Jun 26

The Battleship New Jersey and the Korean War

Saturday, June 26, 2010 6:00 AM


Carol Comegno writes in yesterday’s Courier Post, “The Battleship New Jersey rests tranquilly on the Delaware River today as a naval museum on the Camden Waterfront silhouetted by the Philadelphia skyline across the river. Sixty years ago today when the Korean War started in 1950, it was also resting, as an inactive ship in the New Jersey Naval Yard at Bayonne after stellar service in World War II. But not for long. War called and the ship was recommissioned at Bayonne on Nov. 21, 1950, and served two tours of duty off the coast of Korea from 1951 to 1953, shelling coastal areas with its nine booming 16-inch guns — the largest ever manufactured for the Navy.”

Full article here.

For a short history of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) in the Korean War, click here. For aditional photos of the “Big Jay” click here.

USS New Jersey (BB-62) fires a nine 16-inch gun salvo during bombardment operations against enemy targets in Korea, adjacent to the 38th parallel. Photo is dated 10 November 1951.

  • Alex Kovnat

    I don’t know if the U.S. Navy should build more battleships with 16 inch guns, but I do believe the Air Force ought to acquire more B-52’s. I’ve heard they can deliver one heck of a payload of bombs against enemy targets.

    I will give the New Jersey credit for this, however: Although a sailor was unfortunately killed, it would have been very difficult for the North Koreans to sink that ship. It was designed to withstand torpedoes and hits from opposing capital ships.

  • Rich Worrell

    Just wanted to say that it is quite an honor for me to be a Docent aboard the “Big J”. My attempt to transfer to the New Jersey as it was preparing for Vietnam failed, but I am now privileged to serve aboard her today. Each time I arrive at the pier of the most decorated battleship in the history of the US Navy I am awed by the New Jersey’s majesty and displayed power.

  • hugh cree

    What must it have been like onboard her when all Nine of those guns fired, at the same time? What an experience!

  • John Carraway

    Reagan was the only man who saw the potential value of these armored ships when he had the Iowa’s upgraded. Unfortunately, the cost of steel prohibits the construction of armored ships today, which makes these last four ships all the more valuable. They can take a hit and keep on fighting, unlike today’s paper-thin ships. The arguments against keeping at least two of them on active duty pale in comparison to the fighting potential of these armored ships. They should be nuclear powered and have their hull and deck armor increased substantially. Of course, their main batteries will have to be rebuilt, and their 5″ guns replaced with 8″. Removal of the rear turret would allow installation of missile silos for anti-ship, anti-aircraft defense, etc. A terrible shame that the two Alaska class heavy cruisers were scrapped in ’59. They would have made excellent candidates for upgrade to missile cruisers with their 12″ main guns. An awful waste of materiel.

  • John Carraway

    Many have said that modern electronics are incompatible with the vibration from the 16″ guns. However, why couldn’t the electronics be turned off while the guns are in use, and deferred to the destroyer escorts? Also, I’m sure some kind of anti-vibration technology could be developed as well. In any case, the 12″ guns of the Alaska class cruisers would have produced much less vibration, making them the ideal ships for upgrading. Then there is the criteria for determining the life of a ship, which does not consider the value of armored ships against their non-armored replacements. Rebuilding BB’s and cruisers would probably cost the same as building new unarmored ships, but their replacements would not equal armored ships in battle. Of course, BB’s and cruisers should never be without destroyer and submarine escorts; or should travel only as part of a carrier battle group. For the best-looking BB’s ever built check out photos of the clipper-bowed Tennessee and California with their twelve 14″ main guns. Only the Yamato and Musashi compared in sleekness.

  • Jack Power

    I haven’t read the article on the New Jersey but I have climbed over the Missouri a number of times and the comments posted have prompted me to write the following.

    The cost of building heavily armored ships such as the Iowa class battleship or even the lightly armored automated dual purpose 8 inch, 45 caliber gun cruisers of the Des Moines class (CA-134) today would be impossible to justify.

    In my humble opinion, the three “Large Cruiser” class hulls actually constructed out of six planned(USS Alaska(CB-1), USS Guam(CB-2), and hull CB-3(Hawaii)-all with 12 inch, 50 caliber guns) were a mistake based on a questionable need when authorized and none when finally built.

    The cost of reconditioning and updating the four remaining Iowa class hulls would be very high and the corresponding need for such firepower would have to be equally as high. That is not to say that the need for major caliber gunfire support has been eliminated. Just that it would have to be needed A LOT more than what people are able to justify these days. Killing off the Iowas would eliminate the major caliber gunfire support capability completely. After all, everyone is willing to expose a trillion dollar 5 inch, 62 caliber popgun destroyer to counterbattery to help the Marines force a contested landing. Everyone.

    Anyone saying that modern electronics would be adversely affected by the shooting of such large caliber guns is basically saying that they don’t think the time and effort necessary to protect is worth it. If the firepower would be needed, the electronics would also be needed and such would be made to work. After all, current ships can take a GOOD hit and the electronics not destroyed by the explosion and fire can still work, right? The same is true for constructing new large caliber replacement gun barrels, ammunition, etc. If we need the firepower, we need the rest to support the mission requirement.

    My biggest personal concern is the high manpower cost of these ships while in commission. I doubt the total crew per ship can be much more reduced without changing out armament (such as replacing the entire after turret revolving system with vertical launch systems and replacing the 5″/38cal gun systems with the 5″/62cal-?) but Engineering is probably locked in. That is a very old design steam plant inside that armored box and, although I have been told that it was a good design for the era to propel the hull form at the required speed, it is very labor (not to mention fuel)intensive.

    Since we have pretty much priced ourselves out of properly manning Spruance hull cruisers and Burke class destroyers, how could we safely steam the Iowas? And of course we will not mention how we are even further reducing available manpower by sending people to augment the Army.

    The discussion may be basically something like this; Do we want a Navy that can back up the foreign policy and national interests of the country or do we want just another frigate navy. Ideas to further cut back on the active carriers and corresponding battle groups, which would include air wings(& airplanes), escorts(of all types & classes), logistical support vessels(again of all types & classes), and the supporting ashore training and repair facilities would seem to lead in that direction.

    Am I advocating something? No. Just that keeping the Iowas around as civilian supported memorials keeps a significant gunfire support capability alive. Three of them for the time being anyway, who knows what will happen to the Iowa (BB-61).

  • ralph cuomo

    is it true that the casualty was due to the fact that the ship dropped anchor in front of the shore batteries and if took five minutes to return fire

  • Hilton R Phelps

    As a former Macinest Mate on the old girl during the Korean conflict,I Was on board when the shell hit the gun turrent, And several other incidents not known by the good people that parade you around the when you visit! But I would like to say, I beleve that it would not take much up-grading to have the Battleship as scary a piece of equipment as anything out there now, You have to be on board when the big gun are firing in support of the ground troops, And hear the GI’s yelling their thanks for saving their bottoms while pinned down in some vally, And yes! It is awsome when they fire a salvo, I don’t know how the new electronics would fare? But the Generators that supplied power to the main battery had to be re-set after each salvo!! I’m 80 now and would still love to serve on board. Don’t sell the Battleship short

  • D.L. Griffin

    Jack Power is accurate is some of his comments. However, to truly evaluate the power projection capabilities of the ships you discuss, you must understand them. Climbing over a ship three times does not make an expert out of anyone. First of all, when the Alaska class were designed in the late 1930’s, they were envisioned as heavy cruisers, finally unencumbered by treaty limitations, which could fullfill many roles. Moreover, the USN believed the IJN was developing such ships as well. At the time of their design, their concept was held to be valid. Unfortunately, as we all know the early 1940’s was a time of rapid naval developments, evolutions and tactial changes. In the late 30’s aircraft carriers were envisioned as escorting battleships. If you read the General Board’s comments regarding the projected use of the Iowa class, that is what they envisioned for the Iowa Class. However, in about 5 short years the Iowa’s became the escorts of the carriers and not the other way around. The next inaccuracy was to state that the Des. Moines class had an 8/45 main battery. It was an 8″ 55 caliber—not a 45 caliber.

    Last but not least, far as protecting electronics, we don’t use vacum tubes these days. In the 1980’s era reactivation, the tomahawk and harpoon missles were placed up in the superstructure where the old WWII era 40mm quad Bofors mounts had been. The armored boxes the missles were in were armored specifically to protect the missles from the blast pressures of the 16″ 50cal guns—something which said armored boxes accomplished admirably. As far as man power, yes the ships are labor intensive. However, they all have less than 20 years of service life on their hulls. They are among the best constructed vessels ever made for the US Navy. They can be modernized and they can be very effective. In the 1980’s they were modernized for around 125million each—about what they cost to build in the 40’s. That was cheaper in the eighties than building a new destroyer. The same holds true for today—roughly. A 2007 estimate put recomissioning costs at around 500million dollars–a cost which is still less than building a new Arleigh Burke destroyer. Mr. Hilton R.Phelps’ attitude about the Iowas has much wisdom which has been forgotten by the current generation. Yes the power plants are of a very old design. However, they still produce over 212,000shp with a 254,000shp overload capability. In the 1980’s those old plants were converted from fuel oil to the petroleum distalate that other conventionally powere ships used. They are still the only ships which can hang with a supercarrier in very rough seas. As a former US Army Major under the age of 40, I would like to see the Iowas modernized and brought to a point where they could be activated in 3-6months. We could even consider using an idea which Lord Fisher of Kilverstone used 100 years ago when he served as First Sea Lord of the worlds most powerful navy–the Royal Navy. We could train nucleus crews for the two Iowa’s that until recently were part of our reserve fleet. These crews could be well versed in the propulsion system and the armaments. Then when the ships are needed, the small nucleus crews could be used to train the new personnel necessary for expanding the crew complement to the modern level of around 1500 officers and men. Or we could just modernize the ships, and keep them sealed up and ready. When I was stationed in Washington D.C., I got to personally know the officer (a rear admiral when I met him) who brought the Wisconsin to Norfolk and the Nautilus. I have been on all but the Iowa and I hope to soon corret that oversight. If we don’t learn from our mistakes in the past, we will repeat them in the future. I have a granfather who served in Korea during the dark days of the Pusan Perimeter. There were times in Korea where an Iowa class single handedly drove of attacking North Korean forces and held them at bay while Civilians and U.S. Marines alike were evacuated. I have lived on a Marine Corps base and I have nothing but the highest regard for that branch. If for no other reason than to save the lives of USMC personnel, we need to not dispose of the Iowas and we need to apply the lessons of the past. As a final thought they USN is justifiably excited about their recent testing of their rail gun which produced 33 MegaJoules of energy. I’m sure the final product will put out more. However, a 16″ 50 cal 2700lb AP round produces near 350 MegaJoules of power. And I haven’t even begun to address the armor of the Iowas and their surviveability. Suffice it to say most modern weapons are designed to sink unarmored or lightly armored vessels. Even though its old it still seriously kick some bad guys around. So be open minded. Heck how would you counter an Iowa that carried 2-6 F-35 VTOL stealth fighters?

    Major Iowa Fan

  • Jack Power

    As a retired Naval officer I totally agree with D. L. Griffin’s comment that “Climbing over a ship three times does not make an expert out of anyone” (how did he know that?), and I will carry that a step farther by saying that, from personal experience, living on some for prolonged periods of time doesn’t make one an expert eithor. I humbly admit typing 45 vs 55 in describing Des Moines class (CA-134) gun caliber (wow, that really does chop alot off the length of the barrel, doesn’t it?). In rereading my comments I realized that I also described the guns as “dual purpose.” THAT was a bad error. They were most definitely NOT “dual purpose.” They were “rapid fire” guns with semi-fixed ammo. As for the Alaska class (CB-1) Large Cruisers, I will stick with my opinion.

    These four Iowas each have nine 16 inch/50 caliber guns. That fact is the significant capability even in the early 21st century that keeps them in existance (regardless of what organization is currently responsible for hull maintenance and looking pretty). We all know that updating electronics and related is never ending regardless of class or age. Redesigning and modernizing certain aspects of the existing engineering plant (main propulson and auxiliary) is certainly feasible as D.L. illustrated by describing what was accomplished during recommissioning overhauls and availability periods in the 1980s. Upgrade or replacement of all fire control systems, launch systems, secondary batteries, and/or close-in weapons systems with more modern is a normal evolution for all ships.

    The most important thing to remember is that all of these things (including the armored box around the engineering plant and magazines) are nothing more than support and transport for those nine guns to that place where they are needed. That includes eithor shooting them or just showing them-whatever is appropriate in the national interest. Everything else can be better deployed on other platforms-which means my earlier comment about vertical launchers really isn’t a practical idea.

    The biggest obstacle is money. The amount of money absolutely required that would allow one or more upgraded battleships to deploy no worse than C-2 in all mission areas. Or the amount of money absolutely required that would allow these ships a real level of maintenance and repair in a real reserve status. And if extra money is found-maybe building more replacement gun barrels(really needed if after activation you are going to sometimes shoot), repairing turret 2 on the Iowa, and training some of Jackie Fisher’s nucleus crews.

    But we have challenges achieving C-2 in all mission areas with deployers now.

    I vote for keeping the ships at their current locations, including San Pedro for the Iowa, in a real reserve status allowing public access with real funded hull maintenance and repair. Considering the Defense budget however, keeping the Iowas as museums at least keeps them around. Those nine guns each are still there.