Exploring a WWII Iowa Class Battleship in Camden New Jersey
01.06.2013 32 °C
I'd seen the WWII Battleship USS Idaho (BB-61) moored up at Long Beach in California during our visit to the Queen Mary but she was closed by the time we got to her so I was hoping there would be a chance to look around one of her sister ships when I got to the US East Coast. Sure enough there was and we went to see the USS New Jersey (BB-62) moored at Camden opposite Philadelphia on the Delaware River.
The USS New Jersey was the second (of four) Iowa Class Battleships built for the US Navy during World War II and served in the Pacific 1944-1945, much of it as flagship for Fleet Admiral William Halsey. She went on to serve in Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1967-1969) and the Lebanese Civil War (1983-1984) before finally being decommissioned in 1991 and becoming a museum ship at Camden in 2000. With the award of a total of 19 battle and campaign stars during her career the USS New Jersey is the most decorated battleship ever in the US Navy.
After a brief look inside of one of the main forward gun turrets and various officer cabins (complete with dummies) we entered the dimly lit Operations Room full of TV screens, computer consoles and sonar/radar displays as well as several grease-pencil annotated transparent plotting boards - just like something out of a film such as the USS Missouri in Steven Seagal's 1992 film "Under Siege".
From the Operations Room the red and yellow lines on the floor we were asked to follow next took us outside onto the Bridge where I was able to sit in the chair used by Admiral Halsey when he commanded the US Third Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.
The view over the forward gun turrets in the bright sunshine was particularly good from the upper deck of the Bridge. The day we visited there was also an Admiral's retirement ceremony with lots of naval personnel in white dress uniforms taking place on the Forward Deck in front of the forward guns. An unusual event to witness but unfortunately it did mean we were not able to go out and look around the Forward Deck.
The USS New Jersey was de-commissioned and re-activated twice during her career with her armaments upgraded each time; her first decommission was in 1957 with reactivation for the Vietnam War in 1967; her second decommission was in 1969 with reactivation in 1982. As we made our way back along the ship the first of these new armaments we saw was a Phalanx Battery (often nicknamed by crews as "R2-D2" or "Daleks" because of their shape) used against anti-ship missiles. We then passed a 5 inch gun battery and chaff launchers before reaching the armoured box launchers used to launch Tomahawk long-distance cruise missiles.
Back inside we had a brief look around a museum area containing dummies wearing sailor and marine uniforms and comparing the US Iowa Class Battleships with their contemporaries in other navies such as the Japanese Yamato, German Bismark and British King George V. We then entered more mundane areas of the ship such as the famed "Chow-Line" and "Mess Deck" where food was served to enlisted men from the Ship's Galley.
From the Mess Deck our tour took us past the multi-faith Chapel, the Barber Shop and the Dry Cleaners. Our final stop was the "Brig" (the navy's term for their on-board jail/prison) where misbehaving sailors were sent and guarded by members of the USS New Jersey's marine detachment (MARDET).
We emerged back into daylight on the rear deck of the ship and took pictures of the impressive rear main battery with each of its three guns sealed by a black cap with a white star before leaving the USS New Jersey and returning to shore.
Before finally leaving Camden there was one last sight to see, namely the former headquarters (now renovated and converted into apartments and a conference centre) of the RCA Victor Company built 1909-1916 with its stained glass images on its 200 foot high tower of the "His Master's Voice" logo of a dog called "Nipper" listening to a gramophone record. I must admit to being a bit confused as to what the HMV record company logo was doing on top of a RCA building but it turns out there were two separate companies (one in the USA and the other in Britain) that had purchased the rights to use "Nipper" as their logo.