August 3, 2023

From World War II to Cape Henry – Piece of Maritime History Finds Final Home in Virginia Beach

Gun barrel from USS Iowa battleship makes it way to Fort Story.
USS Iowa Gun Barrel

The shores of Virginia Beach are no stranger to history. They have been the site of the first landing in what would eventually become the United States, the Battle of the Capes where French naval ships blocked the British from supplying Cornwallis in Yorktown during the Revolutionary War, the home of the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse which was the first lighthouse authorized by the U.S. government in 1792, the site of a battle between Monitor and Merrimac during the Civil War, and during World War II, German U-boats were just offshore looking for American targets.

And now, a piece of maritime history stands alongside the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse – a nearly 70-foot-long gun barrel from the USS Iowa (BB-61). The Iowa is a retired U.S. Navy Iowa-class battleship that served in World War II, the Korean War and was reactivated for a final time from 1984 – 1990.

This relic of the ship that was part of service in World War II is on display in Virginia Beach. The barrel, which made up one of the vessel’s nine massive, 16-inch guns, was originally installed as Turret 1, left position during the ship’s construction and remained in place until 1954 when it was removed for maintenance. The barrel was never reinstalled on the ship and eventually kept as a “ready spare” in the event the Iowa or any of her three sister ships needed a quick replacement.

USS Iowa gun barrel being installed at Fort Story exhibit

The Iowa was the only ship of her class to serve in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II before transferring to the Pacific Fleet in 1944. It served as the Third Fleet flagship under Adm. William F. Halsey’s flag and was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945.

The Iowa was decommissioned for the third and final time on Oct. 26, 1990, eventually becoming a museum ship in 2012 in the Port of Los Angeles. The three other battleships of its class, USS New Jersey (BB-62), USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Wisconsin (BB-64, located at Nauticus in Norfolk, Virginia), were similarly retired and are no longer in active service. All four vessels have been preserved as museum ships across the country. Since the ships have been officially struck from the Navy Vessel Register, the Navy has been clearing out Iowa-class inventory, including the “ready spare” barrels.

The Navy will host a dedication ceremony for the barrel on Aug. 29 at JEB Fort Story. Visitors are invited to visit the lighthouses and USS Iowa’s barrel seven days a week between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Since the lighthouses and barrel are on an active military base, visitors should review the guidelines for base access. A free shuttle service is available to guests who do not have an authorized Department of Defense or Military ID to drive onto the base.

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