The USS Battleship North Carolina is an unmistakable site in Downtown Wilmington. Taking up a large portion of the waterfront docks, this historic World War II moveable landmark is a must-see for Cape Fear vacationers.
With construction commencing in 1937 and completed by 1940, the battleship was instrumental in World War II and was involved in every major Pacific offensive. As the "newest" member of the fleet of battleships that were ingrained in the war, the USS North Carolina, with its wealth of technological advances and modern design, received a lot of attention during and after the war, earning the still-used nickname of "Showboat." Outfitted with nine 16-inch/45 caliber guns in three turrets, and twenty 5-inch/38 caliber guns in ten twin mounts, the battleship was a formidable opponent which required 144 officers and 2,195 military members to keep her afloat and in service.
Throughout her many battles during World War II, the ship earned 15 battle stars and only lost 10 men in action, (with 67 men wounded), which was a tremendous feat in the Pacific region.
After the war, the USS North Carolina settled into a less active life serving as a training vessel in 1945 and 1946. In 1947, the ship was officially decommissioned and was sent to the Inactive Reserve Fleet in New Jersey, where she sat for the next 14 years. In 1958, it was announced that the ship was soon to be scrapped altogether, when representatives, organizations and citizens from North Carolina stepped in to save their battleship namesake. The enthusiastic "Savor Our Ship" campaign was successful, and in 1961, the ship made its way to its current home as the Showboat of Downtown Wilmington. Just a few months later in April of 1962, the ship was dedicated as a North Carolina memorial to its WWII veterans and the 10,000 state residents who died during the war.
Today, the USS North Carolina is open every day of the year, (including holidays), to curious tourists and residents alike who want to take an in-depth look at World War II's most recognizable battleship. The entrance is located right along the downtown docks, and patrons are welcome from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily to take a self-guided tour throughout the depths of the ship. Areas and points of interest are well-marked, and visitors should plan to reserve a good two hours to explore the ship in its entirety, from the top level decks to the galleys well below sea level. Ticket prices range from $6.00 for children to $12.00 for adults, with special discounts given to active or retired military members.
The USS North Carolina is perhaps best known, however, for its special events which take place both during hours of operation and at night, and always draw a crowd throughout the year. In the summertime, families can enjoy a night in front of the really, really big screen as the Battleship hosts family movie nights shown on a giant projection screen along the top deck. Holidays are usually recognized with events, including an Easter Egg hunt that is a delightful challenge for children, and the battleship also hosts monthly "Behind the Scenes" tour of unrestored sections and areas of the battleship. On these tours, visitors can travel to the depths of the battleship to unearth the engineer's office, torpedo area, engine rooms, the fire control tower at the top of the ship, and much more.
The ship is also open to school groups (with special educational programs for students of all levels), in addition to soon-to-be brides and grooms for spectacular after-hours weddings and receptions that the parties involved and attending guests will never forget.
Regardless of whether a special tour or event is being held, however, the USS North Carolina is worthy of exploration any day of the week. Bring a sense of adventure, a love of history, and an appreciation of fantastic waterfront views of the city of Wilmington, and see why this "Showboat" is still one of coastal North Carolina's most beloved historical landmarks.