Ships named for the state of North Carolina enjoy a long and proud history.
The first USS NORTH CAROLINA, a 74-gun ship of the line, was launched in Philadelphia, September 1820, and fitted out in Norfolk, Virginia, with Master Commandant Charles W. Morgan in command. A three-masted square-rigger with an overall length of 196 feet 3 inches and beam of 54 feet, she displaced 2,633 tons and carried a complement of 820. As Commodore John Rodgers’ flagship in the Mediterranean, NORTH CAROLINA symbolized naval might and provided the young republic much-needed prestige and respectability. During this time, Rodgers laid the groundwork for the 1830 commercial treaty with Turkey, which opened the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea ports to American traders. In 1836, NORTH CAROLINA refitted and cruised the Pacific waters of western South America and Mexico to protect American commerce while war raged between Chile and Peru. NORTH CAROLINA became a receiving ship in New York Navy Yard in 1839, remained in that position throughout the Civil War, and was sold for scrap in 1867.
The Confederate States Navy’s 174-foot ironclad CSS NORTH CAROLINA was constructed in Wilmington, North Carolina, near the site of Battleship NORTH CAROLINA. Displacing 600 tons, her main battery consisted of four 8-inch guns and her complement of 150 men. Due to structural imperfections and unreliable machinery, she was usually anchored near the mouth of the Cape Fear River as a guard ship to help keep the port of Wilmington open for blockade runners. She developed leaks and sank in September 1864 near Southport, North Carolina.
The second U.S. Navy ship named NORTH CAROLINA was Armored Cruiser 12, commissioned in 1908 at Norfolk, Virginia. With a length of 504 feet, she displaced 14,500 tons and her designed speed was 22 knots. Her main battery consisted of four 10-inch guns and her secondary of sixteen 6-inch and twenty-two 3-inch rapid fire guns. Her complement was 38 officers and 821 enlisted men. In early 1909 she carried President-elect William Howard Taft on an inspection tour of the Panama Canal, then under construction. Later that year she sailed the Mediterranean to protect Americans threatened by the Turkish Empire and to aid Armenians, victims of massacre. She participated in ceremonial and diplomatic activities in South America, including the centennials of Argentina and Venezuela, carrying the Secretary of War for inspection tours of Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Cuba and the Panama Canal and brought home the bodies from the USS MAINE. She became a pioneer of naval aviation when an AB-2 Curtiss flying boat was catapult- launched from her stern on November 5, 1915.
During WWI the ACR-12 was assigned to the Cruiser and Transport Force and began escorting troop ships across the Atlantic in July 1917. She made nine round trips covering 60,000 miles and escorting 61 troop ships safely to the French coast. When the war ended in November 1918, the ACR-12 brought the troops home. The ship made six transport voyages and brought nearly 9,000 soldiers home. Renamed CHARLOTTE in June 1920 so that her name might be used for a new battleship, she was decommissioned in February 1921.
Battleship 52, designated NORTH CAROLINA, was never completed. Laid down in 1920, work was halted three years later under terms of the 1922 Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armament, which established a 10-year “holiday” on new battleships construction. In compliance, the hull was scrapped in 1923. A monster for the era, she was designed to displace 43,200 full load tons and have mounted twelve 16-inch guns. She and her five sister ships would have been the largest and most heavily armed capital ships in the world at that time.
When the keel of Battleship 55, named NORTH CAROLINA, was laid in New York Navy Yard on October 27, 1937, she was the first battleship to be constructed in 16 years and became the first of 10 fast battleships to join the fleet in World War II. NORTH CAROLINA and her sister ship, WASHINGTON, comprised the NORTH CAROLINA class. Commissioned on April 9, 1941, she mounted nine 16-inch/45 caliber guns and twenty 5-inch/38 caliber guns and had a maximum speed of 28 knots. Over 2,300 men called the 729-foot ship home on a daily basis. During World War II, she participated in every major naval offensive in the South Pacific, earning 15 battle stars. During the Battle of the Eastern Solomon’s Islands on August 24, 1942, her antiaircraft barrage helped save the carrier ENTERPRISE. NORTH CAROLINA’s actions established the primary role of the fast battleship as protector of aircraft carriers. She also took care of destroyers by filling their fuel tanks every three or four days. One of the battleship’s Kingfisher pilots performed heroically during the strike on Truk when he rescued ten downed Navy aviators on April 30, 1944. In all, NORTH CAROLINA carried out nine shore bombardments, sank an enemy merchant ship, destroyed at least 24 enemy aircraft, and assisted in shooting down many more. Her antiaircraft guns helped to halt or frustrate scores of attacks on aircraft carriers. She steamed over 300,000 miles, surviving many close calls and near misses, such as the Japanese torpedo which slammed into the battleship’s hull on September 15, 1942. Her crew’s quick response allowed the mighty ship to keep up with the fleet. The ship lost ten men in action and had 67 wounded. After the war, she served as a training vessel for midshipmen, was decommissioned June 27, 1947 and placed in the Inactive Reserve Fleet in Bayonne, New Jersey. When the Navy announced its intentions to scrap NORTH CAROLINA in 1960, the state’s citizens mounted a successful campaign to bring the battleship back to North Carolina to preserve her as the state’s premier war memorial. Opened in October 1961, NORTH CAROLINA is an authentically restored World War II battleship, a National Historic Landmark, a museum collecting and interpreting all ships named NORTH CAROLINA, and a memorial honoring the 11,000 North Carolinians of all branches of service who gave their lives in World War II.
Attack submarine NORTH CAROLINA (SSN 777) is the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name and fourth in the VIRGINIA class. Commissioned May 3, 2008 in Wilmington, NC, she is a powerful and versatile platform capable of diverse missions, including conventional submarine warfare, strike warfare, mining operations, and delivery of special operations personnel and equipment. At 377 feet in length, she displaces 7,800 tons submerged and carry of complement of 134. Her maximum designed submerged speed is 25 + knots. Her armament includes 12 vertical launch system tubes, four 21-inch torpedo tubes, tomahawk missiles and Mk-48 advanced capability torpedoes, advanced mobile mines and unmanned undersea vehicles.