U.S.S Wisconsin (BB-64) was launched in 1943 and decommissioned in 1988 and saw service in World War II, the Korean War and the Gulf War. Today, the battleship is open to the public as a museum in Norfolk, Va.

Guns and Patriots Photo by Richard Johnson

U.S.S. Wisconsin (BB-64)

Built during World War II, the USS Wisconsin is an Iowa-class battleship that now sits as a floating museum in Norfolk, Va. The Wisconsin proudly served the United States in three conflicts and now its teak decks and cramped wardrooms are open to the public it once defended.

Tied up along the Nauticus Museum in downtown Norfolk, BB-64 retains the impregnable look of this country’s most impressive battleships.  Stepping aboard the Wisconsin is an awesome moment.

A Brief History of the Wisconsin

Construction of Wisconsin began on January 25, 1941, and she was launched December 7, 1943 – exactly two years after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The Wisconsin is an Iowa-class battleship: a warship designed to escort fast attack carriers of the era.

Wisconsin is almost 900 feet long and, when fully loaded, displaces 58,000 tons.  Even at that size, Wisconsin made 33 knots on the open sea allowing it to match the speed of contemporary aircraft carriers. By way of comparison, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), had a top speed of 33.6 knots.

When built, Wisconsin was equipped with nine, 16-inch guns located in three turrets: two fore, one aft.  Additionally, the ship was fitted with 20 5-inch guns and more than 120 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns.


 Wisconsin is fitted with 20 5-inch deck guns

Guns and Patriots Photo by Richard Johnson

After launching, Wisconsin served in the Pacific, providing cover to various carrier groups and amphibious landings.  The Wisconsin also  shelled the main Japanese islands, including unleashing the massive 16-inch guns on the city of Tokyo.

In the years after World War II, Wisconsin was mothballed, but returned to service during the Korean War.  During the Korean War, BB-64 provided a great deal of fire support to South Korean, US and UN troops. Later in the 1950s, Wisconsin was once again mothballed.

During the 1980s, the United States significantly increased the size of her navy, growing the fleet as part of President Ronald W. Reagan’s plan for 600 ships. Wisconsin was pulled from the mothball fleet and updated. She was recommissioned on Oct. 22, 1988.

At this time, the ship’s original AA guns were replaced with 20mm Phalanx guns (aka Sea Whiz), and both Harpoon and Tomahawk missile systems were added. All new radar, electronics and computer systems were also installed, making the Wisconsin a state-of-the art warship.

Wisconsin served during the 1991 Gulf War, shelling positions with her 16-inch guns and Tomahawk missiles.  

Wisconsin’s active duty time was relatively short, being mothballed again in Sept. 30, 1991, a mere seven months after the conclusion of the Gulf War.

As part of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress mandated that the USS Wisconsin be stricken from the Naval Vessel Register and transferred to a private party as long as the ship remained in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Additionally, Congress mandated the ship should be returned to the United States upon declaration of a national emergency by the President.  So, even though Wisconsin is a museum, it is kept in a condition that would allow it to be returned to service on short notice.

About the Museum

Nauticus is a museum of naval history, of which the Wisconsin is the largest exhibit. The admission price covers the Nauticus building and Wisconsin ship.

A self-guided tour of Wisconsin takes you along the deck and parts of the superstructure, allowing you to see the exterior portions of the 16-inch gun turrets, 5” guns, firefighting gear, lookout stations and other areas. Wisconsin is a ship of war, and there are few considerations made for comfort or convenience. To make the tour you will have to ascend and descend steep stairs and navigate narrow passages. A close eye on children and a reasonable level of fitness are required.

A tour of the ship’s interior is also available by guides at regular intervals. According to Nauticus staff, the interior tour is not recommended for children.

Onboard the ship are volunteers to help visitors understand the functioning of different aspects of the ship. Of particular note are two volunteers who are former crew members of the ship. They are both very friendly and knowledgeable about the ship.

If you are in the Norfolk area, I strongly suggest making the time to stop and see the U.S.S .Wisconsin and Nauticus museums. The ship is a living part of Navy history, and is an excellent reminder of those who have served this country to defend freedom.


 The forward view to the forecastle and beyond

Guns and Patriots Photo by Richard Johnson