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USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

Salvage of USS Oklahoma, 1942-1944

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The righting and refloating of the capsized battleship Oklahoma was the largest of the Pearl Harbor salvage jobs, and the most difficult. Since returning this elderly and very badly damaged warship to active service was not seriously contemplated, the major part of the project only began in mid-1942, after more immediately important salvage jobs were completed. Its purpose was mainly to clear an important mooring berth for further use, and only secondarily to recover some of Oklahoma's weapons and equipment.


The first task was turning Oklahoma upright. During the latter part of 1942 and early 1943, an extensive system of righting frames (or "bents") and cable anchors was installed on the ship's hull, twenty-one large winches were firmly mounted on nearby Ford Island, and cables were rigged between ship and shore. Fuel oil, ammunition and some machinery were removed to lighten the ship. Divers worked in and around her to make the hull as airtight as possible. Coral fill was placed alongside her bow to ensure that the ship would roll, and not slide, when pulling began. The actual righting operation began on 8 March and continued until mid-June, with rerigging of cables taking place as necessary as the ship turned over.


To ensure that the ship remained upright, the cables were left in place during the refloating phase of the operation. Oklahoma's port side had been largely torn open by Japanese torpedos, and a series of patches had to be installed. This involved much work by divers and other working personnel, as did efforts to cut away wreckage, close internal and external fittings, remove stores and the bodies of those killed on 7 December 1941. The ship came afloat in early November 1943, and was drydocked in late December, after nearly two more months of work.


Once in Navy Yard hands, Oklahoma's most severe structural damage was repaired sufficiently to make her watertight. Guns, some machinery, and the remaining ammuniton and stores were taken off. After several months in Drydock Number Two, the ship was again refloated and moored elsewhere in Pearl Harbor. She was sold to a scrapping firm in 1946, but sank in a storm while under tow from Hawaii to the west coast in May 1947.


For more imagery on the salvage of USS Oklahoma, please see S-082 Captain F.H. Whitaker Collection. Then-Commander Whitaker supervised the Oklahoma salvage operations, and he donated nearly 500 images to this organization.