USS Iowa (BB-61)

USS Iowa (BB-61) was the name ship of the Iowa class of fast battleships, and she and her sister New Jersey were the only members of the class to see extensive service in the Pacific during the Second World War. She also fought in the Korean War, and was reactivated during the 1980s, although didn't see combat.

The Iowa was laid down in June 1940, launched in August 1942 and commissioned on 22 February 1943. Her shakedown cruise was carried out off the US East Coast, and her operational debut came in late August 1943 when she was sent to Argentia, Newfoundland to counter a possible threat from the German battleship Tirpitz.

In the autumn of 1943 the Iowa was used to carry President Roosevelt to Casablanca, on his way to the Teheran Conference. The ship had to be modified to carry the President, getting a bath and a lift.

Bows of USS Iowa seen from the bridge
Bows of USS Iowa
seen from the bridge

On 2 January 1944 the Iowa left the US as flagship of Battleship Division 7, heading for the Marshall Islands. Eight of the fast battleships took part in Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshalls (29 January 1944). This marked the entry of Iowa and New Jersey into active service. Together they formed part of TG58.3 and provided the escort for the carriers Bunker Hill, Monterey and Cowpens during the attack on Eniwetok.

On 17-18 February 1944 six of the fast battleships took part in a raid on Truk. Iowa and New Jersey formed part of TG50.9, which was used by Admiral Spruance as his command unit.

On 18 March Iowa and New Jersey formed part of TG50.10, and along with the carrier Lexingtonand seven destroyers took part in a bombardment of Mille Atoll, south of Majuro. The Iowa was hit by several 6in shells from shore guns but didn't suffer any significant damage.

On 1 May New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota and the newly repaired Indianatook part in a bombardment of Ponape in the Caroline Islands.

Seven of the fast battleships were present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 1944). New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Washington, North Carolina, South Dakota and Indiana formed TG58.7 (Battle Line), under Admiral Lee. Their role was to serve as a bombardment force during the invasion of the Mariana Islands and to engage any Japanese surface force that threatened the carriers. The battle itself proved to be an entirely aerial affair, and so although the battleships were attacked from the air they were never involved in a surface battle.

In September-October 1943 the fast battleships New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Washington, Massachusetts and Indianaformed part of Task Force 38 during Admiral Halsey's series of raids on targets around the Philippine Sea. Iowa and New Jersey formed TG38.2.

USS Iowa (BB-61) from above, 1952
USS Iowa (BB-61) from above, 1952

This powerful US fleet attacked Palau (6-8 September), Mindinao (10 September), the Visayas (12-14 September) and Luzon (21-22 September). Japanese resistance to this raid was so weak that the Americans decided to bring the invasion of the Philippines forward from December to 20 October and to skip the southern islands and begin with an invasion of Leyte.

The fleet then carried out a second set of raids, this time hitting Okinawa (10 October), Luzon (11 October and 15 October) and Formosa (12-14 October). This time the Japanese responded in some force, but the resulting battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944) was a crushing defeat for them. The Americans shot down over 600 Japanese aircraft, crippling their air power just before the battle of Leyte Gulf.

The fast battleships had a frustrating time during the Battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944). At first they were split into three pairs. Iowa and New Jerseyformed TG38.2. South Dakota and Massachusetts formed TG38.3. Washingtonand Alabama formed TG38.4. Each of these groups protected part of Halsey's carrier force, which was spread out to the north of Leyte Gulf. They faced two of the four Japanese fleets approaching for the 'decisive battle' - Kurita's powerful battleships, approaching from the west, and Ozawa's empty carriers, coming from the north. On 24 October Kurita's fleet came under constant air attack, and the super-battleship Musashi was sunk. Halsey was convinced that Kurita no longer posed a threat, and so when Ozawa's carriers were detected late in the day he decided to take his entire fleet north to deal with them. The six fast battleships were formed into Task Force 34, and were sent north to act as the vanguard of a dash towards the Japanese carriers. Admiral Lee, commanding the battleships, protested against this move, believing correctly that it would allow Admiral Kurita to pass unopposed through the San Bernardino Strait and potentially attack the weaker US 7th Fleet in Leyte Gulf. Halsey overruled Lee's protests and the battleships headed north.

Preparing to hoist 16in gun onto USS Iowa (BB-61)
Preparing to hoist 16in gun onto USS Iowa (BB-61)

During the morning of 25 October the fast battleships moved ever further to the north, away from Kurita's powerful force, which was now engaged in a desperate battle with a group of escort carriers (Battle of the Samar Sea). During the morning Halsey received a series of increasingly desperate calls for help from the south, but it was a message from Nimitz at Hawaii that eventually convinced him to send the battleships south. At 10.55 Lee was ordered to head south at top speed, at which point he was only 42 nautical miles from the Japanese carriers (all of Ozawa's carriers were sunk by American aircraft in the battle of Cape Engano). By this time the worst of the crisis to the south was over, but Kurita was still in a potentially dangerous position off the east coast of the Philippines. Once again Lee missed the chance for a surface battle. Kurita retreated through the San Bernardino Strait at 10pm on 25 October and Lee arrived off the straits at 1am on 26 October. This was the last occasion on which US and Japanese battleships were close enough for a possible surface battle. For the rest of the war the fast battleships would perform a valuable role, mainly providing anti-aircraft fire to protect the carriers along with some shore bombardment, but they would never again have a chance to perform their main role of surface warfare.

The Iowa remained off the Philippines after Leyte Gulf, before in December 1944 she departed for the US and a refit (including repairs to damage caused by a typhoon in mid December 1943). She was at San Francisco from mid January to mid March 1945, before returning to the Pacific in April 1945 to take part in the fighting off Okinawa. She was used to support the carriers during this battle. From late May to mid June she supported air strikes against Kyushu. In mid July she took part in a direct shore bombardment of the Japanese home islands. On 14-15 July the target was Muroran on Hokkaido, where she hit steel mills, then on 17-18 July she bombarded Hitachi on Honshu.

USS Iowa (BB-61) fires full broadside, Puerto Rico, 1984
USS Iowa (BB-61) fires full broadside, Puerto Rico, 1984

The Iowa entered Tokyo Bay on 29 August and was Admiral Halsey's flagship during the surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945. After the was she spent the early part of 1946 as the flagship of the 5th Fleet in Japanese waters, then operated from home waters.

The Iowa was decommissioned in 1949 but was re-commissioned during 1951 and used for shore bombardment during the Korean War. She was decommissioned again in 1958, but remained in mothballs and after the election of President Reagan she was modernised and re-commissioned on 28 April 1984. Her main role was once again shore bombardment. She suffered an explosion in No.2 Gun Turret in 1989 in which 47 sailors were killed, and after this she was decommissioned for the final time. The Iowa is now a naval museum at Los Angeles.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



15,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

12.1in on 0.875in STS

 - lower belt

12.1in-1.6in on 0.875in STS

 - armour deck

6in with 1.5in weather deck and 0.625in splinter deck

 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turrets

19.7in face, 7.25in roof, 9.5in side, 12.0in rear

 - CT

17.5in, 7.25in roof


887ft 3in


108ft 2in


Nine 16in/50 guns
Twenty 5in/38 guns in ten turrets
Eighty 40mm guns in quad mounts
Forty nine 20mm guns
3 aircraft

Crew complement


Ships in Class


Laid Down

27 June 1940


27 August 1942


22 February 1943

Iowa Class Battleships, Lester Abbey. A modeller's guide to the four ships of the Iowa class, the best American battleships and the longest serving capital ships of the modern era. Includes a history of the ships and their designs, a section of model reviews, a modellers showcase showing some very impressive models, and a section on the changing appearance of these ships over time. [read full review]
cover cover

The Battleships of the Iowa Class, Philippe Caresse. An impressive history of the Iowa class battleships, translated flawlessly from French, and with the space within its 500 pages to contain a detailed technical history of the ships, accounts of each of their long service careers and to have more photographs than most pictorial guides could ever hope to have! The photographs benefit greatly from the survival of all four of these ships, to show us fascinating views of their interioirs, of the type that almost never survive for their contemporary warships (Read Full Review)
cover cover cover


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 September 2014), USS Iowa (BB-61) ,

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