The USS Iowa (BB-61) in World War II

Black and white photo of the USS Iowa taken in the 1940s.

SDASM Archives / Flickr / Public Domain

U.S.S. Iowa (BB-61) was the lead ship of the Iowa-class of battleships. The last and largest class of battleships constructed for the U.S. Navy, the Iowa-class ultimately consisted of four ships. Following the pattern set by the preceding North Carolina- and South Dakota-classes, the Iowa-class's design called for a heavy armament combined with high top speed. This latter trait allowed them to serve as effective escorts for carriers. Commissioned in early 1943, Iowa was the only member of the class to see extensive service in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II. Retained at the end of the conflict, it later saw combat during the Korean War. Though decommissioned in 1958, Iowa was modernized and brought back into service during the 1980s.


In early 1938, work commenced on a new battleship design at the behest of Admiral Thomas C. Hart, head of the U.S. Navy's General Board. Originally conceived as an enlarged version of the South Dakota-class, the new ships were to mount 12 16-inch guns or nine 18-inch guns. As the design was revised, the armament became nine 16-inch guns. Additionally, the class's anti-aircraft armament underwent several revisions with many of its 1.1-inch guns being replaced with 20 mm and 40 mm weapons. Funding for the new battleships came in May with the passage of the Naval Act of 1938. Dubbed the Iowa-class, construction of the lead ship, U.S.S. Iowa, was assigned to the New York Navy Yard. Intended as the first of four ships (two, Illinois and Kentucky, were later added to the class but never completed), Iowa was laid down on June 17, 1940.


With the U.S. entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the construction of Iowa pushed forward. Launched on August 27, 1942, with Ilo Wallace (wife of Vice President Henry Wallace) as the sponsor, Iowa's ceremony was attended by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Work on the ship continued for another six months and on February 22, 1943, Iowa was commissioned with Captain John L. McCrea in command. Departing New York two days later, it conducted a shakedown cruise in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Atlantic coast. A "fast battleship," Iowa's 33-knot speed allowed it to serve as an escort for the new Essex-class carriers that were joining the fleet.

USS Iowa (BB-61) Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Naval Shipyard
  • Laid Down: June 27, 1940
  • Launched: August 27, 1942
  • Commissioned: February 22, 1943
  • Fate: Museum ship


  • Displacement: 45,000 tons
  • Length: 887 feet, 3 inches
  • Beam: 108 feet, 2 inches
  • Draft: 37 feet, 2 inches
  • Speed: 33 knots
  • Complement: 2,788 men


  • 9 × 16 in./50 cal Mark 7 guns
  • 20 × 5 in./38 cal Mark 12 guns
  • 80 × 40 mm/56 cal anti-aircraft guns
  • 49 × 20 mm/70 cal anti-aircraft cannons

Early Assignments

Completing these operations as well as crew training, Iowa departed on August 27 for Argentia, Newfoundland. Arriving, it spent the next several weeks in the North Atlantic to protect against a potential sortie by the German battleship Tirpitz, which had been cruising in Norwegian waters. By October, this threat had evaporated and Iowa steamed for Norfolk where it underwent a brief overhaul. The following month, the battleship carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull to Casablanca, French Morocco on the first part of their journey to the Tehran Conference. Returning from Africa in December, Iowa received orders to sail for the Pacific.

Island Hopping

Named Flagship of Battleship Division 7, Iowa departed on January 2, 1944, and entered combat operations later that month when it supported carrier and amphibious operations during the Battle of Kwajalein. A month later, it helped cover Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher's carriers during a massive aerial attack on Truk before being detached for an anti-shipping sweep around the island. On February 19, Iowa and its sister ship U.S.S. New Jersey (BB-62) succeeded in sinking the light cruiser Katori. Remaining with Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force, Iowa provided support as the carriers conducted attacks in the Marianas.

On March 18, while serving as flagship for Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee, Commander Battleships, Pacific, the battleship fired on Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Rejoining Mitscher, Iowa supported air operations in the Palau Islands and Carolines before shifting south to cover Allied attacks on New Guinea in April. Sailing north, the battleship supported air attacks on the Marianas and bombarded targets on Saipan and Tinian on June 13 and 14. Five days later, Iowa helped protect Mitscher's carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea and was credited with downing several Japanese aircraft.

Leyte Gulf

After aiding in operations around the Marianas during the summer, Iowa shifted southwest to cover the invasion of Peleliu. With the conclusion of the battle, Iowa and the carriers mounted raids in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Formosa. Returning to the Philippines in October, Iowa continued to screen the carriers as General Douglas MacArthur commenced his landings on Leyte. Three days later, Japanese naval forces responded and the Battle of Leyte Gulf began. During the course of the fighting, Iowa remained with Mitscher's carriers and raced north to engage Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's Northern Force off Cape Engaño.

Nearing the enemy ships on October 25, Iowa and the other supporting battleships were ordered to return south to aid Task Force 38 which had come under attack off Samar. In the weeks after the battle, the battleship remained in the Philippines supporting Allied operations. In December, Iowa was one of many ships that were damaged when Admiral William "Bull" Halsey's Third Fleet was hit by Typhoon Cobra. Suffering damage to a propeller shaft, the battleship returned to San Francisco for repairs in January 1945.

Final Actions

While in the yard, Iowa also underwent a modernization program that saw its bridge enclosed, new radar systems installed, and fire control equipment improved. Departing in mid-March, the battleship steamed west to take part in the Battle of Okinawa. Arriving two weeks after American troops had landed, Iowa resumed its previous duty of protecting the carriers operating offshore. Moving north in May and June, it covered Mitscher's raids on the Japanese home islands and bombarded targets on Hokkaido and Honshu later that summer.

Iowa continued to operate with the carriers until the end of hostilities on August 15. After overseeing the surrender of the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal on August 27, Iowa and U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) entered Tokyo Bay with other Allied occupation forces. Serving as Halsey's flagship, Iowa was present when the Japanese formally surrendered aboard Missouri. Remaining in Tokyo Bay for several days, the battleship sailed for the U.S. on September 20.

Korean War

Taking part in Operation Magic Carpet, Iowa aided in transporting American troops home. Arriving at Seattle on October 15, it discharged its cargo before moving south to Long Beach for training operations. Over the next three years, Iowa continued with training, served a stint as the flagship of the 5th Fleet in Japan, and had an overhaul.

Decommissioned on March 24, 1949, the battleship's time in the reserves proved brief, as it was reactivated on July 14, 1951, for service in the Korean War. Arriving in Korean waters in April 1952, Iowa began shelling North Korean positions and provided gunfire support for the South Korean I Corps. Operating along the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, the battleship routinely struck targets ashore through the summer and fall. Departing the war zone in October 1952, Iowa sailed for an overhaul in Norfolk.


After conducting a training cruise for the U.S. Naval Academy in mid-1953, the battleship moved through a number of peacetime postings in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Arriving at Philadelphia in 1958, Iowa was decommissioned on February 24. In 1982, Iowa found new life as part of President Ronald Reagan's plans for a 600-ship navy. Undergoing a massive program of modernization, much of the battleship's anti-aircraft armament was removed and replaced with armored box launchers for cruise missiles, MK 141 quad cell launchers for 16 AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and four Phalanx close-in weapons systems Gatling guns. In addition, Iowa received a full suite of modern radar, electronic warfare, and fire control systems. Re-commissioned on April 28, 1984, it spent the next two years conducting training and taking part in NATO exercises.

Middle East and Retirement

In 1987, Iowa saw service in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Earnest Will. For much of the year, it aided in escorting re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers through the region. Departing the following February, the battleship returned to Norfolk for routine repairs. On April 19, 1989, Iowa suffered an explosion in its Number Two 16-inch turret. The incident killed 47 crewmen and initial investigations suggested that the explosion was the result of sabotage. Later findings reported that the cause was most likely an accidental powder explosion.

With the cooling of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy began reducing the size of the fleet. The first Iowa-class battleship to be decommissioned, Iowa moved to reserve status on October 26, 1990. Over the next two decades, the ship's status fluctuated as Congress debated the U.S. Navy's ability to provide gunfire support of U.S. Marine Corps' amphibious operations. In 2011, Iowa moved to Los Angeles and was opened as a museum ship.


  •  "Home." Pacific Battleship Center, 2019.
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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "The USS Iowa (BB-61) in World War II." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). The USS Iowa (BB-61) in World War II. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "The USS Iowa (BB-61) in World War II." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).