Close Up with a Battleship – The USS Iowa in Richmond

Yesterday we were able to find the time to drive up to the Port of Richmond (California, not Virginia) to see the USS Iowa, which is currently resting there awaiting a tow down to the Port of Los Angeles where it will become part of the Pacific Battleship Museum.

Google Maps Picture of the Iowa

Previously, since March 2011 to be specific, the Iowa sat tied up in Suisun Bay as part of the US Navy Reserve Fleet, and where I saw it whenever we were headed up to Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, or other points northeast.

Iowa at Suisun Bay, still in Google Maps

It was actually tough to get a measure of how big the Iowa was out at Suisun Bay since the cargo vessels it was tied up with are pretty big themselves.  But now we had a chance to set foot on the deck of the ship.

Unfortunately, years of sitting in the bay with little in the way of maintenance takes a toll.  Part of the work to be done is just to scrape off the rust and get things cleaned up.  So while we were allowed aboard the ship, we could only walk around the two forward 16″ (410mm) gun turrets.

Turrets 1 and 2

16" Guns with me for scale

A lot of the rest of the deck looked like this.

Rust never sleeps

Part of the problem, as it was explained to us, was that teak, the traditional wood used for the deck surface, and which holds up well in salt water conditions, was unavailable at some point, and so pine was substituted.  Pine, it seems, rots and lets the water through.  So there is a lot of scraping and painting to be done on the deck.

We were also kept about 100 feet back from the ship along the dock, by a chain link fence, thwarting close-up pictures, while buildings across the parking lot kept us from getting the whole ship in a single shot.  Still, we walked around and took pictures of the ship and some of the display that was setup in a warehouse.  As always, you can click on the pictures for the full size version.

5 inch mount

Me for scale against some hatches

Harpoon and Tomahawk Missile launchers

Turret three

16 inch shell and powder bags

Powder bags again

Harpoon missile

Iowa profile dockside

The USS Iowa tours in Richmond will last through the end of April.  There is no charge to visit the ship, but they are asking for donations to help fund the refurbishment.

Addendum: From the comments, an interesting story about some people sneaking into the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay. Includes a picture of the Iowa.

13 thoughts on “Close Up with a Battleship – The USS Iowa in Richmond

  1. bhagpuss

    Really interesting photos. Fabulous weather too. We had sleet and hail today.

    I still remember going on board a submarine that docked in my home town when I must have been about ten years old. Fascinating to visit but I really, really wouldn’t want to have to go to sea in one, nor on a battleship.


  2. Wayne

    I love getting to visit old naval ships, as naval history is a hobby of mine. My high school band got to play onboard the MIssouri in Pearl Harbor for a reenlistment ceremony. It was a great chance to visit Hawaii, but I enjoyed seeing the ship as much as Hawaii.

    Since then, we’ve been to see the Lexington down in Corpus Christi and the replica’s of Columbus’ ships that are in a museum there. Despite living in Houston for 6yrs, I’ve yet to go see the Texas which is nearby.

    Seeing the Constitution in Boston and Victory in London are something I’d like to do at some point.


  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    It was a bright and sunny day. I had my jacket with me as well, as getting near the bay can mean a chill, but I had to take that sweatshirt off when we got back to the car because I was too warm.

    There were a pack of Sea Scouts running around, directing traffic and helping out. They got to go into the ship at various times.


  4. Iggep

    Really enjoyed this post, being a retired sailor myself. I’ve been on the Iowa, but that was quite a while ago. In fact the last time was about a week before the turret explosion. Her sister ship, the Wisconsin is now a floating museum here in Norfolk, Virginia.

    The Iowa will be a marvel to behold again after a little work!


  5. Telke

    I have great memories of visiting the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum in NYC about twelve years ago (I was 9 or 10, so of course it was a standout trip). They’re definitely awesome vessels. There’s no chance of one appearing here, though; NZ’s green tendencies bans most of the american navy from entering our waters.


  6. NoAstronomer

    One of the Iowa’s sisters, the USS New Jersey, is moored in Camden, New Jersey, as a museum ship and I’ve been on board twice.

    Even after a lot of maintenance there’s still much decay in evidence around the ship in both the fittings and the deck. Incidentally the main reason for using teak as ships decks is because teak doesn’t get (as?) slippy when wet.

    The New Jersey has many rooms opened up for guided or self guided tours. Including the captains and admirals quarter. If I recall correctly you can access the deck where Admiral Halsey stood when the New Jersey was his flagship. The bridge and conning tower are also open.

    The highlights for me though were the 5″ and 16″ mounts. Despite their huge size the 16″ turrets are incredibly cramped inside.

    Hopefully you can take the full tour when the Iowa joins the museum.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Kevin – I actually remember the phrase more from the Rust-Oleum commercials from when I was a kid that the Neil Young album… so the obscure source for an obscure reference or something.

    In dragging my daughter along to the Iowa, in which she had little interest, she did want to know if it was the most famous battleship or something.

    I said it might be the second most famous surviving US battleship. (Though how do you rank that sort of thing?) It was the class leader for the last US battleships built, and there is the whole bathtub thing and the explosion in turret 2. But the Missouri is probably more famous having been the location for the signing of the Japanese instrument of surrender at the end of WWII… and because Cher filmed a music video on its fore deck.


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I think you should have been more clear in your statement there Pia. That link goes to a site with pictures from somebody who was sneaking around the mothball fleet at Suisun Bay, including the Iowa and the Sea Shadow.

    Those are not abandoned ships, but part of the Navy Reserve Fleet. They have been stored away with the idea that we might need them some day.

    But an interesting link none the less.


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