World War II: USS North Carolina (BB-55)

USS North Carolina
USS North Carolina (BB-55), 1941. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS North Carolina (BB-55) was the lead ship of the North Carolina-class of battleships. The first new design constructed by the US Navy since the early 1920s, the North Carolina-class incorporated a variety of new technologies and design approaches.  Entering service in 1941, North Carolina saw extensive service in the Pacific during World War II and took part in nearly all of the major Allied campaigns. This saw it earn 15 battles stars, the most won by any American battleship. Retired in 1947, North Carolina was taken to Wilmington, NC in 1961 and opened as a museum ship the following year. 

Treaty Limitations

The story of the North Carolina-class begins with the Washington Naval Treaty (1922) and London Navy Treaty (1930) which limited warship size and total tonnage. As a result of the treaties, the US Navy did not built any new battleships for the most the 1920s and 1930s. In 1935, the General Board of the US Navy began preparations for the design of a new class of modern battleships. Operating under the constraints imposed by the Second London Naval Treaty (1936), which limited total displacement to 35,000 tons and the caliber of guns to 14", designers worked through a multitude of designs to create a new class that combined an effective mix of firepower, speed, and protection.

Design and Construction

After extensive debate, the General Board recommended design XVI-C which called for a battleship capable of 30 knots and mounting nine 14" guns. This recommendation was overruled by Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson who favored the XVI design which mounted twelve 14" guns but had a maximum speed of 27 knots. The final design of what became the North Carolina-class emerged in 1937 after Japan's refusal to agree to the 14" restriction imposed the treaty. This allowed the other signatories to implement the treaty's "escalator clause" which permitted an increase to 16" guns and a maximum displacement of 45,000 tons.

As a result, USS North Carolina and its sister, USS Washington, were redesigned with a main battery of nine 16" guns. Supporting this battery were twenty 5" dual purpose guns as well as an initial installation of sixteen 1.1" anti-aircraft guns. In addition, the ships received the new RCA CXAM-1 radar. Designated BB-55, North Carolina was laid down at the New York Naval Shipyard on October 27, 1937. Work progressed on the hull and the battleship slid down the ways on June 3, 1940 with Isabel Hoey, daughter of the Governor of North Carolina, serving as sponsor.

USS North Carolina (BB-55) - Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Naval Shipyard
  • Laid Down: October 27, 1937
  • Launched: June 13, 1940
  • Commissioned: April 9, 1941
  • Fate: Museum ship at Wilmington, NC


  • Displacement: 34,005 tons
  • Length: 728.8 ft.
  • Beam: 108.3 ft.
  • Draft: 33 ft.
  • Propulsion: 121,000 hp, 4 x General Electric steam turbines, 4 x propellers
  • Speed: 26 knots
  • Range: 20,080 miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 2,339 men



  • 9 × 16 in.(410 mm)/45 cal. Mark 6 guns (3 x triple turrets)
  • 20 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal. dual-purpose guns
  • 60 x quad 40mm antiaircraft guns
  • 46 x single 20mm cannon


  • 3 x aircraft

Early Service

Work on North Carolina ended in early 1941 and the new battleship was commissioned on April 9, 1941 with Captain Olaf M. Hustvedt in command. As the US Navy's first new battleship in nearly twenty years, North Carolina quickly became a center of attention and earned the enduring nickname "Showboat." Through the summer of 1941, the ship conducted shakedown and training exercises in the Atlantic.

With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II, North Carolina prepared to sail for the Pacific. The US Navy soon delayed this movement as there was concern that the German battleship Tirpitz might emerge to attack Allied convoys. Finally released to the US Pacific Fleet, North Carolina passed through the Panama Canal in early June, just days after the Allied triumph at Midway. Arriving at Pearl Harbor after stops at San Pedro and San Francisco, the battleship began preparations for combat in the South Pacific.

South Pacific

Departing Pearl Harbor on July 15 as part of a task force centered on the carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) North Carolina steamed for the Solomon Islands. There it supported the landing of US Marines on Guadalcanal on August 7. Later in the month, North Carolina provided anti-aircraft support for the American carriers during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. As Enterprise sustained significant damage in the fighting, the battleship began serving as an escort for USS Saratoga (CV-3) and then USS Wasp (CV-7) and USS Hornet (CV-8).

On September 15, the Japanese submarine I-19 attacked the task force. Firing a spread of torpedoes, it sunk Wasp and the destroyer USS O'Brien as well as damaged North Carolina's bow. Though the torpedo opened a large hole on the ship's port side, the ship's damage control parties quickly dealt with the situation and averted a crisis. Arriving at New Caledonia, North Carolina received temporary repairs before departing for Pearl Harbor. There, the battleship entered drydock to fix the hull and its anti-aircraft armament was enhanced.


Returning to service after a month in the yard, North Carolina spent much of 1943 screening American carriers in the vicinity of the Solomons. This period also saw the ship receive new radar and fire control equipment. On November 10, North Carolina sailed from Pearl Harbor with Enterprise as part of the Northern Covering Force for operations in the Gilbert Islands. In this role, the battleship provided support for Allied forces during the Battle of Tarawa. After bombarding Nauru in early December, North Carolina screened USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)when its aircraft attacked New Ireland. In January 1944, the battleship joined Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58.

Island Hopping

Covering Mitscher's carriers, North Carolina also provided fire support for troops during the Battle of Kwajalein in late January. The following month, it protected the carriers as they mounted raids against Truk and the Marianas. North Carolina continued in this capacity for much of the spring until returning to Pearl Harbor for repairs on its rudder. Emerging in May, it rendezvoused with American forces at Majuro before sailing for the Marianas as part of Enterprise's task force.

Taking part in the Battle of Saipan in mid-June, North Carolina struck a variety of targets ashore. Upon learning that the Japanese fleet was approaching, the battleship departed the islands and protected American carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19-20. Remaining in the area until the end of the month, North Carolina then departed for the Puget Sound Navy Yard for a major overhaul. Finished in late October, North Carolina rejoined Admiral William "Bull" Halsey's Task Force 38 at Ulithi on November 7.

Final Battles

Shortly thereafter, it endured a severe period at sea as TF38 sailed through Typhoon Cobra. Surviving the storm, North Carolina supported operations against Japanese targets in the Philippines as well as screened raids against Formosa, Indochina, and the Ryukyus. After escorting carriers on a raid on Honshu in February 1945, North Carolina turned south to provided fire support for Allied forces during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Shifting west in April, the ship fulfilled a similar role during the Battle of Okinawa. In addition to striking targets ashore, North Carolina's anti-aircraft guns aided in dealing with the Japanese kamikaze threat.

Later Service & Retirement

After a brief overhaul at Pearl Harbor in late spring, North Carolina returned to Japanese waters where it protected carriers conducting airstrikes inland as well as bombarded industrial targets along the coast. With the surrender of Japan on August 15, the battleship sent part of its crew and Marine Detachment ashore for preliminary occupation duty. Anchoring in Tokyo Bay on September 5, it embarked these men before departing for Boston. Passing through the Panama Canal on October 8, it reached its destination nine days later.

With the end of the war, North Carolina underwent a refit at New York and began peacetime operations in the Atlantic. In the summer of 1946, it hosted the US Naval Academy's summer training cruise in the Caribbean. Decommissioned on June 27, 1947, North Carolina remained on the Navy List until June 1, 1960. The following year, the US Navy transferred the battleship to the State of North Carolina for a price of $330,000. These funds were largely raised by the state's school children and the ship was towed to Wilmington, NC. Work soon began to convert the ship into a museum and North Carolina was dedicated as a memorial to the state's World War II veteran in April 1962.


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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS North Carolina (BB-55)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: USS North Carolina (BB-55). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: USS North Carolina (BB-55)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).