The 16-Inch Main Battery: The “Big Guns”

Sea Stories

The nine 16-inch guns comprise NORTH CAROLINA’s “Main Battery,” her most destructive weapon. The guns are housed in three six-level turrets, which extend from the exterior decks down to just above the Ship’s bottom. The primary targets for these guns were enemy ships and shore bombardments.

Effective range at 45 degrees
armor piercing projectiles: 21 miles
high capacity projectiles: 23 miles

Rate of fire
30 seconds per round

Weight of armor piercing projectile
2700 pounds
(shells used to penetrate another ship’s armor or reinforced fortifications on shore)

Weight of high capacity projectile
1900 pounds
(shells used primarily for bombardment of islands and other land targets)

Weight of powder charge
540 pounds or six 90-pound bags

Gun crew per turret
3 officers, 177 enlisted

“Following on schedule at 2:00PM, General Quarters was sounded, this time it was for a purpose, the bombardment of Ponape (1 May 1944). But before this took place, we had to launch our planes.

(Note: The Ship’s Kingfisher planes were launched for two reasons. First, they would be in the way of the 16-inch gun turret on the after deck. Secondly, the planes could ‘spot’ the gunfire; that is, check to be sure the projectiles hit their targets. If the projectile missed, the planes would radio the correct the aim of the gun.)

Then at 3:00PM we commenced firing upon the island, this went on for about two hours and all was successful. During our time of bombardment of the island, we had a submarine contact and our destroyers started to drop depth charges, but weren’t very successful, and this contact soon faded out of the picture.

At about 4:45PM we secured from firing on the island for there wasn’t much left to waste any more ammunition on. This bombing was to destroy anything the enemy had that was worthwhile in the line of fuel, stores, and supply buildings, as well as ammunition dumps. This all went well, and about 30 minutes later, we recovered our planes safely, and no resistance what so ever.

By the way, the following ships were engaged in this bombardment were INDIANA, ALABAMA, IOWA, NEW JERSEY, and also the NORTH CAROLINA, as you should know, these are all battleships. (The Ship’s Log also lists the battleships MASSACHUSETTS and SOUTH DAKOTA.)

Now that everything is quiet, this night was a surprise; we had movies aboard ship. During this time we were only about 25 miles off the coast of the island of Ponape.”

-Louis M. “Frenchie” Favereaux


“[The bombardment of] Iwo Jima is where I found out that you were not supposed to open a door on the firing side the same time a 16-inch gun was fired. The door opened outward and I was about half way out and was knocked back in by the door being slammed shut by the force of the firing. I wasn’t hurt, just shook up. Watching a bombardment is something that you will never forget. I can still remember the noise that the shells made going through the air. You could actually see them.”

-John Bartholomew, Radioman 3/c


“Never having been on a battleship and never seeing 16-inch guns fired I was interested when we went to the gunnery range to fire our 16-inch guns. I stood behind the #2 mount to watch. They fired a salvo and I did not have a hair on my face or arms. I wound up in sick bay for burns and a reprimand. After that I never watched the guns firing without using flash cream and long sleeves.”

-Charles Hotaling, Seaman 2/c


“I was assigned to Turret I as a work station and general quarters station. Several times I was asked to put on a monkey suit (coveralls). I was a Gunner’s Mate striker. The first step was to get two lines from the chamber all the way through the (16-inch gun) barrel. This was done with the gas ejector. We would then use a hammock for me to lie on. We would secure a line to each corner and tie a rag around my head and I entered the chamber feet first. Someone would pass me a large rag and about a pound or more of grease. When I said ready men on deck would start pulling me through and I used my hands to spread the grease round and round the barrel. I was glad when my feet came out the other end.”

-Paul Phillips, Seaman 1/c


“Our battleship and some destroyers were sent in late in the afternoon to start bombardment about dark. The planes had been bombarding for two days. We were sent in to bombard all night, to hold the Japanese down and to keep them from getting any sleep or rest or putting up any fortification. The troops were going to land the next morning after we put an all-night bombardment on the islands (Roi and Namur, January 1944). We fired at different intervals every 10 or 15 minutes so that the Japanese would not know when the next salvo (round of fire) was coming.”

-Henry Greenway, Boatswain’s Mate 2/c


“When we bombarded different islands, prior to occupation, we have four or five first line battleships right in a row. They would be going by…and they would fire a starboard. Take 20 minutes or so and the next one would pick it up and then the next one and the next one. They would turn and come back and fire port side bombarding the islands. That was quite an impressive sight.”

-Henry Okuski, Boilerman 1/c


“I was assigned to #4 fireroom but was off duty and we decided to go topside to watch the activity. The forward turrets were scheduled to be fired so everyone on deck was moved aft. J.T. Red Miller and I were watching the 16-inch shells hurtling toward the island which was quite an amazing sight. The Japanese were firing back from caves in Mt. Suribachi. Red and I watched what appeared to be a 5-inch shell coming directly at our ship. It splashed just 25 or 30 yards short of the ship. I headed for the ladder to get below at flank speed. When I got to my bunk Red was waiting for me and asked, “what took you so long?” That was our first and last time to watch the big guns in action.”

-Wilbur E. “Gene” McIntyre, Fireman 2/c