USS Oklahoma (BB-37)
The USS Oklahoma BB-37 battleship saw service throughout World War 1 and was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Succeeding the two-strong New York-class of battleships entering construction 1911 was the two-strong Nevada-class made up of USS Nevada (BB-36) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37). The newer class brought along with it triple gun turrets and improved armoring amongst the more critical components of the ship (lesser areas were left less protected as a result). The line also introduced a new all-oil-fired machinery design. Ordered on March 4th, 1911, USS Oklahoma was classified as a "super dreadnought" battleship, the first (along with Nevada) of its type in service with the United States Navy (USN). Her construction was undertaken by New York Shipbuilding Corporation and her keel was laid down on October 26th, 1912. She was launched on March 23rd, 1914 and formally commissioned on May 2nd, 1916.
Oklahoma was added to the USN registry in time for service during World War 1 (1914-1918) as the American commitment grew direct participant in 1917. She served with Battleship Division 6 as a convoy protection ship during the treacherous Atlantic crossing required of convoys to and from Europe. Beyond some drills this was the extent of her participation in the Grand War.
At the start of the Interwar period (marking the lull between the two major World Wars), USS Oklahoma joined other USN warships in escorting U.S. President Woodrow Wilson on his trip to Europe. She spent some time as a part of the Atlantic Fleet before seeing an overhaul which claimed some of her secondary battery (20 5" guns reduced to 12). From there, she joined the Pacific Fleet and undertook various tours, training endeavors and exercises. In late 1927 she was given a modernization while along the American East Coast. Eight 5" guns were added and a floatplane catapult was installed. Her main guns were increased in their engagement elevation (and thus range) and additional armoring was addressed. Anti-torpedo bulges were fitted to the hull as a survivability measure. With the changes the vessel suffered a reduction in her straightline speed to just under 20 knots (from 20.5 knots seen in her original design).
In late 1937, Oklahoma joined her USN cousins while based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She conducted various peacetime patrol activities and took part in exercises as planned. During the morning of December 7th, 1941, she was moored along with others at "Battleship Row" which fell in the crosshairs of the attacking Japanese fleet. In the opening salvo, Oklahoma was the recipient of three enemy torpedoes in her side. As she took on water and began to sink, two more torpedoes met their mark. Adding insult to injury, her survivors were strafed by enemy aircraft seeking any and all targets of opportunity. By this time, Oklahoma had turned on its side, trapping many of her survivors. Nearly 430 personnel were listed as KIA or MIA after the attack had subsided. About 32 were rescued by welding crews.
The image of Oklahoma sitting on its side and smoking in ruin became one of the most famous of the Pearl Harbor attack. Her hull was righted and moved to dry dock between 1942 to 1943 with the hopes of salvaging the battleship for the war ahead. However, she was instead decommissioned on September 1st, 1944 as newer and better warships were coming online. Her hull was stripped of its war-making usefulness and her hulk sold off for scrapping. A storm encountered during her tow operation saw her lines cut loose from her tug boats, the mighty warship sinking to the depths below.
In December of 2007, a memorial to the lost crew of USS Oklahoma was erected at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS Missouri (BB-63) currently stands at her former moorings in honor of the fallen and serves as a floating museum ship.
As built, USS Oklahoma featured a displacement of 27,500 tons (long) and a length of 583 feet, a beam of 95.5 feet (108 feet after the 1927 modernization) and a draught of 28.5 feet. Propulsion came from 12 x Babcock and Wilcox oil-fired boilers (6 x Bureau Express oil boilers after 1927) feeding vertical triple expansion reciprocating steam engines developing 24,800 horsepower to 2 x shafts. Maximum speed was 20.5 knots with a range out to 5,120 nautical miles. Her original crew complement numbered 864 and this was increased to 1,398 in 1929.
Her original armament was 10 x 14" /45 caliber main guns arranged in two triple-gunned turrets and two twin-gunned turrets. She carried 21 x 5" /51 caliber Dual-Purpose (DP) guns as a secondary battery until 1918 when this became twelve such guns. Anti-Aircraft (AA) service was through 2 x 3" (76mm) /50 caliber guns which was increased in 1925 to eight guns. She also carried at least 2 x 21" (533mm) torpedo tubes which were cut out in her 1927-1929 overhaul period. By World War 2, she also was given 8 x 1.1" (28mm) AA guns to help improve her self-defense against air attack.
Her profile sat two primary turrets ahead of the bridge superstructure. Two main masts were featured, one aft of the bridge and the other along the aft superstructure. The stern section carried the remaining set of primary gun turrets. Her bow was well-pointed and relatively unobstructed and her two fore gun turrets forced her bridge superstructure closer to midships near the smoke funnel. Armor protection ranged from 340mm at the belt and 330mm at the bulkheads to 460mm at the primary turrets and 406mm along the conning tower. She could service up to three floatplanes through two onboard catapults and recovery cranes though this was reduced to two floatplanes and one catapult by the time of World War 2.
For her service in the Second World War, USS Oklahoma was awarded a sole Battle Star.