North Korea vs. the U.S. Navy's Most Powerful Battleships: Who Wins This Fight?

Robert Farley

Key Point: By 1958, all four Iowas had returned to the reserve fleet. Although they performed their shore bombardment role effectively, but not really any more effectively than the smaller, cheaper heavy cruisers

In the final months of the Second World War, the battleships of the U.S. Navy (USN) ranged across the archipelago of Japan, bombarding industrial, military and logistical targets at will. The Japanese military lacked enough ships, planes and fuel to defend the nation, leaving coastal areas at the mercy of the steel behemoths. Although most of the credit (such that it is) for the destruction of urban Japan belongs to the bombers of the U.S. Army Air Force, the battleships and cruisers of the navy contributed their share.

At the end of the war, most of the USN’s battleships were scrapped, sunk as targets or placed into reserve. When the United States went to war again, earlier than anyone had expected, three battleships of the Iowa class returned to service, joining their sister USS Missouri off the coast of Korea. For three years, these ships would rain terror down upon North Korean and Chinese forces.

Response and Reactivation: 

The ferocity and efficiency of the North Korean offensive of June 1950 into South Korea took everyone, including the U.S. Navy, by surprise. Nevertheless, local forces quickly responded, including the Oregon City-class heavy cruiser USS Rochester, which used its eight-inch guns to soften beaches at Inchon and elsewhere. USS Missouri, the only U.S. battleship to have remained operational since World War II, arrived in Korean waters on September 19, 1950. In a few weeks she would conduct extensive shore bombardments along the coast of North Korea. Missouri continued to provide fire support after the tide of war turned in November; in December, she conducted bombardments to ensure the survival of U.S. troops retreating from the People’s Liberation Army’s surprise offensive.

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