Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

19-N-35097: USS Arkansas (BB 33)
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USS Arkansas (BB 33)

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USS Arkansas (Battleship # 33; later BB-33) 1912-1946

USS Arkansas, a 26,000 ton Wyoming class battleship, was built at Camden, New Jersey. Commissioned in September 1912, she spent her first seven years of service with the Atlantic Fleet. In 1913, Arkansas cruised in the Mediterranean, and in 1914 she participated in the U.S. intervention in Mexico. During July-December 1918, she operated with the British Grand Fleet as World War I approached and reached its conclusion.


Transiting the Panama Canal in July 1919, Arkansas joined the Pacific Fleet, remaining there for two years before returning to the Atlantic. She carried Naval Academy midshipmen on cruises to Europe in 1923 and 1924, and to the west coast in 1925. After the latter voyage, the battleship underwent extensive modernization, receiving new oil-fired boilers, additional deck armor and a changed appearance, with only one smokestack and "basket" mast in place of the previous two of each. Through the next two decades, Arkansas primarily served in the Atlantic area, making annual Midshipmen's cruises to Europe in 1929-31 and 1934-37. In 1932-34, she operated along the west coast on training operations, a mission that largely occupied her through the 1930s.


After war broke out in Europe in 1939, Arkansas continued her training duties, and, as relations with Germany deteriorated, took part in "operations short of war". In the summer of 1941, she escorted occupation forces to Iceland and was present when President Roosevelt met Prime Minister Churchill at the Atlantic Charter Conference. Once the United States formally entered the war in December 1941, Arkansas was employed escorting Atlantic convoys, as well as performing more training work. An overhaul in March-June 1942 again changed her appearance, with a new tripod foremast replacing the previous "basket" type. Her combat experience began in June 1944, when she used her twelve-inch guns to support the Normandy invasion and in bombardments of German defenses at Cherbourg. In August, she participated in the invasion of Southern France.


Arkansas went to the Pacific in November 1944, crossing the ocean to the war zone early in the next year. In February-May 1945, she supported the conquests of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Once Japan had surrendered, she transported veterans home from bases in the Pacific. By now thoroughly obsolete, the old battleship was assigned a final mission, to serve as a target ship for atomic bomb tests at Bikini, in the Marshalls. She survived the initial test, an air-burst, but was anchored in close proximity to the bomb used in the 25 July 1946 underwater shot. Arkansas was engulfed in the column of water driven up by the powerful blast and quickly sank. She remains on the bottom of Bikini Atoll to this day.