Battleships were designed to steam forth in a great battle line and engage in long-range gun duels with enemy ships. During World War II the battleship role changed. Instead, they protected aircraft carriers, rescued downed pilots, refueled destroyers, and carried out shore bombardments.

The IOWA class ships, built in the 1940s, were the last U.S. battleships. During World War II the airplane became an essential part of the military and by the 1950s the Navy was building super aircraft carriers. Battleships were no longer needed to protect the carriers. Jet planes were too fast for the battleship’s guns, and new missile systems became the primary weapon. Battleships also required a lot of labor and maintenance, both very expensive.

Also during World War II the submarine proved its might, especially by the Germans and Japanese. As soon as the war ended attention turned to submarine design and anti-submarine warfare. American scientists focused on how to make a nuclear reactor small enough to power a submarine. In 1955, the U.S. Navy launched the NAUTILUS which crossed the North Pole fully underwater, an amazing feat for its day. Fitted with improved radar, listening equipment, navigation systems and Sonar; armed with intermediate-range-ballistic missiles (Polaris); all inside a teardrop hull, the nuclear powered submarine was the wave of the future.

Nearly 50 years later, the keel was laid for the fast attack submarine NORTH CAROLINA (SSN 777). She is the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear the state’s name and the fourth in the VIRGINIA class of submarines. The NORTH CAROLINA was commissioned on May 2, 2008 in Wilmington. She is 377 feet in length, displaces 7,800 tons submerged and carries a complement of 134.

The U.S. Navy completed ten fast battleships between 1941 and 1944. They were the NORTH CAROLINA class (2), the SOUTH DAKOTA class (4), and the IOWA class (4). Here is what happened to them:

1961 – WASHINGTON sold for scrap
1962 – INDIANA and SOUTH DAKOTA sold for scrap
1962 – Battleship NORTH CAROLINA opened to public, Wilmington, NC
1964 – Battleship ALABAMA opened to public, Mobile, Alabama
1965 – Battleship MASSACHUSETTS opened to public, Fall River, Mass.
1968-69 – NEW JERSEY returned to action, Vietnam War
1982 – President Reagan began military buildup. NEW JERSEY reactivated with new missile systems
1984 – IOWA re-commissioned
1986 – MISSOURI re-commissioned
1988 – WISCONSIN re-commissioned
1989 – Explosion in Turret II on IOWA
1990 – IOWA decommissioned
1991 – NEW JERSEY decommissioned
1991 – WISCONSIN and MISSOURI sent to Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Storm. First combat use of long-range Tomahawk land-attack missiles. The WISCONSIN returned to Norfolk, VA.
1992 – MISSOURI decommissioned
1998 – Battleship MISSOURI opened to the public, Hawaii
2000 – WISCONSIN moved to the National Maritime Center, Norfolk, VA
2001 – Battleship NEW JERSEY opened to the public, Camden, NJ
2005 – WISCONSIN and IOWA decommissioned
2012 – IOWA became a museum in Los Angeles, CA