WWII 120-Ton Battleship Gun Will Get Second Life in Virginia Beach – The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH – A battleship gun used by the Navy in World War II which seemed destined for scrap will find a second life in Virginia Beach.

A non-profit organization dedicated to preserving American defense equipment, Coast Defense Study Group, plans to move historic weaponry soon to Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story in Cape Henry.

The 120-ton gun, which was used on the battleship USS Iowa, is the last of nine that remained in a storage facility in Chesapeake. It fired projectiles weighing 1,900 to 2,700 pounds with a range of up to 24 miles.

The Navy brought the USS Iowa, along with the Iowa-class battleship group, returned to service in the 1980s, but permanently retired the gun barrels a decade later.

In 2011, as the Navy prepared to purge its battleship inventory, the nonprofit stepped in to find new homes for the barrels. They enlisted the help of veterans groups and other organizations to preserve most of them, which are now displayed in memorials and parks in various states.

“These are historical artifacts,” said Terry McGovern, spokesman for the Coast Defense Study Group. “Why cut them into pieces of steel?”

Here in Hampton Roads, McGovern is working with the veterans group associated with the USS Iowa to move the last barrel. This is not an easy task. Lifting and transporting the barrel, which is 68 feet long, will require permits and special equipment.

The battleship USS Iowa was based in Norfolk. The veterans group wanted to move it to the USS Iowa Memorial at Naval Station Norfolk, dedicated to the 47 sailors who died in an accidental turret explosion during training in 1989.

However, limited public access to this naval facility and unfavorable ground conditions to exhibit it there forced the group to look elsewhere.

Fort Story, where visitors take tours of the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse, was chosen instead. Plans are underway for the battleship’s gun and two 16-inch projectiles to be displayed in a field next to the lighthouse parking lot.

The site will feature panels about the USS Iowa and its heritage.

“We are happy to give him a home,” said Capt. Michael Witherspoon, commanding officer of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. “This whole thing about sitting in one place will make it a pretty amazing place.”

Cape Henry is the site of the first landing, when English settlers arrived in 1607, before moving on to Jamestown. The original Cape Henry Lighthouse, authorized by George Washington, was the first federally funded public works project of the newly formed U.S. government.

Fort Story also has deep roots in Virginia Beach. It became a military installation in 1914. During World War II, American soldiers from Fort Story defended the Virginia coast and the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.

McGovern thinks it is a natural choice. The gun was first produced for Iowa-class ships during World War II and was mounted on the ship’s main turret in 1942. After the ship returned from Korea in 1955, the gun was removed.

To date, approximately $100,000 has been raised for the project, which will be used to paint, transport and display the barrel. McGovern is trying to raise another $50,000.

“The addition of a 16-inch gun to the current Fort Story memorial area will honor veterans who defended our homeland during World War I and World War II, and allow visitors to Fort Story to experience the size and the massive power of these coastal artillery guns,” he said.


Eight barrels of Iowa-class battleships that were at the St. Juliens Creek Naval Annex in Chesapeake were moved. The last will be moved to Cape Henry, Virginia.

  • A barrel from the USS Missouri traveled to Cape Henlopen State Park (site of the former Smith Battery at Fort Miles) in Delaware to become part of the Fort Miles Museum as a complete gun and carriage .
  • Another barrel from USS Missouri went to the United States Fish and Wildlife Refuge at Cape Charles, Virginia (location of the old Winslow Battery at Fort John Custis) to be placed in the battery casemate.
  • Another barrel from the USS Missouri was railed to the State Capitol in Arizona to be part of their World War II memorial (where it is joined by a 14-inch barrel off the USS Arizona).
  • A barrel from the USS New Jersey traveled by rail to Hartshorne Woods Park in Monmouth County Parks, New Jersey (location of the former Battery Lewis on the Navesink Highlands Military Reservation) to be placed in the battery casemate.
  • Another barrel from the USS New Jersey went to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in Pennsylvania for display at its parade ground.
  • Another barrel from USS New Jersey went to the Battleship New Jersey Memorial in Camden, New Jersey for display alongside the ship.
  • A fourth barrel from the USS New Jersey went to the Mahan Collection Foundation in New Jersey for display along with its transport truck and trailer which saw service in World War II.
  • A barrel from the USS New Jersey was moved from St. Juliens to Trophy Park at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the 1990s.

Source: Terry McGovern, Coastal Defense Study Group, www.cdsg.org

To donate, contact Terry McGovern at [email protected] or go to www.cdsg.org.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, [email protected]

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