The USS North Carolina, known as the “Showboat,” was a World War II-era battleship that played a pivotal role in the Pacific Theater, earning 15 battle stars for its significant contributions to major naval offensives against Japan.

Commissioned in 1941 and built at the New York Naval Shipyard, it showcased advanced design specifications and impressive firepower.

Today, anchored in Wilmington, North Carolina, it stands as a living museum and memorial, honoring the sacrifices of World War II veterans and offering insights into naval history.

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Design Of The USS Carolina

The USS North Carolina showcased a sleek and impressive design with a length of 728 feet 9 inches and a beam of 108 feet 4 inches, making it one of the largest battleships of its time. The draft, the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull, was approximately 35 feet when the ship was fully loaded. With a standard displacement of about 35,000 tons and a full load displacement nearing 44,000 tons, the USS North Carolina was a maritime giant.

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The primary firepower of the USS North Carolina came from its nine 16-inch/45 caliber Mark 6 guns, which were arranged in three triple turrets. These guns could fire projectiles weighing over 2,000 pounds to distances exceeding 20 miles.

USS North Carolina under construction in 1941.

In addition to its primary armament, the ship was equipped with twenty 5-inch/38 caliber guns in ten twin mounts, which served both anti-aircraft and surface action roles. For close-in anti-aircraft defense, the battleship originally sported a series of quad 1.1-inch machine guns, but these were quickly replaced by 40mm Bofors and 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns as the war progressed and threats evolved.

The USS North Carolina featured robust armor protection. Its main belt, which is the primary armor protection on the sides of the ship, was 12 inches thick, designed to protect the ship against shellfire. The turret faces, which housed the primary armament, were shielded by up to 16 inches of armor.

Furthermore, the ship’s deck was armored with a thickness ranging between 5.5 inches to 1.4 inches, providing substantial protection from plunging fire and aerial bombs.

USS North Carolina launched at New York Navy Yard.

Underneath its armored surface, the USS North Carolina was powered by four General Electric steam turbines. These turbines were fed by eight Babcock & Wilcox boilers, providing the battleship with a top speed of 28 knots. The propulsion system was capable of producing an impressive 121,000 shaft horsepower. This combination of power and engineering enabled the USS North Carolina to move with a swiftness that belied its massive size.

Another aspect of the ship’s design that showcased its versatility was its capability to launch and recover seaplanes, which were used for reconnaissance and spotting for the ship’s main guns. The USS North Carolina initially came equipped with three Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes. These aircraft were launched using catapults situated on the ship’s stern and were recovered using cranes after landing in the water nearby.

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The USS North Carolina (BB-55) was constructed at the New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn, New York. The keel of this majestic battleship was laid on October 27, 1937, marking the formal beginning of its construction. After years of intricate craftsmanship and engineering, the ship was launched on June 13, 1940. Following further outfitting and rigorous sea trials, the USS North Carolina was officially commissioned into the United States Navy on April 9, 1941.

USS North Carolina In World War II

As the United States faced the challenge of countering Japan’s expanding maritime empire, the USS North Carolina’s debut in the Pacific was marked by its involvement in the Guadalcanal campaign in 1942. This campaign was the Allies’ first major offensive against the Japanese Empire, aiming to halt its southern expansion and provide a launch point for future operations in the Pacific.

A view of USS North Carolina during her shakedown cruise in May 1941.

Throughout this campaign, the battleship played a multifaceted role. It not only provided artillery support for landing troops but also safeguarded the precious aircraft carriers, which were becoming the primary targets for the Japanese naval forces.

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One of the most notable moments during its service was its participation in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. This battle was a part of the larger Guadalcanal campaign and saw the USS North Carolina defending the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise from a concerted attack by Japanese aircraft.

The Showboat’s formidable anti-aircraft capabilities were on full display, as it helped repel waves of Japanese bombers, thus securing the fleet’s position and ensuring the Enterprise could continue its vital role in the Pacific.

USS North Carolina pictured during World War II off the Philippines, December 1944.

But the USS North Carolina’s involvement in the Pacific was not limited to Guadalcanal. The ship played a role in every major naval offensive against Japan, from the Solomon Islands to Okinawa. Its responsibilities ranged from bombarding enemy shore positions, which softened defenses ahead of Allied invasions, to providing anti-aircraft defense for the fleet, ensuring the survival of other vital naval assets.

The battleship’s service was not without peril. In 1942, it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, sustaining significant damage. However, the ship’s robust design and the swift actions of its crew ensured its survival, and it was soon repaired and back in action.

Legacy

The legacy of the USS North Carolina extends far beyond its active years of service during World War II. After the conclusion of the war and its subsequent decommissioning in 1947, the ship faced the potential fate of being scrapped, as many wartime vessels were. However, the inherent value of the USS North Carolina, both in terms of historical importance and national sentiment, spurred efforts to ensure its preservation.

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A passionate campaign began in the late 1950s to save the ship from the scrapyard. This campaign was driven not just by naval enthusiasts and historians, but by the citizens of North Carolina themselves.

The Showboat being towed to her final resting place in North Carolina, October 1961.

Recognizing the battleship’s significance and the honor it brought to their state’s name, residents, including school children, raised funds to secure its future. Their efforts were successful, leading to the ship’s triumphant journey back to its namesake state.

In 1961, the USS North Carolina was anchored at Wilmington, North Carolina, and was dedicated as a memorial to the state’s World War II veterans and the 10,000 North Carolinians who died during the war. This momentous occasion marked the beginning of the ship’s second life, not as an instrument of war, but as an instrument of education and remembrance.

Today, the USS North Carolina stands as a living museum, offering visitors a tangible connection to the past.