferry, and two dozen precious transports and tankers; damaged other many other ships; and destroyed over 250 aircraft. As the Navy’s official historian Samuel Eliot Morison related, Operation Hailstone was one of the most successful raids of the war. “For the first time, a major enemy base was beaten down without the aid of land-based air power or amphibious invasion.” The assault led by the New Jersey prevented Japan from ever again using Truk as a fleet base, stopped it from interfering with the assault by Marines and Army troops on Eniwetok on February 17, and kicked open the door to further American advances in the Central Pacific. It was a serious blow to Japanese morale, and a boost to American spirits approaching that of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.
USS New Jersey stopped at devastated Kwajalein and replenished at Majuro. Admiral Spruance flew to Pearl Harbor to confer with the Commander-in-Chief Pacific Area (CINPAC), Admiral Chester Nimitz. Meanwhile, the New Jersey and Iowa bombarded Japan’s base on Mili atoll in the Marshalls on March 18, 1944. The Japanese returned fire with coastal defense guns taken from Singapore, hitting the Iowa twice and straddling the New Jersey.
USS New Jersey and Admiral Spruance reunited at Majuro. On March 23, 1944, she led the fleet 2,000 miles west, deep in Japanese waters. The New Jersey protected carriers striking Japan’s new Combined Fleet base in the Palau Islands on March 30-April 1. The attack forced the Combined Fleet to withdraw to bases in the Philippines, and compelled its commander, Admiral Mineichi Koga, to flee in a flying boat that was lost in a typhoon. The attack sunk twenty-nine ships and destroyed 214 aircraft. The New Jersey’s radar-directed 5-inch guns downed an aircraft in a Japanese night airstrike on March 29. During her return trip to Majuro, the New Jersey protected carriers striking the base at Woleai in the Caroline Islands. On April 10, Spruance shifted his flag to the ill-fated cruiser Indianapolis and sailed to Pearl Harbor to plan the invasion of the Mariana Islands.
On April 13, 1944, USS New Jersey and Admiral Spruance’s Central Pacific Force – now renamed the Fifth Fleet – steamed 2,000 miles west to support the amphibious offensive by General Douglas MacArthur and the Seventh Fleet against the Japanese in New Guinea. The New Jersey escorted carriers launching air strikes from April 21 to 24 in support of Army landings at Hollandia, Aitape, Tanahmerah Bay, and Humboldt Bay. On the way back to Majuro, the New Jersey escorted carriers striking the Japanese vessels and aircraft remaining at Truk on April 29-30 and helped down two Japanese planes attacking the fleet. The New Jersey and six other battleships then formed a battle line that pulverized the Japanese base on Ponape Island in the Carolines on May 1.
USS NEW JERSEY, THE MARIANAS, AND THE BATTLE OF THE PHILIPPINES SEA
Back at Majuro, USS New Jersey again became a flagship during May 1944 for the Pacific Battleship Commander, Admiral Willis Lee. Lee was the victor in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the only clash of battleships in the Pacific thus far. The New Jersey and the Fifth Fleet readied for the most ambitious amphibious action yet – the invasion of the Mariana Islands, specifically Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. The Marianas were over 1,000 miles from the nearest American airbase on newly captured Eniwetok, so the carriers escorted by the New Jersey would have to supply all the air support. Moreover, the Fifth Fleet would have to transport and land 127,000 American troops 2,400 miles from Guadalcanal and 3,500 miles from Pearl Harbor, where the troops embarked on June 5, 1944. By contrast, the next day, D-Day, Allied ships carried 160,000 soldiers only 50 miles across the English Channel, supported by nearby English ports and airbases. That two such massive amphibious invasions could be launched simultaneously on opposite sides of the globe was an impressive tribute to the Allied war effort.
On June 6, 1944, the New Jersey, Iowa, and the 642 smaller ships of Admiral Spruance’s Fifth Fleet sailed from Majuro for the Marianas. As the fleet neared Saipan after midnight on June 12, Japanese aircraft dropped flares and launched torpedoes, but the New Jersey shot down an attacking torpedo bomber. The New Jersey and the other fast battleships bombarded Saipan and Tinian on June 13, the older battleships did so June 14, and the troops landed on mountainous Saipan on June 15. That started a four-week slog to conquer this heavily defended heart of the Marianas.
The Marianas were part of Japan’s defensive cordon, and Tokyo was only 1,200 miles away – within bombing range if the Americans could capture Saipan and base the new B-29 Superfortress there. Accordingly, the Japanese Navy sought a “decisive battle” to stop the Fifth Fleet. Japan committed most of its Combined Fleet, including five fleet carriers, four light carriers, five battleships, eleven heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers, 473 carrier planes, and about 300 land-based aircraft. As the Fifth Fleet’s fast carrier task force had seven fleet carriers, eight light carriers, and 956 carrier aircraft, the resulting Battle of the Philippine Sea was the largest carrier battle in history. Including the New Jersey and six other fast battleships, eight heavy cruisers, thirteen light cruisers, and sixty-nine destroyers, the fast carrier task force had the greatest tonnage of any single naval formation ever to go to battle.
Before the battle, American submarines spotted multiple Japanese task forces headed across the Philippine Sea separating the Philippines and Marianas Islands. Admiral Spruance ordered the New Jersey and six other fast battleships, with cruisers and destroyers, to form a battle line under Admiral Lee. However, Lee and Spruance declined suggestions that they send the battleline west to engage the Japanese fleet in a night action. Lee was concerned that the fast battleships had spent their time escorting carriers rather than training for night surface combat, and Spruance was worried that some Japanese naval forces might try an end run to attack the amphibious forces. Thus, Spruance kept Fifth Fleet within supporting range of Saipan, and placed Lee’s battleline including the New Jersey fifteen miles in front of Admiral Marc Mitscher’s carriers to protect them.
Rather than close for surface combat, however, Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa’s fleet launched massive air attacks at long range on June 19, 1944. The Japanese formations were decimated by superior American pilots and fighters in what one pilot said was “just like an old-time turkey shoot down home!” Japanese planes which got through “the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” mainly attacked the heavily armored battleline. The New Jersey helped shoot down three attacking aircraft. The battleline fulfilled the role assigned by Admiral Spruance of protecting the carriers by downing most of the attackers with virtually impenetrable antiaircraft fire, while sustaining minimal injury. As one observer stated: “The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers … put up a tremendous barrage which, together with burning planes all around the horizon, created the most awesome spectacle.” The Japanese naval air arm lost four hundred planes and had two carriers sunk by American submarines.
That night and the next day, the New Jersey, the battleline, and the rest of the Fifth Fleet sailed toward the Japanese fleet. However, American search planes did not locate it until mid-afternoon, at the extreme range of the Americans’ carrier aircraft. Admiral Mitscher launched an airstrike that did not reach the Japanese fleet until sunset. The Navy carrier planes sank another carrier and two oilers, and damaged three carriers and a battleship. The planes then had to make the long trek back to the Fifth Fleet in darkness. Risking submarine attack, the New Jersey and other American ships turned on their searchlights to guide the desperate planes home. To one pilot, it looked like “a Hollywood premiere, Chinese New Year and the Fourth of July all rolled into one.” The New Jersey helped the largely successful effort to rescue fliers who had to ditch their fuel-starved planes. The battleline and carriers pursued the fleeing Japanese fleet, but it escaped.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was a decisive American victory. It crippled the Japanese carrier force, which had only 35 aircraft remaining after the battle and lost many irreplaceable pilots. The Japanese suffered almost 3,000 killed, the Americans barely 100. However, some criticized Admiral Spruance for guarding the landing force rather than charging after the Japanese carriers – a criticism which played a role in the New Jersey’s next big battle.
For the rest of June and July 1944, USS New Jersey escorted carriers supporting the troops fighting on Saipan, invading Tinian, and liberating Guam, which Imperial Japan had seized from America in 1941. The New Jersey rescued fliers downed at sea using its Kingfisher float planes, and then screened carriers again striking the Palaus. After over two months at sea, the New Jersey finally headed to Eniwetok and then to Pearl Harbor, arriving August 9, 1944.
Meanwhile, ex-Governor and future Presidential candidate Harold Stassen surveyed USS New Jersey as a potential flagship for Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. Admiral Spruance had felt the New Jersey’s flag quarters were spacious, but they were not large enough for Admiral Halsey’s enormous staff. At Pearl Harbor, the New Jersey’s flag quarters were enlarged and updated to be “the best in the fleet.”
USS NEW JERSEY BECOMES HALSEY’S FLAGSHIP FOR PELELIU, FORMOSA, AND LEYTE GULF – THE LARGEST BATTLE AT SEA IN HISTORY
The refitted USS New Jersey now became the flagship of the other great fighting Admiral, William F. Halsey, Jr. Bill Halsey, a colorful native of New Jersey, was nicknamed “Bull” by an adoring press. had led the successful Southwest Pacific campaign from Guadalcanal up the Solomon Islands. He was now awarded the main Pacific fleet as his first fleet command.
What had been the Fifth Fleet while Admiral Spruance commanded was called the Third Fleet while Halsey commanded. As Halsey put it: “Instead of the stagecoach system of keeping the drivers and changing the horses, we changed drivers and kept the horses.” It facilitated planning and confused Japanese Intelligence, but “[i]t was hard on the horses,” including the New Jersey, the only ship to serve as flagship for both Spruance and Halsey. Halsey commanded the Third Fleet on the New Jersey from August 24, 1944 until January 27, 1945.
USS New Jersey’s two four-star fleet commanders were friends but a study in contrasts. Admiral Spruance was cerebral and thorough; Admiral Halsey was emotional and impulsive. Spruance’s orders were precise, Halsey’s were inspirational. Spruance avoided publicity; Halsey gave printable, incredibly bellicose statements to the press which lionized him. Spruance was “an admiral’s admiral,” Halsey “a sailor’s admiral.” Just as the majestic power of the New Jersey inspired Spruance to take the risk of personally commanding a surface action, Halsey’s desire to lead the speedy and powerful New Jersey into battle led him to his most controversial decisions.
On August 24, 1944, USS New Jersey left Pearl Harbor carrying Admiral Halsey and his staff. With orders flying from her towering radio mast, she brought Halsey to the Admiralty Islands near New Guinea. There he conferred with General MacArthur’s staff and finalize plans for the next big operation: the landing at Leyte Island to begin the liberation of the Philippines, then an American Commonwealth occupied by Imperial Japan early in the war.
On September 8, 1944, Admiral Halsey on USS New Jersey joined up with the Third Fleet’s fast carriers. They had just attacked the Bonin Islands, where Navy aviator and future President George H.W. Bush had been shot down and rescued by a submarine. Halsey and the New Jersey led the fast carriers in airstrikes all over the Philippines, destroying hundreds of aircraft and dozens of warships. After his pilots reported little aerial opposition, Halsey on the New Jersey told his chief of staff, Admiral Robert “Mick” Carney: “I’m going to stick my neck out. Send an urgent dispatch to CINCPAC.” Halsey radioed from the New Jersey urging that scheduled landings on several islands be skipped and that Leyte be invaded two months sooner than planned. Admiral Nimitz, General MacArthur, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff accepted his recommendation. Thus, the Leyte landing occurred before Imperial Japan could train enough naval pilots and reunite its fleet.
Admiral Halsey and USS New Jersey led the Third Fleet carriers to strike the Palau Islands in support of the Marines’ bloody invasion of Peleliu on September 15. The New Jersey then headed for the newly occupied fleet base at Ulithi atoll in the Caroline Islands.
On October 6, 1944, using a typhoon as cover, Admiral Halsey in USS New Jersey led five other battleships, nine fleet carriers, eight light carriers, fourteen cruisers, and fifty-eight destroyers straight into Japan’s inner line of defenses to clear the way for the Leyte landings. Halsey’s carrier strikes surprised Okinawa and the Ryukyus Islands. With the New Jersey refueling destroyers, Halsey’s force attacked the Japanese stronghold of Formosa (now known as Taiwan) off the Chinese coast on October 10-14, in what Halsey termed a “knock-down, drag-out fight between carrier-based and shore-based air.” When a Japanese mass air attack appeared on the New Jersey’s radar, they were routed by the Third Fleet’s coordinated defense. Together, this defense and the American air attacks on Taiwan’s airfield destroyed over 500 Japanese aircraft, including planes transferred from Japan’s weakened carriers.
After Radio Tokyo inaccurately claimed Japanese pilots had sunk most of the Third Fleet, Admiral Halsey sardonically radioed from USS New Jersey to Admiral Nimitz: “THE THIRD FLEET’S SUNKEN AND DAMAGED SHIPS HAVE BEEN SALVAGED AND ARE RETIRING AT HIGH SPEED TOWARD THE ENEMY.” Nimitz repeated Halsey’s statement from the New Jersey to the American press, which treated it as one of the Navy’s historic quotes, like John Paul Jones’s “I have not begun to fight” and Oliver Hazard Perry’s “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
The Japanese air attacks had put torpedoes into the American cruisers Canberra and Houston, causing extreme flooding. Admiral Halsey and his staff, known as his “Dirty Tricks Department,” conferred on the New Jersey. They made the bold decision to tow the two crippled cruisers and use them as bait to lure out the Japanese fleet. Wryly called “CripDiv” and “BaitDiv,” the slowly creeping ships did attract waves of Japanese planes and a Japanese cruiser force, but the force retreated when they discovered Third Fleet was otherwise intact. The American cruisers were towed safely home. President Roosevelt radioed Halsey hailing “YOUR FLEET’S MAGNIFICENT SWEEP INTO ENEMY WATERS,” “THE GALLANT FIGHTING OF YOUR FLIERS,” AND “THE ENDURANCE AND SUPERSEAMANSHIP OF YOUR FORCES.”
To liberate Leyte, the United States sent the largest naval force ever assembled. The American plan brought together for the first time the Central Pacific offensive under the Navy’s Admiral Nimitz and the Southwest Pacific offensive of the Army’s General MacArthur, with no person in overall command short of the President. MacArthur controlled not only the invading Army divisions but also the accompanying Seventh Fleet under Admiral Thomas Kinkaid, whose older battleships, small escort carriers, and amphibious ships landed and supported the ground troops. From USS New Jersey, Halsey led the Third Fleet’s fast carriers, fast battleships, and other frontline combatant ships. Nimitz’s orders to Halsey required the New Jersey and the Third Fleet to “cover and support” MacArthur’s invasion of Leyte and to “destroy enemy naval and air forces in or threatening the Philippines area.” But Halsey got the orders amended to add: “In case opportunity for destruction of major portions of the enemy fleet is offered or can be created, such destruction becomes the primary task.” Halsey invoked that loophole at the Battle for Leyte Gulf.
Admiral Halsey in the New Jersey led preparatory airstrikes against the Philippines. On October 20, 1944, over 160,000 Army troops landed on Leyte, a large island in the center of the Philippines. General MacArthur strode ashore through the surf and broadcasted: “This is the voice of freedom, General MacArthur speaking. People of the Philippines, I have returned.”
When the first American ship entered Leyte Gulf, Japan triggered its new “decisive battle” plan called Sho Ichi Go, meaning “Victory One Operation.” This complicated plan sought to use Admiral Ozawa’s carriers, which had only a few planes and trained pilots, as bait to lure Halsey and the Third Fleet away from Leyte Gulf while Japan’s still powerful surface fleet launched a two-pronged pincer attack – Admiral Takeo Kurita through San Bernardino Strait and Admiral Shōji Nishimura through Surigao Strait – into Leyte Gulf to destroy the American amphibious ships there. Japan committed to the attack all its modern battleships, including for the first time its treaty-busting battleships, Yamato and Musashi, with displacement exceeding 64,000 tons and 18.1-inch guns – both the largest ever for a battleship.
The Japanese plan resulted in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the largest battle ever fought at sea. The tonnages of the ships involved and of the ships sunk were greater than in any other naval battle, and it was fought over an area larger than the Northeast United States. It involved about 200,000 sailors and airmen, almost a thousand aircraft, nearly three hundred major warships, and hundreds of other ships. It combined for the first time all the aspects of modern naval warfare – air, surface, subsurface, and amphibious warfare. It was the only battle where ships were sunk by submarines, aircraft, and other ships, using all types of guns, torpedoes, bombs, rockets, and mines. It witnessed the last battle in which battleships fought other ships, the last naval gunfight between battle lines, and the first use of suicide planes. During the battle, USS New Jersey was the principal American flagship where Admiral Halsey made some of the most difficult, dramatic, and debated naval command decisions in World War II.
USS NEW JERSEY AT THE BATTLE FOR LEYTE GULF: OPENING MOVES
The Battle for Leyte Gulf began on October 23, 1944, when American submarines spotted the main Japanese surface fleet under Admiral Kurita approaching the Philippines from the west. The submarines sank two cruisers, and warned Admiral Halsey on USS New Jersey. Halsey arrayed the Third Fleet east of the Philippines and dispatched search planes. Early on October 24, when his scout planes spotted Kurita’s fleet and alerted the New Jersey, Halsey himself radioed his carrier groups to “STRIKE! REPEAT: STRIKE! That morning and afternoon, alsey’s carriers, guarded by the New Jersey, launched repeated airstrikes against Kurita’s force in the Sibuyan Sea, sinking the world’s heaviest battleship Musashi with 19 torpedoes and 17 bombs, and damaging several other ships.
Meanwhile, Japanese planes from the Philippines attacked the Third Fleet. They sank the light carrier Princeton, the sole American fast carrier sunk after 1942. Admiral Ozawa launched a weak airstrike from the “decoy” Japanese carriers to attract Admiral Halsey’s attention, but to the Americans it appeared to be just another land-based attack.
With Admiral Kurita heading for San Bernardino Strait, Admiral Halsey at 1512 sent a radio telegram from USS New Jersey to his subordinate commanders stating that the New Jersey, three other fast battleships, five cruisers and numerous destroyers “WILL BE FORMED AS TASK FORCE 34” under Admiral Lee, his battleship commander. Halsey’s message from the New Jersey’s powerful radio mast copied Admiral Nimitz in Pearl Harbor, and Admiral Kinkaid’s radio operators intercepted it. The radio telegram led both Nimitz and Kinkaid to assume Halsey was forming Task Force 34 and leaving it to cover San Bernardino Strait. At 1710, Halsey sent a clarifying message that “IF THE ENEMY SORTIES [through the strait], TF 34 WILL BE FORMED WHEN DIRECTED BY ME.” Unfortunately, Halsey sent this message only through the New Jersey’s short-range “Talk-Between-Ships” (TBS) voice radio, so Nimitz and Kinkaid were unaware that Task Force 34 had not yet been formed to guard the strait.
Admiral Halsey knew the location of Japan’s two surface-ship pincers – Admiral Kurita’s large force and Admiral Nishimura’s smaller force – but his staff repeatedly pounded the New Jersey’s chart table exclaiming: “Where the hell are, they, those goddam carriers?” Unbeknownst to Halsey, Admiral Ozawa was to the north sailing his decoy carrier fleet to the Philippines’ Cape Engaño – “Cape Deception” in English – trying to be discovered. Finally, American scout planes spouted Ozawa’s lead ships at 1540 and his carriers at 1640.
Meanwhile, at 1600 in the Sibuyan Sea, Admiral Kurita had turned away from San Bernardino Strait to “retire temporarily from the zone of enemy air attacks.” However, at 1714 Kurita resumed his course towards the strait. In 1935 and 2020, American night scouting planes spotted and reported Kurita’s movement into the strait to Admiral Halsey on the New Jersey. Halsey knew Admiral Kinkaid was preparing to confront Admiral Nishimura’s southern force at Surigao Strait. Halsey had to decide whether the whole Third Fleet should guard San Bernardino Strait, whether the New Jersey and Task Force 34 should guard the strait while the Third Fleet carriers struck Ozawa’s carriers, or whether the entire Third Fleet should go after Ozawa’s carriers still 300 miles to the north.
On USS New Jersey, Admiral Halsey credited his pilots’ post-strike reports and concluded Admiral Kurita’s force “had suffered so much topside damage…that it could not win a decision” and “could be left to Kinkaid.” Halsey later stated that “it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait.” He believed Kurita’s fleet “had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to the Seventh Fleet.” Moreover, Halsey was determined not to allow any ships in the Japanese carrier force to escape so he would not be accused of being “super-cautious” like Admiral Spruance in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Finally, if flagship New Jersey stayed behind with Task Force 34 to guard the strait, Halsey would miss the battle with the Japanese carriers.
Admiral Halsey decided to take USS New Jersey and the entire Third Fleet to attack the carriers. At 2022 on October 24, Halsey went into the New Jersey‘s flag plot, put his finger on Admiral Ozawa’s charted position, and told Admiral Carney, “Here’s where we are going, Mick. Start them north.” Orders flashed from the New Jersey’s towering radio masts ordering the Third Fleet’s nine fleet carriers, seven light carriers, six battleships, sixteen cruisers, and twenty-seven destroyers to speed toward Ozawa, leaving no ship to guard San Bernardino Strait.
At 2022 Admiral Halsey sent a radio telegram from USS New Jersey to Admirals Nimitz and Kinkaid stating he was “PROCEEDING NORTH WITH 3 GROUPS TO ATTACK CARRIER FORCE AT DAWN.” Nimitz and Kincaid believed this referred only to Halsey’s three carrier groups and not to Task Force 34, which they again assumed was guarding San Bernardino Strait. Based on that assumption, Kinkaid took all the Seventh Fleet’s battleships and cruisers south to meet the Admiral Nishimura’s force coming through Surigao Strait.
Contrary to their assumption, USS New Jersey and the other ships earmarked for Task Force 34 were still part of the three carrier groups and were sailing north with Admiral Halsey. At 0240, Halsey ordered Admiral Lee to form Task Force 34 with the New Jersey, five other battleships, seven cruisers, and seventeen destroyers – not to guard San Bernardino Strait but to steam north ahead of the fast carriers to shell Ozawa’s ships that survived their airstrikes.
As USS New Jersey led the entire Third Fleet north that night, some of Admiral Halsey’s subordinates were concerned that San Bernardino Strait was totally unguarded. Admiral Gerald Bogan, commander of one of Halsey’s carrier groups, used TBS to contact the New Jersey and reiterate his night scouting pilots had seen that Admiral Kurita’s force was again heading toward San Bernardino Strait and that the Japanese had turned on the strait’s navigation lights. He was told “Yes, yes, we have that information” by a staff officer on the New Jersey. Battleship commander Admiral Lee used a blinker light to signal the New Jersey he believed that Ozawa’s carrier force was a decoy and that Kurita’s fleet would come out through the strait. Lee received only “Roger” in reply from the New Jersey. When Captain Arleigh Burke, hero of night battles in the Solomons, urged carrier commander Admiral Mitscher to radio Halsey on the New Jersey to warn that Ozawa’s force was a decoy and to suggest detaching the battleships to stop Kurita, Mitscher responded that if Halsey “wants my advice he’ll ask for it.” On the New Jersey, some of Halsey’s staff expressed similar concerns but declined to wake the exhausted Halsey in the Admiral’s cabin.
As a result, the two Japanese surface-ship pincers met very different fates as they sailed into the straits leading to Leyte Gulf in the wee hours of October 25, 1944. In the darkness at Surigao Strait, Admiral Nishimura had to run a gauntlet set up by Admiral Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet. Nishimura encountered torpedo-firing PT boats, and then faced massed torpedo attacks by destroyers. He then received voluminous shellfire from a battleline – the last in history – formed by Admiral Oldendorf’s cruisers and six old battleships, five of which had been sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. The destroyers, cruisers, and battleships obliterated Nishimura’s two battleships, his heavy cruiser, and three of his four destroyers.
USS NEW JERSEY AT THE BATTLE FOR LEYTE GULF: “THE WORLD WONDERS”
By contrast, Admiral Kurita’s more powerful force debouched from San Bernardino Strait at 0035, expecting a fight but finding no ships guarding the strait. The Japanese decoy plan had succeeded. The main Japanese force sailed unchallenged around the island of Samar toward the transports in Leyte Gulf while the two American battle fleets were far to the north and south.
The only thing between Admiral Kurita’s fleet and the American amphibious ships were the Seventh Fleet’s three groups of escort carriers. Directly before the Japanese onslaught was Task Group 77.4.3, with the radio call signal “Taffy 3,” commanded by Admiral Clifton “Ziggy” Sprague. Taffy 3 had only three destroyers and four destroyer escorts screening six escort carriers – converted merchantmen each having only a dozen obsolescent fighters plus a dozen bombers armed and trained to attack ground troops and submarines rather than surface ships. Heading their way were Admiral Kurita’s four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers. Kurita’s flagship Yamato, the heaviest battleship afloat, weighed more than Taffy 3’s thirteen small ships combined.
At 0412, when reporting the results of the battle in Surigao Strait, Admiral Kinkaid decided to radio Admiral Halsey on USS New Jersey to confirm: “IS TF 34 GUARDING SAN BERNARDINO STRAIT?” Because the radio message had to be transmitted from the Seventh Fleet’s flagship to General MacArthur’s headquarters in the Admiralty Islands two thousand miles away, retransmitted to the New Jersey, and then decoded, it was not received by Admiral Halsey until 0648. At 0705, Halsey replied from the New Jersey: “NEGATIVE. [TF 34] IS WITH OUR CARRIERS NOW ENGAGING ENEMY CARRIERS,” but that coded message took two hours to reach Kinkaid and was not sent to Admiral Nimitz.
At 0700, Admiral Sprague was shocked to spot the surface fleet of Admiral Kurita, who was surprised to see the Americans had left carriers to be bombarded by surface ships. The result should have been the slaughter of the slow escort carriers and their tiny escorts. Instead, the startled reservists of Taffy 3 reacted to the Japanese onslaught as if they had trained their whole lives for such a fleet engagement. The escort carriers’ planes relentlessly attacked Japan’s armored behemoths with whatever weapons they had, including depth charges, small bombs, rockets, and machine gun bullets. When they ran out of ammunition, they made repeated dummy runs through heavy anti-aircraft fire to divert the Japanese ships. Taffy 3’s few destroyers and destroyer escorts exhausted their torpedoes in desperate charges and then closed to point-blank range to use their 5-inch guns against the impenetrable armor of the powerful Japanese ships. Xxx
At 0707, Admiral Kinkaid sent Admiral Halsey on USS New Jersey an uncoded radio message: “ENEMY B[ATTLESHIP]S AND CRUISER REPORTED FIRING ON” Taffy 3. During the next two hours, Kinkaid sent repeated urgent messages to the New Jersey that his escort carriers were being attacked by four battleships, eight cruisers, and destroyers, and asking Halsey to launch airstrikes immediately and send Admiral Lee at top speed with his battleships, including the New Jersey, to prevent the Japanese from destroying the escort carriers and entering Leyte Gulf.
Speeding north in USS New Jersey, Admiral Halsey did not receive Kinkaid’s 0707 message until 0822. Halsey did not think Kinkaid needed help from his fleet, which in any case was hundreds of miles away. Halsey muttered on the New Jersey’s flag bridge: “When I get my teeth into something, I hate to let go.” Instead, he ordered the New Jersey and Task Force 34 to speed north towards Ozawa’s carriers, while ordering Admiral John S. McCain Sr.’s distant carrier group to launch long-range airstrikes to aid Taffy 3. After receiving several of Kinkaid’s delayed messages, Halsey replied from the New Jersey at 0927: “I AM STILL ENGAGING ENEMY CARRIERS.” At 1000, Kinkaid sent another uncoded plea to the New Jersey: “WHERE IS LEE? SEND LEE.” As Tokyo Rose later commented, “Kinkaid’s hallooing for help in plain English showed great anxiety.”
Admiral Kinkaid’s messages to Admiral Halsey on USS New Jersey were being monitored at Pearl Harbor by Admiral Nimitz. Though he never interfered with commanders on the spot, the worried Nimitz eventually told his staff to send a message to Halsey on the New Jersey asking, “Where is Task Force Thirty-Four?” Hearing Nimitz’s emphasis, his staff repeated the “Where is.” An encoding officer added nonsense phrases and double consonants at either end to confuse any Japanese efforts to decode the message. Sent at 0944 on October 25, the radiogram read:
TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY-FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS.
Why the encoding officer used “The World Wonders” as padding is unknown, but October 25 happened to be the anniversary of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” celebrated in Tennyson’s poem. The poem related how, because “Someone had blundered,” a small force was sent “Charging an army, while All the world wondered” – an apt analogy for Taffy 3’s desperate charging of the main Japanese fleet. A decoder on the New Jersey properly determined the first phrase “Turkey Trots to Water” was padding, but believed the second phrase “The World Wonders” was part of the message.
At 1000, on USS New Jersey’s Flag Plot, Admiral Halsey was handed the resulting decoded message: “WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY-FOUR THE WORLD WONDERS.” He believed Admiral Nimitz was sarcastically questioning his judgment. Feeling “as stunned as if I had been struck in the face,” Halsey angrily crumpled the message and threw it and his cap on the deck of the New Jersey, stomping on them and furiously cursing. Admiral Carney rushed over and grabbed his arm, saying: “Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together!” Halsey, so mad he could not talk, stormed into his cabin on the New Jersey. There he and Carney remained for an hour of undisclosed drama, while the New Jersey and the rest of Halsey’s force continued to speed north toward Admiral Ozawa, and away from Taffy 3.
Meanwhile, waves of Admiral Halsey’s carrier planes were striking Admiral Ozawa’s carriers. Avenger torpedo bombers sank Ozawa’s flagship Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Other American planes sank two light carriers and a destroyer and crippled another light carrier and a light cruiser.
USS NEW JERSEY AT THE BATTLE FOR LEYTE GULF: “BULL’S RUN”
At 1055, finally responding to Admiral Nimitz’s message, Admiral Halsey ordered USS New Jersey to lead Task Force 34, and Admiral Bogan’s carrier group, to rescue Taffy 3. At 1115 when, as Halsey later stated, the remnants of Admiral Ozawa’s northern force “was exactly 42 miles from the muzzles of my 16‑inch guns” on the New Jersey, she, five other battleships, and the rest of Task Force 34 reversed course and headed south. By that time, Task Force 34 was so far from San Bernardino Strait that it could not get there for more than thirteen hours given the slower speed of its older battleships.
As Admiral Halsey “turned my back on the opportunity I had dreamed of since my days as a cadet,” taking the New Jersey and Task Force 34 south, smaller Third Fleet ships kept going north to attack Admiral Ozawa’s battered force. American cruisers sank the crippled light carrier and another destroyer, and a submarine sank the crippled light cruiser. However, the reduced American force could not prevent the escape of two damaged Japanese battleships Ise and Hyuga, a cruiser, and four destroyers. Halsey later said he “made a mistake in bowing to pressure and turning south. I consider this the gravest error I committed during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.”
Meanwhile, Taffy 3’s escort carriers were being boxed in by Admiral Kurita’s armada. By 1010, his force sank two destroyers, a destroyer escort, and the escort carrier Gambier Bay – the first carrier to be sunk in the Pacific by enemy gunfire. Nonetheless, the heroic efforts of the Taffys’ pilots and the sacrificial attack of Taffy 3’s little escorts had fatally wounded three Japanese heavy cruisers and had bewildered Kurita, making him think he was facing the heavy ships and fleet carriers of the Third Fleet. Just as Admiral Sprague expected his ships to be annihilated, Kurita ordered his ships north to reorganize at 0911. At 1236 Kurita “abandoned penetration of Leyte anchorage,” and headed back to San Bernardino Strait. As Admiral Halsey later told Sprague: “you wrote the most glorious page in American naval history that day.” Sadly, later that day, Japan for the first time launched kamikaze suicide planes. They hit Taffy One and Taffy Three, sinking Sprague’s escort carrier St. Lo and damaging several others.
At 1701, Admiral Halsey ordered the fastest part of Task Force 34 – USS New Jersey, Iowa, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers – to race ahead at almost 30 knots to catch Admiral Kurita’s force in a night action. However, before this Task Force 34.5 reached San Bernardino Strait, Kurita escaped into the strait at 2140 with his remaining ships except the destroyer Nowaki, which stayed to rescue survivors. At 0100 on October 26, Nowaki was exploded by Task Force 34.5’s cruisers and destroyers. Halsey could see the distant fight from the New Jersey – the only surface action he eve witnessed – but the New Jersey and Iowa never fired a shot. Thus, ended Halsey’s run to the south, which pundits dubbed “Bull’s Run.” As author Ian Toll stated, “The mighty New Jersey had chased 300 miles north, turned around, and chased 300 miles south. Her part in the battle was finished, and her guns were cold.”
If Admiral Halsey had left Task Force 34 behind to guard San Bernardino Strait, or perhaps immediately sent it south at Kinkaid’s first call for help, its battleships would have encountered Kurita’s battleships on October 25. The heaviest battleship afloat, Yamato, together with three other battleships, could have faced America’s best battleships New Jersey and Iowa, and perhaps the four slower American battleships. Yamato’s nine 18.1-inch guns, the largest ever on a ship, could fire 3,219-pound shells over 25 miles. The nine 16-inch guns of the New Jersey and Iowa could fire 2,700-pound shells almost 24 miles. But the New Jersey and Iowa were faster, handier, more stable, better constructed, and could fire faster and more accurately. As the Navy’s historian Morison stated, “What a brawl that would have been …!” If Bull’s Run had resulted in only the New Jersey and Iowa dueling the four Japanese battleships, it might have been a close call.
However, Admiral Halsey’s command decisions on USS New Jersey resulted in Task Force 34 being unable to fight a surface engagement either against Admiral Ozawa’s carrier force or Admiral Kurita’s main force. Those decisions remain controversial and debated to this day, making the New Jersey center stage for some of the most dramatic and historic scenes in the Pacific War.
Nonetheless, the Battle for Leyte Gulf was a smashing American victory, and one of the most decisive naval battles in World War II. All three Japanese forces were defeated, and the amphibious attack on Leyte proceeded unimpeded. The Japanese lost warships displacing 305,710 tons (a fleet carrier, 3 light carriers, 3 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 9 destroyers), about 300 planes, and approximately 12,500 sailors and airmen. The Americans lost warships displacing 36,600 tons (a light carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort, 1 PT Boat), about 200 planes, and approximately 3000 men. As Admiral Kurita’s chief of staff admitted, the battle “spelled the collapse of our Navy as an effective fighting force.” Japan’s ships never again tried to challenge the United States Navy in battle. Moreover, as the Japanese Navy minister stated, “our defeat at Leyte was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines. When you took the Philippines, that was the end of our resources.” The battle paved the way for liberation of the Philippines and Allied victory in the Pacific. And USS New Jersey was at the heart of it all, its flag plot “the room where it happened.”
USS NEW JERSEY, HALSEY’S FLAGSHIP IN TYPHOON COBRA AND THE CHINA SEA
After the Battle for Leyte Gulf, USS New Jersey picked up downed fliers and Japanese sailors in the water. She rejoined the fast carriers on October 27, 1944. As Admiral Halsey’s flagship, she led the Third Fleet as it supported General MacArthur’s difficult, two-month struggle to take Leyte from the reinforced Japanese Army. For weeks, the New Jersey provided anti-aircraft protection for the carriers whose planes struck airfields in Luzon, the main island in the Philippines. They sank a heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, several destroyers, and many transports bearing reinforcements.
The Third Fleet was bedeviled by kamikaze planes, whose crash-dive suicide attacks were easier for inexperienced pilots than dropping bombs or torpedoes, harder to stop because the Americans had to destroy the attacking plane completely, and more devastating because the plane and its fuel added to the destructive force of its bombs. Day after day, kamikaze and conventional planes would attack. Most were downed by Navy planes, carriers, the screen, or the New Jersey, but some got through. On October 29, 1944, USS New Jersey shot down a kamikaze who nonetheless managed to crash into the carrier Intrepid. On November 25, the New Jersey shot down six kamikazes and damaged several others, but some still struck four carriers. From USS New Jersey, Admiral Halsey saw her gunners hit a kamikaze who nonetheless again crashed into Intrepid, which “went through hell. An instant after she was hit, she was wrapped in flames.” The New Jersey sent its medical staff to help the wounded from the stricken ships.
On November 27, 1944, USS New Jersey finally returned to Ulithi. Since leaving Pearl Harbor in August, she had been at sea for 85 of 95 days, engaged in near-constant fighting, and steamed 36,185 miles – equal to 1½ times around the world.
On December 11, 1944, Admiral Halsey in USS New Jersey led the Third Fleet whose planes blanketed Luzon on December 14-16 to support Army landings on Mindoro Island in the Philippines. With an airstrike scheduled for December 19, Halsey ordered the fleet to refuel at sea on December 17. The weather was unsettled, but on the New Jersey the barometer was normal and Halsey’s aerologist, a weather expert, did not think it would worsen. To avoid the weather, Halsey moved the fueling rendezvous south.
Unfortunately, this took Third Fleet right in the path of Typhoon Cobra. Mountainous waves broke over the carriers’ high flight decks, peeling them back like sardine can lids. Winds up to 100 knots blew destroyers around like corks. Ships lost steering control and power. Even the stable New Jersey pitched and rolled, hanging near the point of no return. Admiral Halsey said “this typhoon tossed our enormous ship as if it was a canoe.” Halsey added: “The 70-foot seas smash you from all sides…. At broad noon I couldn’t see the bow of my ship, 350 feet from the bridge.… What it was like on a destroyer one-twentieth the New Jersey’s size, I can only imagine.”
With several destroyers dangerously low on fuel and high in the water, Admiral Halsey ordered refueling to continue. USS New Jersey tried to refuel the destroyer Spence, but Spence rolled so wildly that the fuel lines parted, and she almost collided with the New Jersey. With barometers setting record lows, Halsey postponed refueling and ordered the fleet to hold a new course, which inadvertently prolonged its ordeal in the typhoon and prevented skippers from maneuvering independently.
Typhoon Cobra and USS New Jersey were immortalized in Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer-prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny, which was made into a movie. Wouk’s novel first gave a vivid description of the New Jersey when minesweeper Caine’s Lieutenants Maryk and Keefer (played by Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray in the movie) come aboard at Ulithi before the typhoon to seek help with their troubled Captain Queeg (played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie) from Admiral Halsey on “the imposing New Jersey” (played by a carrier in the movie, filmed when USS New Jersey was busy fighting in the Korean War). “The flat steel wall of the battleship’s side confronted them. It towered like a skyscraper and stretched away, seemingly for blocks, on either side, hiding the atoll.” “Looking at the majestic main deck of the New Jersey,” the Caine’s officers see “the New Jersey’s pelican hook was as big as the Caine’s main guns; one link of the battleship’s anchor chain would have stretched across the minesweeper’s entire bow; and the main battery, the long, long cannons with their turrets, seemed bigger than the whole Caine.” “The great central citadel of the bridge and stacks jutted out of the deck skyward, a pyramid of metal, nervous with anti-aircraft batteries and radars; the deck dwindled aft beyond it for hundreds of feet. The New Jersey was awesome.” Keefer gets scared, telling Maryk: “Can’t you feel the real difference between the New Jersey and the Caine? This is the Navy, here, the real Navy.”
After the Caine’s officers abandon their effort to see Admiral Halsey, they watch USS New Jersey and other “floating iron skyscrapers” head off to support the landing on Mindoro as part of “the most formidable sea force that the planet has ever borne.” During the typhoon, the Caine sees the New Jersey trying to refuel a destroyer but “the fueling line parts” with “the destroyer yawing violently near the battleship, trailing a snaky black hose. The fueling gear dangled crazy free from the battleship’s main deck.” When Captain Queeg refuses to diverge from the fleet course set by Halsey, the fictional mutiny occurs to save the Caine from foundering like a capsized destroyer it encounters. Thus, the typhoon results in a court-martial.
Reality was worse. In the typhoon’s two-day ordeal, Spence and two other destroyers capsized and sank. Several light and escort carriers were badly damaged, with stowed planes breaking loose and staring fires. An athletic lieutenant, future President Gerald Ford, was almost swept overboard as he helped save his burning carrier Monterey. The typhoon damaged many other ships, destroyed 156 planes, and drowned 790 men. Admiral Nimitz said the typhoon’s damage “represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action.” The New Jersey lost its float planes but escaped serious damage.
Admiral Halsey had to abandon the strikes on Mindoro and bring USS New Jersey and the battered fleet back to Ulithi. On December 24, 1944, the newly-promoted Nimitz flew in from Pearl Harbor and came aboard the New Jersey – the first time the five-star flag of a Fleet Admiral was raised over a Navy warship. Nimitz spent Christmas conferring with Halsey on the New Jersey. Nimitz ordered a court of inquiry, which ruled Halsey had committed “errors of judgment” in the typhoon. Nimitz found the errors were “committed under the stress of war operations” and resulted “from a commendable desire to meet military commitments,” and did not relieve the popular Halsey.
On December 30, 1944, Admiral Halsey in USS New Jersey led the Third Fleet to sea to aid General MacArthur’s liberation on Luzon. The New Jersey escorted fast carriers striking Okinawa, Taiwan, and then Luzon. Halsey’s attacks devastated Japanese airpower on Luzon and stemmed the tide of kamikazes, which had sunk 24 ships and damaged 67 others in the Seventh Fleet carrying MacArthur’s Army. The Army was able to land at Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945, and eventually liberate Manila and the rest of Luzon.
From January 10 to 20, 1945, Admiral Halsey in USS New Jersey took the Third Fleet into the South China Sea, a Japanese bastion. Fighting off kamikazes, the New Jersey protected carriers which struck Japanese bases in Vietnam, Canton and Hainan Island in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. With Halsey on the New Jersey exhorting “GIVE THEM HELL,” American planes sank 15 combat ships, 12 tankers, and 17 merchant ships, destroyed over 500 planes, and isolated Japan from its conquered “resource area” in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Halsey and the New Jersey led a surface fleet to engage battleships Ise and Hyuga at their reported position in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, but they once again were able to flee from Halsey.
After the South China Sea sortie, which Admiral Nimitz termed “well-conceived and brilliantly executed,” Admiral Halsey and USS New Jersey led the Third Fleet to bomb and scout Okinawa. Upon returning to Ulithi on January 25, 1945, the New Jersey hosted Admiral Spruance who conferred with Halsey. Two days later, Spruance took command and the Third Fleet again became the Fifth Fleet. Halsey’s parting message from the New Jersey to the fleet accurately stated: “We have driven the enemy off the sea and back to his inner defenses. Superlatively well done.”
USS NEW JERSEY HELPS TAKE IWO JIMA AND OKINAWA AND STRIKES JAPAN
On February 10, 1945, Admiral Spruance led USS New Jersey and the rest of the Fifth Fleet to the Bonin Islands in support of the invasion of Iwo Jima. The goal was to secure a base to escort and recover B-29 bombers attacking Japan from the Marianas. On February 16-17, to prevent kamikazes from interfering with the landings, the New Jersey escorted the first major carrier strike against Japan. From only 60 miles off the Japanese coast, Fifth Fleet’s planes blasted airfields and aircraft plants. They destroyed shipping and over 500 hundred aircraft around Tokyo in what Admiral Mitscher called “the greatest air victory of the war for carrier aviation.” The New Jersey then covered the carriers as their planes bombed Iwo Jima during and after the Marines’ landing on February 19. The New Jersey shot down more Japanese planes.
Despite massive air and naval support, Iwo Jima became “the most savage and the most costly battle in the history of the Marine Corps.” As Admiral Nimitz stated, “uncommon valor was a common virtue,” illustrated by the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi. Kamikazes from Japan eventually struck the fleet off Iwo Jima, sinking an escort carrier, the last carrier sunk in the war. The New Jersey screened the fleet carriers which again struck Tokyo on February 25, and then reconnoitered and bombed the next invasion target, Okinawa. The New Jersey returned to Ulithi on March 5, but even that remote atoll was the target of a night kamikaze attack on March 12.
On March 14, 1945, Admiral Spruance took USS New Jersey and the Fifth Fleet’s carriers for renewed airstrikes on Japan, hitting warships and airfields. The task force was subjected to a flurry of attacking bombers and kamikazes, including the first use of rocket-powered piloted flying bombs. On March 19, the New Jersey shot down about a half dozen aircraft attacking the carriers, damaged others, and used her floatplane to rescue a downed carrier pilot. However, kamikazes hit several carriers, including Franklin, the most heavily damaged carrier to be saved in the war. The carriers’ strikes destroyed an estimated 500 planes and reduced Japanese air attacks during the Okinawa landing.
On March 24, 1945, USS New Jersey bombarded Okinawa in preparation for the April 1 invasion by four Army and three Marine divisions. This was the largest amphibious operation in the Pacific and proved to be the final amphibious operation of the war. The New Jersey was the only Iowa-class battleship to support every Marine amphibious invasion in the Pacific in 1944-45, as well as General MacArthur’s amphibious operations in New Guinea and the Philippines.
Off Okinawa on April 2, 1945, the destroyer Franks, changing its patrol station during a stormy night, tried to cross right in front of USS New Jersey’s bow. Through emergency rudder and engine maneuvers, the New Jersey avoided cutting the destroyer in two but still sideswiped her in a shower of sparks. Franks was severely damaged, and her captain killed by collision with the battleship’s anchor. The New Jersey sustained only negligible damage and continued escorting the carriers.
Recognizing that an American capture of Okinawa would enable the invasion of its Home Islands, Japan launched an all-out offensive against the invasion fleet on April 6, 1945. Almost seven hundred Japanese planes attacked the fast carriers and invasion fleet, and the giant battleship Yamato and escorts embarked on a one-way attack aimed at Okinawa. On April 7, while still hundreds of miles from Okinawa, Yamato and several escorts were sunk by 280 American planes from the carriers, while the New Jersey protected the carriers from attacking aircraft. This pointedly illustrated the new roles of carriers and battleships.
USS New Jersey and the Fifth Fleet weathered the most powerful kamikaze attacks of the war, with over 355 kamikazes and 340 other planes attacking on April 6-7, and 185 kamikazes and a hundred or more other planes on April 11-12, 1945. Unlike the flammable carriers, the Iowa-class ships were near impervious to kamikazes. The New Jersey shot down at least one of the hundreds of planes downed by American ships and planes. Nonetheless, these initial waves sank three destroyers, three smaller warships, and two transports, and damaged two carriers and dozens of small ships, some beyond repair. These and other attacks cost Japan over a thousand aircraft and made April one of the bloodiest months in the war for the Navy. These suicide attacks, and the fanatical resistance by Japanese soldiers on Okinawa until June 22, helped convince new President Harry Truman that invasion of Japan itself would be exceedingly bloody and that use of the atomic bomb was a better alternative.
On April 15, 1945, USS New Jersey held a memorial service for President Franklin Roosevelt, who had died three days before. The next day, the New Jersey headed for Ulithi, Pearl Harbor, and Seattle. She had helped carry the American advance thousands of miles from the edge of the Japanese outer defensive perimeter in the Marshalls to the doorstep of Japan itself. And she did so without losing a man in combat.
USS NEW JERSEY IS FLAGSHIP FOR SPRUANCE, THE OCCUPATION OF JAPAN, AND THE ATLANTIC
On May 6, 1945, USS New Jersey arrived for overhaul at Navy Yard Puget Sound in Bremerton, Washington. Her unique round bridge was replaced by the same squared off bridge that had been installed on Missouri and Wisconsin during their construction and on Iowa during a refit. The New Jersey received a more substantial tripod mainmast in place of her previous pole mast, allowing her to handle more radar and radio antennas. Some of her single barreled 20mm anti-aircraft guns were replaced by twin barreled 20mm mounts.
Meanwhile, on May 27, 1945, Admiral Spruance yielded command of the main Pacific Fleet to Admiral Halsey, who was told his flagship would be Missouri. Halsey later related: “I was sorry not to have the New Jersey again, but she was in overhaul.”
USS New Jersey sailed from Bremerton on June 30, 1945. After sea trials off California and drills off Pearl Harbor, she headed back to the war on August 2. On August 8, the New Jersey used her 16-inch and 5-inch guns to bombard Wake Island, captured after a heroic defense by the Marines in 1941. The Japanese returned fire but missed. The New Jersey sailed on to Eniwetok and then Guam – some of the many islands the New Jersey helped recapture. At Guam, Admirals Nimitz and Spruance conferred about the planned invasion of Japan’s Home Islands.
On August 14, 1945, USS New Jersey again became the flagship of Admiral Spruance and the Fifth Fleet for the November invasion of Kyushu. That day, however, the Japanese agreed to capitulate. Japan surrendered only after the destruction of Japan’s fleet in battles in which the New Jersey participated, and – from Marianas bases the New Jersey helped seize – the final submarine campaign that annihilated Japan’s merchant marine and the conventional and atomic bombing attacks that devastated Japan’s cities and industry. Thus, ended World War II and the largest naval war in history, in which the New Jersey had a leading role.
As the Fifth Fleet flagship, USS New Jersey was a frontrunner to be the site for the Japanese surrender. However, the Missouri, named after President Truman’s home state and christened by his daughter, was chosen instead. The New Jersey carried Admiral Spruance to devastated Manila on August 20, 1945, where he conferred with General MacArthur about the upcoming occupation of Japan. On August 30, the New Jersey brought Spruance to Okinawa, where he and Fifth Fleet kept a watchful eye on Japanese forces until their surrender to MacArthur on Missouri on September 2.
USS New Jersey steamed 200,000 miles during the war. She earned the following commendations: World War II Victory Medal; Navy Occupation Service Medal; Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation; America Defense Service Ribbon; and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon with nine battle stars – 1. Asiatic Pacific Raids, 2. Hollandia Operations, 3. Marianas Operations, 4. West Caroline Operations, 5. Marshall Island Operations, 6. Leyte Operations, 7. Luzon Operations, 8. Iwo Jima Operations, and 9. Okinawa Operations.
Admiral Spruance and USS New Jersey arrived in Tokyo Bay on September 17, 1945. The New Jersey was the first flagship for the occupation of Japan. From the New Jersey, Spruance commanded all naval forces in Japanese waters. There, he supervised the landing of General MacArthur’s occupation Army, repatriation of Allied prisoners and surrendering Japanese garrisons, and the sweeping of many mines laid in Japanese waters. The New Jersey was Spruance’s last seagoing assignment.
On November 8, 1945, USS New Jersey became the flagship of Admiral John H. Towers, who had helped pioneer naval aviation. Both Spruance and Towers went on to command the Pacific Fleet. On January 18, 1946, the New Jersey became the flagship of Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, who had commanded carriers in battles from Coral Sea to Leyte Gulf.
On January 28, 1946, USS New Jersey yielded her role as flagship of the Fifth Fleet and the Japanese occupation. The next day, she set sail for home. As part of Operation Magic Carpet, she carried nearly a thousand American troops home, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on February 10.
World War II proved the value of the truly fast battleship, but it also showed that the aircraft carrier was now the queen of the seas. Moreover, the destruction of all major hostile surface navies, the coming of peace, and the advent of nuclear weapons reduced the need to maintain the largest fleet in history. U.S. defense spending was drastically reduced, and 90% of the Navy’s ships were decommissioned. As a result, the two Iowa-class battleships under construction (Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66)) were scrapped, and the more powerful but slower Montana-class battleships (BB-67 through BB-71) were never started. After Britain finished a battleship under construction in 1946, no more battleships were built.
For the same reasons, the 19 slower battleships that fought in World War II were decommissioned by 1947. Most of them were scrapped or expended as targets in atom bomb tests. Even the speedy Iowa-class ships were targeted by the budget-cutters. President Truman ordered Missouri to remain active, but the other three Iowa-class battleships were decommissioned and placed in reserve by March 1949.
USS New Jersey remained in commission until June 30, 1948. At Long Beach, California, in 1946, she prepared to observe the atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll, but they went on without her. She was docked at Bremerton until early 1947, when she returned through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic. On May 23, 1947, the New Jersey had a 4th birthday bash in Bayonne, New Jersey, attended by New Jersey Governor Alfred Driscoll and former Governor Walter Edge.
USS New Jersey was selected as to participate in the Navy’s first midshipman training to Europe since 1938. These cruises involved removing some of the ship’s own crew and bringing on board Naval Academy midshipmen to rotate through various departments of the ship and learn various jobs. On June 7, 1947, the New Jersey set off on the training cruise carrying over 500 Naval Academy midshipmen. Arriving in Scotland, the New Jersey was greeted by the British Home Fleet. She became the flagship of the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fleet commanded by Admiral Richard “Close-In” Conolly, who had supported amphibious invasions in the Atlantic and Pacific.
In Norway, USS New Jersey was visited by King Haakon VII and escorted by future King Olav V. In England, members of her crew were entertained by King George VI and the future Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The crew of the New Jersey, flagship of the largest battle at sea in history, visited HMS Victory, flagship of the largest naval battle in the age of sail. After training exercises in the Caribbean, the New Jersey and the midshipmen arrived in New York on August 28.
As a new and powerful battleship, USS New Jersey was placed in reserve. To preserve her for possible future use, the Navy began the process popularly known as “mothballing.” The ship was sealed up with dehumidification equipment running inside alongside desiccant packs to prevent mold and water degradation. Equipment was coated with preservative grease like cosmoline, and non-moving parts were preserved under layers of paint.
On June 30, 1948, USS New Jersey was decommissioned at Bayonne in a ceremony headed by four-star Admirals H. Kent Hewitt and Thomas Kinkaid, who had led amphibious invasions in the European and Pacific Theaters, respectively. At her decommissioning, the New Jersey’s captain noted: “She has no potential foe worthy of her steel.”
USS NEW JERSEY REACTIVATED FOR THE KOREAN WAR AS 7TH FLEET FLAGSHIP
Unfortunately, a foe appeared on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces blitzed across the 38th Parallel into South Korea. They captured its capital Seoul and drove the beleaguered South Korean units and reinforcing U.S. forces into the Pusan Perimeter. With only the Missouri still active, a call went out for more battleship support, and USS New Jersey was the first to answer.
By September 1950, when the Missouri finally reached Korea and General Ned Almond’s X Corps landed at Incheon, the Navy began to reactivate the New Jersey. The mothballing process was reversed, and a new crew trained. USS New Jersey was commissioned for the second time on November 21, with Admiral Halsey speaking and breaking out his five-star flag. The catapults that had launched her Seahawk floatplanes were removed to make room for landings on the fantail by a new Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter. The New Jersey’s remaining single mount 20mm anti-aircraft guns had been removed and were replaced by eight more dual 20mm mounts by the time she sailed for Korea.
After reactivation and training in the Caribbean, USS New Jersey sailed through the Panama Canal on April 20, 1951, passing the homeward-bound Missouri. Meanwhile, in the fall U.N. forces had recaptured Seoul and surged towards North Korea’s border with China. In the winter, they had reeled back as huge numbers of Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River and retook Seoul. In the early part of 1951, U.N. forces again had liberated Seoul and pushed back above the 38th Parallel.
USS New Jersey arrived in Japan on May 12, 1951 and became the flagship of the Seventh Fleet under Admiral Harold Martin, who had commanded a carrier at Leyte Gulf. The New Jersey reached the east coast of Korea on May 17. The Communist forces had just driven the outnumbered U.N. forces back across the 38th Parallel to the gates of Seoul in the biggest battle of the war. The Chinese then launched a major offensive against General Almond’s X Corps near the east coast. The New Jersey promptly pitched in on May 19, shelling Kansong just above the Parallel to interdict enemy supplies.
USS New Jersey next bombarded Wonson, a major port and transportation center behind Communist lines. There, on May 21, 1951, a North Korean shore battery scored a direct hit that did no significant damage to the heavily armored Turret I, and a near miss that sprayed the ship with shrapnel, killing Seaman Robert Oesterwind. He was the only sailor ever killed in action on the New Jersey throughout the many conflicts in which she participated over her four commissionings. The New Jersey returned fire and quickly obliterated the shore battery. She bombarded Wonson multiple times over the next two years, silencing any shore batteries that fired back. The New Jersey was the only battleship that participated in the Navy’s siege of Wonson, the longest naval blockade in modern history.
In late May 1951, U.N. forces counterattacked, driving the Communist forces back above the 38th Parallel. Supporting X Corps’ advance, USS New Jersey bombarded the Communist supply line near the Parallel at Yangyang and Kansong, dropping bridge spans, exploding ammunition dumps, and shelling enemy troops. Her helicopters worked to rescue downed aviators. During June, while U.N. forces penetrated the Iron Triangle, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Forrest Sherman, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet Admiral Arthur Radford, and Far East Naval Commander Admiral Turner Joy boarded the New Jersey and watched her bombard Wonson. Admiral Arleigh Burke, a future CNO, also visited by highline to confer with Admiral Martin. In June and July, the New Jersey provided sustained fire support for a U.N. offensive near Kansong.
With the battlelines stabilizing and negotiations beginning, USS New Jersey still alternated between escorting carriers and bombarding the North Korean coast. After the Communists broke off talks in August 1951, the New Jersey provided naval gunfire support for the U.N. troops ashore near Kansong. Her firing broke up counterattacks, harassed the enemy at night, and supported amphibious feints while X Corps took Heartbreak Ridge and the Punchbowl. In October and November, she ranged far north up the North Korean coast, bombarding Hungnam, Hamhung, Iwon, Tanchon, Songjin, and Chongjin, almost within 16-inch range of Siberia.
USS New Jersey fired three times more 16-inch ammunition in her first tour in Korea than she had in World War II. Her 16-inch guns could range twenty miles inland, outdistancing Army artillery and demolishing targets that had survived repeated air attacks. Her 16- and 5-inch guns destroyed enemy bridges, tunnels, road and rail junctions, railroad yards, trains, bunkers, trenches, troops, mortar pits, artillery positions, shore batteries, supply dumps, ammo dumps, a dam, and an oil refinery. An aerial spotter said the New Jersey put “every shot on target – most beautiful shooting I have seen in five years.” General Almond praised the New Jersey’s fire for its devastating effect on enemy morale, equipment, and personnel.
In addition, USS New Jersey still served as Seventh Fleet flagship. Army Chief of Staff Omar Bradley and Far East Commander Matthew Ridgeway came aboard to confer with Admiral Martin on October 1, 1951. Her helicopters rescued Navy pilots downed in or near North Korea, and her doctors cared for wounded from a South Korean frigate damaged by shore batteries.
On November 22, 1951, as delegates at Panmunjom agreed that the current battleline would be the truce line, USS New Jersey was relieved by the newly arrived Wisconsin (later relieved by Iowa). The New Jersey headed back to her homeport of Norfolk via Long Beach and the Panama Canal. Her remaining sixteen twin 20mm mounts were removed, and a Navy librarian removed any books from her library that might be deemed subversive in the McCarthy era.
In the summer of 1952, USS New Jersey served as flagship for that summer’s midshipman training cruise. After a high-speed meeting with the world’s fastest ocean liner United States (now berthed in sight of the New Jersey), the New Jersey visited France, Portugal, and the Caribbean. In the fall, she trained reservists. She then reloaded ammunition and trained to head back to the war.
USS NEW JERSEY RETURNS TO KOREA, AND IS FLAGSHIP OF THE 7TH AND 2ND FLEETS
While USS New Jersey was away, the Korean truce talks had broken down, and new President Dwight D. Eisenhower had “go[ne] to Korea” to find a way to peace. On March 5, 1953, the New Jersey left Norfolk for her second tour off Korea. That same day, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died. Thereafter, the Communists made peace overtures but resumed ground attacks.
On April 6, 1953, after passing through the Panama Canal and stopping in Long Beach, Hawaii, and Japan, USS New Jersey again became Seventh Fleet flagship, this time for Admiral Joseph “Jocko” Clark, who led carriers in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and was the first Native American admiral in the Navy. The New Jersey relieved Missouri, which had relieved Iowa. The New Jersey resumed escorting carriers but spent most of her time in the Sea of Japan bombarding the east coast of North Korea, destroying coastal batteries, communication facilities, train tracks, bridges, and tunnels, and other targets at Kojo, Chongjin, Hungnam, Songjin, and Wonson. Once again Wonson shore batteries fired and were silenced by the New Jersey.
USS New Jersey headed into the Yellow Sea and shelled Chinnampo on North Korea’s west coast on May 25. When the Communists launched a major offensive, the New Jersey returned to the east coast. Over the next two months, she launched some of her heaviest and most accurate bombardments, again hitting Wonson, Hungnam, and Tanchon and directly supporting U.N. troops near Kansong. She thus helped apply pressure on the Communist negotiators at Panmunjom. She fired the last salvo of the war at Wonson when the armistice was signed on July 27, with a New Jersey delegation present.
During this tour, the New Jersey was repeatedly visited by the President of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, and his wife. They first came aboard at Pusan on April 14, 1953. The Rhees and Eighth Army commander General Maxwell Taylor attended USS New Jersey’s 10th anniversary celebration at Incheon on May 23. On September 16, President Rhee presented the Korean Presidential Unit Citation to the Seventh Fleet and Admiral Clark.
For her two tours between May 17, 1951, and July 27, 1953, USS New Jersey was awarded the Korean Service Medal with four battle stars – 1. Communist China Spring Offensive, 2. United Nations Summer/Fall Offensive, 3. Korean Summer/Fall Offensive, and 4. Third Korean Winter Offensive. She also received the National Defense Service Medal and the China Service Medal.
With the fighting ended in Korea, the New Jersey visited Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, where Wisconsin relieved her as Seventh Fleet flagship on October 14, 1953. The New Jersey sailed to Hawaii and California, carrying GIs returning from the war. She headed through the Panama Canal to Cuba and Norfolk. There on April 12, 1954, she hosted the Atlantic Fleet change of command ceremony, presided over by now-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carney. She was the Navy’s featured attraction at New York’s Armed Forces Day that May.
On June 7, 1954, off the Virginia Capes, all four Iowa-class battleships steamed together for the first and only time. USS New Jersey continued steaming on the summer cruise for 700 midshipmen. The New Jersey first stopped in Spain to cement a new pact which allowed the United States to use bases in that diplomatically isolated country. She went on to visit France and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, traditionally the cruise’s final destination, where gunnery training occurred.
In an overhaul in Norfolk, USS New Jersey, like the other Iowa-class battleships, had her 16-inch gun barrels removed and replaced. The guns had a lifespan of 300 full charge shots per barrel before the shells wore the rifling away and made the gun inaccurate. By the end of their second war, the Navy decided to replace them. Fortunately, barrels were a long lead-time item, so barrels had been procured for Illinois, Kentucky, and some of the Montana-class battleships even though the ships never were completed. Those barrels were used to replace the ones on the New Jersey. Her original barrels were relined and went on to be preserved at locations around the country. The gunnery department also prepared to receive W-23 nuclear 16-inch shells. Fifty such shells were produced, but it is unknown whether they were deployed on the New Jersey or his sister ships.
In 1955, after a shakedown cruise to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, USS New Jersey took the midshipmen on a summer cruise to Spain, England, and Cuba. From September 1955 to January 1956, she joined the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, stopping in Gibraltar, Spain, and France. On a diplomatic mission after the formation of the Warsaw Pact, the New Jersey visited feuding NATO allies Greece and Turkey, and was the first U.S. warship to visit Trieste after its restoration to Italy from nonaligned Yugoslavia.
After exercises in the Caribbean, USS New Jersey returned to Norfolk and helped the first supercarrier, USS Forrestal, in her initial workup. In summer 1956, she conducted the midshipman cruise to Norway, Great Britain, and Cuba, returning July 31. In August, the New Jersey became Admiral Charles Wellborn’s flagship for the Second Fleet and NATO’s Striking Fleet Atlantic. After visiting Portugal, Scotland, and Norway, she led NATO exercises north of the Artic Circle. Shortly after the New Jersey returned to Norfolk on October 15, the Cold War heated up, with Soviet tanks suppressing a revolt in Hungary.
After the Korean War, the Navy again began decommissioning ships. Missouri had been decommissioned in Bremerton in 1955. USS New Jersey was decommissioned on August 21, 1957, in Bayonne, New Jersey, after a party featuring actress Julie Newmar as Miss New Jersey. Iowa and Wisconsin were decommissioned in early 1958 and laid up in Philadelphia. The New Jersey remained at Bayonne until the summer of 1962 when she was towed to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in a consolidation of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
USS NEW JERSEY IS REACTIVATED FOR THE VIETNAM WAR AS THE WORLD’S ONLY OPERATING BATTLESHIP
In the 1960s, with American involvement ramping up in Vietnam, there were repeated calls to bring back a battleship. North Vietnam had the largest air defense network in the world, which was taking a heavy toll on Air Force and Navy jets and pilots engaged in the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign. USS New Jersey’s 16-inch shells could not be shot down and had no pilot who could be taken prisoner. As naval aviator and POW Jeremiah Denton said in the 1980s when he was a Senator urging the reactivation of the New Jersey: “In Vietnam, we lost hundreds of aircraft at great cost in lives, as well as in dollars, that could have been saved had a battleship been on station. A battleship could have knocked out the Thanh Hoa bridge that I was bombing at the time I was shot down [in 1965]. We lost five planes in one day on that one target. I point out that the Thanh Hoa bridge was only 12 miles inland, well within the range of the 16-inch guns on the Iowa-class battleships.” Moreover, the 16-inch guns would allow the New Jersey to support the troops while out of range of shore batteries that were damaging cruisers firing 8-inch guns.
On May 31, 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara authorized a study on whether to reactivate a battleship. On August 1, he made the decision to recommission USS New Jersey “for employment in the Pacific Fleet to augment the naval gunfire support force in Southeast Asia.” The New Jersey was selected because she was in the best material condition of the four battleships.
The work to recommission the New Jersey was performed in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where she had been built. To save money, only a minimum amount of work was performed. $21.5 million dollars was spent to rehabilitate the ship, add new radars and electronics, install a helicopter pad, upgrade the aviation fueling facilities on the fantail, and remove the 40mm guns. A closed-circuit television system was also added for a crew raised in a television age.
In 1967, surface-to-surface missiles had sunk a warship for the first time when the Egyptians fired Soviet Styx missiles at an Israeli destroyer. In the refit, USS New Jersey received electronic countermeasures and four Zuni rocket launchers modified to shoot shredded aluminum foil chaff to fool the radar of enemy missiles.
Without the 20mm and 40mm antiaircraft guns, USS New Jersey was crewed by less than 60% of her World War II compliment. As a result, she was recommissioned at the lightest weight ever achieved by an Iowa-class battleship. When she was performing her trials off the Virginia Capes on March 27, 1968, she reached a sustained top speed of 35.2 knots (40.5 mph), making the New Jersey the fastest battleship ever, and earning her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
While USS New Jersey was readying again for action, 1968 had opened with the Tet offensive against cities throughout South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were repulsed with heavy losses by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces, but the Tet offensive shocked America and fueled opposition to the war. On March 31, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would enter negotiations, drop his bid for re-election, and halt bombing north of the 19th Parallel – thus shielding much of North Vietnam (including the Thanh Hoa bridge) from bombardment by the New Jersey. When she was commissioned for the third time on April 6, there were a few protestors among the many well-wishers at the Philadelphia celebration.
On May 16, 1968, USS New Jersey, the world’s only active battleship, left Philadelphia and the mothballed Iowa and Wisconsin. The New Jersey passed through the Panama Canal into the Pacific for the first time in 15 years. When she reached her new home port of Long Beach, more work was done, including removing some 40mm armored gun tubs; two remaining tubs were used as pools for the crew. The crew practiced transferring 16-inch shells from an ammunition ship at sea by highline and for the first time by helicopter.
On September 5, 1968, USS New Jersey set sail again for war. At Pearl Harbor, she was visited by the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral John S. McCain Jr., whose father, fast carrier commander Admiral John S. McCain Sr., had come aboard to confer with Admiral Halsey in December 1944, and whose son, Navy Captain and future Senator John S. McCain III, had been shot down and was imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton.” Crossing the Pacific, the New Jersey was buzzed by Soviet Bear reconnaissance planes, a reminder of the Cold War that had recently heated up with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The New Jersey then passed through San Bernardino Strait; the same strait through which Japanese battleships fled from the New Jersey in the Battle for Leyte Gulf. She arrived off Vietnam on September 29.
“NOBODY EVER STOOD UP TO THE NEW JERSEY” IN VIETNAM
On September 30, 1968, USS New Jersey opened fire – the first battleship salvos and 16-inch shells fired since she closed the Korean War in 1953. She bombarded Communist supply dumps and gun positions in the so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam. The next day, when she bombarded targets north of the DMZ, the Navy jet spotting for her was shot down, and she helped rescue the crew. The New Jersey continued to bombard targets in southern North Vietnam both day and night, harassing enemy troops, destroying bunkers, interdicting enemy logistics, and sinking eleven coastal supply ships. She ranged into the Gulf of Tonkin almost to the 19th Parallel, bombarding heavily fortified caves at Vinh. She shelled coastal artillery on Hon Matt Island, blasting part of the island into the sea, prompting the newspaper headline: “The New Jersey Sinks an Island.” North Vietnamese artillery fired back but fell short, and the New Jersey ranged freely along the North Vietnamese coast. However, President Johnson declared a halt to all bombing of North Vietnam as of November 1, just before the 1968 election.
Beginning in mid-October 1968, USS New Jersey moved south to support Marine, Army, South Vietnamese, and Korean troops in the I Corps area of South Vietnam. U.S. involvement was at its height, with over half a million American troops deployed in South Vietnam. The troops were often ambushed by Communist forces, and needed quick, accurate, overwhelming fire support. Marines said it greatly increased their morale knowing that the “Big J” was out there and would help defend them. Commandant Leonard Chapman of the Marine Corps later stated that “[t]housands of American lives were saved” in Vietnam by the New Jersey; “Unlike B-52 bombers, tactical aircraft and Marine artillery, New Jersey was always there, day or night, in good weather or bad, and her guns were always ready for every target.” Commandant Robert H. Barrow stressed the battleship’s “tremendous psychological effect”: “North Vietnamese foot soldiers stood their ground and fired their rifles at supersonic jet airplanes, but nobody ever stood up to the New Jersey.”
From October 23, 1968, to April 1, 1969, USS New Jersey provided fire support to American troops from Quang Ngai to the DMZ, including Danang, Hue, Phan Theit, Tuy Hoa, Con Thein, and Cam Ranh Bay. Her guns destroyed enemy troops, rocket launchers, antiaircraft sites, trenches, bunkers, tunnels, and supply dumps. Some of these targets, too fortified to be destroyed by artillery or aircraft, were demolished by the unmatched penetrating power of the New Jersey’s 16-inch guns. On November 25-26, 1968, she destroyed or heavily damaged over 300 bunkers, tunnels, and other structures.
USS New Jersey supported the First and Third Marine Divisions in amphibious and land assaults. She fired continuously for hours when Marine outposts were surrounded and attacked by Communist troops, including on February 22-23 and March 31, 1969. It was estimated she saved 100 lives every day she was on station.
During her four-month tour off Vietnam, USS New Jersey fired 5,688 16-inch shells and 14,891 5-inch shells. Over her career, the New Jersey fired more shells in combat than any other battleship ever built.
USS New Jersey received the Vietnam Service Medal with three battle stars – 1. Vietnamese Counter-Offensive, Phase V, 2. Vietnamese Counter-Offensive Phase VI, and 3. Tet Counter-Offensive, 1969. She also received the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Navy Unit Citation.
During her tour, USS New Jersey made resupply and liberty visits to the Philippines, Japan, and Singapore. She hosted a Christmas show for crew and troops by actress Ann-Margret and comedian Bob Hope, who joked the New Jersey was so big she was “Wake Island with a rudder.”
The U.S. commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams, tried to extend USS New Jersey’s tour because of the valuable contribution she was making to the war effort. However, she was ordered home for refit via the Philippines and Japan. After she had steamed east over 6,000 of the 8,000 miles to Long Beach, on April 15, 1969, the North Koreans, who in January had seized the intelligence ship USS Pueblo, shot down an unarmed EC-121 “Constellation” reconnaissance aircraft over international waters, killing 31 Americans. That day, the New Jersey was ordered to speed 7,042 miles west, arriving off North Korea on April 22. New President Richard Nixon declined to retaliate, and four days later, the New Jersey was ordered home, arriving at Long Beach on May 5, after an eight-month cruise.
After a refit, USS New Jersey was once again the flagship of a midshipmen’s summer cruise, this time to San Francisco, Tacoma, San Diego, and Hawaii, where her crew listened as man first walked on the moon. On July 31, she returned to Long Beach to ready for her second tour of duty to Vietnam. However, the Nixon Administration had begun to reduce American troop levels in favor of “Vietnamization,” the plan to shift combat duties to the South Vietnamese. On August 21, the New Jersey was notified that she would be decommissioned again as a cost-cutting measure. She steamed to Bremerton and was decommissioned next to Missouri on December 17. In his speech, USS New Jersey’s captain told her to “Rest well, yet sleep lightly, and hear the call, if again sounded, to provide ‘Firepower for Freedom.’” That firepower was sorely missed in 1972 when the North Vietnamese launched their divisions and tanks across the DMZ into the South, and U.S. bombing of the North resumed.
PRESIDENT REAGAN REACTIVATES AND REARMS USS NEW JERSEY TO END THE COLD WAR
While USS New Jersey rested in Bremerton, the period of détente between the superpowers under Presidents Nixon and Ford ended when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, causing President Jimmy Carter to withdraw from the Moscow Olympics. President Ronald Reagan asserted a stronger response was necessary, including building a 600-ship Navy. The number of U.S. Navy ships had reached the lowest level since World War II, while the Soviet Union had greatly added to its surface fleet, including the first of the Kirov-class battlecruisers. The nuclear-powered Kirov was the largest surface combatant in service, the biggest built since World War II, and heavily armed with missiles as well as guns and helicopters.
To counter the Soviet battlecruisers and to quickly build up the size and power of the Navy, Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, convinced Congress to reactivate the Iowa-class battleships. Because of their great size, they had the space and reserve buoyancy to be retrofitted with modern missile systems, while retaining unmatched firepower and armor protection. Reactivating the Iowa-class ships would allow the Navy to create battleship battle groups to supplement the twelve carrier battle groups already in commission, enabling the Navy to meet its growing worldwide commitments. Moreover, it gave the Navy the battleship’s unparalleled ability to visibly project power. A flight of aircraft is a momentary and vulnerable show of force; post-war ships have insufficient armor to operate close to land; but a battleship anchored off a hotspot sends a clear message.
In spring 1981, USS New Jersey again was chosen to be the first Iowa-class ship to be recommissioned. On July 27, she left behind Bremerton and the mothballed Missouri. Tugs towed her to Long Beach to be reactivated and modernized. Thousands of civilians visited her, and 6,000 active and reserve Navy sailors volunteered to serve in her 1,500-man crew.
The modernization required to bring USS New Jersey in line with the technology of the 1980s was more expensive and extensive than her two prior recommissionings. The main change was to remove four twin 5-inch/38-caliber gun turrets and replace them with launchers for the Navy’s new, powerful anti-ship and anti-surface missiles. These missile batteries gave the New Jersey long-range strike capability against naval and land targets.
The refit equipped USS New Jersey to fire thirty-two Tomahawk cruise missiles. She carried three Tomahawk versions: land attack with nuclear warheads, land attack with conventional warheads, and anti-ship with conventional warheads. The land-attack Tomahawk missiles had ranges exceeding 1,000 miles and employed terrain-following systems to fly below surface radar and deliver their warheads with unprecedented accuracy. The anti-ship Tomahawk had a range of 240 miles or more and used active-radar homing to hit ships far beyond the horizon.
The refit also equipped USS New Jersey to fire sixteen Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which had a conventional warhead, a range of 60 miles or more, and active-radar homing. Both the Harpoon and the Tomahawk launch using a rocket booster and then achieved their long ranges using a jet engine. A Kaman Seasprite helicopter was based on the New Jersey’s helicopter landing pad to provide over-the-horizon targeting information.
In addition to strengthening USS New Jersey’s offense, the refit revamped her defense – a need highlighted when Argentina’s planes used Exocet missiles to sink a British destroyer in the 1982 Falklands War. To supplement her strong armor and the anti-air protection provided by her twelve remaining 5-inch guns, the New Jersey was equipped with a final level of defense against anti-ship missiles – four Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems. These automatic radar-guided turrets, nicknamed R2D2 for their resemblance to the robot in the recently released Star Wars films, wielded a 20mm Vulcan Gatling gun firing 3,000 rounds per minute. The New Jersey also received new search radars to scan for hostile planes and ships, a new electronic countermeasures system, and an improved super blooming chaff dispenser, to confusing enemy radar-guided missiles. Additionally, her interior spaces were air-conditioned and reconfigured for greater crew comfort as befitting a ship serving in the new era of an all-volunteer military.
Uniquely, USS New Jersey was considered for more radical changes: replacing her rear 16-inch turret with a vertical-launching missile system carrying 48 more Tomahawk or Harpoon missiles, or with a ski-jump ramp able to launch and land vertical- or short-takeoff aircraft like the Marines’ Harrier jump jet. Ultimately, the rear 16-inch turret was retained, and was put to good use.
During sea trials in Fall 1982, with Secretary Lehman proclaiming, “The Battleship Is Back,” USS New Jersey fired her Phalanx guns for the first time, as well as her 5-inch guns and 16-inch guns. Recommissioning was completed on budget and ahead of schedule. This was the New Jersey’s third recommissioning – still a Navy record. Once again, the New Jersey became the only battleship in active service in the world.
On December 28, 1982, USS New Jersey was placed in commission personally by President Reagan. This made her the only American battleship ever commissioned by a sitting president. Reagan opened by saying: “I find myself developing a great respect for the leading lady in these ceremonies. She’s gray, she’s had her face lifted, but she’s still in the prime of life, a gallant lady: the New Jersey.” He proclaimed: “I’m honored to be here for the recommissioning of this mighty force for peace and freedom. Putting this great ship back to work protecting our country represents a major step toward fulfilling our pledge to rebuild America’s military capabilities.” Reagan explained the importance of “this magnificent ship”:
“The New Jersey and her sister ships can outgun and outclass any rival platform. This 58,000-ton ship, whose armor alone weighs more than our largest cruiser, is being recommissioned at no more than the cost of a new 4,000-ton frigate. The ‘Big J’ is being reactivated with the latest in missile, electronic warfare, and communications technology. She’s more than the best means of quickly adding real firepower to our Navy; she’s a shining example of how [we] will rebuild America’s Armed Forces on budget and on schedule and with the maximum cost-effective application of high technology to existing assets.
“The New Jersey‘s mission is to conduct prompt and sustained operations worldwide, in support of our national interests. In some cases, deployment of the New Jersey will free up our overstressed aircraft carriers for other uses. While the aircraft carrier remains the foundation of American naval power, the battleship will today be the sovereign of the seas. In support of amphibious operations, the New Jersey‘s 16-inch guns can deliver shells as heavy as an automobile with pinpoint accuracy. And with a speed of 35 knots, the New Jersey will be among the fastest ships afloat.”
President Reagan closed: “After valiant service in Vietnam and after saving the lives of countless Marines, the New Jersey was decommissioned in 1969. During that solemn ceremony, her last commanding officer . . . spoke prophetically when he suggested that this mighty ship ‘Rest well, yet sleep lightly, and hear the call, if again sounded, to provide firepower for freedom.’ Well, the call has been sounded. America needs the battleship once again to provide firepower for the defense of freedom and, above all, to maintain the peace.” President Reagan and 10,000 people then toured the New Jersey.
In further weapons trials, USS New Jersey was the first battleship to fire a Harpoon missile on March 23, 1983. Off the Southern California coast on May 10, she became the first surface warship to conduct a successful firing of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, landing a direct hit on a target over 500 miles away in central Nevada. The New Jersey was the first ship to operate the Tomahawk, and carried more than any warship then afloat.
USS NEW JERSEY’S BATTLESHIP DIPLOMACY IN LEBANON AND ELSEWHERE
After joining the Third Fleet for wargames, USS New Jersey departed Long Beach on June 9, 1983, for what was scheduled to be a three-and-a-half-month deployment to the Far East. She steamed to Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. She also conducted fleet exercises with the Seventh Fleet. However, on July 24, the New Jersey was ordered to steam off Central America to provide a naval presence due to Communist arms shipments to the new Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The New Jersey arrived on August 26, relieving a carrier battle group. Cruising off El Salvador, she was visited by its President as well as Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and Second Fleet Commander Joseph Metcalf III.
On September 9, 1983, USS New Jersey was again ordered to head for a hotspot: Lebanon. In the throes of a brutal civil war after the 1982 Israeli invasion, a multinational peacekeeping force including U.S. Marines had been sent to supervise the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization. In August, warring militias started shelling the Marines, and on September 8 smaller U.S. ships began firing to defend the Marines. The New Jersey transited the Panama Canal and raced across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, joining the Sixth Fleet. Within hours of USS New Jersey’s imposing appearance off Beirut on September 25, a ceasefire was instituted. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General P.X. Kelley, emphasized: “There is no weapon system in the world that comes even close to the visible symbol of enormous power represented by the battleship.”
On October 23, 1983, terrorist suicide bombers drove two explosive-filled trucks into the barracks occupied by the peacekeepers, killing 58 French paratroopers, 240 U.S. Marines, and a New Jersey sailor helping the Marines. With no clear target to retaliate against, USS New Jersey could only send some of her Marines, sailors, and doctors ashore to rescue and treat survivors.
For six months, USS New Jersey steamed just offshore to deter further conflict with her intimidating presence. Although she had been deployed for much longer than planned, she could not be relieved as she was still the only active battleship; Iowa would not be reactivated until April 28, 1984. The Joint Chiefs of Staff took the unusual step of rotating almost half of the New Jersey’s crew while she remained on station off Lebanon, using helicopters and landing craft. Ship morale was improved by a show by singer Wayne Newton, a Christmas Eve show by Bob Hope, Brooke Shields, Cathy Lee Crosby, Ann Jillian, and Vic Damone, and a visit by Secretary Lehman. The New Jersey remained on station off Lebanon for 170 of 191 days, with brief port visits to Israel and Egypt.
Meanwhile, Navy reconnaissance flights had been fired on over Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon. A carrier airstrike was launched against the Syrian anti-aircraft batteries, but two planes were shot down. On December 14, 1983, USS New Jersey was finally allowed to retaliate – the first 16-inch shells fired in anger since her service in Vietnam in 1969. She fired eleven 16-inch shells 16-18 miles into Lebanon. Given the small number of shells, long range, lack of aerial spotting, and poorly remixed powder, her fire was of limited effectiveness.
USS New Jersey better showed what she could do on February 8, 1984, when she carried out the heaviest shore bombardment since the Korean War. Her main battery sent 288 16-inch rounds 15 miles inland, silencing artillery positions shelling Beirut, and killing the general commanding Syrian forces in Lebanon. The New Jersey also fired her 5-inch guns in support of the Marines ashore on several occasions.
During February 1984, Lebanon’s Army collapsed, making peacekeeping impossible. President Reagan ordered the Marines to withdraw to their ships. Most had left by February 26, when the New Jersey fired thirteen 16-inch shells after U.S. reconnaissance planes were fired upon.
USS New Jersey’s presence was required off Lebanon until April 3, 1984, when she finally left for home. She made port calls in Italy and France, crossed the Panama Canal, and arrived at Long Beach on May 5. What was scheduled to be a three-and-a-half-month deployment had turned out to be an eleven-month deployment, the longest deployment of any Navy ship since World War II. During her deployment, she had steamed from the westernmost arm of the Pacific to the easternmost arm of the Atlantic and served with all four of America’s active Fleets.
At Long Beach, the New Jersey received overhauls that had been postponed during her rapid reactivation, including her first 16-inch barrel replacement since 1954. She returned to service in November. She engaged in training and weapons exercises off California and Hawaii, with port calls at San Diego and Pearl Harbor.
In August 1985, USS New Jersey headlined San Francisco’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of V-J Day, renamed Peace in the Pacific, which the New Jersey had helped secure. She was visited by more than 21,000 people. In December 1985, she became the first battleship to fire the anti-ship version of the Tomahawk missile. Soon after, the New Jersey received the Pioneer Remotely Piloted Vehicle. Like the spotter planes of old, these unmanned aircraft could be launched and recovered from the ship, perform surveillance, acquire targets for the ship’s guns, and assess damage. The New Jersey was awarded the prestigious Spokane Trophy for the best overall excellence in combat systems and warfare readiness.
USS NEW JERSEY HELPS WIN THE COLD WAR IN FACT AND FICTION, AND PACIFIES THE PERSIAN GULF
Meanwhile, USS New Jersey was again celebrated in fiction, now by best-selling author Tom Clancy. In his wildly successful 1984 debut novel The Hunt for Red October, the Soviet fleet pursues its newest submarine whose officers are sailing to America to defect. A group of Soviet surface ships, led by Kirov, heads for the East Coast but is confronted by a battle group led by the New Jersey. The battle group commander muses that “[w]hen his flagship was built, he was sailing boats in a bathtub.” He believes that none of the Soviet ships “could possibly survive more than two of his sixteen-inch projectiles,” and that the Soviets’ “anti-ship missiles would not be able to damage his ship gravely – the New Jersey had upwards of a foot of class B armor plate.” The Kirov’s group retreats to Russia, and war is averted. (The subsequent film focused on the Soviet submarine’s successful defection and omitted the New Jersey–Kirov storyline, instead just mentioning the New Jersey.)
Clancy also included USS New Jersey in his second book in 1986. Red Storm Rising hypothesized a Warsaw Pact attack on NATO, starting with a Soviet invasion of Iceland. When U.S. Marines land to liberate Iceland, the New Jersey and Iowa provide fire support. Clancy’s description of their shore bombardment vividly evokes the New Jersey’s many fire support missions in four wars: As “the massive sixteen-inch rifles turned slowly to starboard” and fired their first salvo, obscuring the firing battleship in an orange flash, the Soviet commander whispers “Mother of God.” “Already the guns were going through their thirty-second reload cycle. Inert gas ejected scraps of the silk propellant-bags out of the muzzles to clear the bores, then the breeches opened and loading ramps unfolded into place. The bores were checked for dangerous residue, then elevators from the handling rooms rose to the back edge of the ramps and the shells were rammed into the waiting gun barrels. The heavy powder bags were dropped onto the ramps and rammed behind the shells. The ramp came up, the breeches closed hydraulically, and the guns elevated. The turret crews moved out of the loading compartments and held their hands over muff-style ear protectors. In fire-control fingers depressed the keys and the breeches surged backwards once more. The cycle began again, the teenage seamen performing the same tasks their grandfathers had done forty years before.” The Soviet commander hears “the sound of ripping linen that announces the passage of the monstrous projectiles,” and sees the “curtain of dust and rock” as the battleships’ shells obliterate his artillery. The Soviets in Iceland soon surrender, and the war ends with NATO intact.
In reality, USS New Jersey became the leader of the first battleship battle group in January 1986. Secretary Lehman used the New Jersey to test the concept of a battleship being the center of its own battle groups, accompanied by cruisers, destroyers, and frigates to help with anti-air and anti-submarine protection. With the benefit of the New Jersey’s experience, other battleship battle groups were formed as the other Iowa-class battleships were reactivated.
In May 1986, USS New Jersey’s battle group was deployed to the Western Pacific, freeing up aircraft carriers for other assignments. Her battle group sailed to Thailand and was the only Navy presence in the Western Pacific. In September 1986, armed with nuclear cruise missiles, the New Jersey’s battle group transited the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan but otherwise surrounded by Soviet territory. This was the first time an American battleship had operated in the Soviet Union’s backyard. Unable to prevent the New Jersey’s battle group from patrolling these international waters off Siberia, the Soviet Union shadowed her with a cruiser and frigates, and buzzed her with patrol aircraft, bombers, and helicopters.
Following an overhaul at Long Beach, USS New Jersey returned to the Western Pacific in 1988 for naval exercises. She operated off Korea during the Summer Olympics in Seoul, then sailed south for Australia to participate in that country’s bicentennial celebrations.
In 1989, USS New Jersey became a flagship once again. Admiral J. Paul Reason, the Navy’s first African American 4-star Admiral, commanded Cruiser-Destroyer Group 1 and Battle Group Romeo from the New Jersey. In October, the New Jersey participated in Pacific Exercise ’89, the largest gathering of American and allied warships since World War II. This international training exercise included the battle groups of the New Jersey, Missouri, and four carriers, and ships from the navies of Japan, South Korea, and Canada. It demonstrated to the Soviets the renewed power of the Navy in the Pacific, highlighted by a simultaneous live fire demonstration by the New Jersey and Missouri.
USS New Jersey then steamed through the Indian Ocean to the war-torn Persian Gulf. Iraq and Iran had been in a vicious war since 1980, and both had attacked tankers carrying oil through the vital waterway. The U.S. Navy was escorting American-flagged tankers and had been attacked with missiles and mines. A ceasefire had been reached in August 1988, but tensions were still high. The New Jersey was the first U.S. battleship to enter the Persian Gulf, and she remained there until December 14, 1989. She returned to Long Beach in February 1990.
1989 signaled the victorious conclusion of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was pressured by President Reagan’s foreign policy initiatives and expansion of the Navy (which peaked at 594 ships), and challenged by East European discontent, Afghan resistance, and economic deterioration at home. The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and democracies replaced the Communist governments in Eastern Europe. USS New Jersey had played a part by demonstrating American strength and resolve repeatedly during the Cold War.
USS New Jersey was awarded the Armed Force Expeditionary Medal for September 23, 1983 to April 3, 1984, for her duty off Beirut, Lebanon, and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Persian Gulf, December 2, 1989 to December 14, 1989.
The New Jersey’s unmatched service in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the conflicts in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf put her in harm’s way in more battles, campaigns, and wars than any almost any other vessel.
THE NEW JERSEY, THE MOST DECORATED NAVY SHIP AFLOAT, BECOMES A MUSEUM AND MEMORIAL
With the collapse of the Soviet threat to the West (soon followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union itself), defense budgets were drastically cut. The battleships with their large crews were seen as uneconomical. Moreover, Iowa had suffered a catastrophic explosion while firing its 16-inch guns in April 1989. The cause has never been fully explained but the incident called attention to the age of the ships and their guns.
The damaged Iowa was decommissioned in October 1990, and it was decided the New Jersey would be next. For that reason, she did not join the recently reactivated Missouri and Wisconsin when President George H.W. Bush ordered them to the Persian Gulf after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. They launched cruise missiles and provided gunfire support during Operation Desert Storm, which began on January 15, 1991, and liberated Kuwait by February 28. Wisconsin and Missouri were decommissioned in September 1991 and March 1992, respectively.
USS New Jersey became the first battleship to sail up the Columbia River, was toured by 40,000 people at the 1990 Portland Rose Festival, and appeared in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. She was then decommissioned for the fourth time on February 8, 1991, at Long Beach. She was towed to Bremerton, where she served as a part of the Pacific Reserve Fleet. President Bill Clinton had all the battleships struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995, but Congress in 1996 required that two battleships be reinstated to the reserve fleet so they could be reactivated if needed for amphibious operations. The New Jersey and Wisconsin were selected, and the New Jersey remained in the reserve fleet until 2000. Missouri opened as a museum in 1999.
In 1999, Congress allowed the Navy to turn USS New Jersey into a museum, provided she was moored in New Jersey territorial waters. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed legislation permitting Iowa and Wisconsin to be turned into museums so long as they could be returned to the Navy in the event of a national emergency.
As early as the 1970s, the Battleship New Jersey Historical Museum Society and other organizations had been formed to lobby the Navy to return the historic New Jersey to the State for which she was named. By the late 1990s two distinct groups had emerged as potential stewards of the historic warship. The USS New Jersey Battleship Commission sought to bring the ship to northern New Jersey near New York City. The Home Port Alliance for the Battleship New Jersey sought to return the ship to Camden near Philadelphia where she had been built. The State of New Jersey agreed to back whichever group could win approval from the Navy. The Navy accepted the Home Port Alliance’s application on January 20, 2000.
Meanwhile, the State of New Jersey paid to tow USS New Jersey from Washington State to the Delaware River, and tow Iowa from Rhode Island to California to take her place, before the Panama Canal came under Panamanian control. On September 11, 1999, the New Jersey bade farewell to Bremerton. Veterans and New Jersey’s Governor Christie Todd Whitman watched as the New Jersey transited the Canal for the tenth time in her career. USS New Jersey returned to the Delaware on November 11, greeted by more than 25,000 people and by a tugboat that had helped at her launching in 1942.
Volunteers swarmed over the ship in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard where she was built. Much work was needed to restore the ship after being in mothballs for over eight years, and to make her safe for visitors. On July 28, 2000, the New Jersey was towed to a temporary Camden berth for more work. On August 1, during the Republican National Convention, General Norman Schwarzkopf, victor of Desert Storm, gave a nationally televised address to veterans from “the deck of this great battleship New Jersey that made so much history and witnessed so much heroism.”
On September 23, 2001, USS New Jersey was moved to her permanent berth at her new ceremonial pier on the Camden waterfront facing Philadelphia. The ceremonies were limited by security concerns after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, befitting a ship that survived so many crises, the New Jersey opened as a museum and memorial on October 14.
In 2004, USS New Jersey was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. She has been designated as the State Ship of New Jersey, and is a member of the international Historic Naval Ship Association.
In addition to her role as a museum, the New Jersey has been the site of numerous memorial services and commemorations of historical events. In 2007, best-selling author Tom Clancy had his 60th birthday party on the fantail of the New Jersey, attended by retired Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sean Connery, and Stephen Spielberg.
The Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial is a living museum with veterans and other volunteers and staff educating thousands of guests every year. USS New Jersey is a national memorial to her crews and other Americans who served over her five decades. She also is a historic battlefield of six wars, enabling visitors to stand where Halsey, Spruance, and countless others fought. Finally, she is a military and technological landmark.
USS New Jersey is the most intact of any American battleship. Much of the ship is still in its original 1943 condition, with other areas showcasing the upgraded weaponry and electronics installed in 1982. The ship’s hull, main guns, and much of its superstructure appear as they did when the New Jersey served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, and the Cold War, making it a fitting museum and memorial to all the conflicts and eras during which it served.
USS New Jersey is also the museum battleship most open to the public. Almost the entire ship is open for tours, including her main turrets, bridge, flag bridge, some of her engineering spaces, main deck and helipad, bunks, and her central corridor so long it was called Broadway. Guests can visit officers’ wardrooms, admiral’s and captain’s cabins, radio rooms, the galley, and medical, barber, and other service areas. Visitors can visit (and sleep overnight in) crew berthing spaces, and tour exhibits in other, converted berthing spaces. The New Jersey’s multiple tour routes have a total length of over a mile and half.
Key items of equipment still operate, including sighting devices for the main battery, the three portside 5-inch batteries and .50 caliber machine gun that can be “fired,” the ground-breaking analog targeting “computer,” and missile firing displays. The shell hoist, several radio rooms, ship’s horn, television studio, and other equipment have been reactivated. The main radar antenna has been restored to rotate, and systems in the Combat Information Center have been reactivated. The captain’s gig and other ships boats are in place. The 55,000-square-foot teak deck will soon be completely restored. Moreover, the museum has exhibits telling the story of the ship from design and construction through final deactivation.
USS New Jersey, which served longer and with greater distinction than any other battleship, now serves as a unparalleled museum and memorial of all of America’s major conflicts from 1943 to 1990. She provided firepower for freedom, and now a monument to freedom for all.
Suggested Books About the Battleship and the History It Helped Make
Battleship New Jersey, An Illustrated History, by Paul Stillwell, @ 1986 Paul Stillwell, Published by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.
USS New Jersey, World War II to the Persian Gulf, by Robert F. Dorr and Neil Leifer, @ 1988 Neil Leifer (under the title USS New Jersey – the Navy’s Big Guns, From Mothballs to Vietnam), @ 2002 Neil Leifler, Published by MBI Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN.
USS New Jersey (BB-62), From World War II, Korea, and Vietnam to Museum Ship, by David Doyle, @ 2019 David Doyle, Published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Altgen, PA.
USS New Jersey (BB-62), The “Big J” Battleship, @ 1996 Turner Publishing Company, Published by Turner Publishing Company, Paducah, KY.
U.S. Battleships, An Illustrated Design History, by Norman Friedman @ 1985 United States Naval Institute, Published by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.
The Battleship USS New Jersey, From Birth to Berth, by Carol Comegno, @ 2001, Published by Pediment Publishing, Canada.
USS New Jersey BB-62, by Steve Wiper, @ 2018, Published by Classic Warships Publishing, Tuscon, AZ.
Battleships of the Iowa Class, by Philippe Caresse, translated by Bruce Taylor, @ 2019 United States Naval Institute, Published by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.
The Iowa Class Battleships, by Malcolm Muir, @ 1987, Professor Malcolm Muir, Published by the Dorset Press, New York, NY.
Iowa Class Battleships, Their Design, Weapons; & Equipment, by Robert F. Sumrall, @ 1988 Robert F. Sumrall, Published by US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD.
World War II:
History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, by Samuel Eliot Morison, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA.
Volume VII, Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls, June 1942-April 1944, @ 1951 Samuel Eliot Morison.
Volume VIII, New Guinea and the Marianas, March 1944-August 1944, @ 1953 Samuel Eliot Morison.
Volume XII, Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, @ 1958 Samuel Eliot Morison.
Volume XIII, The Liberation of the Philippines, 1944-1945, @ 1959 Samuel Eliot Morison.
Volume XIV, Victory in the Pacific, 1945, @ 1960 Samuel Eliot Morison.
The Two-Ocean War, A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, by Samuel Eliot Morison, @ 1963 Samuel Eliot Morison, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, MA.
War at Sea, A Naval History of World War II, by Nathan Miller, @ 1995 Nathan Miller, Published by Scribner, New York, NY.
World War II at Sea, A Global History, by Craig L. Symonds, @ 2018 Craig L. Symonds, Published by Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
Victory at Sea, World War II in the Pacific, by James F. Dunnigan & Albert A. Nofi, @ 1995 James F. Dunnigan & Albert A. Nofi, Published by William Morrow & Co., Inc., New York, NY.
The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King, by Walter R. Boreman, @ 2012 Walter R. Boreman, Published by Back Bay Books, New York, NY.
Admiral Halsey’s Story, by William F. Halsey, Jr. and J. Bryan III, @ 1947 William F. Halsey, Jr., Published by Whittlesey House, New York, NY.
The Quiet Warrior, A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, by Thomas B. Buell, @ 1987 Naval Institute Press, Published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.
Eagle Against the Sun, The American War with Japan, by Ronald H. Spector, @ 1985 Ronald H. Spector, Published by Random House, New York, NY.
The Conquering Tide, War in the Pacific Islands 1942-44, by Ian W. Toll, @ 2015 Ian W. Toll, Published by W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY.
Twilight of the Gods, War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945, by Ian W. Toll, @ 2020 Ian W. Toll, Published by W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY.
The Fleet at Flood Tide, America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-45, by James D. Hornfischer, @ 2016 James D. Hornfischer, Published by Bantam Books New York, NY.
Sea of Thunder, Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, by Evan Thomas, @ 2006 Evan Thomas, Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
The Fast Carriers, The Forging of an Air Navy, by Clark G. Reynolds, @ 1968 Clark G. Reynolds, Published by McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, NY.
The Battle for Leyte Gulf, by William F. Halsey, Jr., in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1952.
The Battle for Leyte Gulf, The Incredible Story of World War II’s Largest Naval Battle, by C. Vann Woodward, @ 2007, 2013, 2017 Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., Published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc, New York, NY.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23-26 October 1944, by Thomas J. Cutler, @ 1994 Thomas J. Cutler, Published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York, NY.
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour, by James D. Hornfischer, @ 2004 James D. Hornfischer, Published by Bantam Dell, New York, NY.
The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk, @ 1951 Herman Wouk, Published by Back Bay Books, New York, NY.
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, by Joseph-James Ahern, @ 1997 Joseph-James Ahern, Published by Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC.
Post-World War II
Historical Atlas of the U.S. Navy, by Craig L. Symmonds, @ 1995 by Craig L. Symmonds, Published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.
The Forgotten War, America in Korea 1950-53, by Clay Blair, @ 1987 Clay Blair, Published by Doubleday, New York, NY.
Vietnam, An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975, by Max Hastings, @ 2018 Max Hastings, Published by HarperCollins, New York, NY.
The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy, @ 1984 Tom Clancy, Published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD.
Red Storm Rising, by Tom Clancy, @ 1986 Tom Clancy, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY.
Return of the Battleship, by William H. Honan, Published 4/11/1982 by New York Times.