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World War II - Pearl Harbor - USS Arizona

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USS Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship built for and by the United States Navy in the mid-1910s. Named in honor of the 48th state's recent admission into the union, the ship was the second and last of the Pennsylvania class of "super-dreadnought" battleships. Although commissioned in 1916, the ship remained stateside during World War I. Shortly after the end of the war, Arizona was one of a number of American ships that briefly escorted President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. The ship was sent to Turkey in 1919 at the beginning of the Greco-Turkish War to represent American interests for several months. Several years later, she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet and remained there for the rest of her career.

Aside from a comprehensive modernization in 1929–1931, Arizona was regularly used for training exercises between the wars, including the annual Fleet Problems (training exercises). When an earthquake struck Long Beach, California in 1933, Arizona's crew provided aid to the survivors. Two years later, the ship was featured in a Jimmy Cagney film, Here Comes the Navy, about the romantic troubles of a sailor. In April 1940, she and the rest of the Pacific Fleet were transferred from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as a deterrent to Japanese imperialism.

During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Arizona was bombed. She exploded and sank, killing 1,177 officers and crewmen. Unlike many of the other ships sunk or damaged that day, Arizona could not be fully salvaged, though the navy removed parts of the ship for reuse. The wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, dedicated on 30 May 1962 to all those who died during the attack, straddles the ship's hull.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

Shortly before 08:00 local time on 7 December 1941, Japanese aircraft from six aircraft carriers struck the Pacific Fleet as it lay in port at Pearl Harbor, and wrought devastation on the battle line and on the facilities defending Hawaii. 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, the ship was attacked by 10 Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bombers, five each from the carriers Kaga and Hiryū. All of the B5Ns were carrying 410-millimeter (16.1 in) armor-piercing shells modified into 797-kilogram (1,760 lb) aircraft bombs. Flying at an estimated altitude of 3,000 meters (9,800 ft), Kaga's aircraft bombed from amidships to the ship's stern and were followed shortly afterward by Hiryu's bombers which bombed the bow area.

The bombers scored four hits and three near misses on and around Arizona. The near miss off the port bow is believed to have caused observers to believe that the ship had been torpedoed, although no torpedo damage has been found. The sternmost bomb ricocheted off the face of Turret IV and penetrated the deck to detonate in the captain's pantry, causing a small fire. The next forwardmost hit was near the port edge of the ship, abreast the mainmast, probably detonating in the area of the anti-torpedo bulkhead. The next bomb struck near the port rear 5-inch AA gun. Magazine explosion

The last bomb hit at 08:06 in the vicinity of Turret II, likely penetrating the armored deck near the ammunition magazines located in the forward section of the ship. While not enough of the ship is intact to judge the exact location, its effects are indisputable: about seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion, mostly venting through the sides of the ship and destroying much of the interior structure of the forward part of the ship. This caused the forward turrets and conning tower to collapse downward some 25–30 feet (7.6–9.1 m) and the foremast and funnel to collapse forward. The explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board at the time, over half of the lives lost during the attack. It touched off fierce fires that burned for two days; debris showered down on Ford Island in the vicinity. The blast from this explosion also put out fires on the repair ship Vestal, which was moored alongside.

Two competing theories have arisen about the cause of the explosion. The first is that the bomb detonated in or near the black powder magazine used for the ship's saluting guns and catapult charges. This would have detonated first and then ignited the smokeless powder magazine which was used for the ship's main armament. A 1944 Navy Bureau of Ships report suggests that a hatch leading to the black powder magazine was left open, possibly with inflammable materials stocked nearby. The Naval History & Heritage Command explained that black powder might have been stockpiled outside the armored magazine. The alternative explanation is that the bomb penetrated the armored decks and detonated directly inside one of the starboard magazines for the main armament, but smokeless powder is relatively insensitive to fire and the 14-inch powder bags required a black powder pad to ignite the powder. It seems unlikely that a definitive answer to this question will ever be found, as the surviving physical evidence is insufficient to determine the cause of the magazine explosion.

Arizona Memorial

It is commonly—but incorrectly—believed that Arizona remains perpetually in commission, like the USS Constitution. Arizona is under the control of the National Park Service, but the U.S. Navy still retains the title. Arizona retains the right, in perpetuity, to fly the United States flag as if she were an active, commissioned naval vessel.

The wreck of Arizona remains at Pearl Harbor to commemorate 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 in 1962. A memorial was built across the ship's sunken remains, including a shrine room listing the names of the lost crew members on a marble wall. 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. Upon their death, survivors of the attack may have their ashes placed within the ship, among their fallen comrades. Veterans who served aboard the ship at other times may have their ashes scattered in the water above the ship.

While the superstructure and two of the four main gun turrets were removed, the barbette of one of the turrets remains visible above the water. Seventy-one years after her sinking, oil still leaks from the hull, with more than 2.3 quarts (2.18 L) escaping into the harbor per day. 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.

One of the original Arizona bells now hangs in the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center bell tower. The bell is rung after every home football victory. A mast and anchor from Arizona are in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza just east of the Arizona state capitol complex in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Other artifacts from the ship, such as items from the ship's silver service, are on permanent exhibit in the Arizona State Capitol Museum.

Alphabetical USS Arizona Casualty List

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Attack on Pearl Harbor