How to Tell the Iowa Class Battleships Apart

When the Iowa-class battleships were recommissioned during the 1980s they generated a considerable amount of public interest and were very popular subjects with photographers.  The Navy obliged and made them available for access by the media which resulted in a large number of pictures available today.  However, the similarities between the ships have resulted in many of these photographs being mis-identified both on the internet and even by authors who should know better.  In this post I will point out a few of the more easily identifiable differences which will allow battleship fans to make a proper identification.

This photograph is likely the most confusing to observers, and has been identified as all four of the Iowa class in various corners of the internet, if it is identified at all. This is in fact the USS Iowa (BB 61), taken early in her re-activation process. What is confusing to many is the Iowa carried a very prominent American flag painted on the top of Turret One for most of her service in the 1980’s. The flag was painted in June 1984, which dates this picture as being early in her service or a precommissioning trial. Iowa carried non-skid bands atop Turrets Two and Three. The area covered by the non-skid on the fantail for helicopter operations is unique to each of the sisters, on Iowa it extends forward to a line just short of the Turret Three barbette.
Compare the previous photo to this similar shot of USS New Jersey (BB 62). The non-skid on New Jersey’s fantail wraps around Turret Three, with an irregular area of teak decking around the Turret connecting the deck vents. Also note the helicopter deck markings are different, with the landing circle offset to port. The tops of her Turrets and 5” gun mounts are painted in Haze Gray. Also visible on her fo’c’sle are the circular bases for the quad 40mm gun mounts, which are unique to New Jersey, on all other Iowa-class the gun mount bases were removed and planked over with teak.
USS Missouri (BB 63) carried the least amount of teak on her fantail, the non-skid extends all the way forward to the break in the superstructure. Her helicopter pad markings match Iowa’s, and she has her hull number painted atop Turret One.
USS Wisconsin (BB 64) retained the most teak of any of the sisters. Only the helicopter deck and ramps themselves were covered in non-skid. Also note the difference in flight deck markings, with angled stripes painted at the forward corners. Her Turrets and 5” gun mount tops also appear to be painted Haze Gray in this photograph.
New Jersey firing all 21 guns simultaneously off both beams. New Jersey was the only Iowa recommissioned for service during the Vietnam War, and this left her with a uniquely shaped superstructure top to support her electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite. On New Jersey this is two rectangular projections to the beams, all other Iowas received a wrap-around structure. The circular remnants of her 40mm gun tubs are visible on the deck.
Compare the superstructure in previous photograph to this shot of Missouri off Sidney, Australia in October 1986. Missouri displays the rounded upper superstructure and supports for the SLQ-32 ECM common to the other ships. Also of note is the bullwork at the extreme bow to block the wind, this “plain” shielding was common to the Pacific Fleet Battleships New Jersey and Missouri.
The Atlantic Fleet ships had different bow configurations. Here is a shot of Wisconsin (left) and Iowa (right) in mothballs. These were originally tubs for two single 20mm gun mounts and were not removed during their reactivations. Note that they are each different, with the tubs on Iowa projecting further over the beams.
A detail view of Wisconsin’s bow, showing the smaller tub configuration and wind deflector.
Iowa was unique in carrying a large American flag atop Turret One. This was painted on by the crew in June 1984 and is visible in many aerial views of the ship.
This photograph of Missouri working through a heavy swell reveals her hull number painted atop Turret One. Neither New Jersey nor Wisconsin carried identifiers on their Turret tops. The white markings on Turret Two are applied to fittings and trip hazards for the UNREP gear used to transfer stores and ammunition from other ships.