The Enduring Legacy of the USS Arizona

A Sneak Preview of USS Arizona by Ingo Bauernfeind

The USS Arizona is one of the most iconic memorials to those who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor. On the 7th of December 1941, the Japanese unleashed a surprise attack against the American fleet stationed in the pacific, an attack that was completely unannounced and unexpected. In total, 2,335 American soldiers were killed during the assault with a further 1,143 injured. The assault would eradicate all non-interventionalist ideals amongst the American people, propelling the U.S into the Second World War. While all of the lost ships were eventually raised and repurposed, the Arizona was beyond repair. To this day, it lies at the bottom of the harbour, a silent memorial to those lost in the fight. In his new book, Ingo Bauernfeind tells the complete story of the Arizona, from its birth during the First World War, to its tragic demise and revival as a testament to those who died. For the first time in history, Ingo explores the enduring legacy of the great warship and explains how a tragic loss continues to shape American history. Below is an exclusive extract from the book that details the construction and early years of the Arizona, right up to the fateful day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt would describe as “a day that will live in infamy”.


The construction of the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39), named for the 48th state in the Union, began on March 16, 1914 when the keel was laid. After a year of intense labour she was launched on June 19, 1915 as the second and last of the Pennsylvania-class battleships. The launching was a grand affair. Esther Ross, daughter of an influential pioneer citizen in Prescott, Arizona, was selected to christen the ship. The battleship’s commissioning took place on October 16, 1916 under the command of Captain John D. McDonald. The dimensions of the ship were quite impressive for the time. Her overall length was 608 feet (two American football fields long) with a beam of 97 feet. She displaced 35,852 tons (full load) with a mean draft of 29 feet. Four Parsons turbines and twelve Babcock & Wilcox boilers developing 34,000 horsepower drove the Arizona’s four shafts. She could reach a top speed of 21 knots. The designated complement was 1,087 men in 1916. She was well armed for battleships of her time. The original armament during World War I consisted of twelve 14-inch guns, twenty-two 5-inch guns, four 3-inch antiaircraft guns, and two 21-inch submerged torpedo tubes. She was protected by 18 inches of armour at her maximum thickness. The Arizona and her sister ship, Pennsylvania, represented a modest improvement of the previous Nevada-class battleships. Length and displacement were somewhat increased, two 14-inch guns were added, and the main armament refitted with four triple-gun turrets. The most significant change was concentrated in the vessel’s firepower. The Arizona’s four turrets (labelled No. 1, 2, 3 and 4) each mounted three 14-inch naval guns.

In November 1916, the Arizona departed on her shakedown cruise and training off the Virginia Capes, Newport and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two months later she returned to Norfolk, Virginia to conduct test firing of her guns and perform torpedo defence exercises. In December she entered the New York Naval Shipyard for a post-shakedown overhaul that was completed in April 1917. While in New York, the Arizona received orders to join Battleship Division 8 at Norfolk, Virginia, which was to be her homeport through World War I while she served as a gunnery-training vessel. Due to the scarcity of fuel oil in the European theatre, the Arizona, an oil burner, stayed home in American waters to patrol the East Coast. When the armistice was signed she sailed for Portsmouth, England to operate with the British Grand Fleet. A month later the new battleship was ordered to rendezvous with the transport George Washington that was carrying President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. President Wilson carried a bold proposal intended to ensure a lasting world peace. In his outline for world cooperation, Wilson proposed 14 points to act as guidelines for a peace without victory, and a new world body called the League of Nations. The Arizona would act as honour escort for the voyage to Brest, France.

In June 1919, the Arizona entered the New York Naval Shipyard for maintenance and remained there until January 1920, when she departed for fleet manoeuvres in the Caribbean. That summer, the Arizona became the flagship for Battleship Division 7, commanded by Rear Admiral Eberle, the future chief of naval operations. The Arizona continued operations in the Caribbean Sea throughout the winter, and during that period made her first passage through the Panama Canal. The ship returned to Norfolk from Cuba in April 1921, and was overhauled in the New York Navy Yard. That summer, the Arizona participated in experimental bombing exercises by seaplanes on a captured German U-boat, the first in a series of joint Army-Navy experiments conducted during June and July of 1921 to measure the effectiveness of air attacks. On July 1, 1921, the Arizona was honoured as the flagship for three-star Vice Admiral John D. McDonald. McDonald had served as the ship’s first commanding officer. With the flag came the title of flagship of the Battle Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In August, the flag was transferred to the battleship Wyoming and the Arizona received a new admiral, John S. McKean, commander of Battleship Division 7. In September of 1921, the Arizona was transferred to Pacific waters. At San Pedro, California, she underwent another change of command, when Rear Admiral Charles Hughes became the new commander of Battleship Division 7. For the next decade the Arizona served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 3, and 4. A number of distinguished officers served aboard the vessel, particularly Rear Admirals William V. Pratt and Claude Block. During this period the ship sailed twice to Hawaii to participate in fleet manoeuvres and practice amphibious landings of Marines. In February 1929, the Arizona passed through the Panama Canal for fleet manoeuvres in the Caribbean. On May 1, the battleship returned to Norfolk in preparation for a modernization overhaul. On May 4, 1929, she entered the Norfolk Navy Yard for that purpose and was placed in reduced commission. During this modernization stage the Arizona received a massive facelift. First to go were the traditional cage masts that were replaced fore and aft by tripod types. New 5-inch antiaircraft guns replaced the outdated 3-inch mounts. New armour was added below the upper decks to guard against the fall of shot by high-angle gunfire and bombs dropped by aircraft. Extra compartments called “blisters“ were added to the outer hull to increase the ship’s protection against torpedo attack. In an effort to offset the additional weight, a new power plant consisting of modern boilers and turbines was installed to allow it to maintain normal fleet speed. The engines were upgraded with new-geared units, and the original boilers were replaced with six Bureau Express three-drum boilers. The Arizona’s fuel capacity was increased from 2,332 to 4,630 tons of oil. On March 1, 1931, modernization was completed, and the Arizona was placed in full commission once again.

One of the more significant events in the ship’s history took place on March 19, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover and his party embarked the Arizona for a 10-day inspection cruise to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands; they were then transported to Hampton Roads at month’s end. The Arizona left Norfolk for the last time on August 1, 1931, and remained in the Pacific for the rest of her operational life. Rear Admiral Chester Nimitz hoisted his flag as commander of Battleship Division 1 on September 17, 1938, with the Arizona serving as his flagship until May 1939. His successor, Rear Admiral Russell Willson, assumed command in San Pedro, California. As tensions grew in the Pacific, so did fleet responsibilities. On April 2, 1940, the Arizona moved into Hawaiian waters, but was ordered to the west coast to be overhauled at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington. The work was completed by January 23, 1941. At that time Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd relieved Rear Admiral Willson and took command of Battleship Division 1. The Arizona returned to Hawaii in February 1941, and trained in those waters for four months. The last voyage to the West Coast occurred in June, and in early July the battleship returned to Pearl Harbor. For several months prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Arizona’s crew underwent intensive battle-readiness drills that often included mock air attacks from the carrier Enterprise. The battleship entered dry dock No. 1 on October 27, 1941, for minor adjustments and repairs. Soon after, the Arizona re-joined the fleet. The ship’s exact movements for the month before the Pearl Harbor attack are not clear, as the ship’s log was lost in the sinking. She entered Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, and moored on the east side of Ford Island. The repair ship Vestal pulled alongside to ready the vessel for repair work scheduled for the following Monday. At 10:00 a.m. that morning, Admiral Kidd came aboard the Vestal for a 15-minute official call. Later, the captain of the repair ship, Cassin Young, boarded the Arizona to discuss the ship’s pending repairs with the battleship’s chief engineer. Many of the ship’s crew had liberty that Saturday. Some of the married men had wives on the island and received weekend passes. However, a majority of the men had returned to the ship by midnight. Eight hours later the Arizona would be lying on the bottom of Pearl Harbor with the bodies of most of those men.


Ingo Bauernfeind’s new book, USS Arizona, explores in full the legacy of the legendary warship, from her birth in the earliest years of the 20th century, her tragic demise during the Attack on Pearl Harbor, and her legacy decades on. This title is a testament to those who lost their lives and explores how this ship remains a centre point of American history. Through the usage of detailed photography, the author explores the wreck of the Arizona and describes the efforts to preserve it for the future, documents the reunions of the sailors who served together on the mighty warship including the final toast, and pays testament to her ever enduring legacy. The book includes three exclusive documentaries (in 4K) about the Attack on Pearl Harbor, including eyewitness accounts, a scientific exploration of the Arizona today, and a look inside her wreck. This book is the perfect choice for any amateur or professional naval enthusiast.




Leave a Reply