Known as the “Big J” or “Black Dragon,” USS New Jersey (BB-62) has the distinction of being one of the most decorated battleships to have served in the U.S. Navy, while she was also among the largest warships ever built. The second of the Iowa-class, which were the final battleships to enter service with the United States Navy, she was designed as a “fast battleship” that could travel with a carrier force and take the fight to the Japanese during World War II. She was also the only U.S. battleship to provide gunfire support during the Vietnam War.
USS New Jersey Facts
Often referred to fondly by her crew as “Big J,” during the Second World War she was also known as the “Black Dragon” due to her being painted in the dark Navy Blue 5-N on vertical surfaces and Deck Blue, 20-B, on horizontal surfaces.
The dark single-color Camouflage Measure 21 was employed early in the war on many smaller vessels, including destroyers, to make it difficult for them to be seen at night. That particular color was maintained from her launching until June 1945, when she was repainted in the horizontal “two-tone” Camouflage Measure 22, which was used throughout the rest of the World War II era.
Ship of Admirals
BB-62 was designed to be a flagship – meaning she would lead United States Naval fleets into battle. Her first combat action came when she served in the Fifth Fleet under Adm. Raymond A. Spruance and provided fire support during the landings on the Marshal Islands. Her 16-inch guns were next employed on Saipan and Tinian, while she also screened the American aircraft carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where the anti-aircraft fire from New Jersey and other screening ships proved virtually impenetrable.
USS New Jersey next served as the flagship of Adm. William F. Halsey’s Third Fleet, and took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf; and as part of Rear Adm. Oscar C. Badger II, commander of Battleship Division 7, supported the assault on Iwo Jima and then Okinawa.
Highly Decorated Warship
It isn’t just the crews that earn medals. Warships are given a variety of accolades – highlighting the deeds of the entire crew. In total, USS New Jersey earned nine battle stars for service in the Second World War, four more for Korea, three for the Vietnam War and three for actions in Lebanon and the Persian Gulf Region.
The warship also received the Navy Unit Commendation for Vietnam service, as well as the Presidential Unit Citation from the Republic of the Philippines, and the Presidential Unit Citation from the Republic of Korea. This has made her the most decorated battleship in U.S. history.
Her First Retirements
After the Second World War, many of the U.S. Navy’s majestic battleships were broken up and sold for scrap. Fortunately USS New Jersey avoided such a fate. While she was decommissioned, she remained in the reserve fleet and was returned to duty during the Korean War, where BB-62 served as the flagship for Vice Admiral Harold M. Martin. On May 20, 1951 she fired her first short bombardment in the conflict, and took part in multiple subsequent seaborne sorties against Communist targets.
USS New Jersey remained active until 1957 when she was decommissioned a second time. However, she was briefly called up during the Vietnam War – becoming the only battleship to take part in the conflict in Southeast Asia, from 1967-69. During that time, the warship fired more than 5,600 rounds from her 16-inch guns and nearly 15,000 from the five-inch guns. While preparing for a second Vietnam tour, she was ordered inactivated and decommissioned in December 1969.
Back to Service Again
In the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan called for a 600-ship U.S. Navy, all four Iowa-class battleships were reactivated and upgraded. That included new combat systems that replaced many of the ships’ smaller five-inch guns with launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles and four Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS). USS New Jersey and her sister battleships were rearmed for the threats of the late Cold War.
The battleship again fired her big guns in combat during the Lebanon crisis of 1983-84 and later deployed to the western Pacific in 1986 and 1989-90, with the latter cruise extending to the Persian Gulf area.
30 Sep 1968 — The battleship USS New Jersey fires its 16-inch guns into the demilitarized zone here 9/30. These were the first shells fired by the New Jersey in the Vietnamese war. The vessel is the only battleship on active duty in the U.S. Navy.
The Iowa-class battleship USS New Jersey fires at positions near Beirut on 9 January 1984 during the Lebanese Civil War.
USS New Jersey (BB 62) fires her 16” guns during a training exercise at San Clemente Island during fleet training exercises conducted off the coast of California. Photographed, July 15, 1968. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Saved as a Museum
In 1991 she was decommissioned for a final time, and eight years later USS New Jersey was towed from Bremerton to Philadelphia in preparation for final berthing as a museum ship in Camden, New Jersey. The “Big J” was opened to the public as a museum ship on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.
The New Jersey opened as museum ship on October 15, 2001, and since that time it has continued to preserve the warship’s history while also being among the most interactive museums in the country. Guided tours are available, but visitors can explore the ship and walk on more than seven different decks, which helps show how massive the battleship was – and it is easy to see how more than 1,900 sailors could easily call the ship home.
She is in good company – as just across the Delaware River is the Spanish-American War era U.S. Navy flagship USS Olympia (C-6), which has also been preserved as a museum ship.
Fighting For Her Life
The greatest threat to the USS New Jersey isn’t Japanese kamikaze or even Russian hypersonic missiles. It is the New Jersey elements, which have taken a toll on the ship’s deck and hull. It reportedly costs $10,000 per day to keep the museum ship afloat on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia.
USS New Jersey. Image Credit: US Navy.
An overhead view of the battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) firing a full broadside to starboard during a main battery firing exercise.
The Nos. 1 and 2 Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber guns are fired during a main battery firing exercise aboard the battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62).
An aerial port bow view of the battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62) launching an RGM-84 Harpoon missile on the Pacific Missile Test Center Range.
The Battleship New Jersey Memorial and Museum, which is located on the Camden waterfront on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia, was recently awarded a $500,000 Preserve New Jersey Historic Preservation Fund Grant that will help refurbish the deck and take on other needed maintenance.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.
In this article:Battleships, History, Military, USS New Jersey, Vietnam War, World War II