World War II: USS Wisconsin (BB-64)

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USS Wisconsin (BB-64), May 1944. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
  • Laid Down: January 21, 1941
  • Launched: December 7, 1943
  • Commissioned: April 16, 1944
  • Fate: Museum ship

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 45,000 tons
  • Length: 887.2 ft.
  • Beam: 108.2 ft.
  • Draft: 28.9 ft.
  • Speed: 30 knots
  • Complement: 1,921 men

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) - Armament

Guns

  • 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

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) - Design & Construction:

In early 1938, work moved forward on a new battleship design at the urging of US Navy General Board head Admiral Thomas C. Hart. Initially conceived as bigger version of the earlier South Dakota-class, the new battleships were to carry twelve 16" guns or nine 18" guns.  As the layout was revised, the armament shifted to nine 16" guns. Additionally, the class' anti-aircraft complement underwent several evolutions with the bulk of its 1.1" weapons being replaced with 20 mm and 40 mm guns. Funding for the new ships came in May with the approval of the Naval Act of 1938. Designated the Iowa-class, construction of the lead ship, USS Iowa (BB-61), was assigned to the New York Navy Yard. Laid down in 1940, Iowa was to be the first of four battleships in the class.

On January 25, 1941, the fourth Iowa-class battleship was laid down at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.  With the US entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, construction of the new vessel, dubbed USS Wisconsin (BB-62), moved forward.  The battleship was the second to bear the state's name, the first being the -class USS which entered service in 1901.

  On December 7, 1943, the Wisconsin slid into the water with Madge Goodland, wife of Wisconsin Governor Walter S. Goodland, acting as sponsor.  Building of the vessel continued for another four months and on April 16, 1944, Wisconsin was commissioned with Captain Earl E. Stone in command.  A "fast battleship," Wisconsin's 33-knot speed allowed it to serve as an escort for the new Essex-class carriers that were joining the fleet.

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) - World War II:

The final Iowa-class battleship to be completed as USS Illinois (BB-65) and USS Kentucky (BB-66) were cancelled, Wisconsin conducted trials and training in the Chesapeake Bay before embarking on a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean.  Completing these activities, the battleship sailed for the Pacific and commenced training exercises off Hawaii in October.  Moving west later that fall, Wisconsin joined Admiral William "Bull" Halsey's Third Fleet at Ulithi.  Tasked to serve as an escort for the Fast Carrier Task Force, the battleship screened the carriers as they mounted raids against Manila.  On December 18, Wisconsin and the carriers rode through Typhoon Cobra while in the Philippine Sea.  Shortly after New Years, the battleship helped cover the landings at Lingayen Gulf before screening the carriers as they attacked Formosa, Luzon, French Indochina, Hong Kong, Hainan, and Okinawa.

At the end of January, Halsey rotated to a planning post ashore and the fleet came under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance with the designation of Fifth Fleet.  Moving north with the carriers in February, Wisconsin supported their operations as they conducted attacks against targets on the Japanese mainland.  On February 17, the battleship arrived off Iwo Jima and conducted several days of bombardments prior to the Allied landings on the island.  Later in the month, Wisconsin and the carriers returned to Japanese waters and conducted raids against a variety of targets.  On March 19, Japanese aircraft penetrated the task force's screen and badly damaged USS Franklin (CV-13).  Withdrawing from the area, Wisconsin protected the stricken carrier.

Five days later, Wisconsin commenced hitting targets on Okinawa to weaken Japanese defenses prior to the invasion of the island a week a later.

  Over the next two months, the battleship supported operations on and around Okinawa while helping to repulse a constant stream of kamikaze attacks.  Surviving a second typhoon on June 4, Wisconsin screened a raid by the carriers against Japan before sailing for Leyte Gulf to makes repairs and re-supply.  Departing on July 1, the carriers and their escorts returned to Japan and began striking targets around the islands.  These attacks saw Wisconsin make shore bombardments beginning on July 16 when its guns fired on industrial targets in Muroran.  The battleship was engaged off the Japanese coast when hostilities ceased in mid-August.  After briefly serving in an occupation role, Wisconsin steamed to Okinawa where, as part of Operation Magic Carpet, it embarked American servicemen for the voyage home.

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) - Postwar & Korea:

Reaching San Francisco on October 15, Wisconsin landed its passengers before receiving orders to transfer to the Atlantic.  Reaching Norfolk in January, it made a brief voyage to Guantanamo Bay before returning for an overhaul.  The latter half of 1946 saw Wisconsin visit ports around South America.  After serving as a training ship in 1947, the battleship reported to Norfolk where it was decommissioned on July 1, 1948 and placed in reserve.  It remained idle until the beginning of the Korean War two years later when orders were issued to reactivate the ship.  Recommissioned on March 3, 1951, Wisconsin conducted two training cruises later that year before sailing for the Far East.

  Reaching Japan in November, it relieved USS New Jersey (BB-62) as flagship of Admiral H.M. Martin's Seventh Fleet.  The next four months saw it provide naval gunfire support for troops ashore as well as assist carrier operations. 

Replaced by Iowa on April 1, 1952, Wisconsin steamed for Norfolk before embarking on a training cruise to Europe that summer.  A second tour saw it take part in NATO exercises off Scotland.  After conducting routine operations in the Atlantic into 1953, Wisconsin returned to the Far East in October.  Resuming its post as flagship of the Seventh Fleet, it remained abroad until April 1954.  Moving back to Norfolk, Wisconsin moved through training cruises and exercises over the next two years.  On May 6, 1956, while operating off the Virginia Capes, the battleship collided with the destroyer USS Eaton.  The accident resulted in severe damage to Wisconsin's bow and it soon entered drydock.  To expedite repairs, workers removed the bow from the unfinished Kentucky and attached it to Wisconsin.  This allowed the battleship to resume operations on June 28.  Wisconsin returned to participating in training and fleet exercises until being decommissioned on March 8, 1958.

USS Wisconsin (BB-65) - A New Life:

In 1986, Wisconsin found new life as part of President Ronald Reagan's plans for a 600-ship navy. Commencing a large-scale program of modernization, much of the battleship's remaining 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, the battleship was equipped with eight RQ-2 Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicles to serve as spotters for its 16" guns.  With the completion of the modernization, Wisconsin was recommissioned on October 22, 1988.  The early part of the next year saw the battleship move through training and shakedown activities off the coast of Puerto Rico. 

After taking part in fleet exercises in early 1990, Wisconsin and its battle group were dispatched to Persian Gulf on August 7 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  After taking part in Operation Desert Shield, the battleship and its sister USS Missouri (BB-63) commenced combat operations on January 15, 1991 with the start of the Gulf War.  Firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at enemy targets during the opening hours of the conflict, the battleship moved inshore on February 6 to provide naval gunfire support for forces ashore. On February 23, Missouri shelled Iraqi forces on Failaka Island. Moving into follow up this attack Wisconsin launched one of its RQ-2s and buzzed the island prior to opening fire.  Fearful of another battleship attack, the island's garrison attempted to surrender to the UAV.  Wisconsin continued to play an active role in operations until the end of the fighting on February 28. 

Returning home on March 28, Wisconsin soon fell victim to a changing global landscape.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US Navy decreased its fleet size and on September 30, 1991, the battleship was decommissioned.  Removed from the Naval Vessel Registry in 1995, it was restored in 1998.  Though still in reserve status, Wisconsin shifted to Norfolk's Nauticus on December 7, 2000, for use as a museum ship.  Though initially retained for possible reactivation as a shore bombardment vessel, the battleship was formally transferred to the City of Norfolk on December 14, 2009.

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