The USS North Carolina is the first battleship of its kind to be built. It was built under the Washington Treaty system for the United States Navy. It tops the North Carolina class of fast battleships. Building the ship began in 1937. It was finished in April 1941.
It was built when America was neutral during the Second World War. This meant the design was the same as a treaty battleship. The ship had to have limited armament and displacement.
The United States was however able to use a clause in the Second London Naval Treaty. The treaty allowed for an increase in the main battery. The ship ended up having an increased armament of nine 16 inch guns. The original design required nine 14 inch guns.
During her career, North Carolina had many improvements. It got better anti-aircraft batteries and radar upgrades. Some notable upgrades include; 1. In November 1942 · Three Mark 3 fire-control radar sets – These were for the main battery. They were done in November 1942 · Four Mark 4 radars – These were for the secondary guns. · CXAM air-search radar · SG surface search radar 2. A refit in 1944 that included · An SK air search radar – This replaced the CXAM radar · A second SG radar · Mark 8 sets – To replace the Mark 3 radars. One Mark 3 radar was retained as a backup · A combination of Mark 12 and Mark 22 sets – To replace the Mark 4 radars The Second World War ended as the ship’s original 20mm battery was reduced to smaller versions. It now had 20 single mounts and 8 twin mounts.
The USS North Carolina joined Task Force 16 into the Guadalcanal campaign. The unit included; 1. Enterprise: An aircraft carrier 2. Portland: A heavy cruiser 3. Atlanta: A light cruiser 4. Six destroyers The unit was part of a larger Task Force 61. Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher commanded the larger unit. It covered the 1st Marine Division landing on Guadalcanal. They were to seize the Japanese airfield that was being constructed. The task force included Wasp and Saratoga. The first invasion took place on August 7th. They faced little resistance. The USS North Carolina covered the Enterprise. She remained to protect Enterprise from air attacks by the Japanese. The fleet was attacked on the night of August 9th. They were attacked by a Japanese cruiser squadron. The attack meant a huge defeat in the Battle of Savo Island. The Navy considered attacking back but quickly retreated. The need to protect the carrier task forces was greater than a revenge response. Norman Friedman is a naval analyst. He highlighted how effective the 5-inch guns on Enterprise and North Carolina were. He also noted the ship faced problems with tracking targets using the fire control radar. This, he said, was because of a combination of maneuvering factors. There was a lot of vibration from steaming at high speeds. The friendly and hostile crafts in the air also contributed greatly. Other observers gave positive reviews of her performance. The captain credited the ship with shooting down half a dozen aircraft. The Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet commended North Carolina’s 5-inch fire. She said the ship was effective in stopping and slowing down attacks from the Japanese.
The fleet designated to attack the Gilberts was put in Task Force 50. It was then separated into different task groups. The assaults began on Tarawa, Makin, and Abemama. North Carolina was joined by other vessels. These were Indiana, Massachusetts, six destroyers, and a pair of light carriers. The ship covered the carriers while they invaded the islands on November 19th. After they secured the islands, the task force was involved in a number of raids. These happened in the central Pacific. They did the attacks in preparation for the attack on the Mariana Islands. Between March 31st and April 1st, the fleet conducted the first attack on Woleai and Palau. A Japanese aircraft was shot down by North Carolina. In the time leading to May 1st, the fleet was involved in several attacks, which led to; · Sailing south during the New Guinea campaign. They offered assistance to the landing of the US Army. This happened at Hollandia. · An attack on Truk. · Rescuing a drowned pilot who crashed off a reef · Bombarding Pohnpei, which ended up in destroying Japanese artillery batteries. They also damaged the airfield on the island and their anti-aircraft guns. Afterward, North Carolina left for Pearl Harbor. The ship’s rudder needed repairs.
The USS North Carolina was decommissioned in New York. This happened on June 27th, 1947. The ship was placed in reserve. The Navy considered modernizing it for different purposes. Some of the proposals included; 1. Increasing the ship’s speed to 31 knots - This would need a substantial reduction in displacement. It would also require a propulsion system that was more powerful. The problem with the displacement could be sorted by removing the rear turret. The speed issue would need a power plant placed at the rear and there was little space for it in the hull. 2. Converting the ship into a helicopter carrier – This plan would need the removal of all her guns. They would be replaced by a flight deck. There would also be facilities for 28 helicopters and a battery for 16 three-inch guns. It would be cheaper to buy a new helicopter carrier that reconstructed the USS.
The ship requires constant work to maintain. On November 10th, 1982, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. They hold campaigns to gain funds for repairs to the vessel. In 1998, the museum held a donation drive known as Operation Ship Shape. The money received from the drive was used to repair the ship’s hull.
The hull had been corroded and the thickness of 0.625 – 0.75 inches had reduced to a mere 0.15 inches. Instead of relocating the ship to a dry dock for the repairs, they put up a cofferdam. It was placed around the hull to pump out the water. The hull was also painted anew. A walkway was put up for visitors to gain views from all sides. This was funded by the SECU Foundation.
Repairs to the ship’s hull began in 2019.