Apr 19

USS Iowa Turret Explosion

Monday, April 19, 2010 12:01 AM


On 19 April 1989, an explosion occurred in turret 2 of the battleship USS Iowa (BB 61) as the ship conducted gunnery practice near Puerto Rico. The explosion, which began in the gunpowder charge of the center gun, spread through the three gun rooms and much of the lower levels of the turret. Forty-seven Sailors died.

The problem of storing and handling large quantities of high explosives in a shipboard environment, whether in peactime or in combat, posed a major challenge for ship and ordnance designers from the earliest enclosed mounts of the late 19th century.

The possibility that a fire or explosion anywhere in the turret could spread to the magazines below and sink the ship resulted in continuing refinements to armor (to keep out enemy shellfire), complicated interlocks on powder and shell handling equipment (to prevent fire from having an uninterrupted path to the magazine), and crew procedures (to ensure that the mechanical systems would have a chance to work).

Turret explosions on Navy ships, while rare, caused significant loss of life, but internal protective systems prevented the magazine explosions that would have destroyed the ship. USS Mississippi (BB 41) had the misfortune to experience two: a peacetime explosion in 1924 that took 48 lives, and an explosion during a 1943 wartime shore bombardment mission that killed 43. Twenty sailors died and 36 were injured in a 1972 explosion in turret 2 of the cruiser USS Newport News (CA 148), operating off Vietnam. These tragedies, and the Iowa explosion, are a reminder that naval combatants and their crews handle dangerous things in dangerous situations for a living, and that the highest standards of crew training and ship design are nonnegotiable.

RIP Shipmates. You stand Relieved. We have the watch.

  • Charley

    Wasn’t this the incident where the NIS tried to blame a homosexual sailor for causing the blast? It wasn’t the NIS’s finest hour, but it did reinforce the agency’s mission as viewed by many members of the fleet.

  • Jim Valle

    Some years back the issue of the Iowa’s turret explosion was explored in a made-for-TV movie. This dramatization indicated that the Iowa’s turrets were not receiving adequate maintenance and that one of the gunnery chief petty officers was trying to set records for long range shooting by overboosting the guns with extra bags of cordite. The Navy never endorsed this interpretation which was based on a news media investigation. Anybody have an update on this?

  • Laura Johnson

    My brother was actually on the USS Iowa when this happened, and they were using old gun powder packs from the 1950’s for their practice drills. God bless all the brave soldiers lost in this horrible tragedy.

  • Dan Smither

    Jim and Laura, The warship in question is the “Iowa” class Cruiser, USS Newport News. Duh!

  • Bill Carnright

    Dan, I take it that the “duh” means that you are chastising Jim and Laura for some perceived stupidity. Please correct me if I am wrong about that. The U.S.S. Iowa is a battleship, the first of her class thus other ships in her class would be battleships of the Iowa class. Battleships are named after states and are really big. Cruisers are pretty big but considerably smaller than battleships, are named after cities and are in classes named after the first cruisers in their respective classes. The U.S.S. Newport News is a cruiser not a battleship so it cannot be in the Iowa class. They both did have turret expolsions though in different decades and in turrets of different sized guns. I think this may be the proper place for one to insert the “Duh!”

  • Tom Christensen

    Bill Carnright,
    You are right on target. Iowa is a full size battleship—with the emphasis on ‘really big’. I served in USS Wisconsin (an Iowa Class Battleship) as a Midshipman 3rd Class in 1957. We joined up with Iowa somewhere in the Atlantic and went through some tactical maneuvers plus some gunfireing exercises….we steamed along side her for a day or so and I was so impressed with the powerful image that she made on the horizon. We also had a couple of Cruisers steaming with us in the joint battlegroup and when you see a cruiser along side of a battleship at sea, you will realize how small a cruiser is in comparison.
    By the way, later in my military career (1984), I worked on a program staff in the pentagon with a First Class Petty Officer that was transfered to Iowa in 1986. He was in Turret #2 on the day of the explosion and was killed. Name was Bob Morrison.

  • Daniel Burdette

    I was a Damage Controlman 2nd Class April 19th,1989 aboard USS IOWA. The fact of the matter is,after 20+ years,we still don’t know 100% nor will we ever know for sure what caused the explosion which killed 47 of my shipmates. All we can do is remember with fondness our lost shipmates,and pray no one ever has to go through the hell we all endured that day and afterwards with a botched,disgraceful investigation by the NIS. And to Tom Christensen, Bob Morrison (LN1) was one of my best friends on the ship.We were on the same bowling team,he and Michael Helton (LN1). Ironically,Morrison used to hold training encouraging everyone to get a living will. I will always remember him.

  • Steve Danz

    The Capt. of the Iowa was a incompentant boob unfit for command.The Admiral who framed that poor kid was the U.S. Navies Benadict Arnold.

  • Robin Gerrard

    to Daniel Burdette and Steve Danz
    Thank you for the fond memories and kind words about my brother Bob Morrison. He was adored by his family
    And we miss him so much.

  • Ed Carr

    To reply to Dan Smither and Tom Christiansen, the USS Newport News CA-148 was a Des Moine class heavy attack cruiser, one of three. Uss Salem and the Uss Des Moine being the others. Turret two center barrel blew up Oct. 1, 1972 due to a faulty safety on the projectile. The last report on the Iowa I read was powder bag residue still in the barrel igniting the following charges.

  • For all information about the USS NEWPORT NEWS CA-148, please visit our website.


    My respects to my fellow sailors from the USS IOWA. I was on the NEWPORT NEWS when the explosion occured in T2. Faulty ammo was the cause. The detailed investigation results are also on our website. Here is the link:


  • Jay

    Can anyone tell me how to obtain a list of names for those killed by the explosion? I received a letter from a sailor shortly after this accident and was informed that my friend was one of those killed. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  • Bill Price

    I was on board Iowa when this happened. Here is a list of the casualties.
    The following is a list of the turret two explosion casualties.

    Crewmember’s Name Rate/Rank Hometown
    Tung Thanh Adams Fire Controlman 3rd class (FC3) Alexandria, VA
    Robert Wallace Backherms Gunner’s Mate 3rd class (GM3)(FC3) Ravenna, OH
    Dwayne Collier Battle Electrician’s Mate, Fireman Apprentice (EMFA) Rocky Mount, NC
    Walter Scot Blakey Gunner’s Mate 3rd class (GM3) Eaton Rapids, MI
    Pete Edward Bopp Gunner’s Mate 3rd class (GM3) Levittown, NY
    Ramon Jarel Bradshaw Seaman Recruit (SR) Tampa, FL
    Philip Edward Buch Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTjg) Las Cruces, NM
    Eric Ellis Casey Seaman Apprentice (SA) Mt. Airy, NC
    John Peter Cramer Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Uniontown, PA
    Milton Francis Devaul Jr. Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Solvay, NY
    Leslie Allen Everhart Jr. Seaman Apprentice (SA) Cary, NC
    Gary John Fisk Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2) Oneida, NY
    Tyrone Dwayne Foley Seaman (SN) Bullard, TX
    Robert James Gedeon III Seaman Apprentice (SA) Lakewood, OH
    Brian Wayne Gendron Seaman Apprentice (SA) Madera, CA
    John Leonard Goins Seaman Recruit (SR) Columbus, OH
    David L. Hanson Electricians Mate 3rd class (EM3) Perkins, SD
    Ernest Edward Hanyecz Gunners Mate 1st class (GM1) Bordentown, NJ
    Clayton Michael Hartwig Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Cleveland, OH
    Michael William Helton Legalman 1st class (LN1) Louisville, KY
    Scott Alan Holt Seaman Apprentice (SA) Fort Meyers, FL
    Reginald L. Johnson Jr. Seaman Recruit (SR) Warrensville Heights, OH
    Nathaniel Clifford Jones Jr. Seaman Apprentice (SA) Buffalo, NY
    Brian Robert Jones Seaman (SN) Kennesaw, GA
    Michael Shannon Justice Seaman (SN) Matewan, WV
    Edward J. Kimble Seaman (SN) Ft. Stockton, TX
    Richard E. Lawrence Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Springfield, OH
    Richard John Lewis Fire Controlman, Seaman Apprentice (FCSA) Northville, MI
    Jose Luis Martinez Jr. Seaman Apprentice (SA) Hidalgo, TX
    Todd Christopher McMullen Boatswains Mate 3rd class (BM3) Manheim, PA
    Todd Edward Miller Seaman Recruit (SR) Ligonier, PA
    Robert Kenneth Morrison Legalman 1st class (LN1) Jacksonville, FL
    Otis Levance Moses Seaman (SN) Bridgeport, CN
    Darin Andrew Ogden Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Shelbyville, IN
    Ricky Ronald Peterson Seaman (SN) Houston, MN
    Mathew Ray Price Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Burnside, PA
    Harold Earl Romine Jr. Seaman Recruit (SR) Brandenton, FL
    Geoffrey Scott Schelin Gunners Mate 3rd class (GMG3) Costa Mesa, CA
    Heath Eugene Stillwagon Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Connellsville, PA
    Todd Thomas Tatham Seaman Recruit (SR) Wolcott, NY
    Jack Ernest Thompson Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Greeneville, TN
    Stephen J. Welden Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Yukon, OK
    James Darrell White Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Norwalk, CA
    Rodney Maurice White Seaman Recruit (SR) Louisville, KY
    Michael Robert Williams Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2) South Shore, KY
    John Rodney Young Seaman (SN) Rockhill, SC
    Reginald Owen Ziegler Senior Chief Gunners Mate (GMCS) Port Gibson, NY

  • GMG1

    Her gun blew because of yorktown. I was on a barge at yorktown on a HOT day, downloading ammo. We looked in a barge with Iowa shells/powder. I noticed thems haddent been taken in several weeks. The tin roof barge was hot as hell. Bag powdwer is constructed with a booster charge of black powder to ensure detonation of the main charge. This in each bag…up to 6 bags for each round. Black powder gets REAL SENSITVE with heat. I had dealt with black powder when in high school, so knew a hell of alot about it. Sensitive means thAT AFTER EXPOSED TO HEAT it becomes so sensitive even the grains of powder just rubbing against each other can set it off. Imagine hitting that rammer spade lever and watching those bags compressed… This is what really happened. yorktown should have sprayed those barges with water when too hot. thats what the tugs were for. bad oversite at yorktown killed 47 gunners mates. what would delbert black have said?!?

  • Shirley

    You are all wrong about the damp ammo! My husband was in that turret 3 months before it exploded. It had a large crack in the barrel, probably like all the other ships turrets that blew up. But we only know the truth about the USS Iowa. My husband’s 41 friends are in our mines all the time. The two men ( one in the turret dead and the other in sick bay that day) that was blamed for the attack is innocent. My husband went to strip bars with these men, they were not GAY! Believe what you want, but the government just didn’t want to pay all the deceased families any compensation. Sad, people will lie over money. So now that they want to display this ship, it makes me sick at my stomach. My husband went a-wall to get out of this barrel. He later turned hisself in and had to serve 3 months in the Brigg. As soon as he was released the Barrel blow up. But go ahead everybody just keep covering the truth up, It’s those people that are making up the stories I feel sorry for when they step in front of the LORD without confessing on earth first!!!!!!!!! SJH

  • Brittany Goins

    Nice to meet you Bill. My Older cousin was one of the causalties. John Goins from Columbus, Oh. R.I.P to all the lives lost

  • Karen Edwards Sams

    I heard this the week it happened… the cover up was so wrong.

  • Zachary Phillip Martin

    My father served on this ship. I was actually named after one of the dead servicemen. LTjg Philip Edward Buch. My birth came months after the incident, and I didn’t know this person, but I am honored to be named after someone who served this country. Continued prayers to his family, and all those involved.

  • austin case

    hey bill i would like to know which is stronger the yamoto
    or the iowa and when it sank

  • austin case

    thanks it would greatly appreciated

  • austin case

    oh and jay im sorry for your lost

  • austin case

    they will be missed

  • Eugene Kelly

    Just want to say RIP to Reginald Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio. I knew him and was also the reason I joined the US Navy in 1989 and served 24 years. His sacrifice will not be forgotten. Lets give gim a moment of silence.

    Chief Petty Officer Eugene Kelly Ret.

  • Susan Ngo

    Eric my beloved, you will forever be in my dreams, and my heart. For the love we were denied, and the generations our families never knew, I will love you forever and always, and will see you each night in my dreams.

  • David Sampson

    Hey Bill…I want to thank you for the list…I got off her two weeks before…we lost so many good men and great friends that day…Jack Thompson was a very close friend…he was so stoked to be a third class…rip all my brothers…we will never forget you

  • Jeff Vandenberg

    God bless these 47 souls. Wish I had the opportunity to meet my second cousin David Hanson and his shipmates who served.

  • Gabriela Diaz

    Hello Mr. Budette,

    I am LN3 Gabriela Diaz, currently stationed in Newport, Rhode Island at the Naval Justice school, we are making a project to donate to the Justice School for their 70th anniversary. Our schoolhouse is named after LN1 Helton and LN1 Morrison and just wanted to know if you can tell me anything about them from the time you served with them?

  • Beverly Hugle

    My husband, PO1 Kenneth Hugle was a board the USS Iowa the day of the explosion. He was a firefighter DC1.
    Mrs. Kenneth Hugle