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World's Last Surviving Battleships

Updated on December 10, 2018
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Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

The Battleship

For over a century, the battleship was the main force of aggression in the world's navies. An iron platform with every square inch packing heat. Sadly, there is no room for the battleship in the modern navy. Technology has moved beyond big rifles. As a result the battleship has gone the way of the galleon, the carrack and the ship of the line, into the history books. Most have been scrapped, others sunk. Yet there is a small collection of these fabled warships still around.

USS Olympia today.
USS Olympia today. | Source

USS Olympia ~ C-6

The Last Surviving Vessel of the Spanish-American War and World's Oldest Surviving Steel Warship. A direct ancestor to the dreadnought era battleship, the USS Olympia is a protected cruiser first launched in November 1892. Armed with a main armament of four 8 inch guns and steel armor of up to five inches in some places, Olympia was the largest vessel yet built on the east coast.

In May 1898, Olympia drew first blood in the Spanish-American War when she became the first ship to open fire on Spain's outdated fleet anchored in Manila bay. Emerging almost untouched after the battle, Olympia earned her fame as the victor of the battle.

After the war and a brief decommissioning, Olympia returned to active duty in 1902 as the flagship of the US Caribbean Forces. She would sail until becoming a training vessel in the US Naval Academy in 1906. She would be decommissioned again in 1908 and serve a variety of uses from floating barracks to reserve ship until she would be recommissioned for World War I. She would serve a variety of flagship rolls during the Great War and would be decommissioned for the final time in 1922.

Designated IX-40, USS Olympia remained a preserved relic until opening as a museum ship in 1957. The ship has remained a museum ship ever since. She is currently the oldest surviving steel warship in the world. Mounting maintenance costs have landed the historic vessel's future into question. The ship has not been dry docked since 1945 and she needs a major overhaul soon.

Not only is Aurora still commissioned, but she is still fully functional.
Not only is Aurora still commissioned, but she is still fully functional. | Source

HIRMS Aurora

The Last Protected Cruiser in the Russian Navy and the Oldest Fully Operational Steel Warship in the World. In the heart of St. Petersburg Aurora sits docked as a museum ship. Launched in 1900, this pre-dreadnaught warship first served in the Russo-Japanese War. Following the war, she served as a cadet training ship. In 1917 her crew staged a mutany during the Russian February Revolution, killing the captain. Her guns fired the opening shot of the October Revolution.

During World War II, Aurora's guns were removed and used for the land defense of Leningrad. In 1941, the ship herself was shelled by the Germans and ultimately sank where she was anchored. She was raised and in 1944 she once again became a training ship until 1947 when she was permanently anchored as a monument to the Socialist Revolution. In 1957, she became a museum ship.

Between 1984 and 1987, Aurora was dry docked and extensively overhauled. The entire underwater riveted bottom portion of the ship was cut off and replaced with an replica modern welded one.

After another renovation in the 2010s, the ship was recommissioned ceremoniously in 2013 and an active military crew was placed aboard to maintain the vessel and serve as her museum security. She returned from the shipyard to her St. Petersburg berth under her own power, fully functional to huge fanfare.

The Aurora is a playable ship on World of Warships®.

The landlocked battleship Mikasa.
The landlocked battleship Mikasa. | Source

IJN Mikasa

The Last Pre-Dreadnaught. Mikasa is not a protected cruiser, she is a true pre-dreadnaught battleship. The last one around. Launched in 1900, Mikasa fought on the Japanese side of the Russo-Japanese War from 1904-1905 particularly the Battle of Tsushima. Shortly after the war's end, an explosion in the power magazine sent Mikasa to the bottom of the harbor. She was raised and after two years of repairs, was returned to active service. In World War I, she guarded the coast of Japan.

Decommissioned in 1923 due to the 1923 Washington Navel Treaty, Mikasa was slated to be scrapped. The Japanese government petitioned to save the ship as a memorial. The signatory countries agreed and the ship was placed on permanent display in Yokosuka. A stipulation, however, was to encase the hull in concrete reclassifying the ship as a building.

During World War II, the ship survived the firebombing of Japan. After the surrender, the ship fell into disrepair under occupation. The Soviet Union wanted it destroyed, the Japanese wanted it saved. The US compromised by allowing the Soviets to dismantle the superstructure; bridge, funnels, masts and turrets. The hull was turned over to a private enterprise which converted it into a dance hall and aquarium. After business collapsed, the empty hull was left to rot.

In the 1950s, local media and Admiral Chester Nimitz sponsored campaigns to restore the ship. A successful restoration rebuilt all her missing parts and in 1961 she was reopened as a museum.

The Mikasa is a playable ship on World of Warships®.

The Georgios Averof today.
The Georgios Averof today. | Source

B/S Georgios Averof

The Last Armored Heavy Cruiser. To her home nation of Greece, she is known as a battleship. The Georgios Averof is an armored heavy cruiser launched in 1910, a part of the Greek Navy's expansion project, the last of her kind ever commissioned. In fact she was already obsolete when launched thanks to the heavycruiser.

The vessel was a hodge-podge of technology from all across Europe; British guns, French boilers, Italian engines and German electrical plants. After her shakedown cruise, she proceeded to Britain to participate in the coronation festivities of King George V. Afterwards she participated in the Balkins Wars.

After World War I broke out, the vessel was sidelined for much of the early years until she was seized by the French military. She was returned to the Greeks after Greece formally entered the war in 1917. After the war ended she entered service in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.

Almost 20 years later, the Averof entered World War II when Germany attacked Greece in 1941. Her crew disobeyed orders to scuttle her when the Greek front collapsed. Instead she was sailed to Crete. For much of the war, she served as an escort ship, escorting convoys across the Indian Ocean. She was the only World War I era vessel to serve her designed function during the second world war. After the war, she served as fleet headquarters for the Greek Admiralty until her decommissioning in 1952. She was then towed to Salamis where she remained until 1983.

The Greek navy decided to restore the ship into a museum in 1984. She was towed to Palaio Faliro where she was recommissioned as a museum ship. She has actively flown the colors of the Rear Admiral of the Navy since 1984. Every Hellenic naval vessel entering the harbor pays honor the Averof, their crew standing at attention as they pass her at anchor.

USS Texas BB-35
USS Texas BB-35 | Source

USS Texas ~ BB-35

The Last Dreadnaught. A New York-class super-dreadnaught launched on May 18, 1912, USS Texas is the last surviving dreadnaught in the world. Her ten 14 inch guns could strike ships at a range of 13 miles. She received a major overhaul in the 1920s that completely changed her superstructure. She served in both world wars and was decommissioned in 1947 where she would become the United States' first permanently moored museum battleship.

The vessel has endured good years and bad since becoming a museum. The 50s and 60s were not kind to the Texas as poor funding from the ship's caretakers resulted in severe deterioration of the vessel. When the 70s came about, serious fundraising was completed to restore the ship. In the 80s, Texas was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The battleship was dry docked and restored inside and out. This included the replacement of much of her steel and rivets. In May 2014, the USS Texas celebrated its 100th birthday making it the oldest museum battleship in the US.

Texas is a playable ship on World of Warships®.

USS North Carolina (BB-55)
USS North Carolina (BB-55)

USS North Carolina ~ BB-55

The First of the Last Battleships. As the first battleship built by the US in nearly twenty years, North Carolina's appearance and capability were far different than battleships of old. Her superstructure was simpler, her overall appearance sleeker. She was faster and more maneuverable. Launched in 1940, only one final class of battleships would come after her.

She was the newest battleship in the US Navy by the time America entered World War II in 1941. 728 feet long and packed with nine 16 inch guns. The lead ship of the class, NC spent the entire war in the Pacific. She participated in every major offensive. Her speed advantage over dreadnaught era battleships proved invaluable when in 1942 her AA guns help save the carrier Enterprise from bombers. Over the war she steamed nearly 300,000 miles, sank ships, shot down aircraft and bombarded coast installations. At war's end, the still young ship went into the mothball fleet.

In the 1960s, the Navy had deemed most of the battleship fleet obsolete with the advancement in air technology. Choosing to keep only the Iowa-class battleships, the Navy struck all others included North Carolina for either scrapping or museum use. Thanks to a successful "Save our Ship" campaign by North Carolina school children, the ship was purchased from the navy and towed to North Carolina. During her journey down the Cape Fear river to her final berth, the stern of the ship struck the floating restaurant 'Fergus' Ark'. The damage was so severe, it took the restaurant permanently out of business. North Carolina was dedicated and opened to the open in 1962.

In a common 1980s trend, North Carolina was heavily cannibalized for parts for the reactivation of the Iowa-Class battleship. Her air compression system was completely removed, leaving huge holes in the ship. Her number 1 turret is now just an empty shell.

As of 2017, a major restoration is underway to dry berth the ship where she sits in order to repair hull corrosion.

North Carolina is a playable ship on World of Warships®.

The USS Massachusetts today.
The USS Massachusetts today. | Source

USS Massachusetts ~ BB-59

The World's Most Unaltered Battleship. South Dakota-class. Firing the United States' first and last 16 inch shells of World War II, this particular ship is the sixth ship to be named Massachusetts. She would serve in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.

After being decommissioned in 1947, the US Navy stripped nearly 5,000 tons of equipment for use on other ships. She was soon to be destined for the scrapyard until the citizens of Massachusetts petitioned to have her saved as a museum ship. The navy agreed and donated the battleship to the state in 1965.

Today, the battleship is the most unaltered battleship in the world. Despite becoming a parts cache for the 1980s reactivation of the Iowa-Class battleships, she has retained most of her original World War II configuration. She resides at Battleship Cove in Fall River, the centerpiece of the largest collection of US museum warships in the world.

Massachusetts is a playable ship in World of Warships®.

Source

USS Alabama ~ BB-60

This South Dakota-class battleship has spent more time as a museum ship then active service. Launched in 1942 after the US entered the second world war and enjoyed a career of escorting and coastal bombardment. Firing well over a 1,000 rounds of 16 inch shells in her career, Alabama reeked havoc on axis targets in the Atlantic and Pacific.

When the war ended, the US Navy found itself with a fleet of surplus warships. Where battleships like USS Nevada were over 30 years old by war's end, Alabama wasn't even five years old. As a result she was selected and went into the navy's reserve fleet in 1947. She remained in mothballs until 1962 when she was stricken from the roster in preparations to be scrapped.

The citizens of Alabama intervened and began a campaign to save the ship and have it brought to their state as a museum. After raising more than a million dollars by school children and corporate donations, the ship was awarded to the state by the Navy in 1964. She was towed to Battleship Memorial Park where she remains today.

Over the last fifty years as a museum ship, the Alabama's war has been with mother nature. The ship has survived a number of hurricanes over the years, Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Katrina's damage was extensive. The museum buildings around the ship were nearly destroyed. The ship itself was left was an eight degree list.

Alabama is a playable ship on World of Warships®.

USS Iowa
USS Iowa | Source

USS Iowa ~ BB-61

The Last Battleship of the US Navy Reserve Fleet. The lead ship of the formidable Iowa-class first launched in 1943. These four battleships were the last and longest serving in the US Navy. Armed with the largest guns in the US Navy, 16-inches at an almost 27 mile range. Originally six ships were ordered by the US Navy, however World War II ended before the final two were built. What sets the Iowa Class apart from any other in the world is all still survive to this day. None have been scrapped, sunk or destroyed.

Originally sent to Europe shortly after shakedown to counter the German battleship Tirpitz, Iowa had to return instead to the shipyard to work out problems. Afterwards she carried President Roosevelt and top brass to Algeria on the first part of the Tehran Conference. During the cruise, one of Iowa's escort destroyers accidentally loosed a torpedo towards her. Iowa was able to avoid an explosion.

In 1944 Iowa served as flagship for Battleship Division 7. She supported various campaigns in the Pacific sinking Japanese ships and commencing shore bombardments against enemy held islands. She would later support the bombardment of Japan and would shadow her sister ship, Missouri, during the formal surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay.

After the war Iowa served on and off as a training ship and participated in Bikini Island nuclear tests. During the downsizing of the US Navy, Iowa was decommissioned and put into mothballs in 1949.

Her mothball life didn't last long. When the Korean War broke out, Iowa was reactivated in 1951. She would shell shore installations all along the Korean coast from enemy troop installations to rail lines.

The Korean War ended in 1952 and Iowa found herself once again training forces. She cruised all across the Atlantic and Mediterranean serving as a training ship for NATO troops. In 1958, her roll concluded, Iowa was once again decommissioned and placed in reserve, this time for 24 years.

President Reagan's Naval Expansion Initiative in the 1980s prompted the reactivation and modernization of Iowa and her sisters. During this refit, the ship was extensively changed including the removal of all anti-aircraft guns and several of her secondary battery 5 inch guns. She was fitted with ballistic missiles in their place.

In 1989, Iowa suffered a catastrophic explosion inside Turret 2. The blast caused severe damage to the turret itself and killed 47 crewmen. The cause of the blast was never determined as an independent investigation gave conflicting results to the US Navy's own investigation. The turret was never repaired and ultimately lead to early decommissioning of Iowa in 1990.

The fall of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the battleship era. In 1990, the need for large battleships no longer existed. Iowa was the first of her class to be decommissioned. Back into the reserve fleet she went. Originally she was stored in Rhode Island and then she was moved to San Fransisco and stored there as part of the reserve fleet until 2006 before being struck from the register. She remained in cold lay up until 2011 when she was finally donated as a museum ship. When Iowa left the Navy in 2012, she was the very last battleship to leave US Navy possession. Her sisters had one by one become museum ships over the previous ten years.

Iowa is a playable ship on World of Warships®.

The USS New Jersey
The USS New Jersey | Source

USS New Jersey ~ BB-62

The Most Decorated Battleship in US History. A member of the immortal Iowa-class, New Jersey earned more battle stars than any other US battleship. Launched in 1942, the 'Big J' fought in the Pacific, shelling islands and escorting fleets. She contributed to the conquest of the Mariana Islands, shelling the beaches and shooting down enemy aircraft. When World War II ended, the ship went into mothballs in 1948 for two years. When the Korean War broke out, New Jersey was recommissioned for war duty. After the Korean War she went back into mothballs until Vietnam. She would become the only US battleship to be reactivated for the war. Then back into mothballs again for a couple decades until coming back to life one last time for Reagan's Naval Expansion.

After 20+ years active, New Jersey was decommissioned for the last time in 1991. She went into the mothball fleet, only briefly, while her museum details were figured out. In 1997, the state of New Jersey, placed their namesake battleship on their register of historic places. In 1999, new defense legislation ordered the selection of two Iowa Class battleships to remain on the registry for emergency services. As such, the US was required to maintain the Big J in a battle ready condition, even after becoming a museum ship. The navy accepted the State of New Jersey's proposal to place the ship at Port Alliance. In 2000, she was moved there where she would be moored across the channel from USS Olympia, the oldest surviving steel warship afloat.

USS Wisconsin as a museum ship.
USS Wisconsin as a museum ship.

USS Wisconsin ~ BB-64

The Last Battleship to Fire in Combat. 'The Wisky' as affectionately called by her multiple generations of crew, USS Wisconsin is a member of the immortal Iowa-class. Launched in 1943 she was the second to the last battleship to ever be built by the United States.

Serving her entire World War II career in the Pacific, Wisconsin is best known for her carrier escort duties throughout the theater. While she never fired on another battleship, she contributed to the coast bombardment of dozens of Japanese island installations and shot down three aircraft. She even participated in the coastal shelling of the Japan mainland and was present in Tokyo Harbor for the formal surrender of Japan. After the war, she spent a year as a training ship before joining her sister ships in the reserve fleet in 1948.

She would sleep for just two years before being one of the first reactivated for the Korean War. She entered Korean waters in November 1951 and became part of the Korean gun line providing offshore shelling of North Korean installations and troops. She spent the entire war moving from place to place firing at the Korean coastline.

After the Korean War in 1952, Wisconsin became a training vessel once again where she sailed the Atlantic training midshipmen. 1953 sent her to the Pacific to reveal her sister ship New Jersey as the flagship of the 7th Fleet. 1954 she resumed training duties for the next two years. 1956 she collided with the destroyer USS Eaton which sent her to the shipyard. Fortunately the bow section of Wisconsin's unfinished sister ship, Kentucky, was cannibalized to repair the ship in record time. Until decommissioning in 1958, Wisconsin served a variety of small duties.

Like her fellow Iowa-Class sisters, Wisconsin slept in mothballs until the 1980s when she was reactivated. Like the others, all her remaining anti-aircraft guns were removed, Tomahawk cruise missile launchers installed and the even drone technology for spotting.

Reliving her glory days alongside her sister Missouri, Wisconsin participated in Operation Desert Storm firing both her missiles and main battery guns up and down Iraqi coast destroying everything from ships to infrastructure. By the time the Gulf War ended, both Wisconsin and Missouri fired over one-million pounds of ordinance each with Wisconsin firing the very last combat salvo of a battleship in history. The end of the war also signaled the end of the battleship era.

Decommissioned for the final time in 1991 she was originally struck from the naval roster in 1995 but was readmitted in 1998. As part of congressional legislation to maintain two Iowa-Class in reserve status should they ever be needed for reactivation, Wisconsin and Iowa were the chosen two. Even though her decks opened as a museum in 2001 in Norfolk, Virginia, Wisconsin was still owned and maintained by the US Navy until 2006. By that time it was deemed that because the ship was 60 years old, the cost of modernizing would be too infeasible. She and Iowa were struck from the navel roster one last time. But as Wisconsin became a museum, Congress passed legislation requiring her and Iowa be maintained for reactivation mandating:

  1. Neither ship be altered in any way that would inhibit reactivating.
  2. Anti corrosion systems installed and used.
  3. Spare parts and guns maintained in a ready condition.
  4. US Navy have an active plan for reactivation.

This status of readiness was maintained until 2009 when the navy officially transferred ownership of the battleship to the City of Norfolk.

Source

USS Missouri ~ BB-63

The Last Battleship Commissioned by US Navy. The 'Mighty MO' remains one of the most famous battleships in the world. Commissioned in 1944, Missouri would be the very last battleship to be completed by the US Navy. The end of World War II sent her uncompleted sister ships Kentucky and Illinois to the recycle bin before they were even finished. Missouri was a ship of unique distinction, a status that would echo throughout her long career. She was one of the first battleships to fire upon and destroy installations on the home islands of Japan. She also has the very unique place in history as the signing place for the official surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces, ending World War II. A bronze plaque still marks the very spot the papers were signed, since dubbed the Surrender Deck.

Missouri would not join every other battleship in the US Navy, including her sisters, in the Naval reserve fleet after downsizing. By order of President Truman, Missouri remained in active service. She would serve as the only commissioned battleship from 1947 to 1950. During that time she became the first battleship to be outfitted to launch helicopters and participated in the first post-war naval training maneuvers by the US Navy.

The Korean War brought her sister ships out of mothballs and while they were in the shipyard, Missouri became the first US battleship to enter Korean and the first to fire upon enemy forces in anger since World War II. Her last engagement of Korea was highlighted by the fatal heart attack of her commanding officer as she navigated through sub nets. Just prior to her first deactivation, she would sale alongside her three sister ships in the midshipman training cruise in Norfolk. It's the only time in their sixty plus years that all four Iowa-Class battleships would sale together. Later she was decommissioned in 1955.

Even while she slept in mothballs in Bremerton, Missouri's Surrender Deck, attracted 180,000 visitors a year. For 30 years, a local economy of souvenirs and memorabilia boomed where she sat. Despite her guns and interiors sealed tight, visitors could still walk her decks.

The 1980s reactivation of the entire Iowa-Class brought Missouri out of her slumber and into her biggest refit of her life. Like her sisters, her anti-aircraft guns were removed, tomahawk missiles installed and every system either rebuilt or upgraded. Four months after her recommissioning, Missouri became the first US battleship circumnavigate the globe since the Great White Fleet did 80 years earlier. Ironically, her namesake battleship, the first USS Missouri (BB-11) was a member of that fleet.

Joining her sister Wisconsin in the Gulf War, Missouri would fire her main guns for the first time in anger since Korea at targets in Iraq and the first of Desert Storm. She would break the one-million pound ordinance mark with her sister. After the war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the age of the battleship ended, ending Missouri's career. Her final decommissioning occurred in 1992.

She was returned to Bremerton and mothballs while the Navy considered her ultimate fate. Unlike before, Missouri was closed to the public. The local community tried in vain to keep her in Bremerton permanently but the Navy had other plans. With Missouri's unique status as the symbolic End of World War II, the navy chose to pair her with the symbolic Beginning of World War II, the USS Arizona. Missouri was officially donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and towed to Pearl Harbor in 1998. Upon arrival, she was moored at Ford Island less than 500 yards behind the sunken battleship Arizona. Her forward guns were raised to overlook the Arizona Memorial, forever guarding it. Missouri opened as a museum in 1999.

USS Missouri is a playable ship in Wargaming's World of Warships®.

© 2017 Jason Ponic

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