USS New Jersey to travel the Delaware River in 2024, headed for repairs
| December 26, 2023
The nation’s most decorated battleship and a beloved tourist attraction, the USS New Jersey, is expected to be towed along the Delaware River next year for the first time in more than 30 years for maintenance.
“One day all of our World War II veterans will have passed away,” said Ryan Szimanski, vice president of curatorial and education for the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial. “But the ship will still be a memorial to them and a reminder to wars like that.”
The battleship will make its home at Philadelphia Shipyard Dry Dock No. 3, the spot where this legendary war machine was built from 1940 to 1943.
At a dry dock, the water surrounding a vessel is drained, allowing shipwrights to inspect and address potential damage. Museum vessels are expected to undergo these inspections every 20 years, according to the Battleship New Jersey. Priorities for the upcoming maintenance include repainting the hull and removing marine growth.
Workers will also inspect “through-hull openings” (which allow water and gas to enter and exit the ship) and replace “anodes,” which help fight corrosion from the briny water, according to the Battleship New Jersey.
Part of work is being funded by $5 million from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a “state agency dedicated to the advancement of public knowledge and preservation of New Jersey history,” according to its website. Another $3.25 million was loaned by the Camden County Improvement Authority.
Dan Keashen, director of public affairs for the authority, explained that the money would be transferred to the Home Port Alliance, the ship’s organizational stewards. He said revenue from the museum should be able to pay back the loan over the next 20 years.
The USS New Jersey is known as an “Iowa-class” battleship, the biggest, fastest and most heavily armed naval war machine of its era.
It joined three other Iowa-class vessels in World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and the Gulf War.
They battled fiercely against enemy airplanes, ships and shorelines; escorted carriers and sailed U.S. soldiers to safety.
In World War II, the USS New Jersey led the Pacific Fleet into the biggest naval battle of the conflict, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, in 1944. No other Iowa-class ship faced more combat in WWII, according to the ship’s website.
The battleship won 19 battle and campaign stars through its service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf Wars, making her the most decorated battleship in American history, the most of any surviving U.S. Navy ship, and the second-most decorated ship in American history, according to the battleship’s website.
“She was launched on the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and went on to steam more miles, fight in more battles, and fire more shells in combat than any other battleship in history,” the site says.
Age increasing, spending decreasing
Yet as the Soviet threat to the West dissipated, so did the U.S. defense budget.
Battleships with large crews felt “uneconomical,” according to the Battleship New Jersey website. An unexplained, “catastrophic” explosion from a 16-inch gun aboard the USS Iowa (in April1989) also brought attention to these ships’ ages and their guns, the site says.
In 1991, the USS New Jersey was decommissioned for the fourth and final time.
But even as early as the 1970s, numerous organizations were banding together to acquire the battleship as New Jersey state property.
By the late 1990s, there were two contenders vying for it: the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission, which wanted her moored in Northern New Jersey; and the Home Port Alliance for the Battleship New Jersey, which wanted the ship in Camden, close to its hometown of Philadelphia.
In January 2000, the Home Port Alliance’s proposal won.
Over 25,000 people flocked to watch the USS New Jersey return down the Delaware, including the tugboat that first launched the ship to sea in 1942.
The ship was finally laid to rest at its own ceremonial pier in 2001, and the museum officially opened that October. As of 2021, the Battleship New Jersey Museum welcomed an average of 80,000 visitors per year.