The USS Missouri, also known as the “Mighty Mo,” is a historic Iowa-class battleship that served the United States Navy in three major conflicts: World War II, the Korean War, and the Gulf War.

Launched in 1944, the Missouri is most famously known as the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, which marked the official end of World War II.

Now preserved as a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri serves as a poignant reminder of military history and the enduring quest for global peace.

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The Birth Of Mighty Mo

The genesis of the USS Missouri (BB-63) was deeply intertwined with a critical period in global history. In 1940, the international geopolitical landscape was shifting with World War II engulfing nations into its deadly embrace.

Recognizing the necessity of a robust naval force to protect American interests and aid its allies, the United States ordered the construction of the USS Missouri.

This was a monumental decision as it led to the creation of the last battleship commissioned by the United States.

The honor of constructing this historic ship was bestowed upon the New York Naval Shipyard, also known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard. A facility with a rich history of shipbuilding since 1801 – it was a fitting birthplace for the Missouri.

On January 6, 1941, in the midst of a biting New York winter, the keel of the future battleship was laid, marking the official commencement of construction.

USS Missouri pictured here in August, 1944.

As with all battleships, constructing the Missouri was a complex, labor-intensive process that involved thousands of shipyard workers.

The Missouri was launched on January 29, 1944, approximately three years after her keel was laid.

Margaret Truman, the daughter of then-Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri, had the honor of christening the ship.

Thousands of spectators attended the event.

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Finally, on June 11, 1944, the USS Missouri was commissioned, signaling its official entry into the U.S. Navy’s fleet.

Command of this magnificent vessel was given to Captain William M. Callaghan.

Design And Armaments

The USS Missouri was an embodiment of the most advanced ship-building expertise of her time, manifesting in her design as an Iowa-class battleship.

This class was a symbol of a paradigm shift in naval strategy, with the emphasis shifting towards speed, protection, and firepower. The Missouri, in particular, was built to escort the fast new aircraft carriers that were becoming the core of naval fleets.

With a length of 887.3 feet and a beam (width) of 108.2 feet, the Missouri was a massive vessel. Her full-load displacement, the weight of the water displaced by the ship when fully loaded, was around 58,000 long tons. These dimensions made her one of the largest battleships ever built by the United States.

The Missouri’s propulsion system was a marvel of engineering. Four high-pressure boilers and geared steam turbines powered four propeller shafts. Together, these components produced an impressive 212,000 shaft horsepower.

This translated into a top speed of over 30 knots (about 35 mph), an extraordinary feat for a vessel of her size. This speed was crucial for the Missouri to effectively escort the aircraft carriers, which were faster than the traditional battleship.

The heart of the Missouri’s might lay in her armament. Her primary weapons were nine massive 16-inch/50-caliber Mark 7 guns, housed in three triple turrets. These guns could launch a 2,700-pound armor-piercing shell over 23 miles, creating a formidable offensive punch.

An aerial view of the Mighty Mo wearing camouflage, 1944.

Each shell was almost as tall as a man and could penetrate the most substantial armor, allowing the Missouri to engage enemy battleships successfully.

Complementing the main battery were the secondary armaments: twenty 5-inch/38-caliber guns installed in ten twin mounts.

These guns were dual-purpose, effective against both surface and air targets. They provided the Missouri with a solid defense against enemy aircraft and smaller naval vessels.

Additionally, the Missouri was fitted with an array of anti-aircraft weaponry. Over the years of her service, these were upgraded and varied but included potent weapons such as 20 mm and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns during World War II and later, missile systems during her modernization in the 1980s.

USS Missouri In WW2

The USS Missouri’s first real test came in the form of active service in the Pacific Theater during World War II. As the United States embarked on the grueling island-hopping campaign to push back against Japanese control in the Pacific, the Missouri was thrust into the heart of battle.

Her primary role was to provide firepower support for ground troops during amphibious operations, a task she accomplished during two pivotal battles: Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

At Iwo Jima in February 1945, the Missouri’s potent 16-inch guns rained destruction upon Japanese fortifications, clearing the way for the marines’ hard-fought but successful landing.

A closer look at the USS Missouri’s superstructure.

At Okinawa, from March to May 1945, the Missouri again played a crucial role. Her guns were instrumental in suppressing enemy artillery, aiding U.S. forces in securing the island after an intense 82-day battle.

The Missouri also partook in raids on the Japanese mainland, targeting industrial facilities in an attempt to cripple Japan’s war machine. These operations showcased the Missouri’s endurance and firepower, proving her worth in the Pacific Theater’s high-stakes environment.

The kamikaze attacks were a constant threat to the Missouri and the fleet she sailed with. These suicide missions undertaken by Japanese pilots aimed to crash their explosive-laden aircraft into Allied ships.

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One notable incident occurred on April 11, 1945, when a kamikaze plane struck the Missouri’s side.

The impact caused minor damage but the fire was quickly extinguished. The remains of the Japanese pilot were recovered, and in a poignant display of respect amidst war, the crew of the Missouri accorded him a military burial at sea.

The Symbol Of World Peace

In the chronicles of the USS Missouri, her role as a symbol of peace stands out as vividly as her war-time exploits.

The most significant event etching the Missouri into global history was the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on her decks on September 2, 1945. This ceremony officially ended World War II, marking the dawn of a new era of relative peace and restructuring.

The venue was deliberately chosen for its profound symbolism. It represented the might of the Allied forces and a place where two warring powers could meet on neutral grounds. In Tokyo Bay, aboard the USS Missouri, representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Allied powers assembled to make peace.

The Japanese surrender aboard the ship.

The ceremony was brief yet momentous.

Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu signed the Instrument of Surrender, officially acknowledging defeat and committing to the terms set by the Allies. General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, signed on behalf of all Allied nations.

The ceremony was meticulously documented, and the images of this historic event, with the massive guns of the Missouri as a backdrop, have since become iconic.

Post-World War II And The Korean War

However, global tensions did not ease for long. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 necessitated the reactivation of many military assets, and the Missouri was among them. In her new mission, she sailed to provide support for United Nations (UN) forces engaging North Korean troops.

During the Korean War, the Missouri was primarily tasked with providing naval gunfire support. Just as she had during World War II, the Missouri lent the weight of her 16-inch guns to support ground operations.

Over three tours in the war zone between 1950 and 1953, the Missouri proved instrumental in bombarding North Korean targets, offering critical aid to the ground troops and altering the course of several battles.

One of the significant operations involving the Missouri was the Inchon Landing in September 1950, an amphibious invasion intended to recapture the South Korean capital of Seoul.

The Missouri’s resilience during the Korean War reinforced her reputation as an indomitable warship. Despite the changing face of warfare and the looming obsolescence of battleships, the Missouri’s invaluable contributions earned her five battle stars during the Korean conflict.

The Cold War and Decommissioning

The Cold War, a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union following World War II, brought about significant changes in military strategy and technology.

This era saw a shift away from battleships towards a greater reliance on aircraft carriers, submarines, and missile technology. For the USS Missouri, this signaled another hiatus as she was decommissioned in February 1955, entering the Pacific Reserve Fleet.

However, in the 1980s, as part of President Ronald Reagan’s strategy to build a 600-ship Navy to counter the Soviet Union’s maritime power, the Missouri was recalled to active duty. Reagan’s plan envisioned a role for the Iowa-class battleships, including the Missouri, as a means to project American power on the high seas.

But the Missouri that was recommissioned in 1986 was not the same as the one decommissioned in the 1950s.

She underwent an extensive modernization program that significantly enhanced her capabilities.

In place of her previous secondary battery, the Missouri was fitted with four MK 141 quad cell launchers for 16 AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and eight Armored Box Launcher (ABL) mounts for 32 BGM-109 Tomahawk missiles. The Missouri also received four Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS) for defense against enemy missiles and aircraft.

USS Missouri in San Fransisco, 2006.

This modernization allowed her to carry and deploy some of the most advanced naval weaponry of the era.

The Missouri’s next and final combat operation came in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, the war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. She launched Tomahawk Cruise Missiles and fired her big guns in support of the coalition ground forces, marking the first time since the Korean War that an American battleship had fired her guns in anger.

In March 1992, after nearly half a century since her initial commissioning, the Missouri was decommissioned for the last time. The era of battleships had ended, but the legacy of the Missouri was far from over

USS Missouri Museum

The preservation of the USS Missouri as a museum was an initiative born out of the recognition of the ship’s immense historical significance. Today, the USS Missouri is more than just a well-preserved warship; it’s an educational hub that provides a tangible connection to the past.

Following her decommissioning in 1992, the Missouri was removed from the Naval Vessel Register in 1995. Thereafter, she was donated to the nonprofit USS Missouri Memorial Association of Honolulu, Hawaii.

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The organization was selected among several others due to its commitment to preserving the ship’s legacy and its promising plans to revitalize the Missouri as an interactive museum.

The task of transforming a decommissioned battleship into a museum is no small feat.

Extensive work was needed to make the Missouri safe and accessible for visitors while preserving as much of the ship’s original structure and appearance as possible. This included refurbishing the interiors, securing loose or dangerous fixtures, and establishing routes for visitors to navigate the massive ship.

The USS Missouri was opened to the public in January 1999, seven years after her final decommissioning. As part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, she is berthed facing the USS Arizona Memorial.

USS Missouri fires a salvo while on a shakedown, 1944.

Visitors to the museum can explore several parts of the ship, including the main deck, where the Instrument of Surrender was signed, and the below-deck areas, such as crew living quarters, the mess hall, and command centers.

Each area is curated with informative displays that narrate the history of the ship, her crew, and the events she participated in.

Education is a significant aspect of the museum’s function. It offers a variety of programs and resources for learners of all ages, including school groups and teachers.

These programs provide insight into the Missouri’s service across three wars and the broader context of these conflicts.

Preserving the USS Missouri as a museum has ensured that her historical importance is not forgotten. It offers the opportunity for future generations to explore and learn from the past.

The museum also serves as a tribute to all the servicemen who sailed aboard her, and the sacrifices they made in the line of duty. It’s a reminder of the crucial role that diplomacy and peace play in our world.