Some of the fiercest battles of World War II were fought on the sea. Here hulking steel beasts clashed in a thunderous, chaotic whirlwind of shells, torpedoes, smoke, fire, and death. For many of the great floating fortresses that joined in the fray casualties were a common occurrence, and for others these massive battleships became giant metal tombs as they sank into the depths with their many victims. In the years after the war, many of the mighty battleships of World War II have become memorials, monuments, or floating museums, surviving testaments to their bloody and heroic legacies. However, considering the sheer violence and death that these vessels have seen and been through, it may come as no surprise that it is not only history that has clung to them, but also perhaps supernatural phenomena beyond our understanding.
One of the most decorated battleships of World War II was the USS North Carolina (BB-55), which was a powerful behemoth that took part in every major naval offensive in the Pacific theater of operations and indeed was the first new battleship to enter the war after the devastation of the Pacific Fleet in the Pearl Harbor attacks carried out by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The highly decorated ship saved scores of aircraft and other vessels during battle, including the aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomon’s in August of 1942. The ship refused to be sunk by the enemy, despite their best efforts and their claims that they had done so, and would eventually earn some of the highest accolades and awards available before being decommissioned in 1947 and kept as a war memorial and floating museum at Wilmington, North Carolina.
In the years since her long and respected tour of duty, the USS North Carolina has not only become known as one of the most formidable battleships the world has ever seen, but also one of the most haunted. The most often sighted of the ghosts of the USS North Carolina is a young man with blonde hair in a period sailor's uniform, who seems to go about his duties as he did in life, opening hatches and doors, whispering, turning on and off electrical appliances, and banging out anomalous noises as he does so. There are other shadows seen on the ship who also reportedly seem to be just going about their business and are mostly seen as rather harmless, but there is also supposedly another, more malignant presence on the ship. This particular entity is said to generate an aura of pure anger and hate that utterly shakes people to the core in its presence, and there have been those who have reportedly run from the ship in a panic when faced with it. Considering that the USS North Carolina only ever experienced 10 casualties during its illustrious career, one wonders just who these entities are.
World War II has produced other supposedly haunted vessels as well, and another is the sunken battleship USS Arizona, which lies in a watery grave exactly where it was sunk along with 1,177 of its crew during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1962, a floating memorial was erected above the rusted out hulk of the submerged, sunken ship, which draws in scores of visitors every year. Many of these visitors have since reported experiencing some very strange occurrences indeed.
There are numerous accounts of seeing glowing orbs either floating through the USS Arizona memorial or flitting about underwater, and there have been a few reports of a ghostly naval officer meandering about, who seems to be horribly disfigured from burns. Even more curious are the people who claim that the never-ending trail of oil that continues to bubble up from the wreck to this day tends to take on distinct, ghostly faces that hover in the murk before melting away. On some occasions these have even been photographed, as is the case with an Australian woman by the name of Susan De Vanny, who was visiting the memorial with her family on September 26th, 2011. When Susan went through the myriad pictures she had taken of the excursion, she found that one image in particular stood out. In a photo of what she had at the time thought was just a shot of the oil-stained surface of the water was hanging the face of what looked like the face of a man seemingly crying out in pain or anguish. De Vanny would say of the startling picture:
I said just have a look at the photo, and he said, ‘oh my gosh, it’s a face,’ and then the kids saw it, and they go, ‘oh wow’. It just looked really sad, really sad and young. The face, to me looked young, which I don’t know if it represents the men at that time who perished.
There has been much discussion on the phenomenon of the faces in the oil at the wreck site of the USS Arizona. Skeptics say that this is simply people seeing things in the oil formations that aren’t there, like seeing animals and faces in the clouds, which is a phenomenon known as pareidolia. In this case, humans interpret a random pattern as having significance or a shape similar to something they recognize, which creates the illusion of a particular shape or form where none really exists. Is this what is going on here, or is there something more? Others have said that since the USS Arizona represents such a sudden and tragic loss of life, with many of the bodies of the victims never recovered, the faces are echoes of these lost souls, forever tethered to the place of their last horror and demise and somehow etched upon it as if images upon film. This is a common theme with haunted places, that the tragedy and despair they hold in some way captures the images of the dead either as ghosts or as simply replayed moments playing out over and over as if on an eternal loop. What is going on with the USS Arizona? Who knows?
In Buffalo, New York there is the Buffalo Naval Park, which is home to three retired U.S. destroyers, the USS Croaker, USS The Sullivans, and USS Little Rock. Each of these has had reports of strange goings on, but the most haunted seems to be the USS The Sullivans, which was named after five brothers who refused to be separated during the war, where they served aboard the battleship USS Juneau and tragically perished in an enemy attack after the Battle of Guadalcanal. One of the brothers, a George Sullivan, apparently survived the initial torpedo attack and then drifted about at sea searching the floating corpses for any sign of his brothers. He would then try to swim toward shore but die in the process. The incident was the catalyst for a naval policy that from then on forbids putting many siblings upon the same ship in times of war, and which is still in effect to this day, and a new destroyer was named in their honor.
The USS The Sullivans was decommissioned in the 1960s, and almost immediately afterwards became a hotbed of paranormal phenomena. Visitors have been constantly beset with a myriad of electrical malfunctions, such as cameras not working, batteries going dead within seconds, and whole rolls of film or memory cards erased for no apparent reason. Then there are orbs of light seen meandering belowdecks, and the power turning on or off by itself. In one incident, a tour was going through the ship with all of the power off, yet as they approached the bridge the radar equipment suddenly flickered on out of nowhere.
There are also anomalous noises such as knocks, bangs, disembodied voices, and even full apparitions aboard the USS The Sullivans. A tour guide on the vessel gave a frightening account of coming across a floating torso with a horribly burned face launching through the darkness at him, and evaporating just before what seemed like impact. One of the weirdest phenomena reported aboard the ship has to do with a portrait of the Sullivan brothers that is prominently hung up for all to see. It is said that it is impossible to take a clear photograph of this picture, with every attempt obscured by a blob of what looks like mist. Speaking of mists, many visitors have alleged that they have been followed around by white clouds which vanish if observed for too long.
Perhaps even more haunted still is the USS Hornet, which is often touted as being the most haunted decommissioned battleship ever. The ship itself was commissioned in 1943, after which it enjoyed a glorious and highly decorated tour of duty in the Pacific Theater of World War II, fighting the Japanese in such major battles as the Battle of Midway, and was instrumental in the sinking of the Japanese super battleship the Yamato, before she was sunk in a full on assault during the Battle of Santa Cruz. The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge was later rechristened to USS Hornet in honor of the lost vessel, which also had an illustrious period of service throughout World War II and was put on display after its decommissioning in 1970 as The USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, in Alameda, California.
The new USS Hornet unfortunately saw about 300 crew members perish during war time, and it oddly carries the distinction of having the most reported suicides on board of any other warship. Perhaps it is this dark and tragic history that has attached itself to the USS Hornet at dock in Alameda. The ship has long been plagued by all manner of spooky sightings and phenomena, with the most innocuous of these being objects that move or fly off of shelves by themselves, often in full view of numerous visitors, as well as doors opening and closing by themselves, toilets flushing themselves, lights turning on and off, and all manner of creepy noises such as whispers, footsteps, tools clanking, and even the disembodied voices of men talking amongst themselves when no one else is there. One staff member, a painter named Keith LaDue, gave one such account from when she was up painting on a scissor lift thus:
I was like at 28 feet, stretched to the maximum. I was up there until about 8:30 at night, and I was by myself on the ship.
I wanted to finish the section I was working on before I left. When I had still about two to three gallons of paint left in my machine, I started hearing voices, aircraft crews talking shop talk, dropping tools, and working on airplanes, talking about the airplanes they were working on, and parts, and home.
I thought, 'Wait a minute, come on guys, I'm almost done for the night. Can you let me finish? Let me get down from here. This is really starting to spook me.' And it stopped.
Even more frightening are other more sinister anomalous occurrences said to go on here. There have been said to be bloodstains that appear and disappear without warning on the floor or walls, as well as spectral figures writhing in agony within the infirmary, suffering ghosts that seem to be eternally reliving the excruciating pain inflicted upon them by the enemy decades ago. In some cases visitors and staff alike describe being pushed, prodded, pinched, and grabbed by unseen hands in these dark corridors, and half-glimpsed entities in sailor’s outfits can be often seen lurking about. Not all of the supposed ghosts aboard the USS Hornet are so scary, and they are just as often seen just going about their own business as they did in life.
Adding to the list of supposedly haunted World War II battleships is the USS New Jersey, which was launched on December 7, 1942 to join the building chaos of the war in the Pacific just after the Pearl Harbor attacks, and continued its service through the war and on into later years through the Korean War, Vietnam, and the war in Lebanon in the 1980s. During its long, highly decorated life the vessel was decommissioned and recommissioned several times before it was finally put to rest at the Naval Station Long Beach, California on February 8., 1991 and then towed to its final resting place in Camden New Jersey.
Considered to be the most decorated American warship in history, the USS New Jersey has many medals and accolades in its honor, and it also has many ghosts, if reports are to be believed. Several spirits are said to haunt the ship’s brig, where shadowy figures are seen lounging about and there can often be heard someone whistling in the darkness. There are also apparently ghostly hands that push people back from entering certain areas of the ship, sudden inexplicable bouts of dread or nausea, sudden cold winds blowing through corridors out of nowhere, and of course the usual mysterious footsteps, bangs, and whispers. The latrines are also said to have ghosts that will slam doors shut or tell people to go away, and the spectral figure of the ship’s long dead Admiral Halsey is said to roam about to blink in and out of existence without warning. Doug Hogate Jr., founder of the Jersey Unique Minds Paranormal Society, has said of the USS New Jersey:
Being the most decorated ship, it has been through so much and has seen so many service men on board since it was first placed in service, as we saw on a wall located toward the front of the ship. There is no question that with this ‘city on water,’ being home to so many for long periods of time, would make this location very vulnerable to activity, whether residual or intelligent. Whatever spirits still roam this ship are obviously there to keep the Battleship New Jersey running and safe, even though it has been docked in Camden for the past 14 years.
It is often said that one of the main ingredients for hauntings is that the location or object is imbued with some sort of dark history or emotional trauma. It is believed by those who seek ghosts that there is some quality to this sheen of tragedy that permeates these haunted places and somehow either keeps lost souls near them or projects them like images caught on film. If this is the case, then it seems natural that the battleships of World War II, with their war soaked service should also display this phenomenon. In a sense they have become floating or submerged haunted houses, drawing about them unexplained paranormal phenomena just as any other location or object similarly pervaded by such things. If this is truly the case, then these massive steel beasts are not only infused with rich history, but also with forces which we do not, and may never, understand.