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Battleship Iowa begins its final voyage

May 20, 2012 |  8:53 am

The battleship Iowa, a storied vessel that languished for years in the U.S. Navy's mothball fleet, was scheduled to begin its final journey Sunday, from San Francisco to its permanent home as a museum in the Port of Los Angeles.

Four tugboats were set to guide the Iowa, among the biggest U.S. battleships ever built, under the Golden Gate Bridge and out of the San Francisco Bay. One of them, the 7,200-horsepower Warrior, will chug down the coast with the massive ship in tow, and is expected to arrive in Southern California on Thursday.

The Iowa will open for public tours in San Pedro on July 7 and remain as a central attraction on the community's waterfront, officials said.

Launched in 1942, the Iowa was a favorite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It carried him across the Atlantic en route to the 1943 Tehran Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Its bathtub — a rare amenity in a U.S. warship — was installed, along with an elevator, specifically for FDR.

In its heyday, the Iowa's huge guns could hurl 2,700-pound shells, reaching enemy ships and troops more than 24 miles away, officials said. In World War II it fought in the Marshall Islands and off the Philippines. It battered the Japanese island of Hokkaido and was among the Allied ships in Tokyo Bay for Japan's surrender.

Placed into reserve after the war, it was called back into service for the Korean War and became known as "the gray ghost of the Korean coast." In eight months, its 16-inch guns lobbed 4,000 shells — twice as many as in World War II.

But critics came to view colossal dreadnoughts as obsolete and too expensive to operate. Aircraft carriers were more efficient, they argued. In 1958, the Iowa was retired again and was idled for the next 26 years. In the 1980s, back in service, it was a formidable presence at NATO exercises and in the Persian Gulf.

The Navy planned to station it permanently in Staten Island, N.Y., but a 1989 gun turret explosion put an end to the controversial plan. The blast killed 47. The Navy at first blamed a sailor allegedly distraught over a failed relationship with another man; it later apologized, saying there was no evidence the explosion was his fault. In 1990, the ship was mothballed for the third and final time.

The Iowa has been tied up at a Richmond, Calif., dock since March. With a 60-foot mast looming over a body more than 15 stories tall, the ship had to wait for low tide before passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

For several days, the 45,000-ton Iowa will anchor at a spot three miles off Seal Beach, where divers will scrub the hull of any invasive species it might have picked up. Then it will be towed to the Port of Los Angeles' Outer Harbor to await what Kent described as a "grand entry" on June 9, when tugs will tow it the final two miles and into place at San Pedro's Berth 87. An invitation-only commissioning ceremony is set for July 4.

The Pacific Battleship Center raised $5 million to secure the Iowa for Los Angeles, officials said. The state of Iowa donated $3 million to the effort, which won out over bids from Vallejo, San Francisco and Stockton.

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— Steve Chawkins

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