Gun Barrel Returning to Battleship New Jersey

The USS New Jersey has been permanently docked on the Camden, New Jersey waterfront since its decommission in the late 1990s. The Iowa-class battleship was built in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and launched on December 7, 1942, the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, to fight on the Pacific Front of World War II. With her sixteen-inch anti-aircraft barrels, her crew was able to cripple the Japanese air force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and fight off suicide attacks by kamikaze pilots off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. In 1954, she was renovated for us in the Korean War and the anti-aircraft guns were removed at that time. She was launched again to shell North Korean targets during that conflict, after which she was decommissioned into the reserve fleet, also known as the “mothball fleet.” Heavy naval losses in the Vietnam War led to her reactivation for use in that conflict. 

In 1982, the forty-year-old ship was modernized and renovated, and the next year she was launched to fight in the Lebanese Civil War. New Jersey‘s last action was in 1991 in the Persian Gulf, though another decommission prevented service during Operation Desert Storm.

Over the half-century the New Jersey was in action, the battleship earned a total of nineteen battle stars, including nine for World War II. The accolades made the New Jersey the most decorated battleship in United States Naval history. After a renovation at her home port, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, she reached her final home on the Camden Waterfront in 1999 and opened as a floating museum in 2001.

But what of the sixty-six foot gun barrels removed in 1954? For the past sixty-four years they have been unceremoniously left to the elements, stored outdoors at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Saint Juliens Creek Annex. Recently, organizations have scrambled to raise funds to bring the guns home to New Jersey before they were scrapped. 

The Battleship New Jersey Museum will soon reap the rewards for their effort. On January 12, 2018, one of the enormous gun barrels was removed from Norfolk and sent on its way home to the battleship. Two others were also removed, with one earmarked for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (now operating as a business center under the name The Navy Yard). The third will find a home at the Mahan Collection Foundation of Basking Ridge, NJ. The Mahan Foundation recently contributed to the refurbishment and reinstallation of one of New Jersey‘s quad-guns, which had been mounted at The Navy Yard for half a century after its removal. The museum hopes to eventually have a fully functioning anti-aircraft gun display to use in education and events.

Lucy Davis is the Digital Media Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities. She studies public history at Rutgers University, Camden.