I had already done quite a bit of single camera shooting aboard the New Jersey dockside in San Pedro. This had been in early August when they were bringing her up to ready status for sea duty. But my impressions of her then were clouded by the fact that in the shipyard she was dwarfed by the huge cranes and other equipment cluttering her decks and dockside area. It wasn't
It's hard to accurately describe the experience of standing near the muzzle of an active 16" gun; but anyone who has been around heavy explosives, like hard rock blasting operations, will have a limited idea of what it's like. More than just a loud bang, it is an instantaneous hell, a monster volcano belching light, heat, pressure and sound. We were perhaps 100 feet to one side and slightly behind the muzzle area. Hard-shell ear protectors were a must, due as much to the intense overpressure as to the audible sound. It is an awesome "tactile" experience—felt as well as seen and heard. It also reminded me of the time I filmed in the cab and on the catwalks of a huge steam locomotive, which was pulling a heavy load up a steep mountain gorge. Through my bones I could feel its power with every stroke of the giant pistons. These guns were the same, but more so, to the extent that while I was eager to hear and see them, I was also glad when they fell silent. Way down deep it just doesn't feel right. It's unsettling. I tried to imagine what it would be like to go through hour after hour of this kind of pounding—giving and taking it under battle conditions as the New Jersey had—and I realized what the tired-sounding phrase "shell shock" really means.
The shock wave comes at you from the air and through the deck at the same time, and with my feet I could feel the mighty ship convulse, as every molecule of the 60,000 ton behemoth received a jolt of energy from the rapidly departing 1.5 ton lead projectile. They said that when all nine guns are fired broadside simultaneously, you have to hold on or risk being thrown down as the entire ship takes a quick side step. Claims like these sounded overblown —even apocryphal—until I felt it for myself.
With the exception of the need for ear protection, the human body—like a sponge—absorbs these jolts quite well. But the camera and its support system—being rigid structures—react like a struck cue ball, departing quickly in the opposite direction—in this case up! On the first shot the un-weighted camera and tripod felt like they had been launched. On subsequent shots we put a lot of beef on the sticks and managed to keep things fairly steady. During one firing I had a close 2 shot of Tom and Secretary Lehman. Their convulsive reaction (faces lit a bright, fire-red from the cannon's flame), says more of the moment than anything -- except being there.
Overall I think the thing that hits you most about this ship is her massive armor protection. This is no modern lightweight ship. This mighty battleship and her sisters are the most heavily armored US warships ever constructed. They were designed to engage in direct ship to ship combat against 16" guns, take hits, keep fighting and win. Or, as one sailor put it, "this ship can take a lickin' and
Secretary of the Navy, Lehman and ABC's Tom Jarriel, on the Bridge of the New Jersey. The big 16" gun fires and the light, heat and shock wave (note the hair) hit you in that order. Then you duck!
The insides of the 16" turrets are fascinating. They remind one of the inside of a submarine, all brass and polish and very cramped. They said that each turret weighs as much as a nuclear sub. They have to be that massive to deal with the recoil when their three 16" cannon simultaneously fire three 2,700 lb. armor piercing projectiles some 23 miles with pin point accuracy. There is a separate compartment that encloses the breach of each gun and all three compartments are accessible from one big compartment, which spans the full width
each housing gigantic Westinghouse geared turbines, each capable of generating 212,000 horsepower. We shot in the Conning Tower with its critical areas, the pilothouse, Navigation Bridge and flag-signal bridge—all protected by 17" thick armor. We also shot in the big turrets. There are three of them, with three 16" guns in each.
THE DREADAUGHT'S RETURN
The Last Commission of BB-62, The USS New Jersey
By CHUCK BARBEE
Black & White Photos by: BOB FELLER
And so it went throughout the day. Up ladders, down ladders, in and out of hatchways. Always ready to jump quickly to a new position, for another firing of a 16" gun. There are other impressions, too: How smooth and quiet and motionless she seems, even while slicing through 12 foot swells at 33 knots; how easy it is to become lost or disoriented when below decks, probably due to the lack of a sense of motion; what a shame that the formally all-teak decks are slowly giving way (due to maintenance and repair) to construction grade Douglas fir, because of cost and availability; and brass, everywhere the brass trim and brass fittings and excellent craftsmanship. It sounds trite but there is no better way to say it: "They don't build 'em like that anymore"; and they probably never will again, because the tooling and talent to build machines of this type have atrophied, and there is no prospect of their being revived. Finally, there is what I call the Battleship Paradox: That this gigantic thing is really just a whole bunch of very tiny spaces, strung together with a lot of ladders and hatchways, which seem even smaller with a camera on your back.
Too soon it was time to go. It was 1600 hours and the flying bananas were back. But don't get me wrong. I was by now looking forward to the ride back to North Island, because it would be a chance, finally, to put down the camera. It had already been nearly a 12-hour day, and we still had to wrap the gear and ship the footage and drive back to Los Angeles. We'd be on the clock for another 6 hours or so, a 17 hour day altogether, not terribly unusual for jobs like this.
As the chopper lifted off and the mighty ship grew small, you could see the same tired-but-satisfied look on everybody's face. Another long, difficult, exciting day was ending; but we had all shared something rare and special—a little trip into the past, on the Battleship New Jersey.
It was now about 0800 hours and Rolfe, Tom, Bruce and I talked logistics with the Navy, while the two Bobs and Jeff readied our equipment for the next phase. We had to depart the ship by 1600 hours, so we had just 8 hours in which to document the shakedown of a mighty battleship. We also had to do two major interviews plus Tom Jarriel's standups (on camera narrative), which had not yet been rehearsed or blocked. We would also have to give priority to coverage of the firing of the 16" guns, all nine of them, at 20 to 40 minute intervals throughout the day.
So this was the plan: We'd split into two teams. Bruce and Jeff would be the guerrilla team. With the Arri SR they would work the entire ship for the "visuals"; essential MOS beauty and action shots—slow motion and normal—of the ship underway and working. The rest of us stayed near the number two turret and Conning Tower area: Pilothouse, navigation bridge and flag/signal bridge. It was here we would interview the ship's Captain and the Secretary of the Navy and shoot Tom's stand-ups. Then, when a 16" firing was imminent, both teams would move to various positions for those shots. Bruce over-cranking the 150-fps while I rolled at 24—and the 16" gun became the world's biggest marker.
keep on tickin."' First there is the main armor belt in the hull. It consists of class A armor that is 12 inches thick at the top, tapering to 1.6 inches thick below the waterline. There is a second armor belt that is 13.5 inches thick, protecting the propeller shafts. The turret faces are 17 inch armor, the second deck is 6 inch armor and on and on. When we asked the Navy what would happen if the New Jersey were hit with an Exocet type of missile, they said that it would take perhaps as many as ten well placed hits with such a weapon to penetrate the armor protection. The Captain pointed out that the Kamikaze attacks packed as much wallop as an Exocet and they literally just swept them off the decks of the Iowa class ships.
Three of the ships were Mothballed after the war, but the historic Missouri, upon whose decks the Japanese surrendered was retained in service as a training ship. All four ships again saw service during the Korean War and all were mothballed again between '54 and '58.
Rolf Tessem & Chuck Barbee
Then it was our turn. I shot at 32 fps with a 9.5mm lens while Bruce worked at longer focal lengths and 100 fps. We ground away at the awesome sight as the massive ship, nearly 900 feet long and 120 million pounds, sliced through the water, topping 20 knots with ease—smooth as glass and barely yielding to 12 foot swells. But for Bruce and me it was a different story. We struggled with our legs and torsos to
The ride out to the New Jersey, some 60 nautical miles at sea, off the southern tip of San Clemente Island, took about 45 minutes. In the isolation of helmet and ear protectors, surrounded by wind, vibration and the din of jet turbines, I had time to reflect on the beginnings of this job.
Producer Rolfe Tessem and I had worked together before, on a very successful Stephen Spielberg profile for 20/20. I eagerly accepted Rolfe's offer of work on a story about the battleships being brought out of mothballs for duty as cruise missile platforms. Particularly when he told me that we would be going on sea
As soon as the chopper touched down, Navy personnel began quickly unloading our gear. It was at this point that I received the most pleasant surprise of the day. I had expected that our equipment would have to be stowed somewhere below decks. Being a veteran of the documentary wars, and a student of Murphy's, I was certain that our gear would be deposited as far away as possible and (since we were working mostly topside) as near the keel as possible. But I hadn't counted upon the abilities of savvy of LTCDR Eric F. Willenbrock. Eric is the Public Affairs Officer from the offices of COM NAV SURF PAC (Commander of Naval Surface Forces, Pacific Fleet), assigned to the USS New Jersey. He is obviously not a student of Murphy's, because he had our gear stowed amid ships, on the main deck, in a wardroom adjacent to the officers' mess. So the assistants had plenty of room and comfortable surroundings in which to set up a loading area. Our gear was in a secure place, protected from the elements and we were centrally located, smack in the middle of the ship and right next to hot coffee and chow! It's funny how little things can make your whole day.
As far as equipment is concerned we had a fairly standard documentary package. It included CP 16R and Arri SR High Speed cameras, Angenieux 9.5—57 and 12—240 zooms, Angenieux superwide 5.9, a set of Ziess super speeds, a 12—120 Cannon Macro Zoom, O'Connor 50 heads with sticks and hi-hats, and several magazines and batteries for the cameras. We also had six cases of lightweight Lowell, Bardwell/ McAlister, Cinema Products and Matthews lighting and grip goodies, most of which we didn't need, but you never know. However, for the interviews I did make maximum use of my little Matthews, hand-held reflectors. These 2x2 shiny boards are light, rugged and perfect for close up and lightweight work, and they have a yolk for stand mounting. With a couple of these we were able to work on the shade side of the ship, placing the subjects against the full-lit sky and sea and bring the sun "key" around to an appropriate and pleasing angle. It was necessary to work this way because the ship was running a zigzag course most of the time. This was the only means we had to control the "key" long enough to do a 30 or 40 minute interview, plus the reverses, and still have a consistent look for editing.
The New Jersey is one of four ships of the Iowa Class. The Iowa, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Missouri were all built in response to the Japanese threat in W.W.II. All were launched between August '42 and December '43, and the New Jersey and Wisconsin were launched exactly on the 1st and 2nd anniversaries of Pearl Harbor. They were the largest battleships ever built, except for the ill-fated Yamato and Musashi, which were destroyed in the Philippines and Okinawa. The New Jersey is 59,000 tons, 887 feet long, 108 feet abeam, draws 38 feet of water, carries nine 16" guns, can reach 35 knots (41 mph) and will cruise around the world non-stop.
trials with the New Jersey. Like a lot of people I have a deep emotional response to ships and this old dreadnought is no exception.
All four Iowa Class ships saw action in the Pacific during W.W.II. The New Jersey was Admiral "Bull" Halsey's flagship during critical battles near the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. These were history's last great confrontations between mighty dreadnoughts. They marked the end of a chapter in naval history. After that, the Battleships' roll in W.W.II was primarily to screen fast carriers and bombard amphibious invasion objectives.
On this day the New Jersey was being readied for her 3rd commission. This was the day we had been waiting for. We were the only civilian film crew aboard to witness the process of cutting loose a behemoth that had lain dormant for 15 years.
As the briefing officer passed out our safety equipment and demonstrated its use, I could see Navy personnel loading our equipment into the cavernous belly of a Chinook helicopter, one of those twin rotored, flying bananas, waiting in the dim light outside. So, with a final check of our helmets, flotation gear and ear protectors (these birds are really noisy), we were on our way.
possible then to find an angle that clearly showed her as a complete ship. At that time we concentrated on the interiors. We shot in the engine rooms, four of them, each housing
Last Update: October 28, 2015 Web Author: Chuck Barbee
Copyright 1999 Charles L. Barbee - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
For the interior shooting I had done earlier, at dockside in San Pedro, I worked at the other end of the spectrum; at ambient levels as low as 4 fc. incident, in very cramped quarters. We had to be fast so I used two 30 volt Mini-Pros, often heavily scrimmed and diffused, and some 250 watt photofloods, to edge, fill or raise the level of whatever lighting we found. Hence the wide and fast lenses and, of course, 7293.
I rate the film at Eastman's recommended E.I. of 250 for 16mm. When you're working in 35mm (with 4 times more negative area) you can afford to rate the film faster. But in 16mm I like to be conservative where grain and sharpness are concerned. So I've learned to stay at the high end of the curve and leave all that padding under me. Which is just another way of stating the old adage, "expose for the shadows and let the highlights take care of themselves." At E.I. 250 you only need 10 fc. for normal exposures at 1/50th sec. and T 1.4. So 4 fc., which I often encountered, was no problem with the super speeds.
At one point, while shooting in a tactical display area, my digital spot meter was reading 0.7 on a Caucasian face. The guy was standing behind one of those big, clear screens full of dayglow lines and symbols. I shot it anyway, knowing that at least the lines would record—and I silhouetted the guy with some bluish light on his background. But bless me if there isn't good detail in his face! My biggest regret is that I didn't have Panaglow for my CP16R.
the chute used on the back of a concrete truck. When the shell reaches the level of the breach, the top end of the chute is rotated to the horizontal position and the shell is mechanically rammed into the breach.
Barbee, Bruce Jones, Bob Feller, Bob McDonald Paul Oppenheim, Jeff Leader
But the New Jersey was reactivated in 1967 for Vietnam and she was then somewhat modernized with newer communications and electronic countermeasures equipment, fog foam fire fighting equipment, air conditioning in living spaces, etc. She was decommissioned again in '69.
of the back half of the turret, maybe 40 or 50 feet. During firing no one is allowed in the breach area, but the critical action of the loading mechanism and breach can be observed through large brass-framed portholes. Loading is accomplished when the 2,700 lb. shell is raised by a conveyor mechanism from the powder magazines deep within the ship. The shell rides up in a huge, brass chute that reminds one of
I looked at my watch and saw that we were due to reach the ship any time. As I stuck my head out the open door of the Chinook, I could see the New Jersey looming up ahead, still two or three miles away. As was agreed earlier, Bruce and I remained seated while a still photographer, who was working on a book about battleships, began shooting. He was directing the chopper pilot, through a headset, into various positions around and above the ship, which by now was very close. As we came alongside for the first low and slow pass, I was struck by how beautiful, how graceful, even small she seemed, sitting alone on the blue water, without any reference to scale. I couldn't help wondering how many Japanese pilots had seen this same view, perhaps thought these same thoughts, in the final seconds of a deadly Kamikaze plunge.
20 October, 1981. It was a chilly but clear dawn, promising to be a beautiful day, as cameraman Bruce Jones and myself, assistants Bob Feller, Bob McDonald, Jeff Leader and soundman Paul Oppenheim crossed the tarmac and entered the briefing room at the North Island Naval Air Station at Coronado Island, San Diego. With us were ABC 20/20 producer Rolfe Tessem and Correspondent Tom Jarriell. We were preparing to board a chopper for a trip into the past. Our objective was to shoot the final scenes for a story about a battleship: The sea trials of BB-62; a World War II, Iowa Class dreadnought, the Battleship New Jersey.
isolate the syncopated rhythms of the chopper—longing for a Jet Ranger and a Tyler mount. But after another couple of low orbits around the ship, at main deck level, we had what we needed and signaled the pilot to land.
VIDEO AT END OF ARTICLE