The University of Arizona Library

Historical Record


Operational History

The construction of the USS ARIZONA (BB39), named for the 48th state in the Union, began on March 16, 1914, when the keel was laid. After a year of intense labor, it was launched on June 19, 1915, as the second and last of the PENNSYLVANIA class battleship. The word Arizona comes from the Spanish-Indian term "Arizonac" meaning "few springs."

The launching was a grand affair, and Esther Ross, daughter of an influential pioneer citizen in Prescott, Arizona, was selected to christen the ship. The battleship's commissioning took place on October 16, 1916, under the command of Captain John D. McDonald.

The dimensions of the ship were quite impressive for the time. Its overall length was 608 feet (two American football fields long) with a beam of 97 feet 1 inch. It displaced 31,400 tons with a mean draft of 28 feet 10 inches. The ARIZONA's four shafts were driven by four paired Parsons turbines and 12 Babcock and Wilcox boilers that developed 33,375 horsepower, enabling a top speed of 21 knots. The designed complement was 55 officers and 860 men. The ARIZONA was well-armed for ships of its period. The original armament consisted of 12 14-inch 45-caliber guns; 22 5-inch 5 1-caliber guns; four 3-inch 50-caliber guns; and two 21-inch submerged torpedo tubes. It was protected by 18 inches of armor at its maximum thickness. The ARIZONA and its sister ship PENNSYLVANIA represented a modest improvement of the previous NEVADA-class battleships: "length and displacement were somewhat increased and two additional 14-inch guns were shipped, the main armament now being arranged in four triple turrets . . . " (Stern 1980:30). The significant change was concentrated in the firepower of the vessel: The ARIZONA's four turrets (labeled No. 1, 2, 3 and 4) each mounted three 14-inch naval guns.

On Nov. 16, 1916, the ARIZONA departed on its shakedown cruise and training off the Virginia Capes, Newport and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two months later it returned to Norfolk, Virginia to conduct test-firing of its guns and torpedo-defense exercises. On December 24 it entered the New York Naval Shipyard for a post-shakedown overhaul, completed by April 3, 1917.

While in New York, the ARIZONA received orders to join Battleship Division 8 at Norfolk, which was to be its home port through World War I while it served as a gunnery training vessel. Due to the scarcity of fuel oil in the European theater, the ARIZONA (an oil burner) was deployed in American home waters to patrol the East Coast. When the Armistice was signed, it sailed for Portsmouth, England to operate with the British Grand Fleet.

A month later the new battleship was ordered to rendezvous with the transport GEORGE WASHINGTON that was carrying President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. President Wilson carried a bold proposal intended to ensure a lasting world peace. In his outline for world cooperation, Wilson proposed 14 points to act as guidelines for a peace without victory and a new world body called the League of Nations. The ARIZONA would act as honor escort for the voyage to Brest, France. The President and his plan arrived in good order on December 13, 1918, but the failure of nations to grasp Wilson's ideals lead to World War 11 -- and the violent destruction of the honor escort USS ARIZONA -- 23 years later.

Later that month the ARIZONA returned to the United States carrying 238 doughboys home for Christmas. Celebrating the war's end, the ship passed in review in New York Harbor before Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. After the parties and parades had faded, the ship continued to its home port of Norfolk.

In May 1919 a crisis arose that threatened American lives and property in Smyrna, Asia Minor. Having been placed on duty station in April at Brest, France, the ARIZONA was dispatched to respond to the grave situation. The ship disembarked Marines and sailors to protect the American consulate and bring aboard American citizens. When tensions eased, the ARIZONA was ordered home.

In June 1919 the ARIZONA entered New York Naval Shipyard for maintenance and remained there until January 1920, when it departed for fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean. That summer the ARIZONA became the flagship for Battleship Division 7, commanded by Rear Admiral Eberle, the future chief of naval operations.

The ARIZONA continued operations in the Caribbean Sea throughout the winter, and during that period made its first passage through the Panama Canal. The ship returned to Norfolk from Cuba on April 27, 1921 and was overhauled in the New York Navy Yard. That summer the ARIZONA participated in experimental bombing exercises of Navy seaplanes on a captured German U-boat, the first in a series of joint Army-Navy experiments conducted during June and July of 1921 to measure the effectiveness of air attack.

On July 1, 1921 the ARIZONA was honored as the flagship for three-star Vice Admiral John D. McDonald. With the flag came the title of flagship of the Battle Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In August the flag was transferred to the USS WYOMING and the ARIZONA received a new admiral, John S. McKean, commander of Battleship Division 7.

In September of 1921 the ARIZONA was transferred to Pacific waters. At San Pedro, California it underwent another change of command, when Rear Admiral Charles Hughes became the new commander of Battleship Division 7.

For the next decade the ARIZONA served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 3 and 4. A number of distinguished officers served aboard the vessel, particularly Rear Admirals William V. Pratt and Claude Block. During this period the ship sailed twice to Hawaii to participate in fleet maneuvers and practice amphibious landings of Marines.

In February 1929 the ARIZONA passed through the Panama Canal for fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean. On May I the battleship returned to Norfolk in preparation for modernization overhaul. On May 4, 1929 it entered the yard at Norfolk for that purpose and was placed in reduced commission until July 1929. During this modernization the ARIZONA received a massive facelift. First to go were the traditional cage masts that were replaced fore and aft by tripod types. New 5-inch antiaircraft guns replaced the outdated 3-inch mounts. New armor was added below the upper decks to guard against the fall of shot by high-angle gunfire and bombs dropped by aircraft. Extra compartments called "blisters" were added to the outer hull to increase the ship's protection against torpedo attack. In an effort to offset the additional weight, a brand-new power plant consisting of modern boilers and turbines was installed to allow it to maintain normal fleet speed. The engines were upgraded with new geared units, and the original boilers were replaced with six Bureau Express three-drum boilers. The ARIZONA's fuel capacity was increased from 2,332 to 4,630 tons of oil. On March 1, 1931 modernization was completed, and the ARIZONA was placed in full commission once again.

One of the more significant events in the ship's history took place on March 19, 1931 when the ARIZONA embarked President Herbert Hoover and his party for a 10-day inspection cruise to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, then transported the President to Hampton Roads at the end of the month. The ARIZONA left Norfolk for the last time on August 1, 1931 and remained in the Pacific for the rest of its operational life.

Rear Admiral Chester Nimitz hoisted his flag as commander of Battleship Division I on September 17, 1938, with the ARIZONA serving as his flagship until May 1939. His successor, Rear Admiral Russell Willson, assumed command in San Pedro, California. As tensions grew in the Pacific, so did fleet responsibilities. On April 2, 1940 the ARIZONA moved into Hawaiian waters and was ordered up the coast to be overhauled at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington. The work was completed by January 23, 194 1. At that time Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd relieved Rear Admiral Willson and took command of Battleship Division 1.

The ARIZONA returned to Hawaii in February 1941 and trained in those waters for four months. The last voyage to the West Coast occurred in June, and in early July the battleship returned to Pearl Harbor. For several months prior to the out-break of the Pacific War, the ARIZONA's crew underwent intensive battle-readiness drills that often included mock air attacks from the carrier ENTERPRISE. The battleship entered drydock No. I on October 27,1941 for minor adjustments and repairs.

Soon after the ARIZONA rejoined the fleet. The ship's exact movements for the month before the Pearl Harbor attack are not clear, as the ship's log was lost in the sinking. The ARIZONA entered Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941 and moored on the east side of Ford Island. Later that day the USS VESTAL (AR-15) pulled alongside to ready the vessel for repair work scheduled for the following Monday. At 10:00 that morning, Admiral Kidd came aboard the VESTAL for a 15-minute official call. Later the captain of the repair ship, Cassin Young, boarded the ARIZONA to discuss the ship's pending repairs with the battleship's chief engineer.

Many of the ship's crew had liberty that Saturday. Some of the married men had wives on the island and received weekend passes. Nearly 50 crew members were shoreside at the time of the attack. However, a majority of the men had returned to the ship by midnight. Eight hours later the ARIZONA would be lying on the bottom of Pearl Harbor with the bodies of most of those men.

The Day of the Attack

The USS ARIZONA's configuration had changed very little since its 1931 modernization. However, in April 1939 and January 1941 alterations had been done to ready the vessel for war.

In that effort, an exposed pair of 5-inch, 51-caliber guns was removed so that new 1.1-inch quadruple machine-gun mounts could be installed on the superstructure deck abreast of the conning tower. Another set of the 1. 1-inch mounts was also to be installed on the quarterdeck between the mainmast and gun turret No. 3. foundations, ballistic shields, ammunition hoists, and ready-service lockers were installed. At the time of the attack, those areas were vacant of any armament -- the guns had been scheduled for installation in early 1942.

A variety of 50-caliber machine guns was installed to increase antiaircraft fire power. It was quite common to relocate such weapons from time to time to increase their arc of fire. Originally four were placed on the main platforms of each mast. In 1939 search lights carried on the funnel were removed, and two machine guns from the mainmast replaced them. In January 1941 at Puget Sound the vessel was fitted with a "birdbath" platform atop the main-mast director tower. The "birdbath" was filled with four 50-caliber guns, two from the foremast and two from the mainmast. Leaving two guns on the foremast platform and two on the funnel platform, searchlights were placed on the former gun platform of the mainmast. Splinter shields were mounted on the superstructure deck to protect the crews manning the eight 5-inch, 25-caliber guns located there.

Coupled with increased antiaircraft fire power was the installation of new Mark 28 antiaircraft directors that were supposed to increase the firing efficiency for the 5-inch 25-caliber guns. The location of the directors was on the range-finder platform level of the bridge. Here adequate support of the superstructure deck could be found via their heavy wiring tubes. This site afforded sufficient sky arc coverage for the directors' use. Early in 1942 the ARIZONA was scheduled to receive fire control and air search radar equipment. At the time of its loss, most of the structural modifications had been accomplished. The ARIZONA was painted in a two-tone gray paint scheme commonly referred to as Measure 14, consisting of an ocean gray (dark) on all hull and superstructure masses. Haze gray (light) was applied to the masts, yards and towers above the level of the superstructure masses. This paint scheme was meant to break up the general outline of the ship at a distance. The hull and superstructure were meant to blend with the sea, the upper works with the sky. It obviously had no value to vessels in port. A majority of the Pacific Fleet was painted in that manner. The exact date of the order that authorized the Measure 14 scheme is not known, however, a recent discovery of a photograph of the USS UTAH showed this paint scheme being applied in October 1941.

One other note on the ARIZONA's final appearance: Morning canvas sun tarpaulins or awnings stretched above the main deck from the bow to the muzzles of gun turret No. 1. Awnings graced the quarterdeck from the break in the deck to the barbette of gun turret No. 3. Farther down the quarterdeck, awnings stretched from the gun muzzles of gun No. 4 to the stern. Most of the canvas was destroyed by the ensuing fire that engulfed the ship following the massive magazine explosion.

Battle Damage

At the time of the attack, the ARIZONA was moored at berth F-7, with the repair ship VESTAL moored alongside. The vessel suffered hits from several bombs and was strafed and then about 8: 10 a.m. the battleship took a death blow. Petty Officer Noburo Kanai, in a high-altitude bomber, had earned the title of crack bombardier while training for the mission. Kanai was credited with dropping the bomb that blew up the ARIZONA (Prange 1981:513). The 1,760-lb. projectile hurtled through the air, reportedly striking near turret No. 2 and penetrating deep into the battleship's innards before exploding near the forward magazine. In a tremendous blast, the ARIZONA blew up. In an instant, most of the men aboard were killed, including Rear Admiral I.C. Kidd and Capt. F. Van Valkenburgh, both posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The blast from the ARIZONA blew men off the decks of surrounding ships and threw tons of debris, including parts of bodies, all over the harbor. Survivors of the attack also claimed that the ARIZONA was hit by one or possibly two torpedoes. The fury of the attack continued unabated, with the ARIZONA reportedly receiving eight bomb hits as it sank. Abandoned at 10:32 a.m., the ship's burning superstructure and canted masts loomed through the smoke that blanketed the harbor.

The ARIZONA received the most serious battle damage of the ships attacked on December 1941. The resultant explosion of ammunition and fuel demolished the forward section of the vessel, which collapsed inside the hull, and killed most of the ship's complement. Six days after the attack, the senior surviving officer from the ARIZONA forwarded the ship's action report to CINCPAC Admiral Kimmel and noted: "The USS ARIZONA is a total loss except the following is believed salvageable: fifty-caliber machine guns in maintop, searchlights on after searchlight platform, the low catapult on quarterdeck and the guns of numbers 3 and 4 turrets" (Memorandum, Commanding Officer, USS ARIZONA to CINCPAC, Pearl Harbor, T.H., December 13, 1941. Copy on file at the USS Arizona Memorial).


Of all the ships lost or damaged at Pearl Harbor, the USS ARIZONA offered the most pathetic sight. Despite the crumpled superstructure and main decks awash, divers began exploring the wreckage of the ship within a week.

It was soon discovered that the after part of the ship from the break in the deck to the stern was relatively intact. Removal of safes, valuables and documents of a sensitive nature had begun by early 1942.

Assessment dives continued to evaluate the feasibility of raising the ARIZONA. Salvage officers initially considered building a cofferdam around the vessel's perimeter, thus sealing the ship off from the harbor to allow the pumping of water from interior spaces. Examination of the harbor's coral bottom concluded that it was too porous and would not allow this process.

Throughout 1942 and 1943, examination dives continued inside and outside the ship. Meanwhile, ordnance divers began to remove ammunition and projectiles in May 1942. Eventually guns, machinery and other equipment were removed for use on other ships or stations.

The divers found the interior of the ARIZONA had been severely damaged by the explosion of the forward magazines. Evidence of its power had shown that the explosion had vented through the deck forward of turret No. I causing a separation of the bow and the rest of the ship. Divers found further that the sides of the bow had been blown outward almost to a horizontal position. Closer examination of the exterior hull was assisted by jetting away mud with high pressure hoses. When divers attempted to move forward into the interior of the vessel, they found that the main and second decks were blocked with wreckage forward of frame 76. The furthest divers could move toward the bow of the ship was on the third deck to frame 66, where the second deck sloped into the third deck. Hatches that had once led to the interior of the ship from various decks were now twisted and distorted. Captain Homer Wallin and his staff found that gun turrets No. I and 2, the conning tower and uptakes had fallen 20-28 feet indicating a collapse of the supporting structure.

On May 5, 1942, the toppled foremast of the ARIZONA was cut away and removed. The mainmast was taken away by August 23. Other features removed were the stern aircraft crane (December 23) and the conning tower (December 30).

The Navy decided that the Army would receive gun turrets No. 3 and 4 for use as coastal defense guns. Two sites were selected: one at Mokapu Head (Kaneohe) known as Battery Pennsylvania and the second at an area known today as Electric Hill (HEI generating plant) on the western shore of Oahu, up the slopes of the Wianae Mountains. Only Battery Pennsylvania was completed. A test firing took place four days before the surrender of Japan. Today both sites are abandoned; the guns were removed and cut up for scrap shortly after the war ended.

One question still haunts visitors to the Arizona Memorial even to this day. Why were the dead not removed? Initially, about 105 bodies were removed but because the ship was never raised, the remainder could not. The priority at that time was salvage of ships that could be repaired -- the ARIZONA was not in that category. As a result, the bodies deteriorated to the point of not being identifiable. Even as late as 1947, requests were made in regard to removal of the dead, but rejected. They are considered buried at sea by the US Navy.

In 1961 the USS ARIZONA was altered once more. In order to place the present memorial over the ship, a section of the boat deck that rested over the galley amidships was cut away. Initially this had been the area of a flag and platform for ceremonies and visits to the site from 1950-1960. This portion of the ARIZONA was removed to Waipio Point where it remains today.

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