When the keel of NORTH CAROLINA was laid in October of 1937 at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, she was the first battleship to be constructed in sixteen years. She became the first of ten fast battleships to join American fleet in World War II. NORTH CAROLINA (BB 55) and her sister ship, WASHINGTON (BB 56), comprised the NORTH CAROLINA Class. Following them were the SOUTH DAKOTA Class – SOUTH DAKOTA (BB 57), INDIANA (BB 58), MASSACHUSETTS (BB 59), and ALABAMA (BB 60) – and the IOWA Class – IOWA (BB 61), NEW JERSEY (BB 62), MISSOURI (BB 63), and WISCONSIN (BB 64).
At the time of her commissioning on 9 April 1941, she was considered the world’s greatest sea weapon. Armed with nine 16-inch/45 caliber guns in three turrets and twenty 5-inch/38 caliber guns in ten twin mounts, NORTH CAROLINA proved a formidable weapons platform. Her wartime complement consisted of 144 commissioned officers and 2,195 enlisted men, including about 100 Marines.
During World War II, NORTH CAROLINA participated in every major naval offensive in the Pacific area of operations and earned 15 battle stars. In the Battle of the Eastern Solomon’s in August of 1942, the Battleship’s anti-aircraft barrage helped save the carrier ENTERPRISE, thereby establishing the primary role of the fast battleship as protector of aircraft carriers. One of her Kingfisher pilots performed heroically during the strike on Truk when she rescued ten downed Navy aviators on 30 April 1944. In all, NORTH CAROLINA carried out nine shore bombardments, sank an enemy troopship, destroyed at least 24 enemy aircraft, and assisted in shooting down many more. Her anti-aircraft guns helped halt or frustrate scores of attacks on aircraft carriers. She steamed over 300,000 miles. Although Japanese radio announcements claimed six times that NORTH CAROLINA had been sunk, she survived many close calls and near misses with one hit when a Japanese torpedo slammed into the Battleship’s hull on 15 September 1942. A quick response on the part of the crew allowed the mighty ship to keep up with the fleet. By war’s end, the Ship lost only ten men in action and had 67 wounded.
After serving as a training vessel for midshipmen, NORTH CAROLINA was decommissioned 27 June 1947 and placed in the Inactive Reserve Fleet in Bayonne, New Jersey, for the next 14 years. In 1958 the announcement of her impending scrapping led to a statewide campaign by citizens of North Carolina to save the ship from the scrappers torches and bring her back to her home state. The Save Our Ship (SOS) campaign was successful and the Battleship arrived in her current berth on 2 October 1961. She was dedicated on 29 April 1962 as the State’s memorial to its World War II veterans and the 11,000 North Carolinians who died during the war.