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Preserving History: Battleship Gun Barrel Finds New Home

Barnhart is known for moving oversize or heavy pieces in industrial or plant settings. But a project to move a 1940s-era battleship gun barrel ranks as one of their most unusual requests.   

The 16” diameter gun barrel, which was originally a part of the USS Iowa battleship, had been lying in a field at St. Julien’s Annex in Portsmouth, VA. The Veterans Association of the USS Iowa and the Coast Defense Study Group arranged to move and display the barrel at Fort Story next to the historic Old Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia Beach.

The USS Iowa had a notable, yet tragic past. Launched in 1942, the locally based ship served in both World War II and Korea. In 1989, an explosion occurred within a gun turret during a fleet exercise in the Caribbean Sea. The blast killed 47 of the turret’s crew members. As a result, the Navy decommissioned the USS Iowa shortly afterward.

From a Field to Refurbishment

The project’s first phase in February involved getting the barrel into display-ready shape. Eaten up with rust, it was lying in a large grass field at the annex. The barrel had to be transported to Marine Specialty Painting in Portsmouth for refurbishment.

However, it had to be lifted first, which posed some challenges to the Barnhart crew. The 70′ long gun barrel, which weighed 275,000 pounds, was sitting in a ditch below grade, so ground-bearing pressure was an immediate challenge. Barnhart used a 500-ton one-shot gantry system on top of 6′ x 20 ‘ steel crane mats to improve the weight imposed on the soft soil.

Battleship gun barrel being lifted by gantries.
The team used gantries and multi-purpose girders to lift the gun barrel.

The soil conditions also meant that the crew could not drive the Goldhofer trailer directly under the barrel once it was suspended in the air. Barnhart utilized 45′ long multi-purpose girders (MPG) as header beams for the gantry arrangement. Slide shoes were used atop the girders to transfer the piece to more level ground. This arrangement allowed the trailer to have a direct shot under the piece as it was loaded.

Over 25 laminate mats were placed in the travel path of the trailer to prevent it from getting stuck during transport back to solid ground once loaded. The barrel was transported to the painting facility on Osh Kosh prime movers pulling a 16-line THP Goldhofer trailer.

Gun Barrel Moves to Fort Story

Once the refurbishment was completed in May, it was time to transport the barrel to its final destination at Fort Story.  At Marine Specialties, the barrel was loaded on the Goldhofer trailer pulled by a 4-axle Western Star. The 40-mile haul took about 3.5 hours and required police escorts from state troopers and the cities of Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

Gun barrel at Fort Story.
The refurbished gun barrel ready to be placed on the concrete pad.

On site, the Barnhart crew reversed the method used at St. Julien’s Creek. The truck pulled underneath the 500-ton one-shot gantries and lifted the barrel off the trailer with 45′ MPGs. From there, Barnhart utilized its slide system to shift the barrel over to the concrete pad and lowered it down.

This is not the final chapter in the USS Iowa’s gun barrel story. In August, it will be dedicated in a Navy ceremony.

See coverage of the second transport below from a local news team WTKR.