U.S. Navy Battleships - USS North Carolina (BB 55)
Displacement: 35,000 tons
Speed: 27 knots
Armament: Nine 16" guns; twenty 5" guns; sixteen 1.1" machine guns; twelve .50-cal machine guns
Class: North Carolina
Text from The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships published by the Naval Historical Center
The third North Carolina (BB-55) was laid down 27 October 1937
by New York Naval Shipyard; launched 13 June 1940; sponsored by
Miss Isabel Hoey, daughter of Governor of North Carolina; and
commissioned at New York 9 April 1941, Captain Olaf M. Hustvedt
First commissioned of the Navy's modern battleships, North
Carolina received so much attention during her fitting out and
trials that she won the enduring nickname "Showboat". North
Carolina completed her shakedown in the Caribbean prior to the
Pearl Harbor attack, and after intensive war exercises, entered
the Pacific 10 June 1942.
North Carolina and the Navy began the long island-hopping
campaign for victory over the Japanese by landing Marines on
Guadalcanal and Tulagi 7 August 1942. After screening USS Enterprise
(CV-6) in the Air Support Force for the invasion, North Carolina
guarded the carrier during operations protecting supply and
communication lines southeast of the Solomons. Enemy carriers
were located 24 August, and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons
erupted. The Americans struck first, sinking carrier Rynjo;
Japanese retaliation came as bombers and torpedo planes, covered
by fighters, roared in on Enterprise and North Carolina. In an
eight-minute action, North Carolina shot down between seven and
14 enemy aircraft, her gunners standing to their guns despite
the jarring detonation of seven near-misses. One man was killed
by a strafer, but the ship was undamaged. The protection North
Carolina could offer Enterprise was limited as the speedy
carrier drew ahead of her. Enterprise took three direct hits
while her aircraft severely damaged the seaplane carrier Chitose
and hit other Japanese ships. Since the Japanese lost about 100
aircraft in this action, the United States won control of the
air and averted a threatened Japanese reinforcement of
North Carolina now gave her mighty strength to protect USS Saratoga
(CV-3). Twice during the following weeks of support to Marines
ashore on Guadalcanal, North Carolina was attacked by Japanese
submarines. On 6 September 1942, she maneuvered successfully,
dodging a torpedo that passed 300 yards off the port beam. Nine
days later, sailing with USS Hornet (CV-8), North Carolina took a
torpedo portside, 20 feet below her waterline, and five of her
men were killed. But skillful damage control by her crew and the
excellence of her construction prevented disaster; a 5˝ degree
list was righted in as many minutes, and she maintained her
station in a formation at 25 knots.
After repairs at Pearl Harbor, North Carolina screened
Enterprise and Saratoga and covered supply and troop movements
in the Solomons for much of the next year. She was at Pearl
Harbor in March and April 1943 to receive advanced fire control
and radar gear, and again in September, to prepare for the
Gilbert Islands operation.
With USS Enterprise, in the Northern Covering Group, North Carolina
sortied from Pearl Harbor 10 November 1943 for the assault on
Makin, Tarawa, and Abemama. Air strikes began 19 November, and
for 10 days mighty air blows were struck to aid Marines ashore
engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific War.
Supporting the Gilberts campaign and preparing the assault on
the Marshalls, North Carolina's highly accurate big guns bombarded Nauru 8 December, destroying air facilities, beach
defense revetments, and radio installations. Later that month,
she protected USS Bunker Hill (CV-17) in strikes against shipping
and airfields at Kavieng, New Ireland, and in January 1944
joined Fast Carrier Striking Force 58, Rear Admiral Marc
Mitscher in command, at Funafuti, Ellice Islands.
During the assault and capture of the Marshall Islands, North
Carolina illustrated the classic battleship functions of World
War II. She screened carriers from air attack in pre-invasion
strikes as well as during close air support of troops ashore,
beginning with the initial strikes on Kwajalein 29 January. She
fired on targets at Namur and Roi, where she sank a cargo ship
in the lagoon. The battlewagon then protected carriers in the
massive air strike on Truk, the Japanese fleet base in the
Carolines, where 39 large ships were left sunk, burning, or
uselessly beached, and 211 planes were destroyed, another 104
severely damaged. Next she fought off an air attack against the
flattops near the Marianas 21 February, splashing an enemy
plane, and the next day again guarded the carriers in air
strikes on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. During much of this period
she was flagship for Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) Willis A.
Lee, Jr., Commander Battleships Pacific.
With Majuro as her base, North Carolina joined in the attacks on
Palau and Woleai 31 March-1 April 1944, shooting down another
enemy plane during the approach phase. On Woleai, 150 enemy
aircraft were destroyed along with ground installations. Support
for the capture of the Hollandia area of New Guinea followed
(13-24 April), then another major raid on Truk (29-30 April),
during which North Carolina splashed yet another enemy aircraft.
At Truk, North Carolina's planes were catapulted to rescue an
American aviator downed off the reef. After one plane had turned
over on landing and the other, having rescued all the airmen,
had been unable to take off with so much weight, USS Tang (SS-306)
saved all involved. The next day North Carolina destroyed coast
defense guns, antiaircraft batteries, and airfields at Ponape.
The battleship then sailed to repair her rudder at Pearl Harbor.
Returning to Majuro, North Carolina sortied with the Enterprise
group 6 June for the Marianas. During the assault on Saipan,
North Carolina not only gave her usual protection to the
carriers, but starred in bombardments on the west coast of
Saipan covering minesweeping operations, and blasted the harbor
at Tanapag, sinking several small craft and destroying enemy
ammunition, fuel, and supply dumps. At dusk on invasion day, 15
June, the battleship downed one of the only two Japanese
aircraft able to penetrate the combat air patrol.
On 18 June 1944, North Carolina cleared the islands with the
carriers to confront the Japanese 1st Mobile Fleet, tracked by
submarines and aircraft for the previous four days. Next day
began the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and she took station in
the battle line that fanned out from the carriers. American
aircraft succeeded in downing most of the Japanese raiders
before they reached the American ships, and North Carolina shot
down two of the few which got through.
On that day and the next American air and submarine attacks,
with the fierce antiaircraft fire of such ships as North
Carolina, virtually ended any future threat from Japanese naval
aviation: three carriers were sunk, two tankers damaged so badly
they were scuttled, and all but 35 of the 430 planes with which
the Japanese had begun the battle were destroyed. The loss of
trained aviators was irreparable, as was the loss of skilled
aviation maintenance men in the carriers. Not one American ship
was lost, and only a handful of American planes failed to return
to their carriers.
After supporting air operations in the Marianas for another two
weeks, North Carolina sailed for overhaul at Puget Sound Navy
Yard. She rejoined the carriers off Ulithi 7 November 1944 as a
furious typhoon struck the group. The ships fought through the
storm, and carried out air strikes against western Leyte, Luzon,
and the Visayas to support the struggle for Leyte. During
similar strikes later in the month, North Carolina fought off
her first kamikaze attack.
As the pace of operations in the Philippines intensified, North
Carolina guarded carriers while their planes kept the Japanese
aircraft on Luzon airfields from interfering with the invasion
convoys that assaulted Mindoro, 15 December 1944. Three days
later the task force again sailed through a violent typhoon,
which capsized several destroyers. With Ulithi now her base,
North Carolina screened wide-ranging carrier strikes on Formosa,
the coast of Indo-China and China, and the Ryukyus in January
1945, and similarly supported strikes on Honshu the next month.
Hundreds of enemy aircraft were destroyed which might otherwise
have resisted the assault on Iwo Jima, where North Carolina
bombarded and provided call fire for the assaulting Marines
through 22 February.
Strikes on targets in the Japanese home islands laid the
groundwork for the Okinawa assault, in which North Carolina
played her dual role of bombardment and carrier screening. Here,
on 6 April 1945, she downed three kamikazes, but took a 5-inch
hit from a friendly ship during the melee of antiaircraft fire.
Three men were killed and 44 wounded. On the next day came the
last desperate sortie of the Japanese Fleet, as Yamato, the
largest battleship in the world, came south with her attendants.
Yamato, a cruiser, and a destroyer were sunk, three other
destroyers damaged so badly that they were scuttled, and the
remaining four destroyers returned to the fleet base at Sasebo
badly damaged. On the same day North Carolina splashed an enemy
plane, and she shot down two more 17 April.
After overhaul at Pearl Harbor, North Carolina rejoined the
carriers for a month of air strikes and naval bombardment on the
Japanese home islands. Along with guarding the carriers, North
Carolina fired on major industrial plants near Tokyo, and her
scout plane pilots performed a daring rescue of a downed carrier
pilot under heavy fire in Tokyo Bay.
North Carolina sent both sailors and members of her Marine
Detachment ashore for preliminary occupation duty in Japan
immediately at the close of the war, and patrolled off the coast
until anchoring in Tokyo Bay 5 September to re•embark her men.
Carrying passengers from Okinawa, North Carolina sailed for home
reaching the Panama Canal 8 October 1945. She anchored at Boston
17 October, and after overhaul at New York exercised in New
England waters and carried Naval Academy midshipmen for a summer
training cruise in the Caribbean.
After inactivation, she decommissioned at New York 27 June 1947.
Struck from the Navy List 1 June 1960, North Carolina was
transferred to the people of North Carolina 6 September 1961. On
29 April 1962 she was dedicated at Wilmington, N.C., as a
memorial to North Carolinians of all services killed in World
War II. Here splendidly maintained and most appropriately
displayed, "Showboat" still serves mightily to strengthen
and inspire the nation.
North Carolina received 15 battle stars for World War II
service, more than any other U.S. battleship during the war.
Updated: 30 July 2009