Gallery: Ars tours the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61)
Today is Veterans Day in the US, and we wanted to recognize the Ars readers and staff who’ve served by resurfacing former Navy man Sean Gallagher’s trip to his old home, the USS Iowa. His piece originally ran on May 15, 2015.
A few months ago, as I was planning to head out to California for Microsoft’s Build developer conference in San Francisco, I decided I needed to stretch the trip a bit further to the south—down to the Port of Los Angeles to visit the Pacific Battleship Center, the home of the battleship USS Iowa.
I served on the Iowa for two years in the late 1980s, and that experience was life-changing. But I had not had a chance to see the ship in over 26 years—my last visit had been in late April of 1989, weeks after an explosion in the ship’s second 16-inch gun turret took the lives of 47 men. Many of those who died had worked in my division aboard Iowa; others had been colleagues and friends.
So nearly 26 years to the day after I last visited the Iowa, I stepped aboard with my wife and daughter in tow, escorted by James Pobog—a former Navy boiler tech and the “deck boss” of the Pacific Battleship Center’s volunteer Iowa crew. It was a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon, making it not so ideal for photos, and some of the places I had on my list to visit were not the most photogenic and well-lit spaces aboard Iowa. But the second the smell of the ship below deck hit me—the mix of a thousand different lubricant and paint fumes, and god knows what else lingering in the spaces of a 72-year old battleship—memories started flooding back.
I’ve written about Iowa’s fire control systems in the past, and I recently recounted my experience with the ship’s use of drones. But that’s just scratching the surface of the technology that made BB-61 in all three of its “lives”—during World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War—possible. It was one of the fastest ships of its size and mass ever built, capable of well over 30 knots; its top speed was long classified, but some have placed it at near 40 knots, or 46mph. That may not seem incredibly fast, but the ship also has a displacement of over 58,000 tons. It was a workhorse, too, doing everything from refueling other ships to sweeping for mines.
And sure, it could reliably hit targets over 25 miles away with explosive shells that had the same mass as a VW Bug.
I’ve pulled together some of the photos from my visit with other photos from my Iowa archives—some of them digital versions pulled from the National Archives’ online collection of photos I have only in bound, printed “cruise books.”
I’d be happy to take your questions about the ship and the cutting edge of World War II and Cold War technology. Fire away in the comments below, or e-mail me.