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The U.S. Navy’s First Sea-Going battleship: The USS Iowa (1897-1923)

On July 19, 1892, Congress authorized the construction of “one sea-going coast-line battleship, designed to carry the heaviest armor and most powerful ordnance.”  It was designated Battleship Number 4 (BB-4), USS Iowa.  Built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Iowa was launched on March 28, 1896.  Miss Mary Lord Drake, daughter of Iowa Governor Francis F. Drake, was the ship’s sponsor and broke a bottle of champagne against the bow before launching and proclaimed: “I christen thee Iowa.”

 The Navy’s first sea-going battleship was 362 feet, 6 inches long, with a beam of 72 feet, 2 inches and a top deck covered with teak wood.  Protected with 14 inches of nickel steel armor the 11,346 ton ship was powered by two steam engines turning two screws and delivering 11,000 horsepower at a top speed of 17 knots.  The Iowa’s armament consisted of four 12 inch guns, eight 8 inch guns, four 4 inch guns, twenty-two 6-pounder rapid fire guns, four 1-pounder guns, four colt automatic guns, and three 18” torpedo tubes.  With a full crew it carried 471 officers, sailors, and marines.  The USS Iowa entered service June 16, 1897 at a cost $3,110,000.

 The USS Iowa served with the “Flying Squadron” and participated in the blockade of the Spanish fleet in Santiago Harbor, Cuba.  On the morning of July 3, 1898 watchmen on the Iowa, observing the Spanish ships maneuvering out of the harbor, fired a six-pound gun--the first shot of the battle--to signal the rest of the squadron.  During the following four hour sea battle the Iowa and its crew were responsible for sinking several enemy vessels. Furthermore, The Iowa played a significant part in destroying the Spanish warships operating in Caribbean waters allowing for the safe landing of U.S. Troops at Daiquiri and Siboney, Cuba in mid-June 1898.

 The Iowa served as a training ship during World War I.  After the war, stripped of its armament and painted with large targets on the fore and aft decks, the Iowa ended its service as a target ship.  A salvo of 14 inch shells from the Battleship Mississippi (BB-41) sunk the Iowa in the Sea of Panama on March 23, 1923.