USS Arkansas: From Battleship to Shipwreck

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Monday, July 25, 2016

The USS Arkansas (BB-33) battleship was touted at the time of its launch in 1911 as being one of the largest battleships in U.S. history.

The Wyoming-class dreadnaught battleship was the third U.S Navy vessel to bear the name Arkansas, the first being a wooden hulled steamer from the Civil War era and the second a single turret monitor from the 1890s. That vessel was renamed Ozark in 1909 to allow for a new Arkansas.

Laid down in January 2010 in Camden, N.J., and launched in January 2011, the Arkansas was commissioned by the U.S. Navy in September 1912. Miss Nancy Louise Macon of Helena, Arkansas, was the ship’s sponsor. (Sponsors were women who christened Navy ships as part of a time-honored tradition.)

In 1914, the Arkansas delivered a battalion of 330 men to Veracruz, Mexico. The men engaged in street fighting to secure the city following the rise to power of Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta. After departing Mexico, the Arkansas engaged in peacetime exercises until the United States entered World War I in April 1917.

For much of the war, the Arkansas conducted patrols and trained gun crews. In July 1918, the ship sailed to Scotland to relieve the USS Delaware. After the armistice ending the war, Arkansas sailed to meet the George Washington, which had President Woodrow Wilson on board. Along with other ships, Arkansas escorted the president’s ship to France before returning to the United States.

During peacetime, the Arkansas entered a routine of training interspersed with periods of upkeep or overhaul. In 1925, the ship entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard to undergo modernization. These changes included replacing her coal-burning boilers with oil-fired ones. Her pair of stacks were replaced with a single stack, she received additional deck armor and the after cage mast was replaced by a low tripod.

After the upgrades, the Arkansas returned to peacetime duties which primarily consisted of training. She continued this way until the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Initially, the Arkansas primarily served as a convoy escort. On the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach at Normandy, Arkansas fought German shore batteries and aircraft attacks from a location 4,000 yards offshore. These duties were repeated at Cherbourg, France, on June 25.

The Arkansas again provided support for the invasion of the French coast near Cannes, and then traveled back to the United States for repair. In late 1944, the Arkansas headed to the Pacific Ocean to assist in attacks on Japanese soil. She participated in the bombardment of both Iwo Jima and Okinawa in February and March 1945, respectively. At the end of the war, the Arkansas participated in Operation Magic Carpet Ride, transporting thousands of soldiers home.

After the war, the Arkansas was selected, due to her age, for use in atomic testing at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. It survived an airborne explosion in July 1946, but was sunk by an underwater detonation later that month. The vessel now sits in 170 feet of water and is visited occasionally by recreational deep sea divers.


(Photos from the Library of Congress)