The True Facts Behind the Silly Ending of Battleship

Slate's Culture Blog
May 21 2012 8:50 AM

Fact-Checking Battleship: Could We Really Revive the “Mighty Mo”?

The USS Missouri and the stars of Battleship
The team behind Battleship poses in front of the U.S.S. Missouri.

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Spoilers for the movie Battleship ahead.

What’s the expiration date on a World War II warship? That’s a question raised by the surprising third act in Peter Berg’s new naval actioner Battleship. Desperate for another ship to complete their one last job, our heroes turn to the World War II battleship the USS Missouri, which has been docked under their noses all along—and start it back up with the help of a few veterans of the Greatest Generation.

We decided to ask the folks from the Missouri Memorial: If faced with such a situation, could we really revive the “Mighty Mo”?

Sure, but it would take about 1,500 men, a boatload of fresh fuel, and a pretty serious restocking of ammo. Well, that or a tugboat. The USS Missouri was finally retired in 1992 and turned from a warship into a museum—just like the one in the movie. Today, it stays docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where there is no crew at the ready, nor any ammo or fuel on board.

The USS Missouri was built with four steam turbines and eight Babcock and Wilcox boilers on board, but, as the staff at the Missouri museum told us, these engines have not been used to power or propel the ship since 1992. In fact, the onetime sovereign of the sea now gets its electricity from the shore. On the rare occasions when the USS Missouri does sail the high seas, such as to travel for restoration and repair, it’s usually towed by a tugboat. The production of the movie Battleship was able to capitalize on one such move, at which time Berg and his crew filmed the ship in action (without showing the tugboat).

If fully reloaded and refueled, the ship could become quite a bit more mighty than depicted in Battleship. This is because the Missouri, though it was initially decommissioned after the Korean War, was reactivated by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and then served in the first Iraq War. During this time it was equipped with eight new armored box launchers for Tomahawk cruise missiles, and four quadruple canister launchers for 16 anti-ship Harpoon Missiles—weapons much more high-tech than the 16-inch gun turrets used in the film. All the Tomahawk launchers and Harpoon canisters remain on board (though they’re all without missiles).

There may be a few old salts out there happy to lend a hand to resuscitate the ship—some of the movie’s veterans were played by actual veterans, including at least one Korean war vet and a World War II veteran in his 90s. But a savvier admiral would recruit those who served on the ship in the 1980s or during Desert Storm, who would have a better knowledge of the ship’s modern accoutrements (and might be bit more spritely besides). A curator for the museum assured Slate that such a crew, “would certainly be able to man and operate the USS Missouri or teach active-service sailors how to operate their battleship, if required to do so.”

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Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 


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