World War I/II: USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

bb-37-uss-oklahoma-1917.PNG
USS Oklahoma (BB-37), 1917. Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Oklahoma (BB-37) Overview

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: New York Shipbuilding Company, Camden, NJ
  • Laid Down: October 26, 1912
  • Launched: March 23, 1914
  • Commissioned: May 2, 1916
  • Fate: Sunk December 7, 1941

Specifications (as built)

  • Displacement: 27,500 tons
  • Length: 583 ft.
  • Beam: 95 ft., 6 in.
  • Draft: 28 ft., 6 in.
  • Propulsion: 12 Babcock & Wilcox oil-fired boilers, vertical triple expansion steam engines, 2 propellers
  • Speed: 20.5 knots
  • Complement: 864 men

Armament

  • 10 × 14 in. gun (2 × 3, 2 × 2 superfiring)
  • 21 × 5 in. guns
  • 2 × 3 in. anti-aircraft guns
  • 2 or 4 × 21 in. torpedo tubes

Design & Construction

After moving forward with construction of five classes of dreadnought battleships (, , , Wyoming, and New York), the US Navy decided that future designs should possess a set of common tactical and operational characteristics.  This would ensure that these ships could operate together in combat as well as would simplify logistics.  Dubbed the Standard-type, the next five classes utilized oil-fired boilers instead of coal, eliminated amidships turrets, and employed an “all or nothing” armor scheme.  Of these changes, the shift to oil was made with the goal of increasing the vessel’s range as the US Navy felt that would be critical in any potential naval conflict with Japan.  The new "all or nothing" armor approach called for critical areas of the ship, such as magazines and engineering, to be heavily protected while less vital spaces were left unarmored.

  Also, Standard-type battleships were to have a minimum top speed of 21 knots and a tactical turn radius of 700 yards. 

The principles of the Standard-type were first employed in the Nevada-class which consisted of USS Nevada (BB-36) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37).  While earlier American battleships had featured turrets located fore, aft, and amidships, the Nevada-class' design placed the armament at the bow and stern and was first to include the use of triple turrets.

Mounting a total of ten 14-inch guns, the type's armament was located in four turrets (two twin and two triple) with five guns at each end of the ship.  This main battery was supported by a secondary battery of twenty-one 5 in. guns.  For propulsion, designers elected to conduct an experiment and gave Nevada new Curtis turbines while Oklahoma received more traditional triple-expansion steam engines.

Assigned to New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, NJ, construction of Oklahoma commenced on October 26, 1912.  Work moved forward over the next year and a half and on March 23, 1914, the new battleship slid into the Delaware River with Lorena J. Cruce, daughter of Oklahoma Governor Lee Cruce, serving as sponsor.  While fitting out, a fire erupted aboard Oklahoma on the night of July 19, 1915.  Burning the areas under the forward turrets, it was later ruled an accident.  The fire delayed the vessel's completion and it was not commissioned until May 2, 1916.  Departing port with Captain Roger Welles in command, Oklahoma moved through a routine shakedown cruise.

World War I

Operating along the East Coast, Oklahoma conducted routine peacetime training until the US entry into World War I in April 1917.

  As the new battleship utilized oil fuel which was in short supply in Britain, it was retained in home waters later that year when Battleship Division 9 departed to reinforce Admiral Sir David Beatty's Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.  Based at Norfolk, Oklahoma trained with the Atlantic Fleet until August 1918 when it sailed for Ireland as part of Rear Admiral Thomas Rodgers' Battleship Division 6.  Arriving later that month, the squadron was joined by USS Utah (BB-31).  Sailing from Berehaven Bay, the American battleships aided in escorting convoys and continued training in nearby Bantry Bay.  With the end of the war, Oklahoma steamed to Portland, England where it rendezvoused with Nevada and USS Arizona (BB-39).  This combined force then sorted and escorted President Woodrow Wilson, aboard the liner George Washington, into Brest, France.

  This done, Oklahoma departed Europe for New York City on December 14.

Interwar Service

Rejoining the Atlantic Fleet, Oklahoma spent the winter of 1919 in the Caribbean conducting drills off the coast of Cuba.  In June, the battleship sailed for Brest as part of another escort for Wilson. Back in home waters the following month, it operated with the Atlantic Fleet for the next two years before departing for exercises in the Pacific in 1921.  Training off the west coast of South America, Oklahoma represented the US Navy at centennial celebrations in Peru.  Transferred to the Pacific Fleet, the battleship took part in a training cruise to New Zealand and Australia in 1925.  This voyage included stops in Hawaii and Samoa.  Two years later, Oklahoma received orders to join the Scouting Force in the Atlantic.

In the fall of 1927, Oklahoma entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for an extensive modernization.  This saw the addition of an aircraft catapult, eight 5" guns, anti-torpedo bulges, and additional armor.  Completed in July 1929, Oklahoma departed the yard and joined the Scouting Fleet for maneuvers in the Caribbean before receiving orders to return to the Pacific.  Remaining there for six years, it then conducted a midshipmen training cruise to northern Europe in 1936.  This was interrupted in July with the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.  Moving south, Oklahoma evacuated American citizens from Bilbao as well as transported other refugees to France and Gibraltar.  Steaming home that fall, the battleship reached the West Coast in October.

Pearl Harbor

Shifted to Pearl Harbor in December 1940, Oklahoma operated from Hawaiian waters over the next year.  On December 7, 1941, it was moored outboard of USS Maryland (BB-46) along Battleship Row when the Japanese attack commenced.  In the early phases of fighting, Oklahoma sustained three torpedo hits and began capsizing to port.  As the ship began to roll, it received two more torpedo hits.  Within twelve minutes of the attack's start, Oklahoma had rolled over only stopping when its masts struck the harbor bottom.  Though many of the battleship's crew transferred to Maryland and aided in defending against the Japanese, 429 were killed in the sinking.  

Remaining in place over the next several months, the task of salvaging Oklahoma fell to Captain F.H. Whitaker.  Beginning work in July 1942, the salvage team attached twenty-one derricks to the wreck which were connected to winches on nearby Ford Island.  In March 1943, efforts began to right the ship.  These succeeded and in June cofferdams were placed to allow basic repairs to the battleship's hull.  Refloated, the hull moved to Dry Dock No. 2 where the bulk of Oklahoma's machinery and armament were removed.  Later moored in Pearl Harbor, the US Navy elected to abandon salvaging efforts and on September 1, 1944, decommissioned the battleship.  Two years later, it was sold to Moore Drydock Company of Oakland, CA.  Departing Pearl Harbor in 1947, Oklahoma's hull was lost at sea during a storm approximately 500 miles from Hawaii on May 17.

   

Selected Sources