Submerged Cultural Resources Study:
USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark
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Chapter I: Introduction

On Dec. 7, 1941 the United States of America became directly involved in the greatest of human conflicts: World War II. Even before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning, it was clear to many Americans that they would soon be at war with Japan. What was unexpected was the seemingly apocalyptic nature of the sneak attack. It was an event that emblazoned itself in the minds of millions of Americans, a passionate, inflamed response alive even today, spanning generations. The single most powerful image associated with the Pearl Harbor attack was the twisted, smoking metal and mast of the USS ARIZONA.

In 1983 the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (SCRU) was tasked with mapping and photo-documenting the remains of the USS ARIZONA in its final resting place in Pearl Harbor. Superintendent Gary Cummins was responsible for managing a major national shrine, one that he couldn't see and for which there existed no management precedents. During the war Navy salvage teams had cut away most of the ship's superstructure. Eventually a memorial was built over the sunken ship's hull that is the grave of approximately 1,000 U.S. servicemen. Cummins wanted to know what sort of integrity the hull retained. Was it in imminent danger of falling apart? Where was the oil coming from that leaked so conspicuously from the ship? Did armament or live ordnance still exist in the wreckage? He asked those and a host of other questions that boiled down to "What's there?" It was perfectly clear what had been there before Dec. 7 1941, but notions regarding its present condition were riddled with contradiction and mystery.

Supt. Cummins
Figure 1.1. Gary Cummins, Superintendent of ARIZONA National Memorial inspects enbrasures of No. 1 turret. It was not known that the 14-inch guns were still in place on the ship until the underwater survey.
(NPS photo by Larry Murphy)

SCRU conducted a 10-day site assessment with assistance from park staff, the Arizona Memorial Association, and the U.S. Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) One in Pearl Harbor. Information gleaned from the 1983 assessment was used to plan comprehensive mapping operations that took place in 1984. This preliminary operation also dramatically illustrated how little was known of the ship's remains. The entire No. 1 turret with its 14-inch guns intact (which were believed to have been salvaged) was discovered by the first divers, as was a profusion of live 5-inch shells directly under the memorial structure. The latter were immediately removed by a Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team.

The three weeks of intensive diving in 1984 produced sufficient data to complete a planimetric view of the ship, as well as drawings of the port and starboard elevations of the hulk. Drawings were finalized in winter 1984 and released in 1985 by SCRU in a five-part format that included two additional artist's perspectives from the port and starboard quarters. Jerry Livingston was responsible for the final rendering, which subsequently received the John Wesley Powell prize for Historic Display.

aerial view of USS Arizona
Figure 1.2. The USS ARIZONA from the air. Note that 14-inch guns of No. 1 turret are not visible.
(Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Service, Inc.)

In September 1985 Bill Dickinson became superintendent of the Arizona Memorial and resolved to continue research diving on the ship. He felt that the 1985 drawings had satisfactorily answered the question of "what's there?" but he was anxious to proceed with the next step in a logical research progression in order to determine "what's happening to what's there?" Before leaving his post, Cummins had suggested a corrosion study. Dickinson broadened that concept to include a full inventory of the biota and the relevant chemical environment around the hull that might influence long-term preservation. Both managers had come to realize during their tenure that the USS ARIZONA was essentially a large, multicompositional metal structure resting in a biochemical soup, and many more questions needed answering before they could confidently exercise proper stewardship over the site. It soon became clear that the first challenge in the process of obtaining good answers was to ask good questions, the parameters of which stretched across managerial and scientific disciplines.

Dickinson and the memorial staff spent much of winter 1985 and spring 1986 coordinating with SCRU, the University of Hawaii and the Naval Ocean Systems Center (NOSC) on the research design for a field operation scheduled for June of that year. As in prior years, Dan Lenihan would be overall director of research operations, but primary responsibility for the biofouling aspects of the study lay with Scott Henderson from NOSC.

The 1986 endeavor would be especially complicated because of several developments. Robert Sumrall, a ship modeler from Annapolis, was contracted to construct a model of the USS ARIZONA on the harbor bottom from the 1985 drawings produced by SCRU. To do so, Sumrall needed more information from the planimetric or "bird's eye" view, one of the five perspectives produced by the earlier work. To provide additional detail, it was decided to resurvey that "bird's eye" view of the site and add objects lying on the deck that might have been overlooked previously.

Another event that altered the course of the 1986 research was an encounter between Lenihan and a U.S. Navy Reserves officer at the fall 1985 meeting of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. There Commander James "Otto" Orzech expressed great interest in the project because it seemed to be a realistic training exercise for his detachment of reserve Navy divers from Long Beach, California. He agreed to assist with the task of mapping the USS UTAH, which was lying on its side on the other side of Ford Island from the ARIZONA. Orzech's unit would participate as part of the unit's active-duty training at no cost to the National Park Service, if the Service could provide under water and topside supervision of the research.

NPS and Navy divers
Figure 1.3. NPS and Navy divers deploy from the tour boat. Operations were so visible to visitors that park staff discussed the survey in their interpretive talks.
(NPS photo by Larry Murphy)

By now all the principal players realized that the most meaningful context to present the results of the ARIZONA study would be the Pearl Harbor attack. Describing that context would involve research in other parts of Pearl Harbor, but it was unclear where the funding would come from for operations outside the park boundary. The UTAH was the only other ship that remained from the attack. Japanese planes and submarines were believed to be on the harbor bottom. Documenting all those would be logical steps in completing the Pearl Harbor story from an underwater perspective. With support from the active-duty Navy at Pearl and the Long Beach Reserves unit, and the continued backing of the Arizona Memorial Museum Association, they now became realizable objectives.

A final element that raised the complexity and intensity of the 1986 field operations was the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), who felt that the research was important and merited inclusion in a major public television series, titled "Discoveries Underwater." Consequently, when the three-week session began in June, logistics involved coordinating Navy, National Park Service and BBC dive teams. Lenihan assigned SCRU Archeologist Larry Murphy oversight responsibilities for the UTAH site and Larry Nordby the task of revising the planimetric view of the ARIZONA. NPS divers from the memorial staff who were veterans of the three previous project phases were assigned to work with Scott Henderson. To the surprise of many, the project progressed smoothly and effectively, and all major objectives were achieved. It was decided early in the project, however, to postpone any search for Japanese aircraft lost in the attack because it would overextend the SCRU staff, which was by then supervising the research activities of 60 divers at two separate sites under a complex research design.

park staff and BBC film crew
Figure 1.4. An already complex operation in 1986 was further complicated by the addition of a BBC camera team that filmed the operation for a public broadcasting system special.
(NPS photo)

In 1987 the USS UTAH documentation was completed. In a comparatively low-key operation, a small contingent of Navy divers from the Long Beach unit assisted Lenihan and Jerry Livingston in obtaining final details on the target ship. During that time Bill Dickinson also used the dive team -- supervised from the surface by a structural engineer -- to conduct an underwater survey of the mooring chains for the memorial's floating dock. The results of that survey will be reported separately.

The research project had expanded to be a full submerged cultural resources study of World War II remains in Pearl Harbor. The final phase occurred over a three-week period in 1988. Daniel Martinez, a staff historian at the memorial, in 1986 developed a predictive model for airplane crash sites, based on cross-sitings from different vessels during the attack. The model isolated high-probability areas by matching sitings of splashdowns and high-velocity crashes with an assessment of post-war dredging reports. Active-duty MDSU One divers from Pearl Harbor were assigned to survey the predicted crash sites. In addition, a side-scan sonar team from EOD One in Pearl Harbor was assigned to the project. Under the leadership of Lieutenant Hank Chace, EOD was to survey the inner harbor for planes. EOD was also assigned to search the 1,000+-foot-deep defensive perimeter outside the harbor mouth for a Japanese mini-sub reportedly sunk by the destroyer USS WARD more than an hour before the aerial attack began. The submarine base at Pearl Harbor provided major boat and logistic support, and Mesotech Corporation donated a sophisticated sonar unit to help in the inner harbor. Background research for that survey was provided by Ray Emory, a USS Arizona Memorial volunteer and Pearl Harbor survivor, with assistance from Daniel Martinez and others on the memorial staff, and Brian O'Connor, a U.S. Navy diver. The survey in the inner harbor was grueling but effective, and yielded primarily negative data returns. In the eleventh hour of the offshore operation, however, a sonar contact was made with what may well be the midget submarine sunk by the USS WARD. At the time of this report the identity of the contact has yet to be confirmed, although an attempt was made to locate it with a submersible provided by the University of Hawaii.

Last Updated: 27-Apr-2001