History of the U.S. Navy battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.
The USS North Carolina (BB-55), nicknamed “Showboat,” was ordered for the U.S. Navy on August 1, 1937. Her keel was laid down at Brooklyn Navy Yard on October 27, 1937. She was launched on June 13, 1940 and commissioned on April 9, 1941 under the command of Captain Olaf M. Hustvedt.
One of USS North Carolina’s first assignments was to remain in Atlantic waters to protect against the German battleship Tirpitz, but she was relieved of that duty and sent to the Pacific Ocean at the beginning of the summer of 1942.
The USS North Carolina arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 11, 1942, the first new battleship to have arrived there since the start of World War II. She was declared “the most beautiful thing they had ever seen,” and increased morale simply by virtue of being there. She left Pearl Harbor on July 15 with the carrier USS Enterprise, two cruisers, and eight destroyers.
USS North Carolina covered the troop landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi on August 7, 1942 and screened the carriers in her group. Later that month, she was involved in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on August 24. She shot down at least seven enemy aircraft and sustained no damage, although one man was killed by a strafer.
Following that battle, the USS North Carolina protected the carrier USS Saratoga. During this time, she was attacked by Japanese submarines. She dodged a torpedo on September 6, but took a torpedo hit from the Japanese submarine I-19 portside below her waterline on September 15. Six men were killed. She headed to New Caledonia for temporary repairs before dry docking at Pearl Harbor for a month to repair her hull and upgrade her armament.
The USS North Carolina returned to screen the USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga. She covered troop and supply movements in the Solomon Islands for nearly a year before returning to Pearl Harbor in the spring of 1943 for upgrades.
As part of the Northern Covering Group, USS North Carolina headed out from Pearl Harbor on November 10, 1943 for the assault on Makin, Tarawa, and Abemama. She supported the Gilbert Islands campaign before moving on to the Marshalls. She was involved in operations against Nauru, Kavieng, Kwajalein, Namur, and Roi.
USS North Carolina protected the carriers during the air strike on Truk. On February 22, 1944, she guarded the carriers at Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. During this time, she was serving as flagship for Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee, Jr., Commander Battleships Pacific.
During the spring of 1944, the USS North Carolina participated in the attacks on Palau, Woleai, Hollandia, Truk, and Ponape. She returned to Pearl Harbor to repair her rudder before returning to sortie with the USS Enterprise’s carrier group in the Marianas on D-Day. The battleship covered the carriers during the assault on Saipan; she also covered minesweeping operations and blasted the harbor at Tanapag.
The USS North Carolina took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea on June 19, 1944. No American ships were lost, and very few planes were downed during the combat action. She headed to Puget Sound Navy Yard for overhaul, returning just in time to weather a typhoon on November 7. She sustained no damage, and later supported the air strikes on Leyte, Luzon, and the Visayas.
USS North Carolina’s task force had to endure another typhoon on December 18, 1944. Several destroyers were lost, but the battleship went on to support strikes against Formosa, the Ryukyus, and Honshu through February 1945.
The USS North Carolina bombarded land targets and provided fire support for the assault on Iwo Jima. She then screened carriers and bombarded targets during the assault on Okinawa. On April 6, she was hit by friendly fire while the ships were fighting off kamikazes, killing three men and injuring 44 others. The battleship fought off enemy planes during the fighting that sunk the Japanese battleship Yamato before heading to Pearl Harbor for overhaul.
After she was overhauled, the USS North Carolina rejoined her carrier group to support air strikes and bombardment of the Japanese home islands. She supported the occupation of Japan, anchoring in Tokyo Bay in September 1945. She returned home to Boston in October before heading to New Work for overhaul. The battleship received 15 battle stars for her service in World War II, the most decorated U.S. battleship of the war.
USS North Carolina was decommissioned on June 27, 1947 and removed from the Naval Vessel Register on June 1, 1960. She now serves as a museum ship in Wilmington, North Carolina; she was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Like other World War II era battleships, the USS North Carolina was built using a number of asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos was prized for its resistance to fire, heat, water, and corrosion. It could be found in boilers, gaskets, valves, pumps, hot water pipes, steam pipes, turbines, incinerators, engine rooms, fire doors, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, wall insulation, caulking, sealants, rope, and electrical wiring. Anyone who served aboard the battleship or took part in its repair and overhaul could be at risk for developing serious asbestos-related illnesses like lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that affects the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.
USS North Carolina workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked on or around the USS North Carolina, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.