Defending the Seas and the Sky

By Justin Hall, National Museum of the American Sailor Contract Curator

Much has been written about how the airplane changed naval warfare, however, what did these changes mean for the U.S. sailor during World War II? A significant change due to the aerial threat was the manning of a ship. Prior to the airplane, a ship had to be spotted by another ship before they closed in to engage.

Prior to the airplane, a ship had to be spotted by another ship before they closed in to engage. For this reason, battleships and cruisers would only man roughly a third of the ship to ship armaments at a time with a constant rotation amongst the armaments and the sailors which worked these weapons. When an enemy was spotted, battle stations was announced, and all guns would immediately be manned. Conversely, even with men being quartered near their stations, an alarm for general quarters does not provide enough time for men to defend against an air attack. The solution to this predicament was to man the anti-air armament 24 hours a day.

Much of the armament that was committed specifically to anti-air defense were the 20 mm Oerlikons and 40 mm Bofors mounted to the main deck and/or superstructure. Since these weapons in the anti-air armament were not located within an armored turret or mount, enlisted men stationed at these guns wore helmets to help offer some protection.


USS Biloxi (CL 80) 40mm quad-mounted guns firing during battle practice while the ship was shaking down in October 1943. The view looks forward along the ship’s port side, with a 5/38 twin gun mount beyond the 40mm guns. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-K-2844.

Not only were numerous sailors needed to man the anti-air armament at all times, but the Navy heavily increased the number of anti-air guns on each ship. Below is a picture of a model from our collection of USS Missouri (BB 63) an Iowa Class battleship that was designed early in the war, but not built and commissioned until 1944. Upon commissioning, Missouri possessed 149 barrels in her anti-air armament, yet she was not initially designed with this armament or to berth the sailors required to man these weapons 24 hours a day.


Model of the USS Missouri (BB 63) from the National Museum of the American Sailor’s collection. Notice the 40 mm gun tubs located on the super structure and atop of turret two.

Read this post on the NMAS Facebook page to find out how ships handled an increased compliment of sailors during World War II.

For more about the National Museum of the American Sailor visit our website.

One thought on “Defending the Seas and the Sky

  1. Pingback: Fire Control on Iowa-class Battleships | Sailors Attic

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