USS Arizona (BB-39)

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This article is about the battleship USS Arizona, BB-39. For the memorial to that ship in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, see USS Arizona Memorial. For other vessels bearing the name "Arizona", see USS Arizona.
USS Arizona (BB-39)
Career United States Navy Jack
Ordered: 4 March 1913
Laid down: 16 March 1914
Launched: 19 June 1915
Commissioned: 17 October 1916
Fate: sunk, Attack on Pearl Harbor
General Characteristics
Displacement: 31,400 t
Length: 608 ft (185.3 m)
Beam: 97 ft (29.6 m) waterline,
106 ft (32.3 m) extreme
Draft: 28.8 ft (8.8 m)
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h)
Complement: 1,081 officers and men
Armament: 12 × 14 inch (356 mm) guns,
22 × 5 inch (127 mm) guns,
4 × 3 inch (76 mm) guns,
2 × 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes

The USS Arizona (BB-39) was a Pennsylvania-class battleship of the United States Navy. The vessel was the third to be named in honor of the 48th state, though the first since its statehood was actually acheived. She was commissioned in 1916 and saw action in World War I. The USS Arizona is best known for her catastrophic sinking, with the loss of 1,177 lives, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the event that brought about U.S. involvement in World War II. The wreck was not salvaged, but continues to lie at the floor of the harbor. It is the site of a memorial to those who perished on that day.



On March 4, 1913, Congress authorized the construction of the second and last of the Pennsylvania-class of "super-dreadnought" battleships. She was named USS Arizona, in honor of the new 48th state. Her keel was laid at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 16, 1914. She was launched on June 19, 1915, sponsored by Miss Esther Ross—daughter of a prominent Arizona pioneer citizen, Mr. W.W. Ross of Prescott, Arizona. She was commissioned at her builder's yard on October 17, 1916, with Captain John D. McDonald in command.


Arizona departed New York on November 16 for shakedown training off the Virginia Capes and Newport, proceeding thence to Guantanamo Bay. Returning north to Norfolk on December 16 to test fire her battery and to conduct torpedo-defense exercises in Tangier Sound. The battleship returned to her builder's yard the day before Christmas of 1916 for post-shakedown overhaul. Completing these repairs and alterations on April 3, 1917, she cleared the yard on that date for Norfolk, arriving there on the following day to join Battleship Division 8.

Within days, the United States forsook its tenuous neutrality in the global conflict then raging and entered World War I. The new battleship operated out of Norfolk throughout the war, serving as a gunnery training ship and patrolling the waters of the eastern seaboard from the Virginia Capes to New York. An oil-burner, she had not been deployed to European waters owing to a scarcity of fuel oil in the British Isles—the base of other American battleships sent to aid the Grand Fleet.

A week after the armistice of November 11, 1918 stilled the guns on the western front, Arizona stood out of Hampton Roads for Portland, England and reached her destination on November 30, putting to sea with her division on December 12 to rendezvous with the transport George Washington, the ship carrying President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. Arizona, one of the newest and most powerful American dreadnoughts, served as part of the honor escort convoying the President of the United States to Brest, France on December 13.

Embarking 238 homeward-bound veterans in the precursor of an Operation Magic Carpet operation of World War II, Arizona sailed from Brest for New York on December 14, and arrived off Ambrose Light on the afternoon of Christmas Day. The next day, she passed in review before Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, who was embarked in the yacht Mayflower off the Statue of Liberty, before entering New York Harbor in a great homecoming celebration. The battleship then sailed for Hampton Roads on January 22, 1919, returning to her base at Norfolk on the following day.

Arizona sailed for Guantanamo Bay with the Fleet on February 4, and arrived on the 8th. After engaging in battle practices and maneuvers there, the battleship sailed for Trinidad on March 17, arriving there five days later for a three-day port visit. She then returned to Guantanamo Bay on March 29 for a brief period, sailing for Hampton Roads on April 9. Arriving at her destination on the morning of the 12th, she got underway late that afternoon for Brest, France, ultimately making arrival there on April 21.

The battleship stood out of Brest harbor on May 3, bound for Asia Minor, and arrived at the port of Smyrna eight days later to protect American lives there during the Greek occupation of that port—an occupation resisted by gunfire from Turkish nationals. Arizona provided temporary shelter on board for a party of Greek nationals, while the battleship's Marine detachment guarded the American consulate; a number of American citizens also remained on board Arizona until conditions permitted them to return ashore. Departing Smyrna on June 9 for Constantinople, Turkey, the battleship carried the United States consul-at-large, Leland F. Morris, to that port before sailing for New York on June 15. Proceeding via Gibraltar, Arizona reached her destination on June 30.


Entering the New York Navy Yard for upkeep soon thereafter. the battleship cleared that port on January 6, 1920, to join Battleship Division 7 for winter and spring maneuvers in the Caribbean. She operated out of Guantanamo Bay during this period, and also visited Bridgetown, Barbados, in the British West Indies, and Colón, Panama in the Canal Zone, before she sailed north for New York arriving there on May 1. Departing New York on May 17, Arizona operated on the Southern Drill Grounds, and then visited Norfolk and Annapolis before returning to New York on June 25.

Over the next six months, the ship operated locally out of New York. During this time she was given the alphanumeric hull classification symbol BB-39 on July 17, and on August 23 she became flagship for Commander Battleship Division 7, Rear Admiral Edward V. Eberle.

Sailing from New York on January 4, 1921, Arizona joined the fleet as it sailed for Guantanamo Bay and the Panama Canal Zone. Arriving at Colón, Panama, on the Atlantic side of the isthmian waterway, on January 19, Arizona traveled through the Panama Canal for the first time on that day, arriving at Panama Bay on the 20th. Underway for Callao, Peru, on the 22d, the fleet arrived there nine days later, on the 31st, for a six-day visit. While she was there, Arizona was visited by the president of Peru. Underway for Balboa on February 5, Arizona arrived at her destination on the 14th; crossing through the canal again the day after Washington's birthday, the battleship reached Guantanamo Bay on the 26th. She operated thence until April 24, when she sailed for New York, steaming via Hampton Roads.

Arizona reached New York on April 29, and remained under overhaul there until June 15. She steamed thence for Hampton Roads on the latter date, and on the 21st steamed off Cape Charles with Army and Navy observers to witness the experimental bombings of the ex-German submarine U-117. Proceeding thence back to New York, the battleship there broke the flag of Vice Admiral John D. McDonald (who, as a captain, had been Arizona's first commanding officer) on July 1 and sailed for Panama and Peru on July 9. She arrived at the port of Callao on July 22 as flagship for the Battle Force, Atlantic Fleet, to observe the celebrations accompanying the centennial year of Peruvian independence. On July 27, Vice Admiral McDonald went ashore and represented the United States at the unveiling of a monument commemorating the accomplishments of José de San Martín, who had liberated Peru from the Spanish yoke a century before.

Sailing for Panama Bay on August 3, Arizona became flagship for Battleship Division 7 when Vice Admiral McDonald transferred his flag to Wyoming (BB-32) and Rear Admiral Josiah S. McKean broke his flag on board as commander of the division on August 10 at Balboa. The following day, the battleship sailed for San Diego, arriving there on August 21.

Over the next 14 years, Arizona alternately served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 3 or 4. Based at San Pedro, during this period, Arizona operated with the fleet in the operating areas off the coast of southern California or in the Caribbean during fleet concentrations there. She participated in a succession of fleet problems (the annual maneuvers of the fleet that served as the culmination of the training year), ranging from the Caribbean to the waters off the west coast of Central America and the Canal Zone; from the West Indies to the waters between Hawaii and the west coast.

Following her participation in Fleet Problem IX (January 1929), Arizona crossed through the Panama Canal on February 7 for Guantanamo Bay, whence she operated through April. She then proceeded to Norfolk Navy Yard, entering it on May 4, to prepare for modernization.

Placed in reduced commission on July 15, Arizona remained in yard hands for the next 20 months; tripod masts, surmounted by three-tiered fire control tops, replaced the old cage masts; 5 inch (127 mm), 25-caliber antiaircraft guns replaced the three-inch (76 mm) 50s with which she had been equipped. She also received additional armor to protect her vitals from the fall of shot and blisters to protect her from torpedo or near-miss damage from bombs. In addition, she received new boilers as well as new main and cruising turbines. Ultimately, she was placed in full commission on March 1, 1931.


A little over two weeks later, on March 19, President Herbert Hoover embarked on board the recently modernized battleship and sailed for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, standing out to sea from Hampton Roads that day. Returning on March 29, Arizona disembarked the Chief Executive and his party at Hampton Roads, and then proceeded north to Rockland, Maine to run her post-modernization standardization trials. After a visit to Boston, the battleship dropped down to Norfolk, whence she sailed for San Pedro on August 1, assigned to Battleship Division 3, Battle Force.

Over the next decade, Arizona continued to operate with the Battle Fleet and took part in the succession of fleet problems that took the fleet from the waters of the northern Pacific and Alaska to those surrounding the West Indies, and into the waters east of the lesser Antilles.

On September 17, 1938, Arizona became the flagship for Battleship Division 1, when Rear Admiral Chester Nimitz (later to become Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet) broke his flag on board. Detached on May 27, 1939 to become Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Nimitz was relieved on that day by Rear Admiral Russell Willson.


Arizona's last fleet problem was XXI. At its conclusion, the United States Fleet was retained in Hawaiian waters, based at Pearl Harbor. She operated in the Hawaiian Operating Area until late that summer, when she returned to Long Beach, California, on September 30, 1940. She was then overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, into the following year. Her last flag change-of-command occurred on January 23, 1941, when Rear Admiral Willson was relieved as Commander, Battleship Division 1 by Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd.

The battleship returned to Pearl Harbor on February 3 to resume the intensive training maintained by the Pacific Fleet. She made one last visit to the west coast, clearing "Pearl" on June 11 for Long Beach, ultimately returning to her Hawaiian base on July 8. Over the next five months, she continued exercises and battle problems of various kinds on type training and tactical exercises in the Hawaiian operating area. She underwent a brief overhaul at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard commencing on October 27, receiving the foundation for a search radar atop her foremast. She conducted her last training in company with her division mates Nevada (BB-36) and Oklahoma (BB-37), conducting a night firing exercise on the night of December 4. All three ships moored at quays along Ford Island on the 5th.

Scheduled to receive tender availability, Arizona took the repair ship Vestal (AR-4) alongside on Saturday, the 6th. The two ships were thus moored together on the morning of December 7; among the men on board Arizona that morning were Rear Admiral Kidd and the battleship's captain, Captain Franklin van Valkenburgh.

December 7, 1941

USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Shortly before 08:00, Japanese aircraft from six fleet carriers struck the Pacific Fleet as it lay in port at Pearl Harbor, and—in the ensuing two attack waves—wrought devastation on the Battle Line and on air and military facilities defending Pearl Harbor.

On board Arizona, the ship's air raid alarm went off about 07:55, and the ship went to general quarters soon thereafter. Shortly after 08:00 a bomb dropped by a high-altitude Kate bomber from the Japanese carrier Kaga hit the side of the #4 turret and glanced off into the deck below and started a small fire but minimal damage.

At 08:06 a bomb from a Hiryu Kate hit between and to starboard of Turrets #1 & 2. The subsequent explosion which destroyed the forward part of Arizona was due to the detonation of the ammunition magazine, located in an armoured section under the deck. Most experts seem to agree that the bomb could hardly have pierced the armour. Instead, it seems widely accepted that the black powder magazine (used for aircraft catapults) detonated first, igniting the smokeless powder magazine (used for the ship's main armament). A 1944 BUSHIP report suggests that a hatch leading to the black powder magazine was left open, with perhaps inflammable materials stocked nearby. A US Navy historical site goes as far as to suggest that black powder might have been stockpiled outside of the armoured magazine. However, it seems unlikely that a definitive answer to this question might be found. Credit for the hit was officially given to Japanese pilot Tadashi Kusumi. The cataclysmic explosion ripped through the forward part of the ship, touching off fierce fires that burned for two days; debris showered down on Ford Island in the vicinity.

Acts of heroism on the part of Arizona's officers and men were many, headed by those of Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, the ship's damage control officer, whose coolness in attempting to quell the fires and get survivors off the ship earned him the Medal of Honor. Posthumous awards of the Medal of Honor also went to Rear Admiral Kidd, the first flag officer to be killed in the Pacific war, and to Captain Van Valkenburgh, who reached the bridge and was attempting to fight his ship when the bomb hit on the magazines destroyed her.

The blast that destroyed Arizona and sank her at her berth alongside of Ford Island consumed the lives of 1,177 of the 1,400 on board at the time—over half of the casualties suffered by the entire fleet on the "Date which will live in Infamy".

Placed "in ordinary" at Pearl Harbor on December 29, Arizona was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on December 1, 1942. Her wreck was cut down so that very little of the superstructure lay above water; after her main battery turrets and guns were removed (with the exception of the Number One turret, discovered during a dive in 1983) to be emplaced as coast defense guns. See also List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II.


Main article: USS Arizona Memorial

A sailor looks at the list of names of the USS Arizona crew members inside the shrine room of the USS Arizona Memorial.
A sailor looks at the list of names of the USS Arizona crew members inside the shrine room of the USS Arizona Memorial.

The wreck of Arizona remains at Pearl Harbor, a memorial to the men of her crew lost that December morning in 1941. On March 7, 1950, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet at that time, instituted the raising of colors over her remains; and legislation during the administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy designated the wreck a national shrine on May 30, 1962. A memorial was built across the ship's sunken remains, including a shrine room listing the names of the lost crewmembers on a marble wall. While the superstructure and 3 of the 4 main turrets were removed, the ring of one of the turrets remains visible above the water. Memorial services are regularly held in the shrine, with an ever-smaller number of Arizona survivors attending over the years. Warships of the Japanese Navy and other navies routinely salute Arizona when passing through Pearl Harbor.

As of 2005, more than 60 years after the explosion that destroyed Arizona, oil leaks from the hulk still rise to the surface of the water. Survivors from the crew say that the oil will continue to leak until the last survivor dies. Many of the survivors have arranged for their ashes to be placed in the ship, among their fallen comrades, upon their death and cremation. The Navy, in conjunction with the National Park Service, has recently overseen a comprehensive computerized mapping of the hulk, being careful to honor its role as a war grave. The Navy is considering nonintrusive means of abating the continued leakage of oil to avoid the further environmental degradation of the harbor. This abatement may very well occur when the last surviving crewmember dies.

Arizona (BB-39) was awarded one battle star for her service in World War II. In addition, the ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

Two other ships have been named USS Arizona; for details see that index page.

External link

Pennsylvania-class battleship
Pennsylvania | Arizona

List of battleships of the United States Navy
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