Nov 01, 2017

Battleship New Jersey

By Joanne Colella

The “Big J.” “BB-62.” “Black Dragon.” By whatever nickname she is known, she represents an integral part of the Garden State’s proud history. “She” is the Battleship New Jersey, America’s most decorated battleship – now a fascinating museum located on the Camden, New Jersey waterfront, near the Adventure Aquarium and the BB&T Pavilion and directly across the Delaware River from Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia. As we honor our nation’s military members this month for Veterans Day, there may be no better time for a terrific nautical day trip to sample military life on this floating phenomenon.

As one approaches the ship, its enormity is impressive.  Nearly three football fields long and over 11 stories high, the Battleship New Jersey was the longest battleship ever built. Three turrets, each with three 16-inch guns, were used to fire six-foot-long projectiles weighing as much as a Volkswagen Beetle for an incredible range of 23 miles.

The USS New Jersey – or “BB-62,” which stands for Battleship #62 – was built in the Philadelphia Naval Yard and launched on December 7, 1942; one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was actually the second ship to be named “New Jersey,” the first one being a 19th-century battleship that served from 1906 until being sunk in 1922, after use as a World War I training vessel. The latter-day New Jersey was decommissioned for the last time in February 1991 at Bremerton, Washington. She was officially stricken from the Navy list in February 1995, but then reinstated by an order of Congress. In January 1999, the ship was again stricken from the Navy list and replaced by the USS Iowa as a mobilization asset. On September 12, 1999, New Jersey launched her final journey home, arriving at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on November 11. It was after that when her new tour of duty began, as the ship underwent restorations and was opened and established as an educational museum and memorial in October 2001, paying tribute to the lives of all those who had served onboard.

The ship played important roles in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf. Over time, various upgrades were made, including the installation of Tomahawk and Harpoon missile launchers and the computerized Phalanx defense system. Touring the ship not only brings visitors through exhibits of artifacts from her past and showcases her capabilities, but provides unique, hands-on experiences in an authentic setting. Guests are able to visit the bridge, the crew’s mess, the communications room, and the big 16-inch guns. You can climb inside the massive gun turret and enter the Combat Engagement Center, where you’ll see a simulated launch of a tomahawk missile.

Upon arrival, guests are advised to stop in the Visitors Center, located landside across from the battleship, where assistance is offered for individuals, families, and groups looking to start their tour. The self-guided Fire Power Tour is available every day during operating hours. This overall view of the ship takes visitors five levels up and two decks below. The main deck features an exhibit and museum that showcases the ship’s history in and out of service. The Fire Power Tour includes audio devices with narration, plus former crew members’ accounts of events and sound effects of the ship at sea and in combat.

The Turret II Tour is an interactive guided tour with limited times and just 15 guests per tour; it’s suggested for ages eight and up. It covers everything from the Gun House to the lower deck, with a particular focus on the operation of the gigantic 16-inch guns, and finishing with a walk down Broadway. Turret II Tours launch on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays at 11:00 a.m. Both tours take approximately 90 minutes, and start from the Visitors Center.

Guests can also engage in an exciting 4D Flight Simulator to experience launching off the deck in a Seahawk prop plane, flying over the island of Iwo Jima, avoiding anti-aircraft fire, engaging in a dog fight with an enemy plane, and landing in the ocean.

Besides tours, this floating city offers visitors access to special events, educational programs, and even overnight encampments for youth groups, families, and adult organizations throughout the year. Open every day except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day, this jewel of New Jersey’s maritime military history invites guests, through its interactive exhibits, to step into the life of a sailor onboard a battleship. While uniforms are certainly not required, comfortable walking shoes are recommended to better allow you to go up and down ladders, step through raised passageways, and maneuver tight spaces while exploring the ship.

Tickets for the various tours can be purchased in advance or upon your arrival. Discounts are available for seniors, veterans, and children. Free admission is offered to active military, BB 62 Vets, and World War II vets, as well as children under age 4. For complete information about the USS New Jersey, including ticket reservations, upcoming events, recent news, photos, history, and trip planning details, visit www.battleshipnewjersey.org or call (866) 877-6262.