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LONDON — The battleship Iowa is on her last voyage.

And somewhere up in the North Atlantic she is "fighting" her last battle participating in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization maneuver, Operation Strike Back.

The NATO exercise is just a dry run for this warrior, but it is her last engagement. The Iowa is soon to be decommissioned and put away in mothballs.

Even before Operation Strike Back is completed, the Iowa will be sailing homeward to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she will be decommissioned Oct. 17.

This super battlewagon, once called the first lady of the 3d Fleet, which she helped to make history in the South Pacific during World War II, has become obsolete.

Despite her immense size and the nine 16-inch guns that top off her armament, the Iowa is no match for guided-missile ships. And despite the fact that the big ship came out of retirement once before to serve as the 7th Fleet flagship during the Korean conflict, her usefulness to the Navy is over.

This is an era of small, quick, compact fighting units, and the 45,000-ton Iowa, whose length is almost the size of three football fields put end to end, is too big for modern warfare.

And in this day of atomic-powered naval craft that seem to run endlessly on little fuel, the fact that the Iowa must carry up to 25 million gallons of fuel weighs against her.

Although her 16-inch guns can hurl 25 tons of devastation per minute for a. distance of 23 miles, modern jet planes can go farther and Inflict greater damage.

Adm Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, has said that "battleships would be of limited use in modern war because the guns which comprise their main battery are of limited range and power.

"The traditional role of battleships has been assumed by our attack carrier aircraft ... gradually augmented by guided and ballistic-missile ships as soon as they become available."

This Iowa is the fourth Navy ship to bear the name. The first Iowa was built during the Civil War as a 3,200-ton gunboat, The second, an 11,000-ton vessel, fought at Santiago Bay during the Spanish-American War.

Construction of the third Iowa was cancelled before the ship was launched. The present Iowa was commissioned in 1943.

The big battlewagon first saw action against the Tirpitz In World War II and also carried President Roosevelt to Casablanca for a wartime conference.

The Iowa fought again in the Korean conflict when she steamed more than 40.000 miles and participated in countless gun strikes and incessant bombardment of enemy rail supply and troop target.

Though her nine battle stars brought glory to the Navy during World War II, the Iowa's days have been numbered since the sinking of the Ostfriesland in 1921, when the vulnerability of battleships to air attack was proved.

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