A crazy plan.
Key point: With a crew of nearly 2,000 each, the ships’ high personnel costs made them prohibitively expensive to run in an all-volunteer navy.
In the early 1980s, four Iowa-class fast battleships originally built during World War II—Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin—were taken out of mothballs and returned to active duty.
Nearly 900 feet long and displacing close to 60,000 tons, the battlewagons could fire a nine-gun broadside sending 18 tons of steel and explosives hurtling towards their targets.
The battleships were modernized to include cruise missiles, ship-killing missiles and Phalanx point-defense guns. Returned to the fleet, the ships saw action off the coasts of Lebanon and Iraq. At the end of the Cold War the battleships were retired again. All were slated to become museums.
Few knew, however, that returning the battleships to service in the ’80s had been only part of the plan. The second, more ambitious phase was a radical redesign of the massive warships that would have combined the attributes of battleships and aircraft carriers.
The resulting ship, a “battlecarrier,” was merely one of many schemes over the span of 30 years to modernize the most powerful American battleships ever built. The various proposals—all of them nixed—had the World War II-era ships carrying hundreds of U.S. Marines or launching Harrier jump jets or even firing atomic projectiles.
A Hole in the Navy:
Before World War II, planners had assumed that the big-gun ships would win wars by duking it out with enemy vessels of the same kind. Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway dispelled that notion, as the flexibility and long-range striking power of aircraft carriers proved superior to battleships’ broadsides.
The battlewagons were relegated to a secondary role in the fleet, shelling shore defenses ahead of landings by the Army and Marines. And after the war, the Navy shed most of its heavy cruisers and battleships while retaining its aircraft carriers. The rush to embrace missiles further reduced the influence of the big-gun vessels, and the era of the battleship appeared to be over for good.
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