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The Last American Battleship: 10 Facts About the USS Missouri

The USS Missouri is one of the most famous battleships in the world, predominantly as it is the site where Japan officially surrendered to the Allies by signing the ‘Instrument of Surrender’ on 2 September 1945, ending World War Two.

The USS Missouri was the last American battleship ever built, and as well as its service in World War Two, the USS Missouri also served in the Korean War and the Gulf War, and has made several prominent media appearances since it was decommissioned. Today, it is docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and is open to the public as a museum.

Here are 10 facts about the USS Missouri.

1. It launched on 29 January 1944

The USS Missouri (BB-63) was launched from the Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn. Its sponsor was Mary Margaret Truman, daughter of then-Senator Harry S. Truman of Missouri.

Despite being created near the end of World War Two, USS Missouri still managed to take part in a number of significant Allied operations in the Pacific Theatre, in particular the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the shelling of the Japanese home islands.

(Missouri had also previously been the target of a Japanese kamikaze plane on 11 April 1945, and was struck on her starboard side. However the crew were able to put out the resulting fire before it spread, meaning the ship only sustained minimal damage.)

2. It was armed with 158 guns of different types

The USS Missouri was armed with nine 16-inch guns, 20 five-inch guns, 80 40mm anti-aircraft guns, and 49 20mm anti-aircraft guns, making it a formidable opponent on the battlefield.

3. The USS Missouri was 270.4 metres long and 33 metres wide

It had a displacement of 45,000 tons and a crew of 2,700 sailors and officers.

The ship was powered by four General Electric steam turbines, each driving one screw propeller, using steam provided by eight oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers. The turbines were intended to give a top speed of 32.5 knots (37.4 mph), and the ship had a cruising range of 15,000 nautical miles (17,000 miles) at a speed of 15 knots (17 mph).

4. Its nickname was the ‘Mighty Mo’

This nickname is a tribute to the USS Missouri’s powerful armament and formidable size.

The ship was part of the Iowa class of battleships and was one of the largest and most heavily armed battleships ever built and designed to be faster and more heavily armed than its predecessors. Its construction was a massive undertaking that involved thousands of workers and cost millions of dollars.

5. The USS Missouri was the last battleship ever completed for the US Navy and the last to be decommissioned

Although her sister-ship, USS Wisconsin, had a higher hull number (BB-64), she was completed before Missouri. Plans for two more Iowa-class battleships, as well as an entire Montana class (slower and larger with better armour and superior firepower), were later cancelled, as US Navy priorities shifted to the Essex-class aircraft carrier.

6. It was the site of the surrender of the Japanese Empire on 2 September 1945

This event officially marked the end of World War Two. The ceremony took place on the deck of the ship in Tokyo Bay, presided over by General Douglas MacArthur.

Japanese Commanders aboard USS Missouri for the official surrender.
Japanese Commanders stand aboard USS Missouri at the official surrender ceremony. Image Credit: CC / Army Signal Corps

7. The USS Missouri took part in several other conflicts after World War Two

The ship became the first battleship to host a helicopter detachment in 1948, and later served during the Korean War, providing support via shore bombardment and anti-aircraft cover (the first American battleship to reach Korean waters).

Missouri sailed again in 1986, heading for the Middle East as part of Operation Ernest Will (accompanying oil tankers in the North Arabian Sea) and also saw action during the 1991 Gulf War in Operation Desert Storm. It fired Tomahawk missiles and served as a launching pad for attacks on Iraqi targets. Its crew also helped to clear mines from the Persian Gulf.

8. Several famous people served on the USS Missouri during their military careers

These include astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was a pilot on the ship during the Korean War, and journalist Bob Woodward, who served as a communications officer during the Vietnam War.

9. It was decommissioned in 1992 and starred in various films

After this, the ship was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, who restored it and opened the ship to the public as a museum in 1999.

However, prior to the museum opening, Missouri played a role in several films including Under Siege (1992) and Battleship (2012), and also served as the location for the pop-star Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ music video, which the Navy later regretted.

10. The USS Missouri received numerous awards and honours during its service

These include the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the World War Two Victory Medal, and the Korean Service Medal. It also earned nine battle stars for its service during World War Two, three battle stars for its service during the Korean War, and one battle star for its service during the Gulf War.

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