Saturday, April 16, 2011

Things to Do: Pearl Harbor, Battleship USS Missouri Museum and Exhibit

Like the aircraft carrier USS Midway in San Diego, the battleship USS Missouri in Hawaii is both an exhibit as well as a museum.  Some internet sites say plan for 2 hours, but the Battleship Missouri is HUGE and we spent 3 hours.  It could easily gone into 4 hours.  There's a lot of history and stories in this ship, so the guided tours will be well worth your time.

You have to take a shuttle bus from the Arizona Memorial to the USS Missouri.  The shuttle bus takes you to Ford Island, in the center of Pearl Harbor.  Since the USS Missouri is moored on an active military reservation there are restrictions during the trip, so no picture taking while the bus is moving.

There are several tours to choose.  The regular "Mighty Mo" tour is $20 for adults and $10 for children.  This tour takes about 35 minutes and takes you by three spots: the forward Turret, the Surrender Deck, and the Kamikaze Attack.  You could also sign up for the "Battlestations Tour" which is an additional $25 and $12 for children.  For this tour, children need to be 10 years or older.  This takes about 90 minutes and goes below deck to places where you wouldn't be allowed to go alone.  I highly recommend the guided "Battlestations Tour", that was well worth the price.  You can also get the audio tour (45 to 120 minutes) or rent an iPod for the audiovisual Guide2Go tour (60 to 90 minutes).  

The Missouri was the last battleship built by the United States and commissioned in June 1944.  Even though she was only active for the last year of war, the Missouri fought at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Japan.  She also served as the flagship for the Third Fleet under Admiral "Bull" Hasley in the Pacific.  At the end of the conflict, it was on her deck that the peace treaty with the Allies and Japan was signed ending World War II.  The Missouri also participated in the Korean War and was decommissioned  in 1955.  She was recommissioned and modernized in 1984 during the Reagan Years as part of the Navy build-up.  The Missouri saw action in Operation Desert Storm and was finally decommissioned in March 1992.  After minor repairs and towing to Pearl Harbor, the Missouri opened as a museum on January 29, 1999.     

It's hard to get an idea of the size of the Missouri until you're here.  It's 209 feet (63 meters) tall, has a beam (width) of 108 feet (33 meters), and is 887 feet (270 meters) long.  That's 5 feet longer than the HMS Titanic.

Walking up to the deck, you'd be surprised that it's wood, not metal.  It's teak wood and covers about 53,000 square feet.  The reason for wood is to reduce accidental sparks when transferring ammunition and fuel, it's not slippery when wet, and serves as insulation against the hot sun.  Teak is also easy to maintain and doesn't easily rot, which is important on long cruises.     

Tours start here at the quarterdeck under the tarpaulin.  You will need to meet here for both the "Might Mo" and "Battlestations" tours.  

Along the turret (and throughout the ship) you'll see markers on the hull that go with the Guide2Go or Audio Tour.  This gives you more historical facts as you walk along the decks and halls.

First stop is what makes a battleship, the gun turrets.  These are 16 inch (406 mm)/ 50 caliber Mark 7 guns.  The only ships that had bigger guns were Japanese, the battleships Yamato and Musashi had 18 inch guns. Each gun is 66 feet (20.1 meters) from breechface to muzzle and weighs 267,900 lbs (121,517 kgs) with breech.  Each turret is considered a three gun turret, not a triple gun turret, because each gun can elevate and fire independently of the other.  The turrets were designed to accurately hit shore based targets, not other ships.  Other battleships were designed for ship-to-ship fighting, but were less accurate.

Here are the powder bags.  A max charge would take 6 bags, each with 110 lbs of powder.  The max effective range of the guns was about 23 miles (37 kilometers).  Depending on how far the target, the rounds took about 1-1/2 minutes to impact.

The Missouri fired two rounds: an Armor Piercing round and a High Capacity (High-Explosive) round.   The Armor Piercing round has the same mass as a Volkswagen Beetle which is about 2,700 lbs (1,200 kgs), costs as much as a Mercedes and can penetrate 30 feet of concrete.  The High Capacity round weighs about 1,900 lbs and can create a crater 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep on impact.

Next stop, the Surrender Deck.  

This is the plaque over the door of the Captain's Cabin marking the signing.  The signing ceremony lasted 23 minutes and was broadcast throughout the world.  

Encased are copies of the treaty.  There were several copies for each signing nation to take back to their home country.  General MacArthur used several pens in signing the different copies of the treaty.  The reason?  He wanted to save something for history and to give to his wife.     

On one of the treaties you will notice a mistake.  The Canadian representative Colonel Lawrence Cosgrave accidentally signed below his line instead of above.  This forced everyone after him to sign one line below.  

Here is the plaque commemorating the spot of the signing of the treaty that ended the War in the Pacific.  Originally the admiral's table was going to be used to sign the treaties, but it wasn't big enough for all the documents.  In order to get a table big enough, the crew had to take a mess hall table and cover it with a table cloth.  

Last stop for the Mighty Mo tour, the Kamikaze Attack.  That bend in the middle of the deck is where the Japanese "Zero" fighter struck the hull.  It doesn't look like much, but when you think about how much force it took to bend those inches of steel, that's a lot of force.

The Kamikaze attack occurred on the afternoon of April 11, 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa.  The low flying A6M5c Zero fighter aircraft hit the Missouri just below the main deck line and broke apart.  The bomb failed to go off, but the fuel exploded on to the deck.  The fire was quickly put out with minimal damage to the ship and no casualties to the crew.  Afterwards the crew found the remains of the pilot amid the wreckage and, to their surprise, the captain ordered the pilot be given a military funeral at sea.  

Captain William M. Callaghan was the first commander of the USS Missouri and best known for his controversial order to give the Kamikaze pilot a burial at sea with military honors.  His point was that the young pilot did his duty to the best of his ability and with honor.  He even ordered a makeshift Japanese flag be sewn to cover the pilot's body for the funeral.  To put it mildly, this caused dissension among the crew.  Capt. Callaghan's reason for the funeral was to honor "a fellow warrior who had displayed courage and devotion, and who had paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life, fighting for his country."  This concludes the Mighty Mo tour and you are free to explore the ship or go back to the quarterdeck to go on the Battlestations tour.  

If you signed up for the Battlestations tour, you get to go inside the forward gun turret.  Despite how large it is on the outside, inside the the turret is small.  As some people said, "Battleships are for battle, not for tours," however a lot of equipment was removed to make the turret more accessible.  This is the fire direction center in the turret.  They used an analog computer to calculate firing solutions for the guns.  In addition to this fire direction center, each turret has their own, as well as the central fire direction center in the tower.  This provided redundancy in case one was knocked out in battle.   

Crawling past the targeting equipment, you get to the see the guns.  The picture doesn't do it any justice, but the gun is huge and that's about a 20 foot drop to the bottom.  That thing that opens downward is the Welin breech block.  Because of the weight of the shell and breech it has to be operated with hydraulics.  The gun crew used the steps on the walls to move around the gun and breech.  A good crew can fire 2 rounds per minute, per gun.

Also, look at the size of the shock absorbers.  Despite what you might have heard, the shock absorbers cushion the turret from the recoil, so the ship itself doesn't rock an inch during firing.  

Watch out for the knee-knockers and head bangers while making your way through the ship.  And remember whether you are climbing up or down always face the ladder.  

The machine shop on the Missouri.  Look at the size of the drill head in the foreground.  Heavy equipment was needed because out at sea you can't stop by a repair shop, you have to fix everything on board.  

Going to the Engine Room you need to get on Broadway.    

 Broadway is the nickname for the long hallway that connects all engine and boiler rooms.

The Missouri has 4 propellers (or "screws" in Navy slang) and each propeller has it's own engine room.  

The Missouri had 8 boilers and 4 double expansion General Electric steam turbine engines.  All that power was needed for speed and maneuverability.  
The Missouri's top speed was in excess of 32 knots, which is about 37 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour).  That's impressive for battleship that weighs 58,000 tons fully loaded.  That weight is in ship tons.  Ship tons refer to 2,240 lbs instead of 2,000 lbs.

To make all that machinery work, you need well trained seamen and Petty Officers.  To keep the men in line to make the machinery work, you need strong Chief Petty Officers.  They are the highest Non-Commissioned Officers on the ship with the most experience and technical expertise.    

Chief Petty Officers (Enlisted grade 7 or E-7) were treated like officers.  They enjoyed better quarters, their own lounge, and even their own galley separate from the other sailors.

Young officers were told like the sign to "Ask the Chief" if they had questions on equipment, procedures, or discipline.  

The tour also takes you through the enlisted galley.  This isn't the original galley, this was the modernized galley when the Missouri was recommissioned.  The original galley had bench style seating to accommodate the larger number of crew.  This is a far cry from the cramped quarters of the USS Bowfin.  

Ironically the galley also doubles as an emergency sick bay.  The reason was the galley had a lot of space, was centrally located in the ship, and dining tables could also serve as operating tables.  

One of the galleys was named the Truman Line in honor of President Harry Truman.  It was actually Truman's daughter that ate with the crew on some of the patrols.

Here is the Navigation Bridge.  Also called the Pilot House, this is where the crew steers the ship.

There's a lot more to the Missouri, it just depends on how much time you want to spend going through the halls.  And there's is one more museum to if you have time.  The shuttle bus will stop by the Pacific Aviation Museum on the way back to the Arizona Memorial.  

Also, if you're thinking about booking the USS Missouri for an event, like a wedding, and want to get information email, call 808-455-1600, fax 808-455-1598, or write to:
Battleship Missouri Memorial
Special Programs Department
Historic Ford Island, Pearl Harbor
63 Cowpens Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96818


  1. Thanks! We'll definitely check it out. Do you suggest doing the USS Arizona Memorial tour on the same day, or would that be too much?

  2. Yes, that would be perfect. Doing the USS Arizona Memorial tour and the Battleship Missouri in the same day would be ideal. After visiting the Memorial touring the USS Missouri is like going from a timeless memorial to a living museum. Gives you perspective and appreciation of the ship, Sailors, and Marines.

    On the next day, you can visit the other museums like the USS Bowfin Submarine Exhibit and Museum and the Pacific Aviation Museum.