Commissioning and Purpose
The USS New Jersey was commissioned as a part of the Iowa class of battleships, the last such ships the US Navy ever built. Large gunships like those in the Iowa class were being phased out. Maritime naval action used to hinge on having the bigger ships with bigger guns, but the advent of the aircraft carrier changed offensive strategies to revolve around aerial range and mobility.
Battleships nevertheless played a pivotal role in World War II. Instead of being used to prevail in ship-to-ship battles, they were used for land bombardment and as part of aircraft carrier screens. Along with destroyers and cruisers, they protected carriers, forming screens meant to detect and engage enemies at a distance (allowing the carriers time to launch their aircraft). The Iowa-class battleships had the fortune of being fast enough to keep up with aircraft carriers, making them an ideal, if somewhat overpowered, part of a carrier task force.
The USS New Jersey used her immense power to full effect throughout its career, however, employing her massive guns, heavy armor, and high speed to master enemy forces for almost five decades.
The USS New Jersey was initially outfitted with 158 guns – 129 anti-aircraft cannons, 20 five-inch guns used for long-range targeted fire, and 9x large ordinance: 16-inch guns capable of firing multiple types of highly destructive projectiles.
The USS New Jersey’s 16” guns were her trademark, capable of being brought to bear against land and surface targets alike. The two main types of armament were super-heavy armor-piercing shells and shells with a high-explosive payload. The armor-piercing rounds were capable of penetrating the thick steel armor of ships’ hulls and decks, as well as inflicting massive structural damage on buildings, bridges, bunkers, and other installations. The high-explosive rounds were used against personnel concentrations and for shore bombardments.
In 1982, the USS New Jersey received a weapons systems overhaul in which it received modernized weaponry to compliment its trusty 16” guns. The modernization added new targeting and communications technology, as well as 32 BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles for land targets and 16 RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
She was also made into a veritable fortress. Four 20 mm Phalanx weapon systems, automated machine guns capable of shooting down incoming missiles and aircraft, defended her against aerial attacks. Eight mark 36 Super Rapid Bloom Offboard Chaff Rocket Launchers could send payloads of chaff into the air to shield her from anti-ship missiles launched from other ships or land installations. And the AN/SLQ-25 Nixie Decoy System, a towed torpedo decoy, protected her from underwater attacks.
Throughout her years of service, the New Jersey won battle stars in four major conflicts, receiving nine in World War II, four in Korea, two in Vietnam and another four in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf.
She was awarded no less than 20 service awards, including the Navy Unit Commendation and the Navy Expeditionary Medal.
She remains to date the most decorated battleship in United States naval history.