USS Missouri (BB-63): American Battleship and Site of the Japanese Surrender

Photo Credit: PH2 MICHAEL D.P. FLYNN / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The USS Missouri (BB-63) was a bit late to the party. Completed in January 1944, she was the last US battleship to enter the action during the Second World War. Despite this, the vessel played an important role in American history, as she was the site of the Japanese surrender in September 1945, officially putting an end to the conflict that had taken over the world for six years.

The United States wanted to counter Japan

Government officials standing around a large table
The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty limited the size of battleships. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

While the United States was in peacetime in the 1930s, military officials felt a war with Japan was possible. In response, the Navy was tasked with creating a new battleship design. Specifically, the Americans wanted a ship that could counter Japan’s Kongō-class battlecruisers.

Following the First World War, the world’s powers signed the Washington Naval Treaty, which placed limitations on how large newly-constructed ships could be. This was followed by the Second London Naval Treaty, which Japan refused to sign. This led to further negotiations, which allowed the US to build battleships up to 45,000 tons, as opposed to the previous limit of 36,000.

Construction of the USS Missouri

Deck guns on the USS Missouri (BB-63)
The USS Missouri (BB-63) was 887 feet long and boasted .50-caliber Mk VII deck guns (Photo via Getty Images)

After plans were approved, the USS Missouri was ordered in June 1940, with construction beginning the following January. Work on the Iowa-class battleship was completed in 1944, with a crowd of 30,000 gathering to see the vessel off.

Missouri‘s turbines allowed her to reach a top speed of 32.5 knots, and she boasted nine 16-inch .50-caliber Mark VII deck guns as her main battery. The battleship’s second battery featured 20 five-inch .38-caliber dual-purpose guns, along with 20 quadruple mounts for 1.6-inch Bofors guns for anti-aircraft defense. On top of all that firepower, Missouri also featured forty-nine 0.8-inch Oerlikon light AA auto-cannons placed along the length of the ship.

The battleship had a shakedown cruise south of the Chesapeake Bay, before traveling to Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, California. There, Missouri was fitted for service as a fleet flagship.

The USS Missouri was the site of the Japanese surrender

Sailors gathered around the USS Missouri's (BB-63) deck armaments as a kamikaze aircraft flies toward the battleship
The USS Missouri (BB-63) was the victim of kamikaze attacks in April 1945. (Photo Credit: Harold “Buster” Campbell / Len Schmidt / USS Missouri Memorial Association / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

After entering service, the USS Missouri was sent overseas as part of Task Force 58, arriving near Tokyo in January 1945. The battleship immediately took part in an attack on the Japanese city, with her armaments providing anti-aircraft support. Following this, she continued to perform strikes against Japan, including during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Not long before the Battle of Okinawa, Missouri and two other US vessels were transferred to Task Force 59, tasked with bombarding the southern part of Okinawa. This was to distract the Japanese forces from the planned invasion of the island’s west side. In April 1945, Missouri was the victim of an attack by kamikaze aircraft, but only suffered cosmetic damages. Days later, another kamikaze pilot struck the vessel, injuring two crewmen.

On September 2, 1945, Missouri became the site of the Japanese surrender. The formal ceremony was attended by Gen. Douglas McArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz. On the Japanese side, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mamoru Shigemitsu was present.

Service during later US-involved conflicts

USS Missouri (BB-63) firing her deck guns while at sea
A few years after the Second World War came to an end, the USS Missouri (BB-63) was pressed into service in Korea. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The USS Missouri was, again, pressed into service in 1950, upon the outbreak of the Korean War. Initially part of the Pacific Fleet, the vessel was the first US battleship to arrive in Korean waters, and throughout the conflict bombarded shorelines and acted as a carrier escort.

In 1955, she was sent to Puget Sound for decommissioning, and over the next few decades was moored in Seattle, where she served as a popular tourist attraction. Approximately 250,000 guests visited Missouri each year.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan‘s administration looked to rebuild the Navy’s fleet, as a not-so-subtle threat to the USSR. Missouri was reactivated the same year and upgraded with the latest weapons and technology. This included the addition of four Mk 141 quad cell launchers for RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a quartet of Phalanx 0.8-inch .76-caliber Close In Weapon System rotary cannons and eight Mk 143 Armored Box Launcher mounts for Tomahawk missiles.

Three years later, Missouri was sent to Kuwait as part of Operation Earnest Will, having been outfitted with 25 mm chain guns and 40 mm grenade launchers. In January 1991, she arrived in the waters off the Persian Gulf in support of America’s efforts during Operation Desert Storm, tasked with destroying sea mines and providing fire support.

The USS Missouri‘s retirement and legacy

View of the USS Arizona Memorial
Today, the USS Missouri (BB-63) operates as a museum and faces the USS Arizona Memorial. (Photo Credit: Julia Thurston Photography / Getty Images)

Ronald Reagan brought the USS Missouri out of retirement as a check against the Soviet Union. However, by the mid-1990s, the USSR had dissolved and Russia was no longer a threat. As such, the US military was looking to cut costs, forcing the battleship back into retirement.

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At first, Missouri returned to Puget Sound, before being sent to Ford Island in 1998. That’s where she remains to this day, docked some 500 feet from the USS Arizona Memorial. Missouri faces the memorial, in a position symbolizing a permanent watch over those who lost their lives during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in psfk.com, foxsports.com, politicususa.com and hillreporter.com. He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.