The Most Important Battleships in American History

Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / UIG / Getty images

In order to remain a prominent world power in the late 1800s, the US had to keep up with the latest military technology. When South American countries began to purchase armored warships, America began to build their own. These vessels became more important over time, especially during World War II.

USS New Jersey

Construction of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) began in September 1940. Fittingly, she was launched on December 7, 1942, on the one-year anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The battleship took off for the Pacific, where she shelled targets on Guam and Okinawa, and later screened aircraft carriers conducting raids in the Marshall Islands.

People greeting the USS New Jersey
People greet the USS New Jersey as she returns from Korea. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles Examiner / USC Libraries / CORBIS / Getty Images)

The battleship next played a key role in the Korean War, conducting operations along the North Korean coast. The USS New Jersey was never out of commission long, participating in the Vietnam War and the Lebanese Civil War. Decommissioned in 1991, the ship finished her career with 19 battle stars, and now serves as a museum in Camden, New Jersey.

USS Iowa

The USS Iowa (BB-61), launched in August 1942, was the fourth ship to be named after the Midwestern state. One of the battleship’s first operations was transporting President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a conference in Algeria. The ship then moved on to the Pacific Theater, where she participated in the shelling of Kwajalein and Eniwetok before shielding aircraft carriers in the Marshall Islands.

The USS Iowa firing a full broadside
The USS Iowa fires a full broadside during a 1984 demonstration (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Iowa was active in the Korean War, acting in raids along the North Korean coast. Placed in the reserve fleets for some time, she came out again in 1984 to counter a growing Soviet Navy. The ship was officially decommissioned in October 1990, and now serves as a museum in the Port of Los Angeles.

USS Texas

The US began construction on the USS Texas (1892) in 1889. The country’s first battleship was plagued by misfortune in its early years and developed a reputation for being jinxed.

More than 600 sailors pose on the USS Texas
More than 600 sailors pose on the USS Texas, America’s first battleship. (Photo Credit: Buyenlarge / Getty Images)

In 1898, after the sinking of the USS Maine (1889), the US declared war on Spain, and Texas was sent to the Spanish fort at Cayo del Tore (Guantanamo Bay). When Spanish forces attempted to run the American blockade, the battleship destroyed four of their ships. Texas later participated in the total destruction of the Spanish fleet.

In 1911, the ship was renamed San Marcos, so a newer boat could take the Texas name. After decades of acting as a gunnery target, she was demolished in 1959.

USS Alabama

The USS Alabama (BB-60) had a short military career. The battleship, however, did plenty of damage during the Second World War. Launched in February 1942, Alabama first operated in Norway, tasked with distracting the Germans from the invasion of Sicily. From there, the battleship took off to the Pacific Theater, where she took part in the assaults on Tarawa, the Philippines and the Marshall Islands.

=USS Alabama displayed at Battleship Memorial Park
USS Alabama displayed at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo Credit: Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Following WWII, the battleship was assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet in Bremerton, Washington. At first, she was scheduled to be modernized with new weaponry. The cost, however, proved to be prohibitive. Alabama was set to be broken apart, but the state of Alabama stepped in and now operates the battleship as a museum in Mobile, Alabama.

USS Missouri

USS Missouri (BB-63) has the special distinction of being both the last American battleship to be commissioned and the last to be decommissioned. Between 1944 and 1992, she was involved in plenty of important battles, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The battleship was also the site of the Japanese surrender ceremony in 1945.

OS2U-2 Kingfisher plane being loaded onto the USS Missouri
Vought OS2U-2 Kingfisher being loaded onto the USS Missouri, 1940s. (Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images)

Missouri was active during the Korean War, attacking enemy positions. During Operation Desert Storm, she participated in the fake amphibious landing on the Iraqi Coast. Decommissioned in 1992, Missouri now acts as a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.