Mighty Mo’s Defenses Receive .50-Caliber Boost from Indiana

This .50-caliber machine gun was operated by Marines aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Nov. 3, 2010; photo courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial)
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This .50-caliber machine gun was operated by Marines aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Nov. 3, 2010; photo courtesy of the Battleship Missouri Memorial)

BY KEITH DEMELLO – Pearl Harbor — The Battleship Missouri Memorial’s “defenses” have received a boost in the form of eight .50-caliber machine guns mounted on the perimeter of the historic ship’s main deck.

Operated by Marines stationed aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the machine guns are a reminder of a time when formal Marine Detachments (MARDETs) served on Navy ships as dedicated units. The USS Missouri MARDET was the last such detachment aboard a Navy vessel.

The story behind the installation of the .50-caliber machine guns (M2HB Mod) goes back more than a year, to a visit by Indiana-resident, Tim Barker. At the time, the Missouri sported a single .50-caliber machine gun on her bow. But to Barker, who happens to be a gun mount specialist for military contractor SAIC, the gun and its mount were not technically the right type that would have stood sentry on the ship. Luckily, Barker knew where he could get his hands on not just one but eight — his workplace at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana.

Barker, joined by SAIC gun mounts project leader Dennis Trump, pitched NSWC Crane Weapons Repair Department manager Gary Mesarosh to “de-mil” and donate the eight guns, which were no longer in use, to the non-profit Battleship Missouri Memorial. With persistence and additional help from NSWC Crane project manager Nick Crist, the guns and their appropriate mounts (MK 26 Mod 17) are now installed, significantly enhancing the onboard Mighty Mo experience. Although not equipped with ammunition, the machine guns give visitors the opportunity for some hands-on practice targeting phantom enemies on and around Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island.

“It’s inspiring to see the Battleship Missouri so well preserved for future generations,” Trump said. “It is equally rewarding to know that NSWC Crane could contribute to restoring this important part of the Mighty Mo’s armament history. In a way, through the donated .50-caliber guns, our team is symbolically standing guard on her decks to protect the Missouri as she, in-turn, stands perpetual watch over her fallen comrade, the USS Arizona, just a thousand feet away.”

Barker personally performed the installation, assisted by Battleship Missouri Memorial deck maintenance technician Roger Terwey and curator Mike Weidenbach.

“The Missouri’s massive 16-inch guns often get all the glory, but visitors are interested in all aspects of life onboard the ship,” Weidenbach said. “Weaponry systems aboard the Missouri differed greatly over three generations, from World War II, to Korea to Operation Desert Storm. It is important that we honor every era on the Missouri, as a tribute to each generation of her crewmembers.

Initially decommissioned after serving in WWII and the Korean War, the Missouri was reactivated and modernization in the 1980s (formally recommissioned on May 10, 1986) as part of President Ronald Reagan’s program to build a 600-ship Navy. The then 40-year-old battleship had her obsolete armament removed and replaced by the most advanced weaponry available at the time, including Tomahawk missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) Gatling guns for defense against enemy anti-ship missiles and enemy aircraft.

Smaller-caliber defensives, like the .50-caliber machine guns, were also added to provide the short-range, acute-angle firing capability to protect from small enemy surface boats. These guns were almost immediately put to use when, in 1987, the USS Missouri was sent to take part in Operation Earnest Will, escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The .50-caliber machine guns were particularly important, given the threat of Iranian-manned “cigarette boats” operating in the region.

Just three years later, USS Missouri would return to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. There she would fire her 16-inch main guns in anger for the final time, ultimately helping to win the liberation of Kuwait, 20 years ago this February.

The Naval Surface Warfare Centers in Crane, Indiana (NSWC Crane) is a shore command of the United States Navy under the Naval Sea Systems Command headquartered in Washington D.C. The focus of NSWC Crane is harnessing the power of technology for the warfighter. It specializes in full lifecycle support in three mission focus areas: Special Missions, Strategic Missions, and Electronic Warfare/Information Operations.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial, located a mere ship’s length from the USS Arizona Memorial, completes a historical visitor experience that begins with the day of infamy that saw the sinking of USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor and ends with Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Following an astounding career that spans five decades and three wars, from World War II to the Korean conflict to the Liberation of Kuwait, the “Mighty Mo” was decommissioned and donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which operates the battleship as a historic attraction and memorial. The association oversees her care and preservation with the support of visitors, memberships, grants and the generosity of donors. For more information, visit https://www.ussmissouri.org

Submitted by Keith DeMello for USS Missouri