USS Utah (BB-31)

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USS Utah (BB-31)
Career
Name: USS Utah
Namesake: State of Utah
Ordered: 13 May 1908
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Laid down: 9 March 1909
Launched: 23 December 1909
Sponsored by: Mary Alice Spry
Commissioned: 31 August 1911
Decommissioned: 5 September 1944
Struck: 13 November 1944
Honors and
awards:
1 Battle star
Fate: Sunk in Attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941. Hulk near Ford Island.
General characteristics [1]
Class & type: Florida-class battleship
Displacement: 23,033 t (22,669 long tons; 25,390 short tons)
Length: 521 ft 8 in (159.00 m)
Beam: 88 ft 3 in (26.90 m)
Draft: 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m)
Installed power: 28,000 shp (21,000 kW)
Propulsion: 4-shaft Parsons steam turbines, 12 boilers
Speed: 21 kn (24 mph; 39 km/h)
Crew: 1,001 officers and men
Armament: 10 × 12 in (300 mm)/45 cal guns
16 × 5 inch (127 mm)/51 cal guns
2 × 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes
Armor:
Notes:

Resting place:

21°22′14″N 157°57′55″W / 21.3704388424°N 157.965298951°W / 21.3704388424; -157.965298951 (USS Utah)

USS Utah (BB-31) was the second and final member of the Florida class of dreadnought battleships. The only ship of the United States Navy named after the state of Utah, she had one sister ship, USS Florida (BB-30). Utah was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, laid down in March 1909 and launched in December of that year. She was completed in August 1911, and boasted a main battery of ten 12 in (300 mm) guns in five twin gun turrets.

Utah and Florida were the first ships to arrive during the United States occupation of Veracruz in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. The two battleships sent ashore a landing party that began the occupation of the city. After the American entrance into World War I, Utah was stationed in Bantry Bay, Ireland, where she protected convoys from potential German surface raiders. Throughout the 1920s, the ship conducted numerous training cruises and fleet maneuvers, and carried dignitaries on tours of South America twice, in 1924 and 1928.

In 1931, Utah was demilitarized and converted into a target ship, in accordance with the terms of the London Naval Treaty signed the previous year. She was also equipped with numerous anti-aircraft guns of different types to train gunners for the fleet. She served in these two roles for the rest of the decade, and late 1941 found the ship in Pearl Harbor. She was in port on the morning of 7 December, and in the first minutes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was hit by two torpedoes, which caused serious flooding. Utah quickly rolled over and sank; the vast majority of her crew were able to escape, but 64 men were killed in the attack. The wreck remains in the harbor, and in 1972, a memorial was erected near the ship.

Design[edit]

Utah was 521 feet 8 inches (159.00 m) long overall and had a beam of 88 ft 3 in (26.90 m) and a draft of 28 ft 3 in (8.61 m). She displaced 21,825 long tons (22,175 t) as designed and up to 23,033 long tons (23,403 t) at full combat load. The ship was powered by four-shaft Parsons steam turbines rated at 28,000 shaft horsepower (21,000 kW) and twelve coal-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers, generating a top speed of 20.75 knots (38.43 km/h; 23.88 mph). The ship had a cruising range of 6,720 nautical miles (12,450 km; 7,730 mi) at a speed of 10 kn (19 km/h; 12 mph). She had a crew of 1001 officers and men.[1]

The ship was armed with a main battery of twin 12 inch /45 Mark 5[a] guns in five twin gun turrets on the centerline, two of which were placed in a superfiring pair forward. The other three turrets were placed aft of the superstructure. The secondary battery consisted of sixteen 5-inch /51 guns mounted in casemates along the side of the hull. As was standard for capital ships of the period, she carried a pair of 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes, submerged in her hull on the broadside. The main armored belt was 11 in (279 mm) thick, while the armored deck was 1.5 in (38 mm) thick. The gun turrets had 12 in (305 mm) thick faces and the conning tower had 11.5 in (292 mm) thick sides.[1]

Service history[edit]

Utah circa 1911

Utah was laid down at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation on 15 March 1909. She was launched on 23 December 1909, and commissioned into the US Navy on 31 August 1911.[1] She then conducted a shakedown cruise that stopped in Hampton Roads, Santa Rosa Island, Pensacola, Galveston, Kingston, Jamaica, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She was then assigned to the Atlantic Fleet in March 1912, after which time she participated in gunnery drills. She underwent an overhaul at the New York Navy Yard starting on 16 April. Utah left New York on 1 June and proceeded to Annapolis by way of Hampton Roads, arriving on 6 June. From there, she took a crew of naval cadets from the Naval Academy on a midshipman training cruise off the coast of New England, which lasted until 25 August.[2]

For the next two years, Utah followed a similar routine of training exercises and midshipman cruises in the Atlantic. During the period 8–30 November 1913, Utah made a goodwill cruise to European waters, which included a stop in Villefranche, France. In early 1914 during the Mexican Revolution, the United States decided to intervene in the fighting. While en route to Mexico on 16 April, Utah was ordered to intercept the German-flagged steamer SS Ypiranga, which was carrying arms to the Mexican dictator Victoriano Huerta. Ypiranga's arrival in Veracruz prompted the US to occupy the city;[2] Utah and her sister ship Florida were the first American vessels on the scene. The two ships landed a combined contingent of a thousand marines and bluejackets to begin the occupation of the city on 21 April. Over the next three days, the marines battled rebels in the city and suffered 94 casualties, while killing hundreds of Mexicans in return.[1]

Utah during World War I

Utah remained off Veracruz for two months, before she returned to the New York Navy Yard for an overhaul in late June. She spent the next three years conducting the normal routine of training with the Atlantic Fleet. On 6 April 1917, the United States entered World War I, declaring war on Germany over its unrestricted submarine warfare campaign against Britain. Utah was stationed in Chesapeake Bay to train engine room personnel and gunners for the rapidly expanding fleet until 30 August 1918, when she departed for Bantry Bay, Ireland with Vice Admiral Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet aboard. After arriving in Ireland, Utah was assigned as the flagship of Battleship Division 6 (BatDiv 6), commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers. BatDiv 6 was tasked with covering convoys in the Western Approaches against possible attacks from German surface raiders. Utah served in the division along with Nevada and Oklahoma.[2][3]

Following the end of the war in November 1918, Utah visited the Isle of Portland in Britain, and escorted the liner George Washington in December, which carried President Woodrow Wilson to Brest, France, for the post-war peace negotiations at Versailles. Utah left Brest on 14 December, and arrived in New York on the 25th of the month. She remained there until 30 January 1919, after which time she returned to the normal peacetime routine of fleet exercises and training cruises. On 9 July 1921, Utah departed for Europe, stopping in Lisbon, Portugal, and Cherbourg, France. After arriving, she became the flagship of American warships in Europe. She carried on in this role until she was relieved by the armored cruiser USS Pittsburgh in October 1922.[2]

Utah after her modernization

Utah returned to the US on 21 October, where she returned to her old post as the flagship of BatDiv 6.[2] In early 1924, Utah took part in the Fleet Problem III maneuvers, where she and her sister Florida acted as stand-ins for the new Colorado-class battleships.[4] Later that year, Utah was chosen to carry the US diplomatic mission to the centennial celebration of the Battle of Ayacucho, which took place on 9 December 1924. She left New York on 22 November with General of the Armies John J. Pershing aboard for a goodwill tour of South America; Utah arrived at Callao, Peru, on 9 December. At the conclusion of Pershing's tour, Utah met him at Montevideo, Uruguay, and then carried him to other ports, including Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, La Guaira, Venezuela, and Havana, Cuba. The tour ultimately ended when Utah returned Pershing to New York on 13 March 1925. Utah conducted midshipman training cruises over the summer of 1925. She was decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 31 October 1925, and placed in drydock for modernization. The modernization replaced her coal-fired boilers with new oil-fired models, and her aft cage mast was replaced with a pole mast.[2]

Utah returned to active duty on 1 December, after which she served with the Scouting Fleet. She left Hampton Roads on 21 November 1928 for another South American cruise. This time, she picked up President-elect Herbert C. Hoover and his entourage in Montevideo, and transported them to Rio de Janeiro in December, and then carried them home to the United States, arriving in Hampton Roads on 6 January 1929. According to the terms of the London Naval Treaty of 1930, Utah was converted into a radio-controlled target ship, to replace the older North Dakota. On 1 July 1931, Utah was accordingly redesignated "AG-16". Work was completed by 1 April 1932, when she was recommissioned.[2]

Utah as a target ship in 1936

On 7 April, Utah left Norfolk for sea trials to train her engine room crew and to test the radio-control equipment. She passed her radio control trials on 6 May, and on 1 June, the ship was operated for 3 hours under radio control. On 9 June, she again left Norfolk, bound for San Pedro, California, where she joined Training Squadron 1, Base Force, United States Fleet. Starting in late July, the ship began her first round of target duty, first for the cruisers of the Pacific Fleet, and then for the battleship Nevada. She continued in this role for the next nine years;[2] she participated in Fleet Problem XVI in May 1935, during which she served as a transport for a contingent of Marines.[5] In June, the ship was modified to train anti-aircraft gunners in addition to her target ship duties. To perform this task, she was equipped with 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns in quadruple mounts.[2]

Utah returned to the Atlantic to participate in Fleet Problem XX in January 1939, and at the end of the year, she trained with Submarine Squadron 6. She then returned to the Pacific, arriving in Pearl Harbor on 1 August 1940. There, she conducted anti-aircraft gunnery training until 14 December, when she departed for Long Beach, California, arriving on 21 December. There, she served as a bombing target for aircraft from the carriers Lexington, Saratoga, and Enterprise. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 1 April 1941, where she resumed anti-aircraft gunnery training. She cruised to Los Angeles on 20 May to carry a contingent of Marines from the Fleet Marine Force to Bremerton, Washington, after which she entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 31 May, where she was overhauled. She was equipped with new 5 in (130 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns in single mounts to improve her ability to train anti-aircraft gunners. She left Puget Sound on 14 September, bound for Pearl Harbor, where she resumed her normal duties through the rest of the year.[2]

Attack on Pearl Harbor[edit]

Utah capsizing during the Attack on Pearl Harbor

In early December 1941, Utah was moored off Ford Island in berth F-11, after having completed another round of anti-aircraft gunnery training. Shortly before 08:00 on the morning of 7 December, some crewmen aboard Utah observed the first Japanese planes approaching to attack Pearl Harbor, but they assumed they were American aircraft. The Japanese began their attack shortly thereafter, concentrating on the battleships moored around Ford Island. At 08:01, the first of two torpedoes struck Utah, which caused serious flooding. The ship began to list to port and settle by the stern. As the crew began to abandon ship, one man—Chief Watertender Peter Tomich—remained below decks to ensure as many men could escape, and to keep vital machinery running as long as possible; he received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions.[2]

At 08:12, Utah rolled over onto her side, while those crew members who had managed to escape swam to shore. Almost immediately after reaching shore, the ship's captain, Commander Solomon Isquith, heard knocking from men trapped in the capsized ship. He called for volunteers to secure a cutting torch from the badly damaged cruiser Raleigh and attempt to free trapped men; they succeeded in rescuing four men. In total, 64 officers and men were killed, though 461 survived.[2]

Salvage[edit]

8 Feb 1944 aerial view of USS Utah's salvage

The Navy declared Utah to be "in ordinary" on 29 December, and she was placed under the authority of the Pearl Harbor Base Force. Following the successful righting (rotation to upright) of the capsized Oklahoma, an attempt was made to right the Utah by the same parbuckling method using 17 winches. As Utah was rotated, she did not grip the harbor bottom, and slid towards Ford Island. The Utah recovery effort was abandoned, with Utah rotated 38 degrees from horizontal.[6]

As abandoned, Utah cleared her berth. There was no further attempt to refloat her; unlike the battleships sunk at Battleship Row, she had no military value. She was formally placed out of commission on 5 September 1944, and then stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 13 November. Utah received one battle star for her brief service during World War II. Her rusting hulk remains in Pearl Harbor, partially above water;[2] the men killed when Utah sank were never removed from the wreck, and as such, she is considered a war grave.[7]

Memorial[edit]

The memorial and wreckage of Utah as seen from Ford Island

In around 1950, two memorials were placed at the wreck dedicated to the men in the ship's crew who were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The first is a plaque located on the wharf to the north of the ship, and the second is a plaque that was placed on the ship itself. In 1972, a larger memorial was erected just off Ford Island, near the sunken wreck.[8] The memorial consists of a 70-foot (21 m) walkway made of white concrete, which extends from Ford Island out to a 40 by 15 ft (12.2 by 4.6 m) platform in front of the ship, where a brass plaque and a flagpole are located. A color guard stands watch over the wreck.[9] On 9 July 1988, Utah and Arizona, the other remaining wreck in the harbor, were nominated to be added to the National Historic Landmark registry. Both wrecks were added to the list on 5 May 1989.[10] As of 2008, seven former crewmen who were aboard Utah at the time of her sinking have been cremated and had their ashes interred in the wreck.[11]

Relics from the ship are also preserved in the Utah state capitol building; among the items on display are pieces from the ship's silver service and the captain's clock.[12]

Notes[edit]

Footnotes

  1. ^ /50 refers to the length of the gun in terms of calibers. A /50 gun is 50 times long as it is in bore diameter.

Citations

References[edit]

  • Gardiner, Robert; Gray, Randal (1985). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships: 1906–1921. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-87021-907-3. 
  • Jones, Jerry W. (1998). United States Battleship Operations in World War One. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557504113. 
  • Nalty, Bernard C. (1999). War in the Pacific: Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806131993. 
  • Nofi, Albert A. (2010). To Train The Fleet For War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923–1940. Washington, DC: Naval War College Press. ISBN 978-1-88-473387-1. 

Online sources

Further reading[edit]