USS Arizona (BB-39)

USS Arizona (BB-39)

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 achieved. She was commissioned in 1916 and saw action in World War I. The USS "Arizona" is best known for her cataclysmic and dramatic 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, and continues to lie at the floor of the harbor. It is the site of a memorial to those who perished on that day.


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


"Arizona" departed New York on 16 November 1916 for shakedown training off the Virginia Capes and Newport, proceeding thence to Guantánamo Bay. She returned north to Norfolk on 16 December 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 3 April 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 11 November 1918 stilled the guns on the western front, "Arizona" stood out of Hampton Roads for the Isle of Portland, England and reached her destination on 30 November, putting to sea with her division on 12 December 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 13 December.

In a precursor of World War II's Operation Magic Carpet, "Arizona" embarked 238 homeward-bound veterans and sailed from Brest for New York on 14 December. She arrived off Ambrose light station 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 22 January 1919, returning to her base at Norfolk on the following day.

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

The battleship stood out of Brest harbor on 3 May, bound for Asia Minor, and arrived at the port of Smyrna (later known as İzmir) 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 9 June for İstanbul, Turkey, the battleship carried the United States consul-at-large, Leland F. Morris, to that port before sailing for New York on 15 June. Proceeding via Gibraltar, "Arizona" reached her destination on 30 June.


Entering the New York Navy Yard for upkeep (including removal of six of the original twenty-two 5"/51 caliber guns) soon thereafter, the battleship cleared that port on 6 January 1920, to join Battleship Division 7 for winter and spring maneuvers in the Caribbean. She operated out of Guantánamo 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 1 May. Departing New York on 17 May, "Arizona" operated on the Southern Drill Grounds, and then visited Norfolk and Annapolis before returning to New York on 25 June. 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 17 July, and on 23 August she became flagship for Commander Battleship Division 7, Rear Admiral Edward V. Eberle.

Sailing from New York on 4 January 1921, "Arizona" joined the fleet as it sailed for Guantánamo Bay and the Panama Canal Zone. Arriving at Colón, Panama, on the Atlantic side of the isthmian waterway, on 19 January, "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 22nd, 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 5 February, "Arizona" arrived at her destination on the 14th; crossing through the canal again the day after Washington's birthday, the battleship reached Guantánamo Bay on the 26th. She operated thence until 24 April, when she sailed for New York, steaming via Hampton Roads.

"Arizona" reached New York on 29 April, and remained under overhaul there until 15 June. 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 1 July and sailed for Panama and Peru on 9 July. She arrived at the port of Callao on 22 July as flagship for the Battle Force, Atlantic Fleet, to observe the celebrations accompanying the centennial year of Peruvian independence. On 27 July, 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 a century before.

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

Over the next 14 years, "Arizona" alternately served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 3 and 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 7 February for Guantánamo Bay, whence she operated through April. She then proceeded to Norfolk Navy Yard, entering it on 4 May, to prepare for modernization.

Placed in reduced commission on 15 July, "Arizona" remained in yard hands for the next 20 months; tripod masts, surmounted by three-tiered fire control tops, replaced the old cage masts; the number of 5"/51 caliber guns was reduced to twelve, and eight 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 steam turbines. Ultimately, she was placed in full commission on 1 March 1931.


A little over two weeks later, on 19 March, 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 29 March, "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 1 August, 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. The ship and her crew also were featured in a 1935 James Cagney film for Warner Brothers, "Here Comes the Navy", which made extensive use of both exterior footage as well as on-board location shots.

On 17 September 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 27 May 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 30 September 1940. She was then overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, into the following year. The anti-aircraft battery was increased to twelve 5"/25 caliber guns. Her last flag change-of-command occurred on 23 January 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 3 February to resume the intensive training maintained by the Pacific Fleet. She made one last visit to the west coast, clearing "Pearl" on 11 June for Long Beach, ultimately returning to her Hawaiian base on 8 July. 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 27 October, receiving the foundation for a search radar atop her foremast. She conducted her last training in company with her division mates "Nevada" and "Oklahoma", conducting a night firing exercise on the night of 4 December. All three ships moored at quays along Ford Island on the 5th.

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

7 December 1941

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, starting a small fire but causing minimal damage.

At 08:06 a bomb from a "Hiryū" "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 armored section under the deck. Most experts seem to agree that the bomb could hardly have pierced the armor. [Note: The JNAF had adapted 16" armor-piercing shells as its "800 kg Armor-piercing bomb; Type 99, No 80, Mk 5" and it was one of these weapons which had been dropped. The development of this weapon has been described in: Prange 1981, p. 161.] 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 armored magazine. [] However, it seems unlikely that a definitive answer to this question might be found. Credit for the hit was officially given to P/O Noburu Kanai, who was considered to be the JNAF's "crack" bombardier; his pilot was Tadashi Kusumi. [Prange 1981, pp. 415, 513.] 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. Ironically the blast from this explosion also put out fires on the repair ship "Vestal", which was moored alongside. [Prange 1981, pp. 513–514]

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 Isaac C. Kidd, the first flag officer killed in the Pacific war, and to Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh, who reached the bridge and was attempting to defend 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 took a total of 1,177 lives of the 1,400 crewmen on board at the time—over half of the casualties suffered by the entire fleet in the attack.

Placed "in ordinary" at Pearl Harbor on 29 December, "Arizona" was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 December 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 Turret #1 discovered during a divein 1983) to be emplaced as coastal defense guns. It is commonly—but incorrectly—believed that "Arizona" remains perpetually in commission, like the USS "Constitution".

Memorial and honors

The wreck of "Arizona" remains at Pearl Harbor, a memorial to the men of her crew lost that December morning in 1941. On 7 March 1950, Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet at that time, instituted the raising of colors over her remains. Legislation during the administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy resulted in the designation of the wreck as a national shrine on 30 May 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 three of the four main turrets were removed, the barbette 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 Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and other navies routinely salute "Arizona" when passing through Pearl Harbor.

As of 2008, 66 years after the explosion that destroyed "Arizona", oil leaks from the hull still rise to the surface of the water. The "Arizona" continues to leak about a quart of oil per day into the harbor. [ cite web
title= Baseline Environmental Data Collection
date= December 18, 2007 |work= |publisher= USS "Arizona" Preservation Project
accessdate= 2008-05-22
] Survivors from the crew say that the oil will continue to leak until the last survivor dies.Fact|date=July 2008 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 hull, being careful to honor its role as a war grave. The Navy is considering non-intrusive means of abating the continued leakage of oil to avoid the further environmental degradation of the harbor.

"Arizona" was awarded one battle star for her service in World War II. The national memorial was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on 15 October 1966. The ship herself was designated a National Historic Landmark on 5 May 1989.

One of the original "Arizona" bells now hangs in the University of Arizona. The university built their $60 million student union to the shape of the "Arizona"'s bow.

A mast and anchor from the "Arizona" are in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza just east of the Arizona state capitol complex in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Other artifacts from the ship can be found in the permanent exhibit "Flagship of the Fleet: Life and Death of the USS "Arizona" at the Arizona State Capitol Museum. [ cite web
title= Flagship of the Fleet: Life and Death of the USS Arizona
date= | work= Current Exhibits | publisher= Arizona Capitol Museum
accessdate= 2008-05-22

A flat section of hull and other artifacts from the "Arizona" are in place on the quarterdeck of the USS "Arizona" training "ship" on the RTC at Naval Station Great Lakes.



*Prange, Gordon W. "At Dawn We Slept: The untold story of Pearl Harbor". New York, USA: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981. ISBN 0-07-050669-8
*Stillwell, Paul. "Battleship Arizona: An Illustrated History." Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press, 1991. ISBN 0870210238

External links

* [ Loss of the USS "Arizona"]
* [ Maritimequest USS "Arizona" BB-39 photo gallery]
* [ USS Arizona (BB-39), 1916-1941] Online Library of Selected Images (US Navy)
* [ USS "Arizona", Naval Vessel Register]
* [ NavSource Online: Battleship Photo Archive BB-39 USS "Arizona" Construction - 1918]
* [ USS "Arizona" Memorial (U.S. National Park Service)]
* [ "Remembering Pearl Harbor:The USS Arizona Memorial"," a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]

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