The USS New Jersey in Camden before its sendoff to dry dock on Thursday.
The USS New Jersey in Camden before its sendoff to dry dock on Thursday.

Battleship New Jersey is sent to dry dock with flourish and fanfare

| March 22, 2024

Tugboats performed a balletic maneuver on the Delaware River in Camden, N.J., on Thursday to redirect the most decorated battleship in the history of the U.S. Navy, the USS New Jersey, to dry dock for repairs for the first time in decades.

The 45,000-ton battleship’s counterclockwise movement drew applause by mostly gloved hands in a crowd of onlookers and gasps of “Oh, my God! She’s moving!”

The hulking battleship, which was in active duty for more than 21 years, served in World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, during the Cold War and conflicts in the Middle East. The ship was ultimately decommissioned, restored as a museum and moved to the Camden waterfront where it’s been berthed since 2001.

That is, until Thursday.

Amid fanfare and flourishes that included an honor guard, speeches and a helicopter flyover, the ship was guided by tugboats away from the pier, turned around in the middle of the Delaware and headed south about six miles to the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, where it will be prepared for dry docking at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Those in the crowd included active members of the military as well as veterans who displayed their past service on their caps or jackets.

Helicopter flyover and gun salute.

After a spell of moderate weather, the temperatures on Thursday were sharply more winter-like as attendees on the waterfront huddled against the cold. At times, the wind blew so hard and the American flags crackled so loudly that the speeches over the loudspeakers were nearly drowned out.

At the sendoff ceremony, which featured the Camden Creative Arts High School Band, dignitaries paid homage to the ship and its roles in American naval history.

“There is no battleship that comes close to the legacy of our blessed Battleship New Jersey,” Gov. Phil Murphy said after outlining a storied history that earned the ship 19 Battle and Campaign stars.

Most decorated battleship

The New Jersey is 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 its 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.

A helicopter flyover was part of the celebration of the USS New Jersey before it headed to dry dock. Photo by Chris Mele

Marshall Spevak, the chief executive of the Battleship New Jersey, described the New Jersey’s service as “really a tapestry of 45,000 sailors and Marines.”

The New Jersey belongs to the Iowa class of battleships, which were the fastest and longest of their kind. (The New Jersey is 887 feet, 7 inches long. By way of comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet tall.)

The New Jersey, which boasts massive 16-inch guns and numerous 5-inch guns, saw more combat in WWII of any Iowa-class battleship.

Spevak noted that the story of the battleship was “a uniquely New Jersey one.”

“Ultimately, she’s just another in a long line of truly great Jersey girls,” he said. “She’s not scared to strut her stuff, and we really know she’s not taking nothing from nobody. Best of all, she has the firepower to back it up.”

A homecoming to Philadelphia

During an invocation, Lt. Cmdr. James Johnson, a Navy chaplain, expressed thanks for the time for the USS New Jersey “as she sailed in waters of calm, served in the waters of conflict, and has sat here in the waters of Camden.”

Against a deep blue sky with puffs of white clouds, the ship was overseen by a flotilla of police and U.S. Coast Guard vessels, which enforced a 500-yard safety zone during the towing operations.

In advance of its departure, workers unhooked mooring lines from posts in the river as five other workers on the ship’s deck, in a tug-of-war formation, heaved the thick rope aboard.

As the New Jersey was about to leave its dock, a large U.S. flag onboard was unfurled and flapped stiffly in the strong winds.

After a brief stay at the Paulsboro Marine Terminal, the battleship is set to depart on March 27 to the Navy Yard for maintenance — its first in 32 years.

The arrival in Philadelphia will make something of a homecoming, as the ship was built in the yard and commissioned for service from there on May 23, 1943.

During its two months at a dry dock, the water surrounding the battleship will be drained, allowing shipwrights to inspect and address potential damage. 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. 

Spevak took note of the immense work leading up to the dry dock ceremonies, particularly of the fundraising needed. Part of work is being funded by $5 million from the New Jersey Historical Commission. Another $3.25 million was loaned by the Camden County Improvement Authority.

“Getting to today felt almost as gigantic as the battleship itself,” he said. 

A history of the most decorated battleship in the history of the U.S. Navy. Photo by Chris Mele
Chris Mele

Chris Mele

Chris Mele is a reporter and editor with more than 30 years of experience in news, specializing in investigative and enterprise reporting.

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