Wilmington, NC – I love visiting museum ships. I visited the USS Alabama (BB-60) in Mobile, AL once as a child and again a few years ago so this visit to the USS North Carolina (BB-55) was my second battleship. The USS North Carolina is the namesake of the two ship North Carolina class battleships (the class just before the South Dakota class, of which the USS Alabama was a part); her sister ship was the USS Washington (BB-56). Laid down in October 1937, the USS North Carolina was commissioned on 9 April 1941. She saw service in the Atlantic as part of a blocking force against the German battleship Tirpitz but later switched to the Pacific Theater, serving in the Guadalcanal Campaign (where she was hit by a Japanese torpedo), the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign, and the Marianas Campaign, the Iwo Jima Campaign, the Okinawa Campaign, and operations around the Japanese home islands. She was decommissioned on 27 June 1947 and struck from the Naval Vessel Registry in 1960. In 1961, she was transferred to the State of North Carolina and opened as a museum ship and memorial. In 1982, she was designated a National Historic Landmark. Restoration and repairs continue to this day; while I was visiting, workers were doing restoration work on the interior during the slow tourism season and a contract has been let out to do repair work on the hull.
The Engine Room that is open to visitors is one of the best ones I’ve visited on a museum ship. They have a video screen set up over the reduction gear that shows videos of USS North Carolina veterans describing how the equipment works and about their experiences working in the engine room. They have done a great job describing how the boilers and turbines drive the reduction gear and you can look down below to one of the huge shafts coming from one of the more forward engine rooms. If you pay attention, you come away with a really good idea of what it took to make a ship this big move.
The reasons for the USS North Carolina‘s existence, however, are her guns. Her main battery consists of three Mk 6 16 inch turrets with three guns apiece. Her secondary batter consists of ten (five on each side of the ship) Mk 28/3 5 inch turrets with two guns apiece. In addition, she is covered with 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns and 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. Not only could she pack a huge punch with her main battery, but she could also provide a lot of anti-aircraft protection for a carrier group with her anti-aircraft armament. A good job has also been done showing how the separate projectiles and powder bags/cartridges for the main and secondary batteries were moved from the magazines below decks to the turrets topside. Controlling and aiming the guns were a network of directing devices above deck and plotting systems below deck, which are also on display.
In 1964, a Vought OS2U Kingfisher scouting/spotter floatplane was donated to the USS North Carolina. It had crashed in British Columbia, Canada during the War and had been salvaged and restored prior to donation. The Kingfishers were launched from battleships and cruisers using steam catapults. The USS North Carolina had two, one on each side of the stern. They were recovered by a crane that was in the center of the stern after landing in the water next to the ship.
The USS North Carolina’s radio equipment is well displayed, too. Radio Central is on display with gear at multiple positions as is the Radio Central Supervisor Station. The adjacent Coding Room is also open to visitors. Other radio equipment, such as an Antenna Trunk, which fed the transmitter signals from the radio rooms to the antennas on deck. A think piece of copper wire inside a copper lined steel channel, the trunk carried up to 500 watts on HF frequencies. Above deck, near the funnels, you can see where the wire HF antennas connected to the feed systems.