Exploring one of the greatest battleships in history: The USS New Jersey


Geoff Morrison/CNET

The mighty USS New Jersey, aka Big J, is docked in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Though resting quietly now, one of the largest, most powerful battleships in history wasn’t always so serene. Her service started in World War II and continued through the Korean War before being recommissioned for the Vietnam War and for the last time in the early 1980s.

Over 887 feet long and displacing over 60,000 tons, the New Jersey was one of the largest battleships in history. She also was fast, relatively speaking, with a top speed of 33 knots, or nearly 38mph.

Like her three Iowa-class sister ships, the New Jersey is now a museum ship. Visitors can explore vast sections of this warship, from the conning tower to the engine room. On my recent 10,000-mile road trip, I knew I had to stop and check it out. Here’s how this incredible ship looks today.

Big J

In hindsight, the era of the battleship was already over by the time the New Jersey’s keel was laid down in 1940. Not that most people knew that at the time. The war in the Pacific would be decided by air power, and boots on the ground, of course. Consider that only four of the massive Iowa-class battleships were built, compared with 24 of the similar-length Essex-class aircraft carriers

There was, of course, a need for the incredible defensive and offensive power these ships could provide. Japan had already launched the two largest battleships ever built, the Yamato and her sister ship the Musashi. These ships were marvels, not only in size, but in speed and armament. The US’ South Dakota- and North Carolina-class battleships with designs largely limited by treaty were older, smaller and slower. 


The forward guns of the New Jersey, with Philadelphia in the background.

Geoff Morrison/CNET

The Iowa class was largely made to counter the threat imposed by the imposing Japanese battleships. While still smaller than the Yamato class, the Iowas were faster, had better technology and still packed quite a punch. Nine 16-inch guns dominate the New Jersey’s deck. Later upgrades, like missiles and rapid-fire CIWS “R2-D2” turrets, speak to its many-layered armament. There’s even a helicopter pad — it’s just one of the many types of aircraft the Iowa had to augment its abilities.

Though it never went bow-to-bow with the Yamato-class ships, it saw combat around the world during its 21 years of active service. It was decommissioned right before the first Gulf War, with sister ships Missouri and Wisconsin taking part in that conflict instead. 


On the stern of the New Jersey.

Geoff Morrison/CNET

The New Jersey became the second Iowa-class ship to be converted to a museum, a role that all her sister ships now play. She’s lovingly, and painstakingly, maintained and the sheer number of compartments open to explore is impressive. Colored tape on the deck leads you through specific areas, with lots of informative signage to augment an audio tour. Having toured many naval vessels, from submarines to aircraft carriers, the New Jersey tour is one of the best I’ve seen, as you’ll find in the gallery above.

During my visit to the New Jersey there were crews repairing and replacing the wooden deck. One of the workers approached an elderly visitor with one of the deck pieces. I was close enough to overhear why. It was the first time that section of deck had been replaced in several decades. And the wood being removed was in place when the visitor had served aboard the ship. He’d walked these decks as a young man, and was now going home with a piece of the ship’s, and his own, history. 

Someone was cutting onions nearby, apparently.


All four Iowa-class battleships are currently museums you can tour. I’ve checked out the USS Iowa, which is in Los Angeles, and the USS Missouri, in Hawaii. If you’re near Norfolk, Virginia, you can check out the USS Wisconsin.

If you’re not near Camden or Philadelphia, check out the gallery above for an extensive look inside the incredible USS New Jersey.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube about his 10,000 mile road trip. He also has written a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel.

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