A presentation of the USS Iowa SSN 797 plan at Iowa State University.

History of the USS
Iowa Naval Vessels

The United States Navy has used the name USS IOWA five times, but only the two named battleships were ever placed in service. Now the name is used again on the fast attack submarine USS IOWA SSN 797.

The Civil War USS IOWA was a converted merchant ship but was never activated. IOWA (BB-53) was scrapped when only 31% was built because of the agreement of the Washington Naval Conference. Learn more about Iowa’s two namesake ships that have been in service in past decades.

Laid down on August 5th, 1893

Unique and not a sister to any specific class until refurbishing into an INDIANA class battleship, IOWA BB 4 started life as a coastal defense ship.

“Fighting” Robley Evans, a legend in Navy history, took command of BB-4 as the Spanish-American War commenced. Initially used for blockade duty off the Port of Santiago, IOWA fell under the overall command of Commodore Winfield Scott Schley’s Flying Squadron that eventually merged with Rear Admiral William Sampson’s North Atlantic Squadron.

Iowa BB4 Battleship


In the post-war period, the great battleship rounded Cape Horn to show the flag off Chile. She then steamed to Bremerton, WA for dry dock and refit. She ultimately ended up in New York and decommissioned in 1903. Hardly washed of sea salt, IOWA was back as flagship for the North Atlantic Squadron. On May 13th, 1911, she participated in rescuing passengers from the liner WARD that had collided with the steamship ADMIRAL FARRAGUT in fog.

All 139 passengers survived the sinking thanks to BB 4. The ship served as a training vessel for the next few years, training such luminaries at Raymond Spruance. In 1914 she was again decommissioned in Philadelphia where she sat until the outbreak of World War I. The USS IOWA BB 4 received the Sampson Medal, the Navy Expeditionary Medal, the Spanish Campaign Medal, and the Cuban Pacification Medal.

Interesting Facts

  • The USS IOWA BB 4 boasted 11,000 ihp vertical triple expansion engines During a battle, the Iowa BB 4 experienced an engine room fire that threatened the entire ship.
  • She had an innovative form of steel armor with a 14” belt surrounding her
  • Fireman Robert Penn quickly and heroically extinguished the blaze. For his actions he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Laid down on January 27th, 1940

To this day, the name USS IOWA (BB-61) is connected to World War II, the Korean, and the Vietnam wars as the mightiest battleship ever built by the United States.

This ship was sponsored by Mrs. Henry Wallace, wife of Iowa native Vice President Henry Wallace. Mrs. Wallace christened her in August 1942, and the ship sailed with Captain John McCrea at the helm. The skipper was a favorite of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a former Naval Aide.


On 19 April, 1989 while firing her 16” guns, Turret 2 exploded, killing 47 men. While NIS (now NCIS) initially decided the explosion was caused by an act of terrorism, Congress failed to accept their verdict. Under non-governmental inspection, the culprit turned out to be very old black powder that was originally milled in 1930. Laboratory tests showed that the powder was very unstable and was ignited by static electricity.

The USS IOWA BB-61 was decommissioned in 1990 and now is a museum ship in the Port of Los Angeles. In her career, she earned 9 Battle Stars, a Naval Unit Citation, a Naval “E” Ribbon with 3 stars, the American Campaign Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal with 2 stars, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Philippine Unit Citation, the South Korean Unit Citation, the Philippine Liberation Medal, and the U.N. Korea Medal.

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