Naval historians still argue about the legacy of the battleship. Critics call them too vulnerable and too expensive, while supporters laud their sheer offensive capability and awesome firepower. Whatever the opinions, the battleship will always have an important place in U.S. military history. Here are 19 pictures that show why:
The “Great White Fleet,” sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909, consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power.
One of the Great White Fleet’s Connecticut-class battleships at Villefranche, France, circa January 1909. This ship is either USS Vermont (Battleship No. 20) or USS Minnesota (Battleship No. 22).
“Crossing the line” ceremony as the Great White Fleet crosses the Equator, turning “Pollywogs” into “Shellbacks.”
The bridge of the USS Connecticut circa 1908. Note the ship’s name in lights.
Officers sporting ceremonial attire about the USS Connecticut.
U.S. Army aviation pioneer Billy Mitchell started an inter-service and inter-warfare specialty argument in 1921 when he demonstrated how bombers could take out a battleship. He later testified before Congress that “1,000 bombardment airplanes can be built and operated for about the price of one battleship.”
The USS Arizona was the pride of the fleet through the 1930s and is pictured here at sea with President Hoover aboard.
Things went very badly for the U.S. Navy’s battleship fleet, including the USS Arizona, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The American war machine kicked into high gear after Pearl Harbor. Here the battleship Iowa is launched from New York Naval Shipyard in 1942.
Battleships were used extensively in the Pacific Theater during World War II, primarily for naval gunfire support during amphibious landings.
Here the USS New Jersey launches shells at the beach to soften up the LZ for the Marines as they get ready to take Okinawa.
Here the USS Missouri offers some gunfire support of her own in 1944.
Always the master of optics, MacArthur insisted that a battleship be the venue for the Japanese surrender. The ceremony was held aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
Battleships were brought back into service during the Korean War. Here the USS Wisconsin sails between the destroyer Buck and heavy cruiser Saint Paul off Korea, February 22, 1952.
On May 6, 1956, the USS Wisconsin collided with the USS Eaton, a destroyer, in heavy fog off of Hampton Roads and sustained severe damage to her bow.
As part of Navy Secretary John F. Lehman’s effort to build a 600-ship Navy in the 1980s, and in response to the commissioning of Kirov by the Soviet Union, the United States recommissioned all four Iowa-class battleships. Here the USS Iowa is seen shelling targets in Lebanon in 1984.
The Iowa met with disaster on April 19, 1989 when an explosion in the center gun room killed 47 of the turret’s crewmen and severely damaged the gun turret itself. Two major investigations were undertaken into the cause of the explosion, one by the U.S. Navy and then one by the General Accounting Office and Sandia National Laboratories. The investigations produced conflicting conclusions.
Today guests can visit the USS Arizona memorial where oil still seeps from the wreck resting against the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
And guests can also visit the Iowa-class battleships in various cities around the country, including the USS Wisconsin docked in Norfolk, Virginia.