The History of the USS Oklahoma
December 17, 2016
Take a trip through the World War II Valor in the Pacific Pearl Harbor National Monument and you’ll find yourself exploring standing dedications to the Battleship Missouri and the sunken USS Arizona, but anyone who knows their Pearl Harbor history knows that there were eight battleships there on the morning of the attack. One of those eight present on Battleship Row was the USS Oklahoma, a Nevada-class battleship that was first commissioned in 1916. The 583-foot long vessel saw a long history of battle that culminated in her final action on December 7th, 1941.
Before Pearl Harbor
Before Oklahoma found herself among her sister ships fending off Japanese bombers, she saw a period of normalcy despite being commissioned in the midst of World War I. Though initially commissioned in 1916, the battleship wasn’t given a real assignment until August 1918, when she was assigned to Battleship Division Six. Under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers, Oklahoma sailed for European waters and was tasked with protecting American convoys in a harbor west of Ireland.
For the short period before the end of the war, the battleship was only called out once to escort troop ships into a United Kingdom port in October 1918. While anchored in the harbor, the crew focused more on camaraderie than war, engaging in football matches to pass the time.
The Day Of…
Moored in berth Fox 5 of Battleship Row, Oklahoma was among the first targets hit by Japanese bombers. Three torpedoes struck the vessel shortly after the first bombs fell, causing her to capsize before the crew had a chance to retaliate. As she sank, two more torpedoes struck.
With all hope of saving the vessel lost, the surviving crew abandoned their ship, but Japanese fighters were there to pick off anyone trying to escape. Aircraft focused on the vessel, strafing survivors and adding to the mayhem and rising death toll. Of the 800-plus crewmen, 429 perished in the attack.
Seeking shelter and a way to fight back, many of the surviving crew boarded the nearby USS Maryland and assisted with anti-aircraft batteries.
After the Battle
Though the war was still being fought, salvaging Oklahoma began in July of 1942. The capsized vessel was successfully righted and the functional machinery, guns, and ammunition were removed. Despite severe damage, the hull was repaired and Oklahoma was once again afloat. Plans to rehab the ship were scrapped and she was decommissioned. Two years later, the vessel was sold for scrap to a company in California.
In May of 1947, as the ship was being towed to a scrapyard in the San Francisco Bay area, the convoy encountered stormy waters, and Oklahoma was finally lost.
Today, a memorial to the lost sailors stands on Ford Island near the Battleship Missouri.
To learn more about the Oklahoma crew, visit the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center for a complete history of the attack and the American war effort that stemmed from it.