USS Utah (BB-31) was a Dreadnought battleship belonging to the Florida-class revealed in the period prior to World War 1 (1914-1918). The class numbered just two warships - Utah and the lead ship, USS Florida (BB-30) (detailed elsewhere on this site) - but both managed careers serving through World War 1 and into the inter-war years. While USS Florida was given up in the early 1930s to conform with naval treaties of the day, USS Utah continued on in service into World War 2 (1939-1945) where she was ultimately damaged beyond repair during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941).
Dreadnoughts were a new class of fighting ship named after the Royal Navy's HMS Dreadnought. HMS Dreadnought rewrote the book on battleship design when she was introduced in 1906 as she held a uniform, big-gunned primary battery with an impressive secondary battery, was powered by steam propulsion, and proved the perfect blend of speed and armor protection. From her introduction on, any previously-designed warship was therefore recognized as "pre-Dreadnought" while HMS Dreadnought went on to signify a whole new class of warship - known simply as "Dreadnought".
USS Utah was ordered on May 13th, 1908 and laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation on March 9th, 1909. She was commissioned for service on August 31st, 1911.
As built, USS Utah followed the standard laid down by USS Florida (and HMS Dreadnought to some extent). She displaced at 25,400 tons (short) and featured a length of 521.7 feet, a beam of 88.2 feet, and a draught of 28.3 feet. Power came from 12 x boilers feeding 4 x Parsons steam turbines driving 4 x shafts at 28,000 horsepower. Maximum speeds could reach 21 knots in ideal conditions. Armor protection ranged from 11 inches at the belt and 12 inches at each turret face to 11.5" at the conning tower and 1.5" along the decks. Her standard crew numbered 1,001 personnel. A twin mast approach (cage masts) was used and two smoke funnels completed her profile.
The armament suite was led by 10 x 12" (300mm) /45 caliber main guns set in five twin-gunned turrets. Two were located forward with the remaining three aft of the superstructure. The secondary battery was made up of 16 x 5" guns located about the sides of the vessel. 2 x 21" torpedo tubes rounded out her armament fit which was largely consistent for warships of the period.
As with most other USN warships originating from East Coast shipyards, USS Utah completed her shakedown cruise and trials between East Coast and Caribbean waters. She joined the Atlantic Fleet in March of 1912 and undertook gunnery exercises as well as training and a European cruise. She then joined sister USS Florida during the American occupation of Veracruz during the Mexican Revolution which marked her first participation in war.
The United States declared war on the German Empire in April of 1917 and thrust America into the European conflict which would last until late 1918. USS Utah was sent to Irish waters where she was used as convoy force protection against German submarines but saw little action beyond this. The war ended with the Armistice of November 1918.
After a 1921 stop at France, she served as the flagship of the American fleet in Europe until relieved in October of 1922. A goodwill tour of South America followed to which then she was decommissioned in 1925 and modernized through improved armor and anti-torpedo protection, a pole mast replacing one of her original cage masts, and a new propulsion scheme which reduced her twin smoke funnel profile to one funnel. Oil-fired boilers replaced her original coal-fired fit and new engines were added.
With the work completed, she undertook another goodwill tour of South but, because of ongoing naval treaties, she was then forced into conversion as a target ship under the designation of USS Utah (AG-16). She survived this role and took part in various fleet exercises during the latter half of the 1930s while undergoing conversion into a n Anti-Aircraft (AA) training platform. From there she transited into Pacific waters and landed at Pearl for August of 1940. More AA training occurred and the vessel made her way to the California coast just before Christmas. Another period of serving as a target ship befell her until relocation to Pearl once more - she arrived there in early April 1941. Another phase of gunnery training followed as did another West Coast visit and she ultimately settled back in Hawaiian waters before the end.
Pearl Harbor Attack and Fate
USS Utah was present on the morning of the Japanese attack on the Harbor (December 7th, 1941). Her mooring at Ford Island made her a tempting target and she took two Japanese torpedoes as a result. Major flooding took her partially under and a portside list complicated rescues. When she eventually rolled onto her side, dozens were trapped. Subsequent attempts to cut into her hull yielded just four trapped crewmen, the rest perishing in the ship. In all, Utah lost 64 of her crew that day. An attempt to raise and right her was made but the initiative proved fruitless. She was instead decommissioned on September 5th, 1944 and removed from the Naval Register on November 13th of that year. Her hull was left where it laid in harbor waters to act as a tomb and memorial for those lives lost.
USS Utah earned one Battle Star for her service in World War 2.