Navy battleship aboard which the surrender of Japan
was signed that finally ended WWII
. Before that she had seen action in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa
. In 1991 she had her final outing in the Gulf War before being finally decommissioned and turned into a museum ship at Pearl Harbor
, where she is now one of the key attractions.
More background info:
The USS Missouri was the fourth and final of the Iowa-class battleships and in fact the very last battleship commissioned into the US
Navy. It was also the last one to serve in the Navy, being decommissioned in only 1992.
She was laid on keel in January 1941 at the Brooklyn New York
Naval Yard, launched three years later and commissioned on 11 June 1944. She subsequently took part in the Pacific
Theatre of WWII,
including the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa
, and in the final stages of the war also shelled the Japanese
Her most famous hour came at the end of that conflict when she was chosen as the site where the Japanese would sign the so-called “instrument of surrender” with which WWII
was finally brought formally to a close. This took place in Tokyo
Bay on 2 September 1945, on a small deck below the bridge (and not on the main deck, as many people seem to believe). For the USA
the document was signed by Fleet Admiral Nimitz who had been the US Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific War.
For the next ten years the USS Missouri continued service in the US Navy, including a period in which she took part in the Korean War
In 1955 the battleship was decommissioned but put into the Reserve Fleet. Moored at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington State, she became something of a local tourist attraction. People came to see the history spot on the “surrender deck”, which is marked by a bronze plaque.
This came to an end when in the 1980s, under the Reagan Administration, the ship was reactivated as part of the 600-ship-Navy plan. Like her three sister ships, the USS Missouri underwent an extensive modernization/refit programme, which also included arming the ship with cruise missiles (theoretically capable of delivering nuclear warheads
), and was formally recommissioned in May 1986.
In the Gulf War between Iraq and the USA
and its allies in 1990/91, the USS Missouri saw her last action in combat between January and March 1991, mostly launching Tomahawk cruise missiles against land targets but also for the first time since the Korean War fired her 16-inch main guns.
To cut down on the high maintenance costs in the wake of the end of the Cold War
, the last battleships in the US Navy were eventually taken out of service again. The USS Missouri was finally decommissioned in March 1992.
Initially put back in the Reserve Fleet, the ship was then donated to the public to serve as a museum ship at Pearl Harbor in 1998. She was first opened to visitors in early 1999.
The USS Missouri is affectionately often also referred to as the “Big Mo”, or “Mighty Mo”.
What there is to see: potentially a lot, but it's not all obligatory. There are various options for visits. The shortest is joining a 35-minute guided tour that provides a brief overview, including the surrender deck. You can also do a more in-depth self-guided tour, with or without the aid of an audio guide.
Furthermore, you can also take advantage of the offer of special in-depth tours called “The Heart of the Missouri Tour”. These literally go into the depths, and heart, of the big ship. It's not suitable for everybody, and without a certain interest in such old maritime technology you could probably do without this extra. Personally, however, I felt connected enough to the maritime theme that I chose this option.
But first let me give a brief overview of the parts of the ship that are accessible to the general public on the normal guided or self-guided tours.
As you approach the big grey hulk of the battleship from the shuttle bus stop, you pass not only countless US flags (there's no doubt which nation you're in here) but also a few memorial plaques, e.g. one for Fleet Admiral Nimitz (see above
), as well as a roughly life-size statue of the “victory kiss”, a recreation of a famous photo taken during the victory festivities following the end of WWII
. (You can also find a giant version of this on the waterfront in San Diego, California, opposite the USS Midway aircraft carrier museum).
Up the gangway onto the main deck of the battleship itself, you are greeted by rangers/guides and can either make your decisions as to what type of tour you want to do – or, if you've pre-purchased a ticket for the Heart of the Missouri Tour, get directions to the meeting point for this tour here.
The main sight that the majority of visitors are most keen on seeing is the “surrender deck”, i.e. the historic spot where the “instrument of surrender” by Japan to the Allies was signed. The deck is one level up, underneath the bridge of the ship, in a relatively small area (so NOT on the wide main deck, as many people seem to erroneously presume). The exact spot where the table stood on which the documents were signed is marked by a brass plaque set into the deck. In addition there is a glass display case with copies of the documents, and on the wall to the side is another plaque as well as a US flag behind glass.
With this key historic spot ticked off, you can then go and explore the rest of the ship. You can wander all of the main deck freely, from stern to bow, but you cannot enter any of the big gun turrets. However, you can marvel at a replica shell of the sort these guns would have fired to a distance of up to 23 miles (35 km). They are absolutely gigantic.
The second deck, one level beneath the main deck, is also in large parts freely accessible to visitors. The tour down here follows a suggested circuit, beginning in the crew's mess in the aft.
En route you'll see the cramped sleeping quarters of the ordinary sailors and the enormous galley. The ship had a crew of between 1500 and 2800 in total – imagine cooking for so many eaters. Well, the sizes of the pots and other utensils provide a good impression.
You'll also see cabins of higher ranks, the library, machine shop, dentist's cabin, and so on and so forth. Some parts are more or less in their original state, others contain artefacts and whole exhibitions. These include the history of the ship and its missions in WWII
and the Korean War
When I visited the ship, there was a temporary (?) special exhibition on the topic of kamikaze
– done in collaboration with the Chiran Kamikaze Museum
! This is all the more remarkable as the USS Missouri itself was the target of a kamikaze attack in WWII, though it caused only limited damage.
Back outside you can then also climb up further, all the way to the bridge of the ship. En route you can glimpse into the captain's main cabin, the officers' mess and state room, and at the top levels walk through the outer bridge and peek into the navigation bridge inside the armoured core of the bridge. At the slots that serve as “windows” of sorts you can see how enormously thick the steel armour is here. You can also look into the captain's somewhat less glamorous “at sea cabin” (where he at least could rest whilst not being far from the bridge).
From the bridge you can get a good view down over the front of the ship with its two enormous 16-inch gun turrets … and of the USS Arizona Memorial
in the distance in the bay.
En route you'll also pass some of the modern arms that the old battleship was refitted with in the 1980s, including the Tomahawk cruise missile launchers with which the Missouri contributed to the Gulf War in early 1991.
Now, what are the extras you get on one of those “Heart of the Missouri Tours”? Well, for starters, you are allowed inside one of the huge gun turrets, you get to see the boiler rooms, the gun-aiming command centre, the infirmary, escape hatches, and much more – you really get to see the inner workings of the ship.
When I went on this tour I was lucky that nobody else had signed up for the same time slot, so I basically had a private one-to-one tour with my veteran guide. This proved of a great advantage, not least for photography!
After a brief intro we started by entering one of the gun turrets. It was surprisingly cramped in here! Information panels and even a video screen complemented the guide's narration.
There were a couple of charts and video screens also at a few other stops deeper down, including the very backbone of the ship, in terms of logistics: “Broadway” That's the name for the one corridor that runs the entire length of the ship. My guide demonstrated how various bits of equipment worked – including a hatch in the floor that said “do not open” on it, which is precisely what he did. It was the access hatch to one of the escape tunnels (for crew to get to other parts of the ship in case their station is on fire and Broadway may be blocked).
All the vintage technology exudes a mystical atmosphere almost, especially all the really heavy brass and copper elements, and solid mechanical levers and parts. Spot the type plates saying “1942” on them – they certainly knew how to build things properly back then!
Real techie buffs will have a field day here, examining various electronics and signals systems, navigation and radar equipment, and so on, so close up. I have to admit, though, that some of the finer details of all the technological workings went over my head a bit. But in terms of atmosphere it was fantastic.
A surprise find down in the very bowels of the ship, in the engine/boiler rooms, was a large mural painted onto the curved white surface of one of the turbines. It was from the Gulf War and said “Operation Desert Shield 90-91” (that was the preparatory forerunner to “Operation Desert Storm”, which was the actual attack phase). This was accompanied by a painting that featured a camel with a headscarf standing in the desert, against a red sky, and palm trees and oil wells in the background on the one side. And on the other side there was lightning striking a building that to me looked much more like a Russian Orthodox church ... but was probably meant to represent a mosque. Great.
The guide also had a number of photos showing the ship in dry dock, so that the enormous propellers could be seen, as well as schematic representations of the gun turrets (these consist not only of what you see on deck, but reach four to five decks deep down into the ship's hull below – and they were manned by up to 100 crew each!)
At the end of the tour I wandered the publicly accessible parts for a bit longer and then made my way back to the shuttle bus.
All in all I'm glad I invested in the in-depth tour, also as it had been so intimate. That cannot be guaranteed, of course, and will much rather have been the exception than the rule. For many visitors it will be too much detail, too much technology and possibly also too much effort.
But even just the regular tour of the main deck, bridge second deck below, with its originally preserved parts and its museum-like exhibitions, is a worthwhile addition to the rest of the Pearl Harbor attractions. Highly recommended.
moored alongside the eastern side of Ford Island, just south of the USS Arizona Memorial and “battleship row” in Pearl Harbor
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: restricted, but easy to get to by shuttle bus; quite expensive.
Since Ford Island is officially part of the active naval base of Pearl Harbor, access for civilians is restricted. Private vehicles are not allowed to use the bridge to the island (only active service personnel are), but there is a regular free shuttle bus service from the rear of the main Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
Opening times: daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in June to August; only to 4 p.m. between September and May (closed Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas Day and New Year's Day).
General admission: 27 USD (child, 4-12 years old: 13 USD). Included in this are the general short (35-minute) tours, ranger talks on the surrender deck, and the optional audio guide (also available in Japanese and Korean).
The Heart of the Missouri guided tour into the depths of the ship costs an additional 25 USD – you have to purchase this together with the general admission ticket, so that the total price comes to 52 USD (child 10-12 years: 25 USD).
This tour is restricted to a maximum of 10 participants, who have to be at least 10 years old. You have to be fit enough to be on your legs for 75 minutes and negotiate various steep stairs/ladders and narrow and low passageways, so wearing good shoes and preferably a hat (esp. if you're tall) is advised. People with mobility problems cannot go on this tour.
You can also obtain a Passport to Pearl Harbor ticket
from the main memorial site's ticket office for 65 USD (child 35 USD), which includes the main site
& USS Arizona
(with audio guide), USS Bowfin submarine and museum, Pacific Aviation Museum
as well as general admission to the USS Missouri, but it does NOT include the Heart of the Missouri Tour.
This combination ticket is also only worth it if you need the audio guide at the main historic sites complex AND want to see the inside of the submarine – otherwise you do not make a saving with this ticket. On the other hand, the Passport to Pearl Harbor is valid for two days within a period of seven consecutive days, which might be an advantage.
You can get any of these types of tickets either on site at the visitor centre or pre-purchase them online from either the Pearl Harbor
ticket website (via recreation.gov) or the USS Missouri's own website. The Heart of the Missouri Tour can only be pre-purchased online via the ship’s own website's ticket sales.
Time required: between one and ca. five hours. The shuttle ride to the ship takes ca. 10 minutes, the shortest tour available lasts ca. 35 minutes, the self-guided tour of all publicly available parts is said to take between 45 and 120 minutes, while the in-depth Heart of the Missouri Tour lasts ca. 75 minutes on top of that. Add to that extra time for temporary extra exhibitions as well as the associated sights on land.
Combinations with other dark destinations: Right by the approach road to the mooring site of the USS Missouri you pass the USS Oklahoma memorial. This commemorates the lives lost aboard the battleship of the same name that was also sunk in the Pearl Harbor attacks in December 1941 and constituted the second-heaviest loss of the day after the USS Arizona. 429 crew died when the USS Oklahoma capsized after being hit by several Japanese torpedoes. However, 32 sailors who were trapped in an air-bubble filled compartment in the bottom of the ship could be rescued through a hole cut into the hull.
Further down the road on Ford Island is the Pacific Aviation Museum
, reached by the same shuttle bus that takes visitors from the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites complex to the USS Missouri. Part of the museum is housed in hangars that still bear bullet holes from the December 1941 air attacks.
From the bow and bridge of the USS Missouri you can see the USS Arizona Memorial
clearly – but you can't get there from here. Instead you have to take the mandatory boat tour from back at the main Pearl Harbor
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Hawaii
- USS Missouri 01 - American icon
- USS Missouri 02 - peace celebration sculpture
- USS Missouri 03 - historic spot
- USS Missouri 04 - it was here that the Pacific war was officially ended
- USS Missouri 05 - instrument of surrender
- USS Missouri 06 - recreational corner
- USS Missouri 07 - sailors bunks
- USS Missouri 08 - better class of cabin
- USS Missouri 09 - useful book to have on a ship
- USS Missouri 10 - dentist cabin
- USS Missouri 11 - gun turret
- USS Missouri 12 - big guns
- USS Missouri 13 - big projectile
- USS Missouri 14 - inside a gun turret
- USS Missouri 15 - massive counter-recoil buffers
- USS Missouri 16 - on broadway
- USS Missouri 17 - red light
- USS Missouri 18 - lots of danger
- USS Missouri 19 - clinometer
- USS Missouri 20 - do not open
- USS Missouri 21 - we do it anyway
- USS Missouri 22 - to look down the escape hatch
- USS Missouri 23 - deep in the bowels of the ship
- USS Missouri 24 - solid vintage technology
- USS Missouri 25 - made in 1942
- USS Missouri 26 - gear
- USS Missouri 27 - sick bay
- USS Missouri 28 - gun aiming control room
- USS Missouri 29 - radar
- USS Missouri 30 - map plotting corner
- USS Missouri 31 - plenty of old technology
- USS Missouri 32 - view down another escape hatch
- USS Missouri 33 - in one of the engine rooms
- USS Missouri 34 - from the last mission the ship was in, Iraq war
- USS Missouri 35 - now the wheels have stopped turning
- USS Missouri 36 - somewhat more modern equipment from the 90s
- USS Missouri 37 - galley
- USS Missouri 38 - doughnuts
- USS Missouri 39 - exhausting work
- USS Missouri 40 - high security part of the galley
- USS Missouri 41 - security
- USS Missouri 42 - library
- USS Missouri 43 - officers mess
- USS Missouri 44 - officers dining room
- USS Missouri 45 - kamikaze exhibition
- USS Missouri 46 - kamikaze dummy
- USS Missouri 47 - where the ship was hit by kamikaze planes
- USS Missouri 48 - modern anti-aircraft gun
- USS Missouri 49 - modern cruise missile launcher
- USS Missouri 50 - bow
- USS Missouri 51 - bridge
- USS Missouri 52 - on the bridge
- USS Missouri 53 - fortified core of the bridge
- USS Missouri 54 - map room on the bridge
- USS Missouri 55 - cabin for the captain on the bridge
- USS Missouri 56 - view from the bridge
- USS Missouri 57 - refurbishing the teak deck