USS Arizona (BB-39)
USS Arizona and her sister ship were among the most powerful in the world when launched.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
USS Arizona (BB-39) was one of two Pennsylvania-class super-dreadnought battleships completed for service in the United States Navy (USN) prior to World War 1 (1914-1918). Arizona was sister to the lead ship of the two-strong class, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) and succeeded the Nevada-class is the USN inventory. Super-dreadnoughts were classified as more powerful versions of the same warship type that began with the introduction of revolutionary HMS Dreadnought of the British Royal Navy. The revised form added displacement and larger-caliber, centralized main gun armament. Arizona was ordered on March 4th, 1913 and saw her keel laid down at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on March 16th, 1914. She was launched on June 19th, 1915 and formally commissioned on October 17th, 1916.
When launched in 1915, the Pennsylvania-class was one of the most powerful warships available to the American fleet. Armament consisted of 4 x 14-inch /45 caliber main guns in triple-gunned turrets backed by 22 x 5-inch /51 caliber guns. Anti-Aircraft (AA) defense was through 4 x 3-inch /50 caliber guns. Consistent with warships of the period, she carried torpedo armament of 2 x 21-inch (533mm) tubes. Armor protection included up to 343mm at the belt, 457mm at the turrets and 406mm at the conning tower. Her length was 608 feet with a beam of 97 feet and a draught of 29.2 feet. Power was from 12 x Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers with 4 x Parsons steam turbines driving 4 x shafts at 29,366 horsepower. Speeds reached 21 knots in ideal conditions with ranges out to 8,000 nautical miles. Her typical crew complement was 915 officers and sailors. Displacement was 29,630 tons under standard load.
Arizona first set sail in April of 1917 and within a few days, the United States government entered the war in Europe. Eight of her 5-inch guns were reassigned to merchants for self-protection when making the hazardous Atlantic crossing. Arizona was assigned to Battleship Division 8 as served as a gunnery trainer while residing mainly near the U.S. shoreline due to the ongoing German U-boat threat in the Atlantic. This became all of the action that Arizona was to witness during World War 1 which ended on November 11th, 1918. Arizona made a journey to Brest, France as part of President Woodrow Wilson's Paris Peace Conference entourage and in December of 1918 made her way back to New York.
During the ensuing decade, Arizona made various stops along the American east coast, in Caribbean waters, and in Europe. In the latter, she served in a humanitarian relief role for Americans caught up the escalating tensions between Italy and Greece over ownership of Smyrna. She made a stop in Istanbul before heading to New York where she was given a needed overhaul. She lost six more of her 5-inch guns but received updated Fire Control Systems (FCSs). During August of 1920, she served as the flagship to Battleship Division 7.
Arizona formed a USN flotilla of warships that passed through the Panama Canal into Pacific waters. A stop in Peru for joint maneuvers followed. Another overhaul awaited the ship in New York waters before another stop in Peru and then a new homeport assignment in San Pedro, California. In August of 1923, Arizona was officially assigned to the Pacific Fleet. During 1929, Arizona was modernized at Norfolk Navy Yard which updated her various systems and changed her profile some. Her 5-inch guns now numbered twelve and her 3-inch weapons replaced by 5-inch AA guns. Torpedo and deck protection were both improved and geared steam turbines replaced her original high-pressure systems. Despite the addition of extra armor and equipment, Arizona's new machinery allowed her to retain a respectable sea-going speed.
Various non-combat operations dotted her 1930s activities and sea trials were undertaken in Rockland, Maine before she joined her sister ship for service along the American west coast. Foreshadowing the attack on Pear Harbor, Hawaii still some years off, USS Arizona participated in a 1932 scenario which simulated a successful aerial naval attack on the harbor. She then joined in relief efforts at Long Beach, California following an earthquake.
In mid-1940, the vessel joined others in the Pacific Fleet to be based in Hawaiian waters as a show of force against possible Japanese aggression. Another overhaul greeted the warship from October 1940 to January of the following year at Puget Sound Naval Yard of Bremerton, Washington. She received more AA guns during the process. Following some gunnery work in early December 1941, she berthed with others along Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.
On December 7th, 1941 aircraft from the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) struck in the Harbor in an effort to silence the USN Pacific carriers (which were not in harbor during the attack). Arizona received bomb hits from several IJN attack aircraft in the early going as battle stations had sounded and some attempts were made to thwart the assault. Four bombs impacted directly with three falling close by. It is believed that the last bomb hit caused the fatal detonation of her magazine stores near the bow of the ship. Of the 1,512 crew on the warship during the attack, 1,177 were killed from this massive blast alone. On fire and heavily damaged, Arizona's fighting days were clearly behind her as she sunk where she berthed - taking more lives with her. The attack on the Harbor proved a tactical victory for the Japanese but missed out on destruction of the American carrier fleet in the region. It also led to the formal declaration of war by the U.S. government on the nation of Japan that would forever change the course of the war.
Unable to be raised for possible salvage, she was instead saved as a memorial. She was struck from the Naval Register on December 1st, 1942 and had her superstructure removed for scrap. Her aft guns were recovered and served as coastal guns on Oahu and on the Mokapu Peninsula over Kaneohe Bay. The guns of Turret No. 2 were mounted on USS Nevada during 1944 and were appropriately used in anger against Japanese forces at both Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Arizona's forward turrets were allowed to remain on the sunken vessel.
The USS Arizona memorial remains both a somber and popular destination for many despite the decades that have passed since the Pearl Harbor attack - oil still trickles from her severed, battered hull. In a touching tribute, survivors of the USS Arizona attack are allowed interment in the hull by way of ceremony and specially-trained divers which allows past crewmembers to join their comrades for a final voyage.