USS Arizona History


Vincent James "Jim" Vlach, Jr. was a USS Arizona Survivor. He provided us with this history of the USS Arizona in 1999. Jim spent years researching and fine-tuning the history of the ship both from official records and his time on the ship. He was instrumental in creating the lists of casualties and survivors in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He continued to follow up and correct these lists until his death in 2008. He was our "go-to" guy for factual information regarding the USS Arizona and is greatly missed.

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Provided by
Vincent James "Jim" Vlach, Jr., USS Arizona Survivor

The second ARIZONA (Battleship No. 39) was laid down on 16 March 1914 at the New York Navy Yard; launched on 19 June 1915; sponsored by Miss Esther Ross of Prescott, Arizona; and commissioned at her builder's yard on 17 October 1916, 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 Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Returning north to Norfolk on 16 December 1916 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 owning to the 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 Portland, England, and reached her destination on 30 November 1918 then putting to sea with her division on 12 December 1918 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 American President to Brest, France, on 13 December 1918.

Embarking 238 homeward-bound veterans in the precursor of a "Magic Carpet" operation of a later war, ARIZONA sailed from Brest for New York on 14 December 1918, and arrived off Ambrose Light on the afternoon of Christmas Day 1918. 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 Guantanamo Bay with the Fleet on 4 February 1919, and arrived on 8 February 1919. After engaging in battle practices and maneuvers there, the battleship sailed for Trinidad on 17 March 1919, arriving there five days later for a three-day port visit. She then returned to Guantanamo Bay on 29 March 1919 for a brief period, sailing for Hampton Roads on 9 April 1919. Arriving at her destination on the morning of the 12th, she got underway late that afternoon for Brest, France, ultimately making arrival there on 21 April 1919.

The battleship stood out of Brest harbor on 3 May 1919, bound for Asia Minor, and arrived at the port of Smyrna 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 1919 for Constantinople, Turkey, the battleship carried the United States consul-at-large, Leland E. Morris, to that port before sailing for New York on 15 June 1919. Proceeding via Gibraltar, ARIZONA reached her destination 30 June 1919.

Entering New York Navy Yard for upkeep 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 Guantanamo Bay during this period, and also visited Bridgetown, Barbados, in the British West Indies, and Colon, in the Canal Zone, before she sailed north for New York, arriving there on 1 May 1920. Departing New York on 17 May 1920, ARIZONA operated on the Southern Drill Grounds, and the visited Norfolk and Annapolis, before returning to New York on 25 June 1920.

Over the next six months, the ship operated locally out of New York. During this time she was given the alphanumeric hull designation, BB-39, on 17 July 1920, Division 7, Rear Admiral Edward V. Eberie.

Sailing from New York on 4 January 1921, ARIZONA joined the Fleet as it sailed for Guantanamo Bay and the Panama Canal Zone. Arriving at Colon, on the Atlantic side of the isthmian waterway, on 19 January 1921, ARIZONA transited 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 31 January 1921, for a six-day visit. While she was there, ARIZONA was visited by the President of Peru.

Underway for Balboa on 5 February 1921, ARIZONA arrived at the destination on the 14th; transiting the canal again the day after Washington's Birthday, the battleship reached Guantanamo Bay on 6 March 1921. She operated there until 24 April 1921, when she sailed for New York, steaming via Hampton Roads. ARIZONA reached New York on 29 April 1921, and remained under overhaul there until 15 June 1921. 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 captain, had been ARIZONA's first commanding officer) on 1 July 1921 and sailed for Panama and Peru on 9 July 1921. She arrived at the port of Callao on 22 July 1921 as flagship for the Battle Force, Atlantic Fleet, to observe the celebrations accompanying the centennial year of Peruvian Independence. On 27 July 1921, Vice Admiral McDonald went ashore and represented the United States at the unveiling of a monument commemorating the accomplishments of San Martin, who had liberated Peru from the Spanish yoke a century before.

Sailing for Panama Bay on 9 August 1921, ARIZONA became flagship for Battleship Division 7 when Vice Admiral McDonald transferred his flag to WYOMING (BB-33) and Rear Admiral Josiah S. McKean broke his flag on board as commander of the division on 10 August 1921 at Balboa. The following day, the battleship sailed for San Diego, arriving there on 21 August 1921.

Over the next 14 years, ARIZONA alternately served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 4, or 9. 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 transited the Panama Canal on 7 February 1929 for Guantanamo Bay, whence she operated through April. She then proceeded to Norfolk Navy Yard, entering it on 4 May 1929 to prepare for modernization.

Placed in reduced commission on 15 July 1929, ARIZONA remained in yard hands for the next 20 months; tripod masts, surmounted by three-tiered fire control tops, replaced the old cage masts; 5-inch, 25-caliber antiaircraft guns the 3-inch, 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 turbines. Ultimately, she was placed in full commission on 1 March 1931.

A little over two weeks later, on 19 March 1931, President Herbert C. 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 1931, 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 1931, 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.

On 17 September 1938, ARIZONA became the flagship for Battleship Division 1, when Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 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 the Hawaiian waters, based at Pearl Harbor. She operated in the Hawaiian Operating Area until late that summer, when she returned to Long Beach on 30 September 1940. She was then overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington., into the following year. Her last flag change-of-command occurred on 23 January 1941, when Rear Admiral Willson was relieved of Commander, Battleship Division 1 by Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd.

The battleship returned to Pearl Harbor on 3 February 1941 to resume the intensive training maintained by the Pacific Fleet. She made one last visit to the West coast, clearing "Pearl" on 11 June 1941 for Long Beach, ultimately returning to her Hawaiian base on 8 July 1941. 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 1941, receiving the foundation for a search radar atop her foremast. She conducted her last training in company with her division mates NEVADA (BB-36) and OKLAHOMA (BB-37), conducting a night firing exercise on the night of 4 December 1941. All three ships moored at quays ("keys") along Ford Island on the 5th.

Scheduled to receive tender availability, ARIZONA took the repair ship VESTAL (AR-4) along side on Saturday the 6th. The two ships were thus moored together on the morning of 7 December 1941; among the men on board ARIZONA that morning were Rear Admiral Kidd and the battleship's captain, Franklin Van Valkenburgh.

Shortly before 0800, Japanese aircraft from six fleet carriers struck the Pacific Fleet as it lay in port at Pearl Harbor, and 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 0755 and the ship went to General Quarters soon thereafter. Insofar as it could be determined soon after the attack, the ship sustained eight bomb hits; one hit on the forecastle glancing off the face plate of Turret II, penetrating the deck to explode in the black powder magazine, which in turn set off adjacent smokeless powder magazines. A 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.

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 Kidd, the first flag officer to be killed in the Pacific war, and to Captain Van Valkenburgh, who reached the bridge and was attempting to fight his ship when the bomb hit on the magazines destroying her.

The blast that destroyed ARIZONA and sank her at her berth alongside of Ford Island consumed the lives of 1,177 of the 1,400 on board at the time - over half of the casualties suffered by the entire fleet on the "Day of Infamy."

Placed "in ordinary" at Pearl Harbor 29 December 1941, 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; her after main battery turrets and guns were removed to be emplaced as coast defense guns. ARIZONA's wreck 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 ARIZONA's remains, and legislation during the administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy designated the wreck a National Shrine. A memorial was built; it was dedicated 30 May 1962.

ARIZONA (BB-39) was awarded one Battle Star for her service in World War II.

Information researched and compiled by N. A. Nease and provided on USSARIZONA.ORG free of charge.
May not be reprinted in any form, other than non-profit educational use, without prior written permission of the author.