USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

October 04, 2011
by Randy Miller

The most devastating loss of the attack on Pearl Harbor was on the USS Arizona, accounting for nearly half of the 2403 total deaths. 1,177 men died on the battleship Arizona when a 1765-pound armor piercing bomb exploded, igniting the powder magazine. Admiral Kimmel, who saw the explosion, said he saw "the Arizona lift out of the water, then sink back down - way down."

USS Arizona in 1916

Constructed in 1915, The 600-foot long, 31,400-ton Arizona was a Pennsylvania class battleship. Along with the Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock during the attack, Arizona was one of the older battleships at Pearl Harbor.

While the Battleships of battleship rowCalifornia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Nevada were being hit with torpedoes, Arizona did not suffer any torpedo hits.  It was inboard of the repair ship Vestal, which also avoided torpedoes.

There are some bogus reports that Arizona was hit by torpedoes, but research has found those to be false. Divers have examined her hull and found no evidence of torpedo damage. While fortunate to miss the torpedo attack, the Arizona was not as fortunate when it came to the bombing. A total of eight bombs were dropped on USS Arizona.

Arizona's fuel tanks were 95% full. Her powder magazine was full. Her ammunition magazines were full.  This combination led to the unforgettable explosion. At 0808, just thirteen minutes into the attack, an armor piercing bomb ignited the forward magazine of the Arizona. That ensuing explosion caused deaths from impact, smoke inhalation, burning, and drowning. The Arizona sank in 9 minutes.

Those lucky enough to survive the explosion may have jumped and landed in the water that had a 6-inch thick scum of oil. The oil on the water was burning and these men were at great risk of burning as they swam away from the ship.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor Sinking

After the USS Arizona Explosion

The fires from the explosion on Arizona burned for days. The burning fuel from the Arizona drifted towards Nevada, which chose to get underway to avoid it. She was able to pick up a few floating survivors from Arizona on her way. The explosion put out the fires on Vestal, but her damage was so bad that she also got underway in order to beach and avoid sinking.

USS Arizona oil leaking on Battleship Row

When the Arizona sunk, she landed on the water mains to Ford Island and killed the water pressure. That made it incredibly difficult to fight the fires on Ford Island.

After the investigation was complete, the Navy decided to remove Arizona's topside and leave the ship in the location where she sank, a fitting resting place for the men who died on board. The USS Arizona Memorial floats above the sunken remains of the USS Arizona. Every day a flag is raised and lowered to honor the men who rest in the great USS Arizona.

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