The massive profile of the battleship USS North Carolina can be spotted from almost anywhere on the waterfront in Wilmington, North Carolina. You cannot miss this impressive ship that is a piece of history.
As you traverse the walkway leading up to the ship, her size is immense. But it is her history that captivates you. From her menacing guns that seem to punch through the air to her magnificent superstructure that soars into the air, this battleship is a force to be reckoned with.
The very thought of this battleship moving like a ghost shrouded in an early morning mist to battle against our enemies is enough to cause an eerie anticipation of the devastation this mighty battleship will bring to those who oppose her. But today, this valiant fighting machine is a historical treasure, taking visitors on a journey back in time.
When visiting the USS North Carolina, we’ve curated a list of tips to help you prepare for your visit and maximize your time on board.
Our visit to the battleship USS North Carolina was hosted by Visit Wilmington & the Beaches. However, all opinions are my own.
1. Learn The History
For her era, the North Carolina was technology-forward. She played a role in every major military operation in the Pacific during World War II. Her keel was laid in 1937, and she was commissioned on June 13, 1940.
Her firepower includes nine 16-inch/45-caliber turret guns, and 20 5-inch/38-caliber guns in twin gun mounts, making her a formidable opponent. She carried 2,339 military men who lived and worked onboard.
Following the end of World War II, the USS North Carolina was used as a training vessel from 1945 to 1946. In 1947 she was decommissioned and sent to New Jersey as part of the Inactive Reserve Fleet.
In 1961, thanks to a vigorous campaign by organizations, citizens, and representatives, the North Carolina relocated to Wilmington. But, it was the school children who pooled their money, raiding their piggy banks, who were the true heroes that brought the USS North Carolina home.
2. Read The Sea Stories
Learn about the men who served on the USS North Carolina and hear their personal stories about serving on this mighty ship. These stories are found on the battleship’s site under Sea Stories.
The stories bring the ship to life and are first-hand accounts from the men who served onboard her. Some are especially poignant, like the recounting of the torpedo hit by Walter Babcock, one of the North Carolina‘s cooks:
“I was down taking a shower, didn’t have a stitch of clothes on, had just gotten out of the shower, and had the towel going on my back drying my back. There was a big explosion. I couldn’t hear anything, and the next thing I knew I was in the water and oil and there were two other guys pretty close to me, but I somehow got out.
“But I’ll never forget it, the sight that I saw. I saw the prettiest roses you ever laid your eyes on. I saw my name. At the time I was from Lynchburg, Virginia. And I saw my name in the Lynchburg paper, ‘Walter T. Babcock,’ and I’m going to tell you like it was, ‘Walter T. Babcock, killed in action.’
“And I don’t remember getting from down the third deck up to topside. The only thing I know, and I’m telling the truth, I saw my mother and father. One caught one hand and one caught the other and I actually talked to them.” — Walter Babcock, Ship’s Cook 3/c
3. Take One Of Several Tours
When visiting the USS North Carolina, you can opt for a guided or self-guided tour. We particularly liked the self-guided tour that allowed us to go at our own pace. However, there are guided tour options available.
The City At Sea Second Deck Tour takes about 90 minutes and gives visitors a glimpse of life onboard a warship. The tour includes the crew’s living spaces, sick bay, mess decks, the ship’s store, barber shop, ice cream shop, and more. The guided tours are reserved online and must be booked at least 36 hours in advance.
Pro Tip: The Second Deck Tour requires you to go up and down several ladders. We suggest booking the Above Deck Tour if you have mobility issues.
The Above Deck Guided Tour is an excellent option for those with limited mobility and takes 90 minutes. You won’t have to climb ladders or be in tiny spaces. Your tour guide will walk you through the history of the USS North Carolina and her role in the Pacific theater of World War II.
The Combo Tour is both the Above Deck and Second Deck tours and takes 3 three hours.
4. Hydrate Before You Board
The self-guided tour takes about 2 hours. There are no water stations onboard the ship. On hot steamy days, it is essential to hydrate before your tour so you don’t get dehydrated or lightheaded. You can also carry a water bottle or juice, but please do not leave your trash behind.
5. Wear Comfortable Clothing And Shoes
As you tour the spaces onboard the North Carolina, you’ll be traversing decks, stairs, and tight places. We suggest that you wear loose comfortable clothing that allows you to move.
For shoes, we recommend flat shoes that have a grip to them. The best shoes would be tennis shoes or boat/deck shoes.
6. Watch Your Head
Remember those tight spaces and stairs I mentioned? The steps are actually ladders that run between decks, and they are narrow. The steps are frequently squeezed into a space you must duck under. Don’t fall victim to banging your head on a hard metal surface or pipe that may protrude out.
7. Know Ship Ladder Safety
It is not easy traversing the ladders between the decks! Jim and I are familiar with boat ladders, having owned larger boats over the years. The best way to go down a ladder is backward, with your eyes facing the ladder steps.
Going down ladders backward can be intimidating, but it is the safest way to go down. During her service years, the men serving onboard the North Carolina would often forgo stepping down the ladder. Instead of gripping the handles on each side of the ladder, they would slide down. This method was especially effective in battle situations. Battle situations are very fluid, and you must move quickly. There was no time to waste when you were called to action.
8. Immerse Yourself In The Tour
Take the time to read some of the stories from the crew. These stories are on placards around the ship. They are first-hand accounts from the sailors who served on her. They bring the ship, which is a floating city, to life.
Imagine being a crew member living in a sea of steel and a rabbit warren of tiny hot rooms during wartime! Imagine yourself sleeping in the creaking bunks with noise raging all around you.
Battles at sea have never been staged for convenient times. You could be bombed or torpedoed at any time of the day or night. Sailors work around the clock, so the work does not end; neither does the noise. There are no quiet times when you are living in a floating city.
The battleship USS North Carolina is a must-do when visiting Wilmington, North Carolina. This battleship played a vital role in the Pacific theatre during World War II. She earned 15 battle stars during the war years and only lost 10 men!