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A New Technology

The basic structural arrangement of the two NORTH CAROLINA class battleships was partly pre-ordained by the decision that the main battery would be mounted in three turrets, two forward and one aft. This, alone, practically dictated the relative positions of the main battery magazines, machinery spaces and the superstructure. Nevertheless, the designers of the NORTH CAROLINA and WASHINGTON were able to incorporate into these ships many radical improvements over the designs of earlier United States battleships.

A sweeping flush deck, unbroken from bow to stern, made these ships more graceful in appearance that their predecessors. The tripods and cage masts of earlier ships were replaced by a streamlined superstructure, surmounting the hull amidships like a medieval castle. A massive tower, resembling a keep, dominated this structure forward. The tower loomed to a height of 120 feet above the waterline, providing superb platforms as several different levels for fire control stations and equipment; for yardarms and halyards on which to run up signal flags; for battle lookouts, searchlights, automatic antiaircraft weapons, and a secondary conning station; and for radio and (later) radar antennae.

The two main battery fire control directors and four secondary battery directors were ideally positioned aloft, with commanding fields of vision for their purposes. The 5-inch gun mounts of the secondary battery, instead of occupying the old-style casemates with their limited arcs of fire to each side, were clustered around the superstructure, positioned for the widest possible fields of fire, and obviously intended to endow the ship with a superior antiaircraft gunnery capability.

The hull shape featured a vertical stem below the waterline, with a bulbous bow designed to reduce resistance and increase hull efficiency by as much as five percent at high speed. There were four propellers and two rudders. The rudders were about ten feet off centerline, positioned abaft of the inboard propellers. The latter were housed in twin skegs which formed a tunnel and increased propeller efficiency. The skegs also helped support the ship when in drydock.

The two 85-foot stacks with their raked caps conveyed an impression of superior engine power, which these ships certainly had, with a top speed of six knots faster than any of their predecessors.

Overall, the effect of these innovations was to give the NORTH CAROLINA and WASHINGTON a modern, formidable bearing that served warning to any potential enemy of their advanced capabilities as fighting ships.

In the two classes of new battleships which followed, design was similar in many respects, but with important added improvements. First came four 35,000-ton ships: SOUTH DAKOTA (BB-57), INDIANA (BB-58), MASSACHUSETTS (BB-59), and ALABAMA (BB-60). Next were four 45,000-tonners; IOWA (BB-61), NEW JERSEY (BB-62), MISSOURI (BB-63), and WISCONSIN (BB-64).

The SOUTH DAKOTA class ships were marvels of design for the fact that even though they were about 50 feet shorter than the NORTH CAROLINA class, they packed the same fire power and were slightly faster. The four IOWA class monsters, built without the constraints imposed by naval arms limitation treaties, were superior not only in armament, but also in speed and armor. However, during World War II it fell to the NORTH CAROLINA and WASHINGTON, as forerunners of the fast battleship breed, to cope first with most of the innovations, write the book, and set the pace for all the rest.

1999 The Battleship USS North Carolina Commission
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Last updated: July 14, 1999.