World War I/II: USS Arkansas (BB-33)

USS Arkansas (BB-33)
Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command
  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding, Camden, NJ
  • Laid Down: January 25, 1910
  • Launched: January 14, 1911
  • Commissioned: September 17, 1912
  • Fate: Sunk July 25, 1947, during Operation Crossroads

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - Specifications

  • Displacement: 26,000 tons
  • Length: 562 ft.
  • Beam: 93.1 ft.
  • Draft: 28.5 ft.
  • Propulsion: 12 Babcock and Wilcox coal-fired boilers with oil spray, 4-shaft Parsons direct-drive steam turbines
  • Speed: 20.5 knots
  • Complement: 1,063 men​

Armament (As Built)

  • 12 × 12-inch/50 caliber Mark 7 guns
  • 21 × 5"/51 caliber guns
  • 2 × 21" torpedo tubes

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - Design & Construction

Conceived at the 1908 Newport Conference, the Wyoming-class of battleship was the US Navy's fourth type of dreadnought after the earlier -, -, and -classes. The first incarnations of the design came about through war games and debates as the earlier classes had not yet entered service. Central among the conference's findings was the need for increasingly larger calibers of main guns. During the latter months of 1908, discussions ensued over the configuration and armament of the new class with various layouts being considered. On March 30, 1909, Congress authorized construction of two Design 601 battleships. The Design 601 plans called for a ship approximately 20% larger than the Florida-class and carrying twelve 12" guns. 

Named USS Wyoming (BB-32) and USS Arkansas (BB-33), the two ships of the new class were powered by twelve Babcock and Wilcox coal-fired boilers with direct drive turbines turning four propellers. The arrangement of the main armament saw the twelve 12" guns mounted in six twin turrets in superfiring (one firing over the other) pairs forward, amidships, and aft. To support the main guns, naval architects added twenty-one 5" guns with the bulk placed in individual casemates below the main deck. Additionally, the battleships carried two 21" torpedo tubes. For protection, the Wyoming-class utilized the main armor belt eleven inches thick. 

Assigned to New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, NJ, construction started on Arkansas on January 25, 1910. Work advanced over the next year and the new battleship entered the water on January 14, 1911, with Nancy Louise Macon of Helena, Arkansas serving as sponsor. Construction concluded the following year and Arkansas shifted to the Philadelphia Navy Yard where it entered commission on September 17, 1912, with Captain Roy C. Smith in command.

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - Early Service

Departing Philadelphia, Arkansas steamed north to New York to take part in a fleet review for President William H. Taft. Embarking the president, it then carried him south to the Panama Canal construction site before conducting a brief shakedown cruise. Retrieving Taft, Arkansas transported him to Key West in December before joining the Atlantic Fleet. Taking part in routine maneuvers during the majority of 1913, the battleship steamed for Europe that fall. Making goodwill calls around the Mediterranean, it arrived in Naples in October and aided in celebrating the birthday of King Victor Emmanuel III. Returning home, Arkansas sailed for the Gulf of Mexico in early 1914 as tensions with Mexico increased.

In late April, Arkansas took part in the US occupation of Veracruz. Contributing four companies of infantry to the landing force, the battleship supported the fighting from offshore. During the battle for the city, Arkansas' detachment sustained two killed while two members won the Medal of Honor for their actions. Remaining in the vicinity through the summer, the battleship returned to Hampton Roads in October. Following repairs at New York, Arkansas began three years of standard operations with the Atlantic Fleet. These consisted of training and exercises in northern waters during the summer months and in the Caribbean in the winter. 

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - World War I

Serving with Battleship Division 7 in early 1917, Arkansas was in Virginia when the US entered World War I that April. Over the next fourteen months, the battleship operated along the East Coast training gun crews. In July 1918, Arkansas transited the Atlantic and relieved USS Delaware (BB-28) which was serving with the 6th Battle Squadron in Admiral Sir David Beatty's British Grand Fleet. Operating with the 6th Battle Squadron for the remainder of the war, the battleship sortied in late November along with the Grand Fleet to escort the German High Seas Fleet into internment at Scapa Flow. Detached from the Grand Fleet on December 1, Arkansas and other American naval forces steamed for Brest, France where they met the liner SS George Washington which was carrying President Woodrow Wilson to the peace conference at Versailles. This done, the battleship sailed for New York where it arrived on December 26.

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - Interwar Years

In May 1919, Arkansas served as a guide ship for a flight of US Navy Curtiss NC flying boats as they attempted a trans-Atlantic flight before receiving orders to join the Pacific Fleet that summer. Passing through the Panama Canal, Arkansas spent two years in the Pacific during which time it visited Hawaii and Chile. Returning to the Atlantic in 1921, the battleship spent the next four years conducting routine exercises and midshipmen training cruises. Entering the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1925, Arkansas underwent a modernization program which saw the installation of oil-fired boilers, a tripod mast aft, additional deck armor, as well as the trunking of the ship's funnel's into a single, larger funnel. Rejoining the fleet in November 1926, the battleship spent the next several years in peacetime operations with the Atlantic and Scouting Fleets. These included a variety of training cruises and fleet problems.

Continuing to serve, Arkansas was at Hampton Roads in September 1939 when World War II began in Europe. Assigned to the Neutrality Patrol reserve force along with USS New York (BB-34), USS Texas (BB-35), and USS Ranger (CV-4), the battleship continued training activities into 1940. The following July, Arkansas escorted US forces to the north to occupy Iceland before being present at the Atlantic Charter conference a month later. Resuming service with the Neutrality Patrol, it was at Casco Bay, ME on December 7 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - World War II

Following training activities in the North Atlantic, Arkansas arrived at Norfolk in March 1942 for an overhaul. This saw a reduction in the vessel's secondary armament and an enhancement of its anti-aircraft defenses. After a shakedown cruise in the Chesapeake, Arkansas escorted a convoy to Scotland in August. It repeated this run again in October. Beginning in November, the battleship began protecting convoys bound for North Africa as part of Operation Torch. Continuing in this duty until May 1943, Arkansas then moved to a training role in the Chesapeake. That fall, it received orders to aid in escorting convoys to Ireland.

In April 1944, Arkansas commenced shore bombardment training in Irish waters in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. Sortieing on June 3, the battleship joined Texas in Group II before arriving off Omaha Beach three days later. Opening fire at 5:52 AM, Arkansas' first shots in combat struck German positions behind the beach. Continuing to engage targets through the day, it remained offshore supporting Allied operations for the next week. Operating along the Norman coast for the rest of the month, Arkansas shifted to the Mediterranean in July to provide fire support for Operation Dragoon. Striking targets along the French Riviera in mid-August, the battleship then sailed for Boston.

Undergoing a refit, Arkansas prepared for service in the Pacific. Sailing in November, the battleship reached Ulithi in early 1945. Assigned to Task Force 54, Arkansas took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima beginning on February 16. Departing in March, it sailed for Okinawa where it provided fire support for Allied troops following the landings on April 1. Remaining offshore into May, the battleship's guns bombarded Japanese positions. Withdrawn to Guam and then the Philippines, Arkansas remained there into August. Sailing for Okinawa late in the month, it was at sea when the word was received that the war had ended.

USS Arkansas (BB-33) - Later Career

Assigned to Operation Magic Carpet, Arkansas aided in returning American servicemen from the Pacific. Employed in this role through the end of the year, the battleship then remained at San Francisco through the early part of 1946. In May, it departed for Bikini Atoll via Pearl Harbor. Arriving at Bikini in June, Arkansas was designated as a target ship for the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb testing. Surviving Test ABLE on July 1, the battleship was sunk on July 25 following the underwater detonation of Test BAKER. Officially decommissioned four days later, Arkansas was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on August 15.

Selected Sources

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I/II: USS Arkansas (BB-33)." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War I/II: USS Arkansas (BB-33). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I/II: USS Arkansas (BB-33)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).