USS Arizona (BB-39)

Former flagship of the United States Navy, sunk by a surprise Japanese air raid and midget submarine attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1915

Year Sank

1941

Depth

45 ft (13.7 m)

Difficulty Level

Intermediate


USS Arizona (BB-39)

Wreck Location

The USS Arizona lies at the bottom of Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the island of Oahu west of Honolulu on the eastern shore of Ford Island. She lies mostly intact from midships to stern, but is extremely damaged from midships to bow. The bow is partially collapsed and destroyed from the explosion which broke her back and sank her that fateful day on December 7, 1941. The Arizona's prow still stands proud above the rest of the forward wreck. The forward most turret with the original three 14 inch guns is still in place and has not been removed. The second turret is partially dismantled with the three cannons having been removed in 1942. The third and fourth turrets are completely missing, having been entirely removed in 1942. The barbette of the third turret is the large cylindrical object that sticks out of the water on the north side of the Arizona Memorial. The superstructure is no different. It was among the first of the items to be removed from the Arizona. The wreck itself, while easily explorable with scuba gear is owned by the United States Navy and is kept off limits from the public to dive. Only a handful of qualified and specially permissioned individuals are allowed to dive the wreck. However, the Arizona Memorial stands atop the wreck and is publicly accessable. It is a very popular tourist attraction visited by millions of tourists each year. It has even been visited by the late Emperor Hirohito of Japan oddly enough. To make matters more interesting, Hirohito was the emperor during World War II. The memorial itself doesn't sit on the wreck, but is suspended expertly atop the wreck. It was constructed in 1962. Arizona is also given the right by the Navy to fly the American flag on behalf of the Navy and US Military even though she has been decomissioned and stricken from the naval register since 1944. The ship continues to leak oil to this day. The oil is known as the "tears of Arizona" and is a popular enigma of the wreck.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   21° 21' 53.568" N      Longitude:   -157° 57' 0.036" W

Description

(The USS Arizona in 1917 outside the New York Navy Yard. This was Arizona's original appearance and profile. She looked far different on the day of her destruction in 1941.)


(Launch of the Pennsylvania-class Battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) at the Brooklyn Naval Yard in 1915.)

The USS Arizona is one of the most famous warships in history, almost entirely known for its tragic demise at Pearl Harbor and being used as a means of nationalism and propaganda to boost American morale and spirits during World War II. Construction began on the "super dreadnaught" battleship in 1914. The ship was launched over a year later in 1915. The battleship was originally to have a different name, but a wave of support and lobbying from the citizens of the nation's newest state, Arizona, petitioned to have the battleship named after the Copper State. Josephus Daniels, at the time Secretary of the Navy, was moved by the heartfelt lobbying on behalf of the citizens of Arizona and agreed to name the ship the USS Arizona. The USS Arizona was christened by an Arizona state resident named Esther Ross, who used a bottle traditional champagne and a bottle of water from an Arizona reservoir to christen the battleship with.


(Photograph from the Naval History and Heritage Command and Hyperwar.)

USS Arizona entered service and was comissioned as BB-39 in 1916. The Navy however kept the USS Arizona and her twin sister Pennsylvania from actively participating in the first World War, due to the fact the steam turbines on both battleships required oil to run. The British did not have an abundance of oil and instead used coal for almost all of their shipping. USS Arizona did however provide escort to the USS George Washington along with several other warships including her sister ship Pennsylvania in December 1918 when the captured German liner turned troopship carried President Woodrow Wilson to France in order to sign the separate peace treaty between the United States and Germany. The United States did not wish to participate in the overly draconic Treaty of Versailles.


(A US Navy dirigable delivering mail to President Herbert Hoover aboard the USS Arizona.)

After the war, USS Arizona became a peacetime ambassador of the United Dtates to foreign nations worldwide. USS Arizona was involved in a conflict between Greece and Italy over the city of Smyrna. In 1920, she became flagship of Battleship Division Seven and re-stationed to the Pacific. Her new homeport was San Pedro, California. She participated in a Naval Review in Seattle for President Warren G. Harding and fired her guns in salute when the President died in office the next week. In 1929, she underwent a major overhaul and refit, being completely modernized. By this point, she was able to load and catapult recon aircraft, had her main masts replaced from cage masts to tripod masts, had her main turrets greatly upgraded and some of her anti-aircraft armament was increased in caliber. USS Arizona was refit with more powerful turbines taken off the USS Washington (BB-47) which was never finished and had her boilers replaced as well. In 1931, she provided President Herbert Hoover on a vacation to the Carribean. In 1934, she was prominently displayed in the motion film "Here Comes The Navy" along with the ill-fated naval dirigible USS Macon (ZRS-5). Macon was unfortunately lost the next year in a powerful windstorm, crashed and sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Monterrey, California.


(Newsreel of USS Arizona on President Herbert Hoover's vacation to the Carribean in 1931.)

In 1938, USS Arizona became flagship of Battleship Division 1. By 1940, she was stationed with the rest of the Pacific capital ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii due to rising tensions with the empire of Japan. She had her last overhaul in 1940 at the Puget Sound Navy Yard near Bremerton, Washington. In Bremerton, it's more than likely USS Arizona came into rendezvous with another famous ship of the time. The Black Ball Line's flagship ferry, the Kalakala. At least one of USS Arizona's crewmembers took a cruise aboard Kalakala during USS Arizona's stay. After being refit, USS Arizona left Puget Sound and eventually returned to pearl harbor. In late 1941, while on a training exercise in dense fog, USS Arizona was damaged in a collision with the USS Oklahoma (BB-37). USS Arizona was sent back to Pearl where she underwent temporary repairs. Her crew began loading up with fuel to take USS Arizona back across the Pacific to undergo permanent repairs in Bremerton. It never happened.


(One of the most heartbreaking images in history. USS Arizona explodes spelling her death at the hands of the Japanese in Pearl Harbor.)

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by midget submarine and aerial bombardment. Most of the USS Arizona's weapons were locked up and couldn't be used, but her crew desperately fought back with whatever they could. The USS Arizona was bombed by Nakajima B5N "Kate" carrier based bombers from the Japanese carriers Hiryu and Kaga. The first several bombs, rebuilt from old battleship armor piercing shells, caused damage, but nothing the USS Arizona couldn't handle. But later in the morning, a B5N was able to drop a bomb next to USS Arizona's second turret. The bomb detonated USS Arizona's forward magazine, causing a giant and fatal explosion. The USS Arizona violently rose out of the water, breaking its keel and hogging right at the blast zone, before just as violently landing back down onto the water. The explosion and resulting fires ended up killing well over 1,000 of USS Arizona's crewmembers, most of whom still lie within her hull to this day. The forward mast collapsed onto the deck. The fires aboard USS Arizona fused the forward mast to the deck and killed everyone in the bridge, including Rear Admiral Kidd. Most of USS Arizona's survivors abandoned ship and swam to Ford Island, badly burned and covered in oil, Some had to undergo the horrific process of skin de-gloving according to survivor and witness accounts. The USS Arizona sank to the bottom of Pearl Harbor in 45 feet of water burning for over two days.


(Footage showing the capital battleships of Pearl Harbor destroyed and wrecked after the surprise attack. The second battleship displayed in the film is the USS Arizona.)

Six of the eight battleships sunk that day were able to be raised and rebuilt including the sister ship of USS Arizona, the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). USS Arizona however was deemed to destroyed to raise and was left where she lay. Her superstructure was removed along with three of her four main turrets. Two of the turrets would serve as coastal batteries near Pearl Harbor, while the guns from the second turret were rebuilt and placed aboard the USS Nevada (BB-36). USS Arizona was formally decomissioned and stricken from the Naval register in 1944. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, it was undecided what to do with the wreck of Arizona. In the early 1960s, a plan was finalized to keep her where she lay and build a publicly accessable memorial atop her. Today, the Arizona Memorial is the most famous attraction at Pearl Harbor. Survivors of the Arizona often have themselves be cremated upon passing and are placed within the barbette of her third turret. Oil leaking from the hull of Arizona  is known as the "Tears of Arizona" and is a popular enigma of the wreck. Unlike most oil leaking wrecks, the Arizona is left alone as the oil has become a symbol of rememberance and mourning to her lost crew.

(USS Arizona Memorial at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Completed in December 2016.)

In present day, much of the artifacts of the Arizona were donated to the state of ArizonaOne of her masts, an anchor and a 14 inch gun of the Arizona removed from USS Nevada after the war are displayed across the street from the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona. Inside the Capitol, the Silver Service and a copper plated statue of an Arizona copper miner made in Bisbee, Arizona from the Arizona herself are on permanent display along with a section of burnt rusted metal from her superstructure. In Tucson, Arizona at the University of Arizona, the bell of the Arizona hangs proud atop a bell tower at the Student Union Memorial Center and is rung on occasion. The Student Union was partially designed and dedicated to the Arizona herself and displays a memorial fountain holding her anchor chains and three of her hull plates. In November and December 2016, a second memorial was completed on the mall of the University. It is a brick and concrete memorial displaying the names of all lost aboard USS Arizona on December 7, 1941 and also includes a full scale outline of Arizona's main decks from bow to stern. There is also a study room within the Student Union which displays artifacts from the Arizona herself including sections of her main guns, several models, multiple paintings or photos and the story of the ship from launch to death. Arizona, though having never seen her beloved namesake state was and still is the pride of the 48th state. She carried aboard her not only the pride of her nation, but carried the culture, major pieces of artwork and the spirit and pride of the state of Arizona. There never was and never will be another ship like her to carry the full pride of the Copper Star.

Footnotes

USS Arizona not only captivates worldwide audiences to this day, but is especially and very heavily appreciated by the residents of the state of Arizona itself who see it not only as a solemn reminder and tragic icon of Pearl Harbor but also as a pride of the state of Arizona itself. Memorials exist in both Phoenix and Tucson commemorating the wonderful battleship, its life, its service and its horrible death. I have seen Arizona the ship and live in the city of Tucson, Arizona where a new memorial has been constructed for the battleship on the University campus.




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