The Magnificent Showboat: USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55)

By Taylor, Blaine | Sea Classics, March 2007 | Go to article overview

The Magnificent Showboat: USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55)

Taylor, Blaine, Sea Classics

One of the most-honored battleships of WWII still reigns supreme as the top tourist attraction in her home state

During 1922, a five-power Naval Conference took place in Washington among the victor nations: the United States, Great Britain, Imperial Japan, Republican France, and Savoyard Italy.

Surprisingly, the two most likely rivals in the next war were the US and the United Kingdom, which had last fought each other in the War of 1812, but almost had during the American Civil War of 1861-1865.

Indeed, the British Royal Navy admirals and Sea Lords feared that there would, in fact, be a renewed Naval armaments race. The race would not be with mighty America, not with the defeated Imperial Germany of the vanquished Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose Grand High Seas Fleet had been scuttled by its final crews at Scapa Flow in 1919.

Therefore, at Washington, where defeated Republican 1916 Presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes advocated scrapping all Naval warships worldwide, it was decided instead to fix the tonnage of future warships to be built at the ratio of five each for the US and the UK, three for Japan, 1.67 for France, and the same for Fascist Italy. No one foresaw the existence of a future new German Navy, since such a force had been virtually outlawed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Still, unknown to many, a plan for war with Great Britain existed in the US War Department as late as 1931, which included both a renewed war at sea (as during 1775-1781 and again in 1812-1815), and yet a third invasion of neighboring Canada as well.

Six-years later, however, the international military and diplomatic picture had changed completely, and the Royal Navy was once more viewed as America's first line of nautical defense against the combined war fleets of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the newly emergent threat of the Imperial Japanese Navy whose chief-Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto - had attended the Washington Naval Conference in 1922, and would order the sneak aerial attack on the US Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, two decades later.

In 1937 when Japanese planes blatantly bombed the gunboat USS Panay in China "by mistake" - the Japanese were America's greatest maritime threat.

In 1934, the US Congress had provided the US Navy to build up to the 1922 treaty limits - and then Japan formally withdrew from the London Naval Conference Treaty of 1936. With the invasion of North China by Japan in 1937 as well, Franklin D. Roosevelt - a former Undersecretary of the Navy in the First World War, decided that the time had come for flexing America's nautical muscles.

The President authorized the building of two powerful new battleships: USS Washington and USS North Carolina, together referred to as the North Carolina-class ships.

In October 1937, at New York City, the USS North Carolina -nicknamed "the Showboat" - was launched, the first such battleship to be constructed in 16-years, and also the first such ten fast battleships to join the American fleet during the second World War.

She was commissioned at New York on 9 April 1941 as German troops overran the Balkans in Europe and were preparing to invade the Soviet Union. The vaunted German super battleship Bismarck was about to put to sea on her maiden combat cruise as well.

According to Ms. Monique Faust of today's North Carolina staff, the vessel's first commanding officer was Capt. Olaf Hustvedt, who commanded her during the brief period of the spring of 1941 until a year later. Continues Ms. Faust, "At the time of her commissioning, she was considered the world's greatest sea weapon - a claim that was also being made for Bismarck and their Japanese counterparts, the battleships Yamatoand Musashi."

Armed with nine 16-in guns in three turrets and 20 5-in .38 caliber guns in ten twin mounts, North Carolina proved a formidable weapons platform. Her wartime complement consisted of 144 commissioned officers and 2195 enlisted seamen, including about 100 United States Marines. …

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