Exploring one of the greatest battleships in history: The USS New Jersey
After distinguished service in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and beyond, the battleship USS New Jersey is now a museum ship. We headed aboard for a full tour.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
The mighty USS New Jersey, aka Big J, is docked in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Though resting quietly now, one of the largest, most powerful battleships in history wasn't always so serene. Her service started in World War II and continued through the Korean War before being recommissioned for the Vietnam War and for the last time in the early 1980s.
Over 887 feet long and displacing over 60,000 tons, the New Jersey was one of the largest battleships in history. She also was fast, relatively speaking, with a top speed of 33 knots, or nearly 38mph.
Like her three Iowa-class sister ships, the New Jersey is now a museum ship. Visitors can explore vast sections of this warship, from the conning tower to the engine room. On my recent 10,000-mile road trip, I knew I had to stop and check it out. Here's how this incredible ship looks today.
Check out the mighty battleship USS New Jersey from keel to conning tower
In hindsight, the era of the battleship was already over by the time the New Jersey's keel was laid down in 1940. Not that most people knew that at the time. The war in the Pacific would be decided by air power, and boots on the ground, of course. Consider that only four of the massive Iowa-class battleships were built, compared with 24 of the similar-length Essex-class aircraft carriers.
There was, of course, a need for the incredible defensive and offensive power these ships could provide. Japan had already launched the two largest battleships ever built, the Yamato and her sister ship the Musashi. These ships were marvels, not only in size, but in speed and armament. The US' South Dakota- and North Carolina-class battleships with designs largely limited by treaty were older, smaller and slower.
The Iowa class was largely made to counter the threat imposed by the imposing Japanese battleships. While still smaller than the Yamato class, the Iowas were faster, had better technology and still packed quite a punch. Nine 16-inch guns dominate the New Jersey's deck. Later upgrades, like missiles and rapid-fire CIWS "R2-D2" turrets, speak to its many-layered armament. There's even a helicopter pad -- it's just one of the many types of aircraft the Iowa had to augment its abilities.
Though it never went bow-to-bow with the Yamato-class ships, it saw combat around the world during its 21 years of active service. It was decommissioned right before the first Gulf War, with sister ships Missouri and Wisconsin taking part in that conflict instead.
The New Jersey became the second Iowa-class ship to be converted to a museum, a role that all her sister ships now play. She's lovingly, and painstakingly, maintained and the sheer number of compartments open to explore is impressive. Colored tape on the deck leads you through specific areas, with lots of informative signage to augment an audio tour. Having toured many naval vessels, from submarines to aircraft carriers, the New Jersey tour is one of the best I've seen, as you'll find in the gallery above.
During my visit to the New Jersey there were crews repairing and replacing the wooden deck. One of the workers approached an elderly visitor with one of the deck pieces. I was close enough to overhear why. It was the first time that section of deck had been replaced in several decades. And the wood being removed was in place when the visitor had served aboard the ship. He'd walked these decks as a young man, and was now going home with a piece of the ship's, and his own, history.
All four Iowa-class battleships are currently museums you can tour. I've checked out the USS Iowa, which is in Los Angeles, and the USS Missouri, in Hawaii. If you're near Norfolk, Virginia, you can check out the USS Wisconsin.