Posted tagged ‘pacific’

Development of Aerial Combat in World War II

May 30, 2010

Fighter development slowed between World War I and II, with the most significant change coming late in the period, when the classic World War I type machines started to give way to metal monocoque or semi-monocoque monoplanes, with cantilever wing structures. Given limited defense budgets, air forces tended to be conservative in their aircraft purchases, and biplanes remained popular with pilots because of their agility. Designs such as the Gloster Gladiator, Fiat CR.42, and Polikarpov I-15 were common even in the late 1930s, and many were still in service as late as 1942. Up until the mid-1930s, the vast majority of fighter aircraft remained fabric-covered biplanes. Fighter armament eventually began to be mounted inside the wings, outside the arc of the propeller, though most designs retained two synchronized machine-guns above the engine (which were considered more accurate). Rifle-caliber guns were the norm, with .50 caliber machine guns and 20 mm cannons deemed “overkill.” Considering that many aircraft were constructed similarly to World War I designs (albeit with aluminum frames), it was not considered unreasonable to use World War I-style armament to counter them. There was insufficient aerial combat during most of the period to disprove this notion.

The rotary engine, popular during World War I, quickly disappeared, replaced chiefly by the stationary radial engine. Aircraft engines increased in power several-fold over the period, going from a typical 180 hp in the 1918 Fokker D.VII to 900 hp in the 1938 Curtiss P-36. The debate between the sleek in-line engines versus the more reliable radial models continued, with naval air forces preferring the radial engines, and land-based forces often choosing in-line units. Radial designs did not require a separate (and vulnerable) cooling system, but had increased drag. In-line engines often had a better power-to-weight ratio, but there were radial engines that kept working even after having suffered significant battle damage.

Some air forces experimented with “heavy fighters” (called “destroyers” by the Germans). These were larger, usually a two- engine aircraft, sometimes adaptations of light or medium bomber types. Such designs typically had greater internal fuel capacity (thus longer range) and heavier armament than their single-engine counterparts. In combat, they proved ungainly and vulnerable to more nimble single-engine fighters.

The primary drive for fighter innovation, right up to the period of rapid rearmament in the late thirties, was not military budgets, but civilian aircraft races. Aircraft designed for these races pioneered innovations like streamlining and more powerful engines that would find their way into the fighters of World War II.

At the very end of the inter-war period came the Spanish Civil War. This was just the opportunity the German Luftwaffe, Italian Regia Aeronautica, and the Soviet Union’s Red Air Force needed to test their latest aircraft designs. Each party sent several aircraft to back their side in the conflict. In the dogfights over Spain, the latest Messerschmitt fighters (Bf 109) did well, as did the Soviet Polikarpov I-16. The German design, however, had considerable room for development and the lessons learned in Spain led to greatly improved models in World War II. The Russians, whose side lost in the conflict, nonetheless determined that their planes were sufficient for their immediate needs. I-16s were later slaughtered en masse by these improved German models in World War II, although they remained the most common Soviet front-line fighter until well into 1942. For their part, the Italians were satisfied with the performance of their Fiat CR.42 biplanes, and being short on funds, continued with this design even though it was obsolescent. The Spanish Civil War also provided an opportunity for updating fighter tactics. One of the innovations to result from the aerial warfare experience this conflict provided was the development of the “finger-four” formation by the German pilot Werner Mölders. Each fighter squadron (German: Staffel) was divided into several flights (Schwärme) of four aircraft. Each Schwarm was divided into two Rotten ,which was a pair of aircraft. Each Rotte was composed of a leader and a wingman. This flexible formation allowed the pilots to maintain greater situational awareness, and the two Rotte could split up at any time and attack on their own. The finger-four would become widely adopted as the fundamental tactical formation over the course of World War II.

Aerial combat formed an important part of World War II military doctrine. The ability of aircraft to locate, harass, and interdict ground forces was an instrumental part of the German combined-arms doctrine, and their inability to achieve air superiority over Britain made a German invasion unfeasible. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel noted the effect of airpower: “Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success.”

During the 1930s, two different streams of thought about air-to-air combat began to emerge, resulting in two different approaches to monoplane fighter development. In Japan and Italy especially, there continued to be a strong belief that lightly armed, highly maneuverable single-seat fighters would still play a primary role in air-to-air combat. Aircraft such as the Nakajima Ki-27, Nakajima Ki-43 and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero in Japan, and the Fiat G.50 and Macchi C.200 in Italy epitomized a generation of monoplanes designed to this concept.

The other stream of thought, which emerged primarily in Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States was the belief that the high speeds of modern combat aircraft and the g-forces imposed by aerial combat meant that dogfighting in the classic World War I sense would be impossible. Fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Yakovlev Yak-1 and the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk were all designed for high level speeds and a good rate of climb. Good maneuverability was desirable, but it was not the primary objective.

The 1939 Soviet-Japanese Battle of Khalkhyn Gol and the initial German invasion of Poland that same year were too brief to provide much feedback to the participants for further evolution of their respective fighter doctrines. During the Winter War, the greatly outnumbered Finnish Air Force, which had adopted the German finger-four formation, bloodied the noses of Russia’s Red Air Force, which relied on the less effective tactic of a three-aircraft delta formation.

European theater (Western Front)

The Battle of France, however, gave the Germans ample opportunity to prove they had mastered the lessons learned from their experiences in the Spanish Civil War. The Luftwaffe, with more combat-experience pilots and the battle-tested Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter operating in the flexible finger-four formation, proved superior to its British and French contemporaries relying on the close, three-fighter “vic” (or “V”) and other formations, despite their flying fighters with comparable maneuver performance.

The Battle of Britain was the first major military campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and it offered further lessons for both sides. Foremost was the value of radar for detecting and tracking enemy aircraft formations, which allowed quick concentration of fighters to intercept them farther from their targets. As a defensive measure, this ground-controlled interception (GCI) approach allowed the Royal Air Force (RAF) to carefully marshal its limited fighter force for maximum effectiveness. At times, the RAF’s Fighter Command achieved interception rates greater than 80%.

In the summer of 1940, then Flight Lieutenant Adolph Malan introduced a variation of the German formation that he called the “fours in line astern”, which spread into more general use throughout Fighter Command. In 1941, Squadron Leader Douglas Bader adopted the “finger-four” formation itself, giving it its English-language name.

The Battle of Britain also revealed inadequacies of extant tactical fighters when used for long-range strategic attacks. The twin-engine heavy fighter concept was revealed as a failed concept as the Luftwaffe’s heavily armed but poorly maneuverable Messerschmitt Bf 110s proved highly vulnerable to nimble Hurricanes and Spitfires; the Bf 110s were subsequently relegated to night fighter and fighter-bomber roles for which they proved better-suited. Furthermore, the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109s, operating near the limits of their range, lacked endurance for prolonged dogfighting over Britain. When bomber losses induced Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring to assign most fighters to close-in escort duties, forcing them to fly and maneuver at reduced speeds, German fighter effectiveness fell and losses rose.

The Allies themselves, however, would not learn this latter lesson until they sustained heavy bomber losses of their own during daylight raids against Germany. Despite the early assertions of strategic bombing advocates that “the bomber will always get through”, even heavily armed U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) bombers like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator suffered such high losses to German fighters (such as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 “bomber destroyer”) and flak (AAA) that – following the second raid on Schweinfurt in August 1943 – the U.S. Eighth Air Force was forced to suspend unescorted bombing missions into Germany until longer-range fighters became available for escort. These would appear in the form of Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts and North American P-51 Mustangs. The use of drop tanks also became common, which further made the heavy twin-engine fighter designs redundant, as single-engine fighters could now cover a similar distance. Extra fuel was carried in lightweight aluminum tanks below the aircraft, and the tanks were discarded when empty. Such innovations allowed American fighters to range over Germany and Japan by 1944.

As the war progressed, the growing numbers of these advanced, long-range fighters flown by pilots with increasing experience eventually overwhelmed their German opposition, despite the Luftwaffe’s introduction of technological innovations like jet- and rocket-powered interceptors. The steady attrition of experienced pilots forced the Germans to more frequently dip into their training pool to make up numbers when casualties surged. While new Allied airmen in Europe were well-trained, new Luftwaffe pilots were seldom able to get effective training – particularly by the summer of 1944, when Allied fighters often loitered around their airfields. Luftwaffe training flights were additionally hampered by the increasingly acute fuel shortages that began in April 1944.

European theater (Eastern Front)

On the Eastern Front, the strategic surprise of Operation Barbarossa demonstrated that Soviet air defense preparations were woefully inadequate, and the Great Purge rendered any lessons learned by the Red Air Force command from previous experience in Spain and Finland virtually useless. During the first few months of the invasion, Axis air forces were able to destroy large numbers of Red Air Force aircraft on the ground and in one-sided dogfights. However, by the winter of 1941–1942, the Red Air Force was able to put together a cohesive air defense of Moscow, successfully interdict attacks on Leningrad, and begin production of new aircraft types in the relocated semi-built factories in the Urals, Siberia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. These facilities produced more advanced monoplane fighters, such as the Yak-1, Yak-3, LaGG-3, and MiG-3, to wrest air superiority from the Luftwaffe. However, Soviet aircrew training was hasty in comparison to that provided to the Luftwaffe, so Soviet pilot losses continued to be disproportionate until a growing number of survivors were matched to more effective machines.

Beginning in 1942, significant numbers of British, and later U.S., fighter aircraft were also supplied to aid the Soviet war effort, with the Bell P-39 Airacobra proving particularly effective in the lower-altitude combat typical of the Eastern Front. Also from that time, the Eastern Front became the largest arena of fighter aircraft use in the world; fighters were used in all of the roles typical of the period, including close air support, interdiction, escort and interception roles. Some aircraft were armed with weapons as large as 45 mm cannon (particularly for attacking enemy armored vehicles), and the Germans began installing additional smaller cannons in under-wing pods to assist with ground-attack missions.

Pacific theatre

In the Pacific Theater, the experienced Japanese used their latest Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” to clear the skies of all opposition. Allied air forces – often flying obsolete aircraft, as the Japanese were not deemed as dangerous as the Germans – were caught off-guard and driven back until the Japanese became overextended. While the Japanese entered the war with a cadre of superbly trained airmen, they were never able to adequately replace their losses with pilots of the same quality, resulting in zero leave for experienced pilots and sending pilots with minimal skill into battle, while the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and U.S. schools produced thousands of competent airmen, compared to hundred the Japanese graduated a year before the war. Japanese fighter planes were also optimized for agility and range, and in time Allied airmen developed tactics that made better use of the superior armament and protection in their Grumman F4F Wildcats and Curtiss P-40s. From mid-1942, newer Allied fighter models were faster (Wildcat was 13 mph slower than the Zero, but the Warhawk was 29 mph faster) and better-armed than the Japanese fighters. Improved tactics such as the Thach weave helped counter the more agile Zeros and Nakajima Ki-43 ‘Oscars’. Japanese industry was not up to the task of mass-producing fighter designs equal to the latest Western models, and Japanese fighters had been largely driven from the skies by mid-1944.

Technological innovations

Piston-engine power increased considerably during the war. The Curtiss P-36 Hawk had a 900 hp (670 kW) radial engine but was soon redesigned as the P-40 Warhawk with a 1100 hp (820 kW) in-line engine. By 1943, the latest P-40N had a 1300 hp (970 kW) Allison engine. At war’s end, the German Focke-Wulf Ta 152 interceptor could achieve 2050 hp (1530 kW) with an MW-50 (methanol-water injection) supercharger and the American P-51H Mustang fitted with the Packard V-1650-9 could achieve 2218 hp (1650 kW) under war emergency power. The Spitfire Mk I of 1939 was powered by a 1030 hp (770 kW) Merlin II; its 1945 successor, the Spitfire F.Mk 21, was equipped with the 2035 hp (1520 kW) Griffon 61. Likewise, the radial engines favored for many fighters also grew from 1,100 hp (820 kW) to as much as 2090 hp (770 kW) during the same timeframe.

The first turbojet-powered fighter designs became operational in 1944, and clearly outperformed their piston-engined counterparts. New designs such as the Messerschmitt Me 262 and Gloster Meteor demonstrated the effectiveness of the new propulsion system. (Rocket-powered interceptors – most notable the Messerschmitt Me 163 – appeared at the same time, but proved less effective.) Many of these fighters could do over 660 km/h in level flight, and were fast enough in a dive that they started encountering the transonic buffeting experienced near the speed of sound; such turbulence occasionally resulted in a jet breaking up in flight due to the heavy load placed on an aircraft near the so-called “sound barrier”. Dive brakes were added to jet fighters late in World War II to minimize these problems and restore control to pilots.

More powerful armament became a priority early in the war, once it became apparent that newer stressed-skin monoplane fighters could not be easily shot down with rifle-caliber machine guns. The Germans’ experiences in the Spanish Civil War led them to put 20 mm cannons on their fighters. The British soon followed suit, putting cannons in the wings of their Hurricanes and Spitfires. The Americans, lacking a native cannon design, instead chose to place multiple .50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine guns on their fighters. Armaments continued to increase over the course of the war, with the German Me 262 jet having four 30 mm cannons in the nose. Cannons fired explosive shells, and could blast a hole in an enemy aircraft rather than relying on kinetic energy from a solid bullet striking a critical subsystem (fuel line, hydraulics, control cable, pilot, etc.). A debate existed over the merits of high rate-of-fire machine guns versus slower-firing, but more devastating, cannon.

With the increasing need for close air support on the battlefield, fighters were increasingly fitted with bomb racks and used as fighter-bombers. Some designs, such as the German Fw 190, proved extremely capable in this role – though the designer Kurt Tank had designed it as a pure interceptor. While carrying air-to-surface ordnance such as bombs or rockets beneath the aircraft’s wing, its maneuverability is decreased because of lessened lift and increased drag, but once the ordnance is delivered (or jettisoned), the aircraft is again a fully capable fighter aircraft. By their flexible nature, fighter-bombers offer the command staff the freedom to assign a particular air group to air superiority or ground-attack missions, as need requires.

Rapid technology advances in radar, which had been invented shortly prior to World War II, would permit their being fitted to some fighters, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 110, Bristol Beaufighter, de Havilland Mosquito, Grumman F6F Hellcat and Northrop P-61 Black Widow, to enable them to locate targets at night. The Germans developed several night-fighter types as they were under constant night bombardment by RAF Bomber Command. The British, who developed the first radar-equipped night fighters in 1940–1941, lost their technical lead to the Luftwaffe. Since the radar of the era was fairly primitive and difficult to use, larger two- or three-seat aircraft with dedicated radar operators were commonly adapted to this role.

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USS North Carolina : The Showboat

May 5, 2010

USS North Carolina BB-55 “Showboat” was the lead ship of her class of battleship and the fourth in the United States Navy to be named in honor of this U.S. state. She was the first new-construction U.S. battleship to enter service during World War II, participating in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater to become the most decorated United States battleship of the war with 15 battle stars. She currently rests as a museum ship at the port of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Construction and shakedown

Fitting-out stage, 17 April 1941

She was laid down on 27 October 1937 at the New York Naval Shipyard and launched on 13 June 1940, sponsored by the young daughter of Clyde R. Hoey, Governor of North Carolina. The ship was commissioned in New York City on 9 April 1941 with Captain Olaf M. Hustvedt first in command. The first commissioned of the navy’s fast, heavily-armed battleships with 16-inch guns, North Carolina received so much attention during her fitting-out and trials that she won the enduring nickname “Showboat”.

As the first newly designed American battleship constructed in 20 years, North Carolina was built using the latest in shipbuilding technology. Constrained to 36,000  tons  standard displacement by both the Washington Naval Treaty and the London Naval Treaty, to a beam of less than 110 feet  by the locks of the Panama Canal, and to a draft of 38 feet  to enable the ship to use as many anchorages and navy yards as possible, she was a challenge to design.

To save weight, North Carolina was built using the new technique of welded construction. Her machinery arrangement is unusual in that there are four main spaces, each with two boilers and one steam turbine connected to one of the four propeller shafts. This arrangement served to reduce the number of openings in watertight bulkheads and conserve space to be protected by armor. The long sweeping flush deck of North Carolina and her streamlined structure made her far more graceful than earlier battleships. Her large tower forward, tall uncluttered stacks, and clean superstructure and hull were a sharp break from the elaborate bridgework, heavy tripod masts, and casemated secondary batteries which characterized her predecessors. North Carolina was one of fourteen ships to receive the early RCA CXAM-1 RADAR.


Service in World War II

North Carolina completed her shakedown in the Caribbean prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Early in 1942, North Carolina was scheduled to head to Pearl Harbor. However, she remained in the Atlantic a few more months so she would be available to take on the German battleship Tirpitz, in the event that ship began to attack Atlantic convoys carrying goods from America to England. North Carolina was ordered to the Pacific in the summer of 1942.

After intensive war exercises, North Carolina departed for the Pacific theater. She was the first new battleship to arrive in the Pacific since the beginning of the war, clearing the Panama Canal on 10 June, four days after the end of the Battle of Midway. She sailed to San Pedro and San Francisco before arriving in Pearl Harbor. According to sailors there, North Carolina was “the most beautiful thing they had ever seen”, and her arrival in Hawaii greatly increased the morale of the Pacific Fleet. North Carolina departed Pearl Harbor on 15 July with the carrier Enterprise, heavy cruiser Portland, light cruiser Atlanta and eight screening destroyers, bound for operations in the South Pacific.

North Carolina joined the long island-hopping campaign against the Japanese by landing Marines on Guadalcanal and Tulagi 7 August 1942, beginning the Guadalcanal campaign. She was the only battleship in this naval contingent, accompanied by the carriers Saratoga, Enterprise, and Wasp, along with their cruisers and other escorts. After screening Enterprise 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 on 24 August, and that engagement became known as the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. The Americans struck first, sinking carrier Ryūjō; Japanese retaliation came as dive and torpedo bombers, covered by fighters, roared in on Enterprise and North Carolina. In an eight-minute action, North Carolina shot down between seven and fourteen enemy aircraft, her gunners remaining at their guns despite the jarring detonations of seven near misses. One man was killed by a strafer, but the ship was undamaged. Her sheer volume of anti-aircraft fire was such as to lead Enterprise to query, “Are you afire?” The protection North Carolina could offer Enterprise was limited as the speedier carrier drew ahead of her. Enterprise took three direct hits while her aircraft severely damaged 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 Guadalcanal.

USS North Carolina during Marshall Islands Campaign, 25 January 1944

North Carolina now gave her strength to protect Saratoga. Twice during the following weeks of support to Marines ashore on Guadalcanal, North Carolina was attacked by Japanese submarines. On 6 September, she maneuvered successfully, dodging a torpedo which passed 300 yd  off the port beam. Nine days later, on 15 September, sailing with Wasp and Hornet, North Carolina took a torpedo portside, 20 ft  below her waterline, and six of her men were killed. This torpedo originated from I-19, and other torpedoes in the same salvo sank Wasp. Skillful damage control by the crew of North Carolina and the excellence of her construction prevented disaster; a 5.6° list was righted in as many minutes, and she maintained her station in a formation at 26 kn.

After temporary repairs in New Caledonia, the ship proceeded to Pearl Harbor to be dry docked for a month for repairs to her hull and to receive more antiaircraft armament. Following repairs, she returned to action, screening Enterprise and Saratoga and covering 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 Enterprise, in the Northern Covering Group, North Carolina sortied from Pearl Harbor on 10 November for the assault on Makin, Tarawa, and Abemama. Air strikes began on 19 November, and for ten 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 on 8 December, destroying air facilities, beach defense revetments, and radio installations. Later that month, she protected Bunker Hill in strikes against shipping and airfields at Kavieng, New Ireland and in January 1944 joined the Task Force 58 (TF 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.[19]

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.[20] 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 on 31 March–1 April, 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 (currently known as Jayapura) 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, Tang saved all involved. The next day, North Carolina destroyed coastal 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’s carrier group on 6 June (D-Day in Europe) 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, 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 36 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 on 7 November as a furious typhoon, Typhoon Cobra, 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 which assaulted Mindoro on 15 December. 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 Ryūkyūs in January, and similarly supported strikes on Honshū 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 ground-work for the Okinawa assault, in which North Carolina played her dual role, of bombardment and carrier screening. Here, on 6 April, she downed three kamikazes, but took a 5 in hit from a friendly ship during the melee of anti-aircraft fire. Three men were killed and 44 wounded. 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, as well as a cruiser and a destroyer, were sunk, three other destroyers were damaged so badly that they were scuttled, and the remaining four destroyers returned to their 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 on 5 September to re-embark her men. Carrying passengers from Okinawa, North Carolina sailed for home, reaching the Panama Canal on 8 October. She anchored at Boston 17 October, and after overhaul at New York exercised in New England waters and carried United States Naval Academy midshipmen for a summer training cruise in the Caribbean.


Decommissioning and battleship memorial

After inactivation, she was decommissioned at New York on 27 June 1947. Stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1960, North Carolina was transferred to the people of North Carolina on 6 September 1961. She was purchased from the U.S. Navy for $330,000 raised by the efforts of North Carolinian school children who saved their spare change and lunch money for the “Save Our Ship” (SOS) campaign. In 1961, a fleet of tugboats was used to maneuver the 728 ft  ship through an area of the river 500 ft  wide. During this move the ship struck the restaurant “Fergus’ Ark”, near Princess Street. The river-based restaurant was damaged severely and ceased operation. On 29 April 1962, she was dedicated at Wilmington, North Carolina as a memorial to North Carolinians of all services killed in World War II and may be visited to this day.This battleship was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Visitors to the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial can tour the main deck of the ship, many interior rooms, and some of the gun turrets. Visitors can also view one of the nine surviving OS2U Kingfisher aircraft in the world, located on the stern of the ship. Various events are held at the memorial including the annual Fourth of July fireworks display from the adjacent battleship park and spaces may be rented for special events. A Roll of Honor in the Wardroom lists the names of North Carolinians who gave their lives in service in all the branches of the military during World War II. The site is accessible by car or a short water taxi ride originating from downtown Wilmington and also features a gift shop, visitors center and picnic area.

The memorial is administered by North Carolina Battleship Commission which was established by statutes of the State of North Carolina in 1960. The memorial relies upon its own revenues as well as donations and does not receive any tax revenues.

In 1999, a reunion was held on the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial. While standing on the signal bridge, the site of the friendly fire strike during the Okinawa assault of 6 April, former PFC Marine Gunner Richard R. Fox recalled the incident, describing to his daughters and granddaughters how he helped carry a severely injured sailor down to the sickbay. Fox had never been able to find out whether the other man had survived. During his story, Fox was approached by the fellow North Carolina veteran Richard W. Reed, who had overheard the story and interrupted it to identify himself as the injured sailor and offer his thanks. Neither man had known the other’s identity for over a half-century.

Recent projects undertaken to maintain the battleship include the replacement of the teak deck. Following a visit by officials from Myanmar, she received the most generous donation in her history: the gift of two tractor-trailer loads of the highest quality teak decking in the world, valued at approximately one quarter million dollars, and a very substantial discount on another eight tractor-trailer loads of the precious wood, valued at another quarter million dollars, to permit the entire re-decking of the ship’s more than one acre of deck.

Several near-term restoration projects are planned which will not require closure of the memorial. The next major restoration project for North Carolina is a refit of her hull. This may require the ship to leave Wilmington for several months, and she might be towed to the nearest suitable drydock in Norfolk, Virginia. Towing and drydocking are expected to take place no earlier than 2012.


Career (US)

Name:             USS North Carolina (BB-55)
Namesake:     North Carolina
Ordered:     1 August 1937
Builder:     New York Naval Shipyard
Cost:             $76,885,750
Laid down:     27 October 1937
Launched:     13 June 1940
Sponsored by:     Isabel Hoey
Commissioned:     9 April 1941
Decommissioned: 27 June 1947
Struck:     1 June 1960
Nickname:     Showboat
Honors and
awards:

Silver-service-star

Bronze-service-star

15 Battle Stars

*  American Defense Service Medal
*  American Campaign Medal
*  Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
*  Philippine Independence Medal
*  Philippine Liberation Medal
*  Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
*  World War II Victory Medal
*  Navy Occupation Medal