U.S.S. Iowa – The Navy’s Finest.

With the dawn of the 1940’s, America’s recovery from the Great Depression was in full swing. Franklin Roosevelt was completing his third term as President and running again for a fourth, this time with a Vice Presidential running mate from nearby Missouri, Harry S. Truman. In Europe, things were bleak. Hitler was overrunning nations while building strong alliances with other dictators from Italy and Japan. With an awareness that the United States would eventually be drawn into the war, FDR began gearing up for battle.

The Daily Iowan on Tuesday, December 9, 1941 – Pearl Harbor struck two days earlier and the U.S. was at war.

The U.S. Navy ordered six new state-of-the-art battleships in 1939. The BB-61 would be the most powerful warship ever to sail the seas. On June 27, 1940, the keel of the first ship was laid into place in the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. Within two years, the U.S.S. Iowa would be ready for war.

(C-0135) The keel of the U.S.S. Iowa was laid on June 27, 1940.
(C-0234) The U.S.S. Iowa was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard on August 27, 1942.

The U.S.S. Iowa – BB-61 – Battleship was launched on August 27, 1942. It is the last lead ship of any class of United States battleships and was the only ship of its class to have served in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans during World War II.

(C-0241) Everybody in America joined the War Effort – even Uncle Sam.
(C-0230) This “stamp-less” postal cover is Military Mail, thus has the “Free” marking in the upper right corner. The letter is postmarked October 8, 1943 on the U.S.S. Iowa and also stamped “Paused by Naval Censors” with the initials of the censor who reviewed the contents of the letter. Military mail is not always censored by opening or reading the mail, but this is much more likely during wartime and military campaigns. The military postal service is separate from civilian mail and is usually totally controlled by the military, so during wartime, mail from the front (in this case – the U.S.S. Iowa was actively involved in WWII) is often opened and offending parts blanked or cut out, and incoming civilian mail may be subject to much the same treatment.

In late November of 1943, the U.S.S. Iowa carried President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic to Algeria, en route to a meeting of vital importance in Tehran with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain and Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union.

Once Germany surrendered in May of 1945, the U.S.S. Iowa finished its WWII service in the Pacific, serving as the Third Fleet’s flagship at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

The Japanese Surrender on Board the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo BaySeptember 2, 1945. The U.S.S. Iowa was the lead ship in this U.S. Navy convey docked in Tokyo Harbor.
(C-0137) This stamp was issued later in 1945 to commemorate the important role of the U.S. Navy during World War II. The stamp pictures a group of sailors in their summer uniforms. The Artcraft cachet features WWII sailors stationed on the USS Iowa, assigned to the Third Fleet in the Pacific.

(C-0142) (C-0143) Here are two postal covers with U.S.S. Iowa postmarks from December 28, 1946 – Iowa Statehood Day. Click here to read more.

(C-0297) (C-0298) On September 22, 1948 – the U.S.S. Iowa was de-commissioned – only to be re-commissioned three years later – September 24, 1951 – when the Korean War made it necessary.

In 1951, from Sun. Nov. 18, through Sat. Nov. 24, SUI President Virgil Hancher (seated far right) and Iowa historian William J. Petersen (kneeling far right) were among 14 Iowans who spent Thanksgiving aboard the U.S.S. Iowa on a shakedown cruise from Long Beach to Pearl Harbor. Dinner was traditional turkey, oyster dressing and candied sweet potatoes, Adm. Chester Nimitz gave the commissioning address, and the wife of Iowa Gov. William Beardsley presented the ship its new state flag. In his summary, Petersen as longtime superintendent of the State Historical Society wrote in the March 1952 Palimpsest magazine: “We were all amazed with everything we saw, from the up-to-date laundry to the three shoe cobblers who put on 650 pairs of heels and 250 soles monthly.”

Operating out of Yokosuka, she was the flagship of the Seventh Fleet under Vice Admiral Robert Briscoe then Vice Admiral Joseph Clark. Her big guns bombarded North Korean and Chinese targets at Songjin, Hungnam, and Kojo. The U.S.S. Iowa left the region in October 1952 and conducted training operations in the Caribbean Sea and Northern Europe. In July 1953, she acted as Vice Admiral Edmund Wooldridge’s flagship of the Second Fleet, and in September 1954 was Rear Admiral R. E. Libby’s flagship of the Battleship Cruiser Force of the Atlantic Fleet. From January to April 1955, she served as the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, though intermittently interrupted by overhaul and training missions, and was placed in reserve on February 24, 1958.

(C-0299) The U.S.S. Iowa was once again recommissioned on April 28, 1984, saw action in Middle East during 1987-1988, and on April 19, 1989 – a massive onboard explosion killed 47 men. The damage was contained by the flooding of the number two powder magazine, but the cause of the explosion was never determined – though static electricity and loose powder is suspected. Turret number two, damaged during the accident, was never repaired.

As a result of the explosion, the U.S.S. Iowa was decommissioned – for the final time – on October 26, 1990 in Norfolk, Virginia – after 48 years of service. (C-0300) (C-0236)

In 2011, the U.S.S. Iowa was donated to the Los Angeles–based non-profit Pacific Battleship Center and was permanently moved to Berth 87 at the Port of Los Angeles in 2012, where she is now open to the public as the U.S.S. Iowa Museum.

While the U.S.S. Iowa Battleship was, and still is, the greatest warship of all time, it was actually the sixth ship in United States history to be named after the State of Iowa. Not bad for a prairie state where the nearest ocean is over 1,000 miles away! So, here’s the rest of the story about the other five ships that preceded her majesty…

Revered as one of the largest and fastest boats on the Mississippi in the mid-19th century – the Steamboat Iowa is incorporated into the official Great Seal of Iowa. Built in 1838, the Iowa was the first vessel named for the newly formed Territory of Iowa. It weighed 112 tons, could pull 10 keelboats, and it set the speed record from Galena, Illinois to St. Louis in 1843, making the trip in 44 hours, a record that held until 1849. The Iowa was hired by Mormon supporters of Joseph Smith, Jr. as part of a plan to rescue him from jail in June 1843; the excursion was cancelled after Smith was murdered in jail. The Iowa sank after a collision with the steamboat Declaration on Oct. 1, 1847 while traveling from New Orleans to St. Louis. This liability for this collision was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court case John Walsh v. Patrick Rogers (54 U.S. 283- 1852). However, the Iowa was apparently rebuilt, or a new steamboat was later rechristened Iowa, since a similar side-wheeler appeared twice in Barber and Howe’s 1865 Loyal West in the Time of Rebellion, and there is reference to the Iowa being used as a troop transport during the Civil War. Click here for more info about steamboats in Iowa.

Originally named the U.S.S. Ammonoosuc, this steam frigate was constructed in the Boston Navy Yard during the American Civil War. It was launched, apparently without ceremony, on July 21, 1864. She was intended to be used against the British should England decide to take the side of the Confederate States of America and attack the American Union North. However, as the war progressed, England’s support of the Confederacy diminished, and the fast and powerful ship was never placed into service. Instead, she was laid up in the Boston Navy Yard, and while there was renamed the U.S.S. Iowa on May 15, 1869. She was sold on September 27, 1883 to the firm of Hubel and Porter, of Syracuse, New York.

(P-0140) (P-0189-A) (P-0285)

This U.S.S. Iowa saw action during the Spanish-American War and is notable for being America’s first seagoing battleship. The Iowa was launched on March 28, 1896, sponsored by the daughter of the Governor of Iowa named Mary Lord Drake. Drake commissioned the vessel on June 16, 1897 – with Captain William T. Sampson in command.

(P-0189-B)

The Iowa was known as “Battleship No. 4” during her lifespan and called BB-4 after the hull classification symbol system became standard in 1921. When the Spanish-American war broke out, Cuba belonged to Spain. There was some speculation that the Spanish military made a mistake by sending its fleet to Cuba instead of keeping it nearer to Spain where supplies were closer. Once it was discovered by the United States that the Spanish fleet was in the harbor of Santiago. the Iowa was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and was ordered to blockade duty on May 28, 1898. Under the command of Captain Robley D. “Fighting Bob” Evans the Iowa participated in a naval bombardment of the fort near Santiago, and joined many other American warships blockading Cuba.

While the Iowa was an improvement over the Indiana class because of a superior design, the warship, soon after WWI, became obsolete. So, on March 23,1923, the Iowa was used for target practice and sunk in Panama Bay by a salvo of 14-inch shells.

(M-0110) Here’s a neat collectible made in Germany after WWI. It’s a small package of sewing needles sold in a decorative “patriotic” cover. Ours features the U.S.S. Iowa and is part of The Army and Navy Needle Book series – circa 1920.

This steamer – The Iowan – was built by the Maryland Steel Company as one of eight sister ships for the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company. In October 1914, five months after she was delivered to American-Hawaiian, the ship rammed and sank the United Fruit Company steamer Metapan near the entrance to New York Harbor. After repairs, the Iowan resumed inter-coastal service via the Panama Canal. When the canal was temporarily closed by landslides in late 1915, the ship sailed via the Straits of Magellan until the canal reopened in mid 1916. During World War I, the Iowan carried cargo, animals, and a limited number of passengers to France, and returned nearly 10,000 American troops after the Armistice.

During World War II she was taken over by the United States Navy and commissioned as U.S.S. Iowan (ID-3002). During the war, the ship was transferred to one of our Allies, the Soviet Union and renamed SS Tashkent. She delivered cargo and troops in support of the Soviet invasion of Japanese-held territories in August 1945. After the war, the ship remained a part of the Soviet merchant fleet until 1966. She was transferred to North Korea at that time to become a fish processing facility, and was scrapped in 1969.

This U.S.S. Iowa was a battleship already under construction when she was suddenly canceled by the Washington Naval Treaty – scrubbing the ship before ever completed.

So, with Iowa being land-locked, it’s interesting to see that we Hawkeyes have such a sea-going heritage. And don’t forget – during WWII – when Iowa City was a site for the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight School, many of the finest Navy recruits played football here as well, going under the name, the Iowa SeaHawks. Some consider the 1943 Iowa SeaHawks as one of college football’s finest teams. Read more here.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

December 9, 1941, The Daily Iowan

The Steamboat Iowa, Wikipedia

USS Iowa/Ammonoosuc, Military Wikia

USS Iowa BB-4, Military Wikia

USS Iowan, Wikipedia

USS Iowa, BB-53, Military Wikia

USS Iowa, BB-61, Wikipedia

USS Iowa, BB-61, Military Wikia

WWII Database – U.S.S. Iowa, ww2db.com

Saturday Postcard 222: Thanksgiving on the Battleship Iowa, Bob Hibbs, IAGenWeb, November 29, 2003

The USS Iowa Museum Pacific Battleship.com website


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