USS Arizona (BB-39), a Pennsylvania class battleship measuring 608 feet (185.3 m) long and 31,400 tonnes, was launched in October 1916 at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York. It was the fourth ship designed according to the American armour layout principle “All or Nothing” and represented the US’ pride as it entered World War 1. It stood as US’ most significant interest, yet it was never destined to enter the war and, in a few decades, had sunk to the bed of the ocean, taking down the 1100s of men along with it. Despite that being so, USS Arizona remains a great pride that shall never be forgotten.

Lost in time: USS Arizona (BB-39) - Sheet1
USS Arizona (BB-39)_©Wikipedia

The Great Vessel | USS Arizona

The USS Arizona (BB-39) was the second ship after the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), which were the only two super-dreadnought battleships after the Nevada class comprising Nevada and Oklahoma built for the United States Navy in the 1910s—being the first in the world to deploy “All or Nothing” armour, a notable advancement in armour protection. Since it emphasised the protection tailored for long-range engagements, they represented important breakthroughs in battleship design

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USS Arizona (BB-39) launch 15 June 1915_©Wikipedia Commons

The ship was then known as Battleship 39 (hull number 39 (BB- 39)) and was laid on the morning of 16 March 1914 in New York, where the crowd looked for Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels for the launch. But he couldn’t attend, so they then laid eyes on the Senior ranking official Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The New York Times assumed a crowd of 75,000 and wished to launch, setting a new world record but ended up delaying for a year later, launching on 19th June 1915. The New York Times had reacted with the title of “The world’s biggest and most powerful, both offensively and defensively, super-dreadnought ever constructed”. The battleship 39 was expected to be named after USS New Carolina, after the hometown of Secretary of the Navy Josephus but was later named after the newest state, “Arizona”, thus being called USS Arizona (BB-39).

The Description

The USS Arizona (BB-39), compared to its predecessors like the Nevada class, was noticeably larger. Arizona measured 608 feet (185.3 meters) overall, 97 feet (29.6 meters) in beam, and 29 feet 3 inches (8.9 meters) in draught at deep load. This ship was longer than the preceding by 25 feet (7.6 meters). It was equipped with four direct-drive Parsons steam turbine sets, each of which used steam from twelve Babcock & Wilcox boilers to propellers measuring 12 feet 1.5 inches (3.7 meters) in diameter. It stood as a greater advantage as the newly oil-based ship over the slow and laborious coal-based ship where coal stokers constantly worked day and night shovelling chunks by hand.

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USS Arizona (BB-39) in fleet_©Naval History and Heritage Command.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) deployed triple gun turrets with twelve 14-inch, 45-calibre guns. From front to back, the turrets were numbered I through IV. Twenty-two 51-calibre 5-inch (127 mm) guns installed in individual casemates in the sides of the ship’s hull offered a defence against torpedo boats. Due to their positioning, they proved vulnerable to sea spray and impractical to operate in rough waters. Although only two were installed when the ship was finished, the defensive anti-aircraft system was equipped with four 50-calibre 3-inch (76 mm) cannons. Shortly later, the other pair was erected on top of Turret III. Arizona also carried 24 torpedoes for them and deployed two undersea 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, one on each broadside.

World War – 1 And The USS Arizona (BB-39)

USS Arizona (BB-39) was commissioned into the Navy on 17 October 1916 with Captain John McDonald in command with a crew numbered 56 officers and 1,031 enlisted men. The ship had left New York and sailed down south to test its capabilities at the shakedown cruise. The ship had all its batteries and armoury tested and yet had been repaired. Various other parts, including turbines, were sent back, spending the rest of the year in the Naval repair yard until early 1917. USS Arizona (BB-39) had left the yard on 3rd April 1917, and in exactly three days, the US had declared war on Germany. Though USS Arizona had great capabilities in battle, its constant engine problems had halted it. Later, it was only used as a training ship after the repairs. The ship rarely ventured into the ocean as a battleship and won the Battenberg Cup of the race boat team in 1918, given annually as a symbol of operational excellence to the best ship in the United States Navy Atlantic Fleet.


The USS Arizona had sailed for France. On December 13, 1918, USS Arizona joined the fleet of nine battleships and twenty-eight destroyers to Brest, France escorting President Woodrow Wilson on the ocean liner with George Washington for a one-day journey to the Paris Peace Conference. Sailed within two weeks and returned to New York on 26th December 1918 for a Naval Review USS Arizona had shot 19 shots – salute to Secretary Daniels and was anchored off at the New York Coast for public display.

Post-War And Hollywood Appearance

The ship for the next few years was set onto the Pacific and had similar training routines. The chronology of the ship’s movements was filled with phrases like “torpedo-defence practice”, “battle-practice rehearsal”, “gunnery practice”, “en route to…”, and “anchored at…” which made it evident of its sameness in the schedules. The ship also had constant repairs and changes where its fire control directors were surmounted and five-inch anti-aircraft guns replaced its three-inch anti-aircraft guns; the ship’s main gun was replaced to give the elevation of 30°. These changes increased her crew to 92 officers and 1,639 enlisted men. 


The USS Arizona (BB-39) and its crew first appeared in Hollywood in 1934, starring James Cagney, in a Warner Brothers film “Here Comes the Navy”. Most of the scenes were shot with the ship’s exterior and onboard locations. Then in the late 1930s, the ship joined the fleet sailing to the Pacific toward Pearl Harbour as a deterrent to Japanese imperialism. 

Pearl Harbour

The Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, was targeted by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service’s surprise military attack on the United States. It was known as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and Operation Z during its planning. Japan had intended to attack as a preventive measure towards the US taking power over the Pacific and putting an embargo on their imports. The main objectives of the mission were to destroy the Battleships owned by the US and to immobilise the Pacific fleet for months to come after.


The attack had begun on December 7th, 1941, at 7:53 am bombing the southern tip of the island. Though the Japanese ammunition wasn’t very efficient, and their hit rate was nearly 40%, they managed to damage the coastline and the ships greatly. The torpedoes continued to fly in batches of 5 to take down the inboard battleships, where the Japanese flew with a 20% hit rate and a 60% dud rate. Unfortunately, two of the bombs landed on the USS Arizona (BB-39), one of which had landed on the aft of the ship, whereas the other one had landed on the other end of the ship. It directly landed on the loaded ammunition and caused a magazine explosion, breaking the ship into two. It is said that the explosion had raised the ship out of the water a second. The ship had sunk to the bed, taking down 1177 men. It was said that the damage that occurred wasn’t just because of the bombing but more because of the fully loaded ammunition on the USS Arizona; it was its ammunition that had exploded all at once, wrecking the ship apart. It was also said that half of the casualties caused that day were the crew members of the USS Arizona. The ship kept burning for two and a half days and had sunken to the bed where it still lies today. 

© Official U.S. Navy Photograph (NH 63918), from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
© Official U.S. Navy Photograph (NH 63918), from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The USS Arizona Memorial | USS Arizona

Great awareness has been brought for the salute of the fallen, for which legislation was passed in 1958, and permission to erect a memorial was granted. The construction began in 1960 on top of the wrecked ship and was completed by 1962. A marble wall was dedicated inside to all who had fallen during the Pearl Harbour Attack, and the site was dedicated as a memorial. In 1980, the memorial was turned over to the National Park Service (NPS) for daily operations.


The survivors of the attack were permitted to put their ashes in the USS Arizona to reunite with their fallen crewmates. It was also said that the USS Arizona leaks 2.4 litres of oil daily from its hull. The survivors of the attack refer to it as the black tears, and the USS Arizona continues to shed its tears until the last survivor of the attack passes away.

Reference List 

  1. Wikipedia (2023). USS Arizona (BB-39) [online] (Last updated on 20th January, 2023) Available at: [Accessed on 10th February 2023]
  2. Wikipedia (2022). USS Arizona Memorial [online] (Last updated on 8th December 2022) Available at: [Accessed on 10th February 2023] 
  3. Naval History and Heritage Command(December 2nd, 2020). USS Arizona (BB-39) Wreck Site – 1941_ A Battleship Preserved as a Lasting Memorial of the Attack on Pearl Harbor Available at:  [Accessed on 10th February 2023] 
  4. DarkDocsSeas (December 10th, 2021), USS Arizona [YouTube video]. Available at: [Accessed on 11th February 2023] 
  5. MontemayorChannel (January 27th, 2018), Attack on Pearl Harbor 1941 [YouTube video]. Available at:  [Accessed on 11th February 2023] 

K. Anjana Nandan, a 20-year-old enthusiast, is eager to travel the world in order to better comprehend life. He always approaches architecture and ways of living with a philosophical perspective. He wishes to continue his learnings and explorations so he, one day can provide the readers a fresh perspective view of the world and its people.