USS Des Moines on last cruise

Nearly three years ago, in the early days of this site, I noted the effort to bring the heavy cruiser USS Des Moines (CA-134) to Milwaukee as a museum. Sadly, the effort failed.

Last Monday, the old ship was towed out of Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on her last voyage. It’s a trip to the breakers in Texas. I had thought maybe I might be able to check her out when I go to Texas in October, but the scrapyard is just on this side of the Mexican border in Brownsville (better to use immigrant labor) and I won’t be making it that far south.


The Des Moines’ rapid-fire 8″ guns could still be useful, I think, but the cost of renovating the ship would be prohibitive (if even possible). Some have suggested that maybe the Des Moines would be a cheaper, more-realistic alternative to reactivating a battleship.

Maybe the turrets (three triples) could be used on inexpensive shore bombardment monitors? I’ve long thought that something along those lines might be handy, especially if you give them a turret up front and a MRLS in the rear. Though the lower range of the 8″ guns would make the ship far more vulnerable to shore missiles than a battleship with 16″ guns would have been.

Many more pics at

UPDATE: Here’s an overhead shot of the Des Moines in Philly from Google Maps. Across the way from Des Moines is the USS Inchon (LPH 12, MCS 12 at the end), which was sunk in late 2004.


  1. Would a ship be stable enough to fire MLRS-type rockets from? Free flight rockets already get a lot of dispersion firing from a stationary, suspension-locked, tracked platform on land. Put it on a moving, rolling with the waves ship and you might not put the rockets in a small enough box to get good target effects. You might be able to engineer a way past that problem, but it’d be an interesting challenge.

  2. Stabilize the MRLS system and fit it in place of the MK26 on an older vessel. Say one of the 5 Ticonderoga CGs that have been decommisioned. Replace the 5’54s with 155mm mount. You now have 5 ships for gunfire support that are not so old (Launched in 80s) and have 155mm/MRLS capability. And, with a little work, only need 125 personnel each to crew them. (We worked up that manning plan in 2001 on the USS Yorktown.)

  3. It would probably be possible to fit the miracle DDX guns to this hull with a minor power plant upgrade (=bigger electrical generators). I wonder if that makes any sense though. Is that gun really better than a bunch of quick firing 8’s? I seriously doubt it. Last I heard they were having trouble getting it to live up to its promises. MLRS is a nice idea but I think these ships would be more useful if the guns were left as-is and they were jammed full of Tomahawks and Standard Missiles in addition. That would give them decent shore bombardment/near-to-shore artillery support capability plus the reach to hit targets inland and to provide an aerial picket. 125 crew (or even slightly more) really doesn’t sound like a lot for what would be a pretty capable platform for–well–just about anything you can do at sea.

  4. Thirty-plus years ago I was a young Naval Reserve Officer stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, first as the ‘gunnery officer’ on an old Sumner Class WWII reserve training destroyer (Douglas H. Fox DD-779) and then a ‘Ship Supt.’ stationed in the Yard itself to oversee construction and repair of a number of ships. Very interesting work, BTW. Anyway, while there I got on Des Moines (or the Salem, CA-139 now preserved at Quincy Mass, They were nested together at the time, which was 1972-73. I thought they were antiques back then, and couldn’t imagine them being restored as part of the current fleet for any reason. Iowa and Wisconsin were in Philly then, also, and you can imagine how amazed I was when Reagan revived them in the 80s. Whatever the merits of that decision (and I think it was the right one at the time, look at the role they played in the First Gulf War) there is no way it makes sense to restore these ships and put them back in commission now. It would be like saying that P-51s are still servicable fighters just because there are some that can still fly. These things are pure history now. Sadly, some other, even older history was lost in Philly when I was there. What was a crime to see was the PNSY reserve basin eventually cleaned out and many PRE-WWII destroyers — Benson, Gleaves-Livermore classes — sunk to make a fishing reef, or scrapped, with nary a one of their type preserved for posterity. They made the Fletcher class look like ocean liners, and were fascinating to go aboard, which I got to do scrounging 5’/38 gun parts for the FOX. One ship in particular I remember was USS Thorn, DD-647. Its bridge and CIC were the size of large, walk in closets. Also, although you’d never know it from an internet search, USS Woolsey (DD-437) was in Philly in the early 70s too. She was the lowest hull number DD I was on. FOX was berthed in the reserve basin in 1973 just behind Woolesy and I remember them towing Woolsey out for scrap. Reminded me of seeing the original Enterprise progressively cut to pieces in the 1950s up north in Kearny, NJ. You could see her till there was nothing left when you drove along the Pulaski Sykway. Anyway, I’m glad to have seen Enterprise and walked on some real tin cans in the flesh, even if they were mothballed. What a shame not one of the pre-WWII destroyers of any class is preserved.

  5. Nicolas First five Ticonderogas (CG47-51) were not vertical launch. Not Tomahawk capable and cannot fire ABM varients of Standard. – MK26 is the twin arm launcher for Standard. I would keep one for air defense and fit MRLS on the other position. – 155mm mount is suposed to be compatable with current 5’54 mounts. So is the lightweight 8′. Either would improve NGFS capability. Two mounts on Ticos. – Still capable of cooperative engagement using AEGIS system. We worked up the 125 personnel manning plan in 2001 as part of the follow on the the smart-ship program. Yorktown’s (CG48) crew was 328 O/E at the time. Biggest problem we had was with the 3M buracracy. Needed a change in mindsets that the five-sided rubber-room could not accept.

  6. They did have 8′ Rocket Assisted Projectile (RAP) rounds. Not sure what their range was. Certainly less than the 16′ Sabot or RAP rounds.

  7. Here’s a thought: if you must scrap the ship, at least mothball the guns, maybe the magazine/feeding mechanisms as well. That’d probably be the toughest part to replace if you ever had a use for them again.