The Big Stick: A tour of the battleship USS Iowa (pictures)

The massive and mighty USS Iowa served in WWII, Korea, and again in the 80s. Now it sits quietly at the Port of Los Angeles. Here's the full tour.

Geoffrey Morrison
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.
Geoffrey Morrison
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The Big Stick

The USS Iowa was called The Big Stick, and after a long career, and long stint in the mothball fleet, it's now a museum ship at the Port of Los Angeles.

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Big guns

Though they don't look like it here, each one of those cannons is at least as wide as your chest. They fired 16-inch shells.

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Three-gun turrets

They're called "three-gun" turrets, not "triple-gun" turrets because each gun can be elevated and fired on its own.

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Officers mess

The Iowa tour is self-guided, but one of the easiest-to-follow self-guided tours I've been on. Just follow the on the deck, and eventually you see everything available to see.

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Officers galley

One of the many galleys on the ship. This one is for the 150 or so officers on board.

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Map find

During the restoration process, this hand-painted map was found underneath several layers of wall paint. There's no record of it, but using the names of several countries, it's assumed it was painted during World War II and possibly used to brief officers.

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XO's Stateroom

While the commanding officer (CO, a captain on the Iowa), is in charge of the whole ship, the executive officer (XO) is in charge of day-to-day operations.

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Senior officer staterooms

Rank has its privileges, and nowhere is that more obvious than where sailors sleep. Two in this room, but FAR more space than lower ranks. Some higher-ranking officers have their own room.

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Officers head

Quite nice, considering.

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Down below

You can't access the below decks on the Iowa, but this gives you some idea of how high up you area, relative to the keel, when you're on the main deck.

The crew would use this to get powder bags for the guns up from the magazine.

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Like all big ships, the Iowa has multiple bridges, including the navigation bridge, the flag bridge and others (all seen here, but we'll get to them a little later in the tour).

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Captain's in-port cabin

During the war, the Iowa transported President Roosevelt across the Atlantic to meet with Churchill, Stalin and other Allied leaders. During that time he used the captain's in-port cabin including this, the wardroom (the captain used his at-sea cabins).

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Sleeping quarters

Oddly shaped, but spacious. The captain wouldn't have spent much time here while the ship was at sea.

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FDR tub

This tub, the first of its kind on a Navy vessel, was installed specifically for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but kept by later captains.

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5-inch guns

The Iowa'ssecondary battery was 10 of these twin 5-inch cannons.

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Inside the 5-inch turret

Fourteen men would fit in here to fire the two guns. Even more were in the decks below handling shells and gunpowder bags. All working in unison, each gun could fire 15-20 times per minute.

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The big boilers far below would vent up through here. Running all out, the Iowa could do 38 mph (61 kph).

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Decks of teak

As beautiful as it is practical, the decking of the Iowa is teak.

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Flag bridge

One of the main differences between the Iowa and the other ships in her class, is the flag bridge. This allows the Iowa to function as a flagship for an Admiral.

Note the heavily armored conning tower. Seventeen inches of steel.

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Flag plot

While running a battlegroup, the admiral has a big staff, many of whom were in this room. They gathered data, monitored the situation, helped figure out tactics and so on.

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Better view

Though exposed, this space behind the bridge offers a far more expansive view. The CIWS (close-in weapon system) offers close-in support (we'll get a closer look a little later).

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Navigation bridge

The navigation bridge on the Iowa is U-shaped, with large windows.

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Cables and tubes

What most fictional ships hide is all the wires and tubes that let a vessel function. Since you never know what might go wrong and when, having access is key. Note the curve of the armored conning tower on the right.

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Conning tower

This is where the helmsman steered the Iowa. If the ship came under fire, the command staff would squeeze in here. The helmsman couldn't see out very well. Instead he just followed the orders of those who could.

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Quite a view

The bridge is a surprisingly open space. Great views are offered, but with the cost of feeling rather exposed.

The turret you see closest to the bridge is the No. 2, which suffered an explosion that claimed 47 lives.

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Captain's chair

The Iowa had 20 commanding officers during her 227 months of active duty.

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Not-so-great views

This is the slit the sailor driving the ship used to "see" where he was going. As in, not much at all.

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The 1980s crew called this the dashboard. To the right is part of the AN/SLQ-32(V)3 electronic warfare suite, which helps protect against missiles. Other parts are visible in the next slide.

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Fire control

The turret on the right is fire control for the 5-inch turrets. Parts of the AN/SLQ-32 are farther up on the superstructure.

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Also known as "R2-D2," the CIWS cannons would throw up a wall of lead against incoming projectiles. 4,500 rounds per minute. Amazing weapons.

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These launchers would throw up bundles of chaff to confuse the radar of enemy weapons.

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Another addition during its '80s refit, there are eight harpoon antiship missiles on each side.

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The big addition during the last refit was 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Half the containers are replicas, but those on this deck are original.

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Armored box launchers

The launcher boxes were hydraulically raised to firing position. There were three different versions of the Tomahawk: Antiship, land-attack and land-attack nuclear.

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The view aft, from near the armored box launchers, over the No. 3 turret, to the fantail, the World Cruise Center, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the distance.

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Crew quarters

These are what the crew bunks looked like after the '80s refit. Before that were five-high canvas "slings" that hung from the ceiling on chains.

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The curtains added a little privacy, and straps could be fastened so you didn't roll out. The little boxes (upper left) were respitory aids in case of an emergency.

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Not much of a lounge

This is the other side of the wall from the last photo. Because there were nearly 1,000 fewer men on board in the '80s, there was a little bit more free space. This area held 62 in WWII and Korea, and 42 in the '80s.

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This is the quarters of Command Master Chief Petty Officer "Bobby" Scott, who served 5.5 of his 40 years in the Navy on the Iowa.

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Chow line

One of two chow lines. During WWII the galley crew would prepare over 8,000 meals a day. Even with the reduced complement in the '80s it was still over 5,000 a day.

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Like all big ships, in addition to the galleys there was a separate bakery. Oddly, it still smelled vaguly like fresh bread when I was there.

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Crew's mess

The huge mess is the largest open space you can visit on the ship.

What you see is actually only half the original space; the other half is now sort of museum within a museum.

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Rifled barrel

This is part of one of the Iowa's original gun barrels. Note the rifling.

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Flight deck

In the '80s this was used for helicopters. In WWII, floatplanes. There were two catapults here as well, launching Kingfishers at the start of the war, and Seahawks by the end.

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The mighty ship

Though it's a fast tour, it's a good one, especially when aided by the official app for Android and iOS. There are even special guided tours occasionally that give access to parts of the ship currently inaccessible during a normal visit. For more info, check out its website.

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