USS Iowa World War II Anti-Aircraft Engagements

By Dave Way
Battleship Iowa BB-61

Updated 27 October 2014

I had often wondered how many total enemy planes IOWA had engaged and shot down during World War II in the Pacific, but had never discovered this information.  The opportunity to review and summarize this topic came to us recently after receiving copies of IOWA’s World War II Action Reports and Daily Diaries. These are stored at the National Archives 2 and we had them photographed for our archives.  As I read through IOWA’s reports, I recorded the entries of aviation attacks on a spread sheet to help summarize these actions.  The following is based upon my research.

Although IOWA’s radar tracked enemy airplanes on many occasions, she was normally not attacked directly.  From the encounters written in IOWAs’ World War II reports the enemy planes were either; shot down by the Task Force’s CAP (Carrier Air Patrol planes) – from the aircraft carriers IOWA was escorting, were after other targets, or were frightened off while coming in range of IOWA’s massive anti-aircraft battery.  The four IOWAs carried the most anti-aircraft guns in the fleet, along with the new Essex class aircraft carriers (Some of the Essex class carriers, depending on their individual configuration, would carry more 20 mm guns while USS Saratoga (CV-3) carried a hundred 40mm guns in 25 quad mountings).  I could imagine the enemy pilots avoiding attacking a battleship and striking either a higher valued carrier for a target or a much less threatening destroyer.

There were 18 engagements when enemy planes were close enough for IOWA to open fire.  The 5-inch gun mounts would be the first to fire at long range with radar direction.  If the enemy aircraft came closer, the 40 mm guns would open fire, and at an even closer range the 20 mm guns.  During some attacks, depending on the angle of the attacking airplane towards IOWA, only certain port or starboard guns would be able to fire.  Occasionally, IOWA would have to check her fire against attacking planes so her anti-aircraft fire would not hit other American warships she was steaming with in their Task Force formation or friendly fighter planes.

IOWA’s first engagement against an attacking airplane took place on February 16, 1944.  IOWA was assigned to Task Force 58 escorting aircraft carriers, as USN carrier airplanes were attacking Japan’s anchorage at Truk in the Carolina Islands (Operation Hailstone).  A single seat “Zeke” fighter strafed and dropped a bomb off IOWA’s starboard bow.  IOWA fired back with 2 rounds from a quad 40 mm and 72 20 mm rounds, and then watched as the Zeke was downed by the CAP in the distance.

Another attack, which must have been very dramatic, occurred on October 14, 1944, east of Formosa.  That afternoon, a report was received from the CAP of an enemy raid of about 15 planes approaching from the east.  At 1515 three enemy planes came out of a rain squall on the port bow of the formation, each being chased by two USN Hellcat fighters.  One enemy plane turned east and was shot down by the fighters.  Another crossed ahead of the formation and was shot down in flames by fighters south of the formation.  The third plane, a “Judy” dive bomber, headed directly for IOWA’s port beam and went into a shallow dive towards the ship’s bridge.  1516 - As the friendly fighters pulled up sharply and turned west to avoid IOWA’s anti-aircraft fire.  IOWA opened fire with five 40 mm quads and two 20 mm guns at 1,000 yards.  Iowa fired 108 40 mm rounds and 28 20 mm rounds in total at this target.  All tracer bullets appeared to hit squarely in the engine and right wing of the plane which burst into flames, fell off on the right wing and crashed 300 yards off the port beam, sinking immediately.

IOWA’s Executive Officer called out the performance of one Marine gun crew member against the attacking “Judy” dive bomber in the November 1, 1944 Action Report.

The performance on 14 October of the port machine gun batteries and particularly of Sergeant John C. Villante, USMC, operator of no. 4’s 40 millimeter director, is worthy of special mention.  On this occasion, only the cool and accurate performance of his duty on the part of Villante enabled the machine guns to blast apart a Judy heading for a crash dive on IOWA’s bridge area.  With the plane apparently heading at the director, Sergeant Villante picked up and maintained an accurate fire.  The plane was knocked down close aboard.

The most intense air attack against IOWA took place on November 25, 1944, while steaming 70 miles east of Polillo Island supporting airstrikes against the Luzon area, Philippines.  IOWA’s War Diary states that at 1245 the lookouts spotted several enemy planes low on the water and closing in for an attack.  For the next 10 minutes the action was extremely rapid.  IOWA fired at seven planes, with three being shot down and three more hit.  The three planes shot down by IOWA were two “Jill” attack torpedo bombers and one “Judy” dive bomber.  During the attack two of these seven planes were seen to crash on aircraft carrier INTREPID and one on the carrier CABOT.  IOWA expended 78 5-inch rounds, 1,450 rounds of 40 mm, and 4,400 20 mm rounds, while shooting at the seven enemy planes.

IOWA’s Action Report provided more interesting details on the November 25th air attacks.

The planes observed astern at 1250 commenced their approach from dead astern at 1251.  There were three planes, identified as Jills, and they apparently endeavored to remain directly astern of this ship during their approach.  In an effort to bring guns to bear, the entire five-inch battery was finally assigned to the after five-inch director, but it was not until the planes reached a range of 6,500 yards that the after two port mounts were out of their danger sectors and fire could be opened up with the five-inch battery.  Mount #10 firing Mark 32 fuzzed projectiles was the first to fire and the leading plane received a direct hit from what was believed to be the first projectile fired.  It disintegrated in the air, and the Rangefinder of Sky 4 reported that at one instant he was looking at an airplane and the next instant all he could see was a propeller and radial engine flying through the air with no plane attached to it. Five-inch fire was then shifted to the second plane, which by this time was also under fire from the 20 and 40 mm guns as it moved up the port quarter towards the INTREPID.  This plane was also shot down in flames as a result of observed hits from 40 mm guns.  The third plane zoomed sharply upwards to an altitude of several hundred feet, then despite machine gun hits received from this ship and INTREPID, fell on one wing and dove on the flight deck of INTREPID where it crashed.  No five-inch was fired at the third plane since the range was fouled by a screening destroyer.

Approximately four minutes later at 1258 a single enemy plane, a Judy, was sighted directly astern of the ship at an estimated altitude of 6,000 feet, position angle 60 degrees, diving along the fore-and-aft line of the ship towards the center of the disposition.  This plane was taken under fire by 13 40 mm quad mounts and 35 20 mm guns.  Hits were scored almost immediately, the plane rolled completely over at least twice and then, when it was directly over the ship, went into a tight spin and crashed about 100 yards sharp on the starboard bow.  Although no accurate count could be made, it is estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition was expended on the plane.  It crashed so close to the ship that the machine gunners in the bow were ordered to abandon their guns for fear the plane would crash on them.  The gunners evidently were of the same opinion of the sector officers since they lost no time in moving aft.

In total during World War II, IOWA shot down 5 attacking planes, assisted downing 3 others, and damaged at least 3 others.

In between periods of action, to keep the gun crews skills sharp, IOWA’s daily War Diaries recorded many gun drills.  Target sleds would occasionally be towed for 5-inch and 16-inch gun target practice.  More frequently were anti-aircraft drills and target practice as described below.

On Sunday April 8, 1945 (this was after Iowa’s Hunters Point repairs, while exercising off Hawaii before returning to the forward combat zone):

Although poor visibility was again experienced, IOWA, operating in waters to the south of OAHU ISLAND, throughout that day exercised at various drills as directed by CincPac; 324 rounds of 5”/38 ammunition, 756 rounds of 40 mm, and 2,237 rounds of 20 mm ammunition were expended on anti-aircraft firing.  A total of nine sleeves were shot down by this ship.  Other drills included Radar alignment in elevation and Radar jamming for IOWA and NEW ORLEANS.

Another interesting discovering was reading that radio controlled drones were being used during the last part of World War II.  IOWA was probably outfitted for launching the “radioplane” drones while she was undergoing repairs and a refit in Hunters Point, San Francisco, from January through March, 1945.  The below Diary recorded one such anti-aircraft drone drill.

On Thursday afternoon, 12 April 1945, IOWA launched 5 small radio controlled drones for AA (anti-aircraft) firing.  Three of these were knocked down by the ship’s gunfire; the other two were sent over NEW ORLEANS for that ship’s practice; 2,886 rounds of 40 mm and 6,103 rounds of 20 mm were expended in this manner.

From what I have read, it seems that IOWA’s well trained and dedicated crew, superb fire control and gun systems, and the many split second variables that occur in war, prevented IOWA from being a victim of an enemy plane’s bomb or suicide crash upon her.

USS Iowa Action Reports and Anti-Aircraft Actions Summary

Attacks on 25 November 1944

Zeke Attack on Bridge

Anti-Aircraft Actions Summary

Page History

27 October 2014 - New datapage


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