The “Grey Ghost” visits Seal Beach…and leaves at least one….Smitten

June 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Local News

Last week I took an early evening walk on the pier. I saw what looked to be a warship that…at first glance…seemed a little larger than usual for the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. It was pretty far out; maybe three or four miles.
Then I looked again and recognized that silhouette. OMG…that’s the Iowa. That’s the “Grey Ghost” (aka “The Big Stick.” ) and there it is in front of Seal Beach.

She was the silent leader of what has long been called “the Ghost Fleet” of Suison Bay. Once there were hundreds and hundreds of ships in mothballs waiting to be scrapped in Suison. Now that once giant silent fleet has been reduced to less than 100 ships. But one member of that club was the last dreadnought in the world still waiting for a home. And then it was decided. The USS Iowa would go to San Pedro and become the last battleship to float under the Golden Gate bridge.

The last in the world!

That silhouette gave this writer chills. A battleship at anchor off the Seal Beach Pier. Was this 1943 all over again? Every enemy sailor of World War II knew that silhouette. It would have been a prize for any German or Japanese submarine. A U-boat commander’s dream come true to put a torpedo into that hull.

It was not to happen. Of the four Iowa class battleships built between 1938 and 1943 none were sunk.
Even though the U.S. population was predominantly of an isolationist bent at the time and did not want to go to war with Germany; nevertheless FDR got the 1938 Congress to authorize a group of 6 “fast attack” battleships to be built to upgrade our antiquated fleet. (No battleships had been built in 17 years!) These fast attack ships were to protect our future carrier task forces. Ironically early battles in WW II taught the combatants on both sides that air power was needed to protect the battleships…not vice-versa. (On Dec 10, 1941 Japanese bombers and torpedo planes caught 2 british battle ships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse in open waters trying to come to the defense of Singapore. Both were caught in the open by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes and sunk within hours of each other.)
Another story to emphasize the diminishing roll of the battleship in naval warfare at that time was the Battle of Midway…the greatest sea battle in U.S. Naval history! It was the first naval battle in which none of the competing ships ever saw one of the enemies ships. Part of that battle was the only class of ship afloat that was bigger than our battleships and that was the Japanese ship the Yamato. The Yamato weighed 20,000 tons more than an Iowa class ship and it fired an 18 inch shell 6 miles farther than an Iowa class. In the Battle of Midway the Yamato never fired a shot. After the U.S. Navy air left four of its carriers burning and sinking….the Yamato beat a hasty retreat.

The four Iowa class battleships that we built were the Iowa..Hull 61, New Jersey…Hull 62, Missouri…hull 63 and the Wisconsin…Hull 64. There were to be six Iowa class ships. The other two were the Illinois and the Kentucky. However the Kentucky was launched…but not completed and the Illinois was cancelled and scrapped in the slip after the end of the war.
Ironically, later the bow of the Wisconsin was damaged in an accident with one of our destroyers and the bow of the Kentucky was cut off and welded onto the Wisconsin.
n those days all battleships were named after states and the first keel laid had the lowest hull number and its name became the name of that class of ship. The Missouri is preserved as a memorial at Pearl Harbor; the New Jersey is a memorial in Camden, New Jersey; the Wisconsin a memorial in Norfolk, Virginia and, of course, the grand old gal of the class…the Iowa will be in San Pedro at Berth 87, near the USS Lane Victory.

I encouraged my son and grandsons to see it for they will never see her under movement again. One of the smaller modern warships in today’s navy has more power than the Iowa class battlewagons had. Heck they might have more than an entire WW II fleet.

Nevertheless I’ll miss not seeing that beautiful silhouette in the morning.

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