USS North Carolina BB55

The USS North Carolina BB55 was the name ship of the North Carolina class of battleships and served in the Pacific taking part in many of the island invasions of 1943-45 as well as the battle of the Philippine Sea and the bombardments of Japan.

The North Carolina was commissioned on 9 April 1941, making her the first of the 'fast battleships' laid down in the mid-to-late 1930s to enter service.

View aft from bow, USS North Carolina (BB-55)
View aft from bow, USS North Carolina (BB-55)

The North Carolina remained relatively unaltered during the Second World War. Only her light and medium anti-aircraft armament saw significant changes. The original quad 1.1in and single .50in guns were replaced by large numbers of 20mm Oerlikon guns and 40mm Bofors guns. The North Carolina ended the war with 15 40mm quad mountings and 36 20mm guns.

During 1941 the US Navy planned to keep the North Carolina and her sister ship Washington in the North Atlantic, where they would take part in the battle against the U-Boats. This changed after Pearl Harbor, and after completing her shakedown cruise and war exercises with the Hornet the North Carolina was sent to the Pacific.

After the heavy US carrier losses in the first part of 1942 the US Navy decided to send the Wasp from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The North Carolina formed part of her escort. The two ships passed through the Panama Canal on 10 June and arrived at San Diego, where they became Task Force 18. The new force was sent to the South Pacific, where North Carolina was transferred to TF 61.2, the force guarding the Enterprise. This task force took part in the landings on Guadalcanal on 7 August and the battle of the Eastern Solomons, 23-24 August 1942. In this battle the North Carolina performed valuable duties as an anti-aircraft platform, shooting down between 7 and 14 aircraft. One crewman was killed by a Japanese bullets, and the ship suffered seven near misses.

On 14 September the North Carolina was the victim of an attack aimed at a ship ten miles from her. The Japanese submarine I-19 fired a spread of six torpedoes. Three hit the Wasp, sinking her. One hit the destroyer O'Brien, eleven miles from the I-19, causing damage that sank her three days later. Another travelled ten miles before hitting the North Carolina on the port bow, level with No.1 Turret. The torpedo hit below the armoured belt and blew a hole in the side. The North Carolina developed a five degree list, but was able to maintain her place in the Enterprise's screen for the rest of the day. On the next day she was forced to depart for Pearl Harbor, where she entered dry-dock on 11 October 1942. She didn't return to the fleet until January 1943.

USS North Carolina (BB-55) fitting out
USS North Carolina (BB-55) fitting out

When she returned to duty the North Carolina joined the Washington and the Indiana to carry out convoy escort duties in the waters around Guadalcanal. She returned to Pearl Harbor again in March-April 1943 to receive updated fire control and radar equipment.

North Carolina and Indiana formed part of TF50.2 during Operation Galvanic, the invasion of Makin (19 November 1943). The fast battleships were used to cover the carriers Enterprise, Belleau Wood and Monterey. On 8 December the North Carolina bombarded Nauru, targeting Japanese air facilities and defences.

In December 1943 Washington, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Indiana and North Carolina formed TF50.7 under the command of Rear Admiral Lee. This task force, covered by the carriers Bunker Hill and Monterey took part in a heavy bombardment of Kwajelein on 8 December, firing 810 16in shells. 

Eight of the fast battleships took part in Operation Flintlock, the invasion of the Marshalls (29 January 1944). North Carolina, South Dakota and Alabama provided an escort for TG58.3 (the carriers Essex, Intrepid and Cabot) and were positioned off Maloelap Atoll, which was strongly garrisoned by the Japanese, but bypassed by American land forces.

On 17-18 February 1944 six of the fast battleships took part in a raid on Truk. Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina and South Dakota provided the close escort for the carriers as part of TG 58.3. Later in February the North Carolina protected the carriers during strikes on Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

On 31 March-1 April the North Carolina supported an attack on Palau and Woleai. On 13-24 April she helped support landings at Hollandia on New Guinea and on 29-30 April she supported another raid on Truk.

On 1 May New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Dakota and the newly repaired Indiana took part in a bombardment of Ponape in the Caroline Islands. The North Carolina targeted coast defence guns, antiaircraft guns and airfields. She then sailed to Pearl Harbor for repairs to her rudder.

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 North Carolina took part in a bombardment of the west coast of Saipan and the harbour at Tanapag. 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. After the battle the North Carolina returned to the US West Coast for a refit.

USS North Carolina (BB-55), 1941
USS North Carolina (BB-55), 1941

The North Carolina re-joined the fast carrier force off Ulithi in early November 1944 and supported them as they helped the troops fighting on Leyte and then Mindoro.

In January 1945 the North Carolina escorted the carriers on raids against Formosa, Indo-China, China and the Ryukyus while in February the Japanese home islands were struck when the carriers attacked Honshu.

The North Carolina took part in the invasion of Okinawa, performing a mix of bombardment and carrier support. The main threat to the American carriers now came from kamikaze attack, and the North Carolina shot down a number of incoming Japanese aircraft off Okinawa.

The North Carolina took part in some of the late attacks on the Japanese home islands, bombarding factories near Tokyo. After the Japanese surrender her marines formed part of the initial occupation force while the battleship patrolled off the coast. She docked in Toyko Bay on 5 September and then began the trip home. She passed through the Panama Canal on 8 October and reached Boston on 17 October. 

The North Carolina was decommissioned in 1947 and was struck from the Navy List on 1 June 1960 but was preserved as a monument at Wilmington North Carolina, after being transferred to the state in 1961 (after a fund raising campaign in 1960 raised over $325,000). She now serves as a monument to the 10,000 North Carolinians who died during the Second World War.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



17,450nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

12in-6.6in on o.75in STS backing

 - armour deck

5.5in-5in with 1.45in weather deck and 0.62-0.75in splinter deck

 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turrets

16in face, 7in roof, 9.8in side, 11.8in rear

 - CT

14.7in-16in, 7in roof


728ft 9in


108ft 4in


Nine 16in/45 guns in triple turrets
Twenty 5in/38 guns in twin turrets
Sixteen 1.1in guns in four quad mountings
Twelve 0.5in guns
Three aircraft

Crew complement


Laid Down

27 October 1937


13 June 1940


9 April 1941



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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 June 2012), USS North Carolina BB55 ,

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