USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

Oklahoma at anchor
United States
Name: Oklahoma
Namesake: State of Oklahoma
Ordered: 4 March 1911
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey
Laid down: 26 October 1912
Launched: 23 March 1914
Sponsored by: Lorena J. Cruce
Commissioned: 2 May 1916
Decommissioned: 1 September 1944
Struck: 1 September 1944
Motto: "For the Good of the Service!"
Nickname(s): "Okie"
Honors and
1 battle star for World War II service.[1]
General characteristics [2]
Class and type: Nevada-class battleship
Displacement: 27,500 long tons (27,900 metric tons)
Length: 583 ft (178 m)
Beam: 95 ft 6 in (29.11 m)
Draft: 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m)
Installed power:
Propulsion: 2 × shafts; 2 × Vertical triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 20.5 knots (38.0 km/h; 23.6 mph)
Range: 5,120 nmi (9,480 km; 5,890 mi) at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)
  • As built:
  • 864 officers and crewmen[3]
  • From 1929:
  • 1,398[4]
Aircraft carried:

USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was a Nevada-class battleship built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation for the United States Navy in the 1910s. The Nevada class were the first super-dreadnoughts and oil-burning ships in the United States Navy. Oklahoma was the only US warship ever named for the 46th state.

Oklahoma, commissioned in 1916, served in World War I as a member of Battleship Division 6,[4] protecting Allied convoys on their way across the Atlantic. After the war, she served in both the United States Battle Fleet and Scouting Fleet. Oklahoma was modernized between 1927 and 1929. In 1936, she rescued American citizens and refugees from the Spanish Civil War. On returning to the West coast in August of the same year, Oklahoma spent the rest of her service in the Pacific.

On December 7, 1941, Oklahoma was sunk by several torpedoes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Torpedoes from torpedo bomber airplanes hit the ship's hull and the ship flipped upside down. Survivors jumped off the ship 50 feet into burning hot water or crawled across ropes that hooked the Oklahoma and the Maryland. Some people inside the ship escaped when rescuers came and drilled holes and opened hatches to take them out. When the ship sank a total of 429 crew died when she capsized in Battleship Row. In 1943 Oklahoma was righted and salvaged. However, unlike most of the other battleships that were recovered following Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma was too damaged to return to duty. Her wreck was eventually stripped of her remaining armament and superstructure before being sold for scrap in 1946. The hulk sank in a storm while being towed from Oahu in Hawaii to a breakers yard in San Francisco Bay in 1947.


Launch of Oklahoma on 23 March 1914

Oklahoma was the second of two Nevada-class battleships. Both were ordered in a naval appropriation act on 4 March 1911. She was to be the latest in a series of 22 battleships and seven armored cruisers ordered by the United States Navy between 1900 and 1911.[5] The Nevada class were the first of the US Navy's Standard type battleships, of which 12 were completed by 1923. With these ships, the Navy created a fleet of modern battleships similar in long-range gunnery, speed, turning radius, and protection. However, significant improvements were made in the Standard type ships as naval technology progressed. The main innovations were triple turrets and all-or-nothing protection. The triple turrets reduced the length of the ship that needed protection by placing 10 guns in four turrets instead of five, thus allowing thicker armor. The Nevadas were also the first US battleships with oil-fired instead of coal-fired boilers, oil having more recoverable energy per ton than coal, thus increasing the ships' range. Oklahoma differed from Nevada in being fitted with triple-expansion steam engines, a much older technology than Nevada's new geared turbines. Some earlier battleships had been fitted with direct drive turbines, which had poor fuel economy and thus reduced range compared with triple expansion. The goal was to compare the new geared machinery with the proven reciprocating machinery to determine which was more economical. The geared turbines proved more economical and were fitted in most subsequent US battleships, except those with turbo-electric propulsion.

As constructed, she had a standard displacement of 27,500 tonnes (27,100 long tons; 30,300 short tons) and a full-load displacement of 28,400 tonnes (28,000 long tons; 31,300 short tons). She was 583 feet (178 m) in length overall, 575 feet (175 m) at the waterline, and had a beam of 95 feet 6 inches (29.11 m) and a draft of 28 feet 6 inches (8.69 m).[2]

She was powered by 12 oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers driving two dual-acting, vertical triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines, with 24,800 ihp (18,500 kW), with a maximum speed of 20.5 knots (38.0 km/h; 23.6 mph). She had a designed range of 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,200 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph).[2]

As built armor on Oklahoma consisted of belt armor from 13.5 to 8 inches (340 to 200 mm) thick. Deck armor was 3 inches (76 mm) thick with a second 1.5 inches (38 mm) deck, and turret armor was 18 inches (460 mm) or 16 inches (410 mm) on the face, 5 inches (130 mm) on the top, 10 inches (250 mm) on the sides, and 9 inches (230 mm) on the rear. Armor on her barbettes was 13.5 inches. Her conning tower was protected by 16 inches of armor, with 8 inches (200 mm) of armor on its roof.[2]

Her armament consisted of ten 14-inch (356 mm)/45 caliber guns, arranged in two triple and two twin mounts designated 'A', 'B', 'X', and 'Y'. As built, she also carried 21 5-inch (127 mm)/51 caliber guns, primarily for defense against destroyers and torpedo boats. She also had two (some references say four) 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes for the Bliss-Leavitt Mark 3 torpedo. Her crew consisted of 864 officers and enlisted men.[2]


Oklahoma's keel was laid down on 26 October 1912 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, who bid $5,926,000 to construct the ship.[6] By 12 December 1912, she was 11.2 percent complete, and by 13 July 1913 she was at 33 percent.[7] She was launched on 23 March 1914, sponsored by Miss Lorena J. Cruce, daughter of Oklahoma Governor Lee Cruce. The launch was preceded by an invocation—the first for an American warship in half a century—given by Elijah Embree Hoss, and was attended by various dignitaries from Oklahoma and the federal government. The battleship was subsequently moved to a dock near the new Argentine battleship Moreno and Chinese cruiser Fei Hung (soon to be the Greek Elli) for fitting-out.[8]

On the night of 19 July 1915, large fires were discovered underneath the fore main battery turret, the third to flare up on an American battleship in less than a month.[9][lower-alpha 1] However, by 22 July the Navy believed that the Oklahoma fire had been caused by "defective insulation" or a mistake made by a dockyard worker.[10] The fire delayed the battleship's completion so much that Nevada was able to conduct her sea trials and be commissioned before Oklahoma.[11] On 23 October 1915, she was 98.1 percent complete.[12] She was commissioned at Philadelphia, on 2 May 1916 with Captain Roger Welles in command.[13]

World War I

Oklahoma underway during her sea trials

Following commissioning, the ship remained along the East Coast of the United States primarily visiting various Navy yards. She was initially not able to join the Battleship Division Nine task force sent to support the Grand Fleet in the North Sea during World War I due to a lack of oil available there. In 1917, she underwent a refit and two 3-inch/50 caliber guns were installed forward of the mainmast for anti-aircraft defense, and nine of the 5"/51 caliber guns were removed or repositioned.[14] While conditions on the ship were cramped, the sailors on the ship had many advantages for education available to them.[15] They also spend their time on athletic competitions, including boxing, wrestling and rowing competitions with the crews of the battleship Texas and the tug Ontario. The camaraderie built from these small competitions led to fleet-wide establishment of many athletic teams pitting crews against one another for morale by the 1930s.[16]

On 13 August 1918,[17] Oklahoma was assigned to Battleship Division Six under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers, and departed for Europe alongside Nevada. On 23 August they rendezvoused with destroyers Balch, Conyngham, Downes, Kimberly, Allen, and Sampson, 275 miles (443 km) west of Ireland, before steaming for Berehaven Harbor, where they waited for 18 days before battleship Utah arrived. The division remained at anchor, tasked to protect American convoys coming into the area, but was only called out of the harbor once in 80 days. On 14 October 1918, while under command of Charles B. McVay, Jr., she escorted troop ships into port at the United Kingdom, returning on 16 October. For the rest of the time, the ship conducted drills at anchor or in nearby Bantry Bay. To pass the time, the crews played football, and competitive sailing. Oklahoma suffered six casualties between 21 October and 2 November to the 1918 flu pandemic.[18] Oklahoma remained off Berehaven until the end of the war on 11 November 1918. Shortly thereafter, several Oklahoma crewmembers were involved in a series of fights with members of the Sinn Féin group, forcing the ship's commander to apologize and financially compensate two town mayors.[19]

Interwar period

Ship newsletter, the Sea Bag, 20 June 1920

Oklahoma left for Portland, England on 26 November, joined there by Arizona on 30 November and Nevada, 4 December, and Battleship Division Nine's ships shortly after. The ships were assigned as a convoy escort for the ocean liner SS George Washington, carrying President Woodrow Wilson, and arrived with that ship in France several days later. She departed 14 December for New York City, and then spent early 1919 conducting winter battle drills off the coast of Cuba. On 15 June 1919, she returned to Brest, escorting Wilson on a second trip, and returned to New York on 8 July.[20] A part of the Atlantic Fleet for the next two years, Oklahoma was overhauled and her crew trained. The secondary battery was reduced from 20 to 12 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal guns in 1918.[21] Early in 1921, she voyaged to South America's west coast for combined exercises with the Pacific Fleet, and returned later that year for the Peruvian Centennial.[17]

She then joined the Pacific Fleet and in 1925 began a high-profile training cruise with several other battleships. They left San Francisco on 15 April 1925, arrived in Hawaii on 27 April, where they conducted war games. They left for Samoa on 1 July, crossing the equator on 6 July. On 27 July, they arrived in Australia and conducted a number of exercises there, before spending time at New Zealand, returning to the United States later that year. In early 1927, she transited the Panama Canal and moved to join the Scouting Fleet.[22] In November 1927 she entered Philadelphia Navy Yard for an extensive overhaul. She was modernized by addition of eight 5-inch/25 cal guns[21] and her turrets' maximum elevation was raised from 15 to 30 degrees. An aircraft catapult was installed atop turret 'Y'. She was also substantially up-armored between September 1927 and July 1929, where anti-torpedo bulges were added, as well as an additional 2 inches (51 mm) of steel on her armor deck. The overhaul increased her beam to 108 feet (33 m), the widest in the U.S. Navy, and reduced her speed to 19.68 knots (36.45 km/h; 22.65 mph).[23]

Oklahoma after her modernization, passing Alcatraz

Oklahoma rejoined the Scouting Fleet for exercises in the Caribbean, then returned to the west coast in June 1930 for fleet operations through spring 1936. That summer, she carried midshipmen on a European training cruise, visiting northern ports. The cruise was interrupted with the outbreak of civil war in Spain, as Oklahoma sailed to Bilbao, arriving on 24 July 1936 to rescue American citizens and other refugees whom she carried to Gibraltar and French ports. She returned to Norfolk on 11 September, and to the West Coast on 24 October.

The Pacific Fleet operations of Oklahoma during the next four years included joint operations with the Army and the training of reservists. Oklahoma was based at Pearl Harbor from 29 December 1937 for patrols and exercises, and only twice returned to the mainland, once to have anti-aircraft guns and armor added to her superstructure at Puget Sound Navy Yard in early February 1941 and once to have armor replaced at San Pedro in mid-August of the same year. En route on 22 August, a severe storm hit Oklahoma, and one man was swept overboard along with three men injured.[24] The next morning, a broken starboard propeller shaft forced the ship to halt, assess the damage, and sail to San Francisco, the closest navy yard with an adequate drydock.[25] She remained in drydock until mid-October. The ship then returned to Hawaii.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

Oklahoma capsizes in a photo taken during the attack on Pearl Harbor

Oklahoma was moored in berth Fox 5 in Battleship Row on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked.[26] Outboard alongside Maryland, Oklahoma took three torpedo hits almost immediately after the first Japanese bombs fell.[27] As she began to capsize to port, two more torpedoes struck home, and her men were strafed as they abandoned ship.[28] In less than twelve minutes, she rolled over until halted by her masts touching bottom, her starboard side above water, and a part of her keel exposed.

Many of her crew, however, remained in the fight, clambering aboard Maryland to help serve her anti-aircraft batteries.[29] 429 of her officers and enlisted men were killed or missing. One of those killed—Father Aloysius Schmitt—was the first American chaplain of any faith to die in World War II. Thirty-two others were wounded, and many were trapped within the capsized hull. Julio DeCastro, a Hawaiian civilian yard worker, organized a team that saved 32 Oklahoma sailors.[30]

Some of those who died later had ships named after them, including Ensign John England for whom USS England (DE-635) and USS England (DLG-22) are named. USS Austin (DE-15) was named for Chief Carpenter John Arnold Austin, who was also posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the attack. In addition to Austin's Navy Cross, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Ensign Francis C. Flaherty and Seaman James R. Ward, while three Navy and Marine Corps Medals were awarded to others on Oklahoma during the attack.[31]


An aerial view of salvage operations on 19 March 1943, looking toward Ford Island, with the ship halfway righted

The job of salvaging Oklahoma commenced on 15 July 1942 under the immediate command of Captain F. H. Whitaker and a team from the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

Torpedo damage to the port side of Oklahoma.

Preparations for righting the overturned hull took under eight months to complete. Twenty-one derricks were attached to the upturned hull; each carried high-tensile steel cables that were connected to hydraulic winching machines ashore. The righting (parbuckling) operation began on 8 March and was completed by 16 June 1943. Teams of naval specialists then entered the previously submerged ship to remove any additional human remains. Cofferdams were then placed around the hull to allow basic repairs to be undertaken so that the ship could be refloated; this work was completed by November. On 28 December, Oklahoma was towed into dry dock No. 2 at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. Once in the dock, her main guns, machinery, and remaining ammunition and stores were removed. The severest structural damage on the hull was also repaired to make the ship watertight.

USS Wisconsin is tied up outboard of the hull of Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard on 11 November 1944. Note the great difference in the length of the two battleships.

After several months in the dry dock, Oklahoma was moved and moored elsewhere in Pearl Harbor. Although there had been initial plans to salvage the ship, Oklahoma was decommissioned on 1 September 1944. All remaining armaments and superstructure were then removed. On 5 December 1946, two days before the fifth anniversary of her sinking, Oklahoma was sold to Moore Drydock Company of Oakland, California, for $46,000.[32]

Final voyage

In May 1947, a two-tug towing operation began to move the hull of Oklahoma from Pearl Harbor to the scrapyard in San Francisco Bay. However, disaster struck on 17 May when the ships entered a storm more than 500 miles (800 km) from Hawaii. The tug Hercules put her searchlight on the former battleship, revealing that she had begun listing heavily. After radioing the naval base at Pearl Harbor, both tugs were instructed to turn around and head back to port. But suddenly, without warning, Hercules was pulled back past Monarch, which was being dragged backwards at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph) herself.[33] Oklahoma had begun to sink straight down causing water to swamp the sterns of both tugs.

Both tug skippers, Kelly Sprague of Hercules and George Anderson of Monarch, had fortuitously loosened their cable drums which connected the 1,400-foot (430 m) tow lines to Oklahoma.[34] As the battleship rapidly sank, the line from Monarch quickly played out releasing the tug. However, Hercules' cables did not release until the last possible moment, leaving her tossing and pitching above the grave of the sunken Oklahoma. The battleship's exact location is unknown.[35]


A mast leg from Oklahoma in War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The mast section is on permanent loan from the Navy.

During dredging operations in 2006, the U.S. Navy recovered a part of Oklahoma from the bottom of Pearl Harbor.[36] The Navy believes it to be a portion of the port side rear fire control tower support mast. It was flown to Tinker Air Force Base then delivered to the Muskogee War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 2010, where the 40-foot-long (12 m), 25,000-pound (11,000 kg), barnacle-encrusted mast section is now on permanent outdoor display.[37]

On 7 December 2007, the 66th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a memorial for the 429 crew members who were killed in the attack was dedicated on Ford Island, just outside the entrance to where the battleship Missouri is docked as a museum.[38] Missouri is moored where Oklahoma was moored when she was sunk.

Only 35 of the 429 sailors and Marines who died on Oklahoma were identified in the years following the attack. The remains of 388 unidentified sailors and Marines were first interred as unknowns in the Nu'uanu and Halawa cemeteries, but were all disinterred in 1947 in an unsuccessful attempt to identify more personnel.[39] In 1950, all unidentified remains from Oklahoma were buried in 61 caskets in 45 graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.[40]

In April 2015, the Department of Defense announced, as part of a policy change that established threshold criteria for disinterment of unknowns, that the unidentified remains of the crew members of Oklahoma would be exhumed for DNA analysis, with the goal of returning identified remains to their families.[39] The process began in June 2015 when four graves, two individual and two group graves, were disinterred.[41]

As of 2015-2016, 30 "U.S.S. Oklahoma" Unknowns had been identified by[42][43][44]

See also


  1. The other two fires were found on Alabama and New Jersey; all were started under the fore main battery turret.


  1. DANFS Oklahoma (BB-37).
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Gardiner & Gray 1985, p. 115.
  3. US Naval History Division 1970, p. 46.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Fitzsimons 1978, p. 1982.
  5. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, p. 3.
  6. "Battleship Bids In," New York Times, 5 January 1912, 2.
  7. "Navy Yard Still In Lead," New York Times, 13 December 1912, 6; "Two Best Warships to be Built for US," New York Times, 13 July 1913, 9.
  8. "Giant U.S. Warship Takes the Water," New York Times, 24 March 1914, 8.
  9. "Two Fires Break Out on New Dreadnought," New York Times, 20 July 1915, 1; "Navy Investigating Fires on Oklahoma," New York Times, 21 July 1915, 2.
  10. "[No Title]," New York Times, 22 July 1915, 4.
  11. "Mightiest U.S. Ship Coming," New York Times, 19 September 1915, 12.
  12. "The Nevada Leaves Quincy," New York Times, 23 October 1915, 5.
  13. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, p. 19.
  14. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, p. 23.
  15. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 9–13.
  16. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 13–15.
  17. 1 2 DANFS 1970, p. 601.
  18. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, p. 24.
  19. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, p. 25.
  20. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 26–27.
  21. 1 2 Breyer 1973, p. 210.
  22. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, p. 29.
  23. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 31–32.
  24. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 50, 52.
  25. Young, p. 79.
  26. Arroyo, p. 20.
  27. La Forte, p. 12.
  28. La Forte, p. 43.
  29. La Forte, p. 44.
  30. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 143–146.
  31. Phister, Hone & Goodyear 2008, pp. 176–178.
  32. "Giant Oklahoma Sinks at Sea". San Mateo County Times. p. 2. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  33. Newell, p. 42.
  34. Newell, p. 39.
  35. Newell, pp. 39, 42.
  36. Armstrong, Brandice J. (24 June 2010). "Team effort brings Oklahoma mast to name state". Inside Tinker AFB. Tinker Air Force Base. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  37. Alexander, M.J. (May 2015). "Not Forgotten, and Gone: the Fate of the Battleship Oklahoma". Slice. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  38. Oklahoma Memorial.
  39. 1 2 "DoD Seeks to Identify Unaccounted-for USS Oklahoma Crew Members". United States Department of Defense. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  40. Calamur, Krishnadev (15 April 2015). "Pentagon To Exhume Remains Of Sailors From USS Oklahoma". National Public Radio. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  41. Drewes, Paul (9 June 2015). "First USS Oklahoma remains disinterred". Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  42. Recently accounted for 2015. Retrieved 11-23-2016
  43. Recently Accounted for 2016. Retrieved 12-01-2016
  44. news releases 2016. Retrieved 12-01-2016


Print sources

  • Dictionary of American naval fighting ships / Vol.5, Historical sketches : letters N through Q, Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1970, OCLC 769806179 
  • Arroyo, Ernest (2001). Pearl Harbor. Metro Books. ISBN 978-1586631499. 
  • Beigel, Harvey M. (2004). Parallel Fates: The USS Utah (BB 31/AG-16) and the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) in Peace and War. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. ISBN 1-57510-113-0. 
  • Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905–1970. Doubleday and Company. ISBN 0-385-07247-3. 
  • Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. (1978). "Nevada". Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare. 18. London: Phoebus. p. 1982. 
  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal (1985). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-87021-907-3. 
  • La Forte, Robert S.; Marcello, Ronald E., eds. (1991). Remembering Pearl Harbor: Eyewitness Accounts by U.S. Military Men and Women. Wilmington, Delaware: SR Books. ISBN 0-8420-2371-2. OCLC 645772276. 
  • Newell, Gordon (1957). Pacific Tugboats. Seattle, Washington: Superior Publishing. 
  • Phister, Jeff; Hone, Thomas; Goodyear, Paul (2008). Battleship Oklahoma: BB-37. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3936-4. 
  • US Naval History Division (1970). The Battleship in the United States Navy. Washington, D.C.: Naval History Division. OCLC 298306. 72-604171. 
  • Young, Stephen Bower (1991). Trapped at Pearl Harbor: Escape for Battleship Oklahoma. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-975-1. OCLC 555364424. 

Online sources


  • "Ill-Fated Battleship Dies at Sea". The State (20,417). Columbia, S.C. Associated Press. 18 May 1947. p. 1-A. 

External links

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Coordinates: 24°58′N 150°6′W / 24.967°N 150.100°W / 24.967; -150.100 (Approximate sinking position of the USS Oklahoma (BB-37))

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