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    The Unsung Naval Giant: USS New Jersey’s Pivotal Role from WWII to Vietnam

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    When considering the Vietnam War, images of Huey helicopters and intense jungle combat typically come to mind. However, the conflict also had a significant naval component. In 1968, following the Tet Offensive’s surprise attacks by the Communist-led insurgency, the Iowa-class battleship USS New Jersey was brought back into service off the coast of South Vietnam.

    The battleship’s mission was straightforward: remain near the shore and relentlessly bombard the enemy.

    The USS New Jersey continued its bombardment until April 1969, delivering impressive results.

    Over the course of less than a year, it unleashed an astonishing 12 million pounds of munitions on enemy targets. This included firing 5,866 sixteen-inch shells and 14,891 five-inch shells.

    The ship’s main and secondary batteries inflicted substantial damage, focusing on Communist infrastructure rather than enemy body count.

    The New Jersey specialized in demolishing buildings, bunkers, artillery sites, mortars, anti-aircraft systems, roads, trenches, tunnels, and caves. The main battery alone destroyed 596 bunkers, while the secondary battery took out 92 structures.

    The USS New Jersey, known as the “Big J,” is now a museum ship available for tours in Camden, New Jersey. Measuring 887 feet in length and displacing 45,000 tons, it could reach a top speed of 33 knots while in service.

    The battleship is equipped with nine 16-inch guns. During the Cold War buildup in the 1980s, it was upgraded with missile tubes and a helicopter pad.

    Notably, the New Jersey shelled Syrian targets in Lebanon from 1983 to 1984 during the crisis there. As the most decorated ship in U.S. Navy history, it was designed in 1938, commissioned in 1943, and served until 1991.

    An oral history from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs featured Gary Loers, who served on the USS New Jersey during the Vietnam War.

    Loers vividly recalls the immense power of its guns, saying, “It was an honor to get to walk on her decks and see the 16-inch guns. A person is quite proud to be an American when you see a ship like her.” The USS New Jersey’s mission in Vietnam was relatively brief, from autumn 1968 to spring 1969.

    This limited deployment was likely due to the high costs of operation and the logistical challenges of supplying ammunition, food, and other necessities to its large crew. Notably, the New Jersey was the only Iowa-class battleship deployed during the Vietnam War.

    Strategic considerations also played a role. During the long war, the Navy prioritized carrier power, relying on carrier-launched aircraft to bomb North Vietnam and target areas near Hanoi. This approach took precedence over naval bombardments that could be conducted by regular Army or Marine Corps artillery.

    Despite its brief deployment during the Vietnam War, the USS New Jersey was highly active, destroying and damaging hundreds of targets with millions of pounds of ordnance—an impressive feat for a ship commissioned in 1943.

    Its shore bombardment missions undoubtedly saved the lives of many American soldiers battling a formidable enemy in challenging jungle terrain.

    Relevant articles:
    Battleship USS New Jersey Fired over 5,000 Massive 16-Inch Shells During the Vietnam War, The National Interest
    Full History – Battleship New Jersey, battleshipnewjersey.org
    USS New Jersey Fired over 5,000 Massive 16-Inch Shells During Vietnam War, The National Interest
    Vietnam – Battleship New Jersey, Battleship New Jersey

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