Submerged Cultural Resources Study:
USS Arizona and Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark
NPS Arrowhead logo

Chapter II: Historical Record



Of all the ships lost or damaged at Pearl Harbor, the USS ARIZONA offered the most pathetic sight. Despite the crumpled superstructure and main decks awash, divers began exploring the wreckage of the ship within a week.

It was soon discovered that the after part of the ship from the break in the deck to the stern was relatively intact. Removal of safes, valuables and documents of a sensitive nature had begun by early 1942.

Assessment dives continued to evaluate the feasibility of raising the ARIZONA. Salvage officers initially considered building a cofferdam around the vessel's perimeter, thus sealing the ship off from the harbor to allow the pumping of water from interior spaces. Examination of the harbor's coral bottom concluded that it was too porous and would not allow this process.

Throughout 1942 and 1943, examination dives continued inside and outside the ship. Meanwhile, ordnance divers began to remove ammunition and projectiles in May 1942. Eventually guns, machinery and other equipment were removed for use on other ships or stations.

The divers found the interior of the ARIZONA had been severely damaged by the explosion of the forward magazines. Evidence of its power had shown that the explosion had vented through the deck forward of turret No. 1 causing a separation of the bow and the rest of the ship. Divers found further that the sides of the bow had been blown outward almost to a horizontal position. Closer examination of the exterior hull was assisted by jetting away mud with high pressure hoses. When divers attempted to move forward into the interior of the vessel, they found that the main and second decks were blocked with wreckage forward of frame 76. The furthest divers could move toward the bow of the ship was on the third deck to frame 66, where the second deck sloped into the third deck. Hatches that had once led to the interior of the ship from various decks were now twisted and distorted. Captain Homer Wallin and his staff found that gun turrets No. 1 and 2, the conning tower and uptakes had fallen 20-28 feet indicating a collapse of the supporting structure.

removing forward mast from USS Arizona
Figure 2.26. Forward mast being removed from USS ARIZONA in May 1942.
(NPS: USAR Collection)

On May 5, 1942, the toppled foremast of the ARIZONA was cut away and removed. The mainmast was taken away by August 23. Other features removed were the stern aircraft crane (December 23) and the conning tower (December 30).

The Navy decided that the Army would receive gun turrets No. 3 and 4 for use as coastal defense guns. Two sites were selected: one at Mokapu Head (Kaneohe) known as Battery Pennsylvania and the second at an area known today as Electric Hill (HEI generating plant) on the western shore of Oahu, up the slopes of the Wianae Mountains. Only Battery Pennsylvania was completed. A test firing took place four days before the surrender of Japan. Today both sites are abandoned; the guns were removed and cut up for scrap shortly after the war ended.

Despite the work done to remove all useful materials from the ARIZONA, it was apparent the ship itself was lost. A memorandum from the Commandant of the Navy Yard to Washington in June 1942, suggested abandonment of salvage work on the ARIZONA because it was a "task of great magnitude entailing the diversion of large numbers of men and equipment from other work." In his mind, as well as others the conviction had formed that ARIZONA would never fight again. On December 1, 1942, the vessel was struck from the books of commissioned ships. By October 1943, the last salvage work was completed. The ship had been stripped down to the main deck, none of the graceful superstructure remained.

removing gun from USS Arizona
Figure 2.27. One of the 14-inch gun tubes being removed from USS ARIZONA in May 1942.
(NPS: USAR Collection)

One question still haunts visitors to the Arizona Memorial even to this day. Why were the dead not removed? Initially, about 105 bodies were removed but because the ship was never raised, the remainder could not. The priority at that time was salvage of ships that could be repaired -- the ARIZONA was not in that category. As a result, the bodies deteriorated to the point of not being identifiable. Even as late as 1947, requests were made in regard to removal of the dead, but rejected. They are considered buried at sea by the US Navy.

In 1961 the USS ARIZONA was altered once more. In order to place the present memorial over the ship, a section of the boat deck that rested over the galley amidships was cut away. Initially this had been the area of a flag and platform for ceremonies and visits to the site from 1950-1960. This portion of the ARIZONA was removed to Waipio Point where it remains today.

Last Updated: 27-Apr-2001