Battleship Wisconsin fired last shots at enemy 25 years ago

A fireball erupts from a 16-inch gun on the USS Wisconsin during an exercise in the Persian Gulf in October, 1990.


By JEFF HAMPTON | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 17, 2016

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) -- Retired Navy gunner and current tour guide Mike Carr squeezed through a small port of a gun turret on the battleship Wisconsin.

All was quiet as he explained how the shells, each weighing more than a ton, were loaded into barrels longer than telephone poles and 16 inches in diameter.

But 25 years ago Sunday, Carr was in the turret when the ship was firing at Iraqi forces as part of Operation Desert Storm. Rounds rapidly and repeatedly blasted from the barrels, shredding targets up to 23 miles away.

"When the guns fired, it felt like a wave," he said. "It started at your toes and went all the way to your head. It's hard to explain."

The Iraqis sent out a few boats armed with small weapons to attack the Wisconsin. The ship quickly and accurately wiped them out with a few rounds, Carr said.

"I don't know what their intentions were," he said. "For us, they were good for target practice."

Over the next five weeks, the battleship blasted 24 missiles and 600 rounds from its nine guns, Carr said.

A Saudi commander praised its accuracy and power, exclaiming, "I wish we had a battleship in our Navy," according to the website of the USS Wisconsin Association.

The naval attack along with air strikes and ground troops ended the Iraqi resistance quickly. The shooting stopped on Feb. 28, 1991, marking the last time a U.S. battleship fired on an enemy, Carr said.

During the tour, standing within turret two, Carr described how shells and powder were loaded. Each gun has a name posted at its location. The right gun is called Darryl. The center gun is Darrel. The left gun is Larry. Carr had no explanation for the names.

Carr served four years on the USS Iowa before being transferred to the Wisconsin for Desert Storm. The Iowa was out of action after a turret exploded, killing 47 men.

Launched in 1943, the 887-foot Iowa-class battleship fought in the Pacific during World War II and earned five battle stars. It was commissioned and decommissioned three times, fighting in three wars nearly 50 years apart. It earned a sixth battle star in the Korean War. It fought briefly in the Persian Gulf and was decommissioned again. This year will mark its 73rd birthday, but it has only seen action for a total of 12 years, Carr said.

The Wisconsin was docked in Norfolk for good in 2000.

"They were the most powerful ships in the world," he said.

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