Book Review: Battleships of the Iowa Class: A Design and Operational History


by Philippe Caresse, translated by Bruce Taylor.

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2019. Pp. x, 524. Illus., maps, tables, diagr., sources, index. $120.00. ISBN: 1591145988

The Apex Battleship

If books were classified as ships, then The Battleships of the ‘Iowa’ Class, A Design and Operational History, by Philippe Caresse, would be a battleship. It’s hardcover, glossy, and heavy, and will displace a bit of space on your desk. It has an impressive array of informative firepower, and there’s enough imagery to entertain someone casually flipping pages, as well as serious naval enthusiasts and professionals. Like a battleship, it is all business; you will not find sailor’s tall tales, clever turns of phrase, or exciting prose, but that does not mean the work is unsatisfying. On the contrary, readers will find the astounding array of facts and details engrossing enough to keep turning pages. Like any battleship designed to fearlessly impress, it is expensive. It is a remarkable, thorough work of naval history and no fleet of books on the matter would be complete without this flagship.

As the title makes clear, this book is about the fast battleships of the “Iowa” class. Four of these ships were built by the U.S. Navy during WWII. Another two were partially constructed, then scrapped after the war. All four completed ships enjoyed long careers, providing service around the globe until the last ship, the Missouri (BB 63) was decommissioned in 1992. Since that time, all four ships remain in civilian service as floating museums, a testament to their long, invaluable service, and quality of design and construction. They are presently docked at Camden, New Jersey; Norfolk, Virginia; Los Angeles, California; and Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i.

The book begins with a proper backstory, explaining the circumstances leading to the Navy’s specifications and development of the class. It then follows the story of the ships in chronological fashion, from their construction to decommissioning.

Opening the book feels like unlocking a treasure chest, with each heavy, glossy page containing some remarkable gem of information or photography. Diagrams are sprinkled throughout the book to provide additional specifics about key components such as gun turrets, AA and missile mounts, and camouflage patterns. There is an abundance of black-and-white images as well as full color pictures which provide a close-up, sailor’s-eye look into the ship’s history.

Of note is the plentiful trivia woven into the text of the book as the ships’ stories are told. No detail appears spared or glossed-over. If you want to know how many tons of oil Missouri burned while conducting operations against Okinawa and Kyushu, it’s in there, on page 82. If you want to know what types of radar each ship mounted, it’s in there, on page 117. There are even specifications for the equipment which served aboard the ships from the Mk-6 rafts, to the various helicopters, to the “R2-D2”-looking Phalanx guns (pp. 74-75). The weight of each type of shell for the many guns is specified.

The book contains surprises. There are several pictures of the Japanese surrender on the deck of the Missouri. The photos show Soviet and French officers among the many present on deck. It’s one of those little surprises of which not everyone is aware. Chapter Twelve briefly mentions that the ships must be kept in a condition that permits the Navy to take back and reactivate them in the event of a “national emergency.” Who knew? And these are but a couple of the surprises.

The back of the book contains sources, acknowledgements, and most helpfully, a proper, seven-page long index.

The author, Philippe Caresse, is a veteran of the French Navy and a harbor-master with an incredible affinity for naval history. He has co-authored two other books, on French battleships and armored cruisers. The book has been seamlessly translated from French to English by Bruce Taylor, who has done such an impressive job that readers probably won’t realize the work is translated.

Battleships of the Iowa Class will provide hours of enjoyable reading and browsing. It’s the kind of book that buyers will be proud to own, and should have a long shelf-life in any library.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: Marshall Neal    

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