The Pennsylvania-class battleships were an enlargement of the preceding Nevada-class, with two more 14"/45 main battery guns, greater length and displacement, four propellers and slightly higher speed. They also had a very large secondary battery of 5"/51 guns, which was soon reduced when many of the guns' locations proved to be impossibly wet.
Serving in the western Atlantic in 1916-18, these battleships visited Europe just after the November 1918 Armistice and were thereafter stalwart members of the Navy's Battle Fleet. Reconstructed in 1929-31, they received greater main battery gun elevation, tripod masts to support improved gun directors and modern aircraft catapults. The ships' secondary gun batteries were updated, as was protection against gunfire, aircraft bombs and torpedoes. Pennsylvania, assigned to duty as a fleet flagship, was given a greatly enlarged armored conning tower. Now capable of long-range gunfire in an age when the role of aircraft was steadily growing, the ships spent another decade in the Nation's battle line.
The Pennsylvanias were both present during Japan's 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Arizona blew up in action, the most dramatic and costly casualty of the raid. Pennsylvania was only lightly damaged, and she served in the Pacific throughout the Second World War. Fitted with a new secondary battery of twin-mounted 5"/38 guns in late 1942, she supported many amphibious invasions and was present during the World's last battle between big-gun warships, the Battle of Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944. A torpedo hit in August 1945 proved that her watertight integrity, like that of other old warships, could not be relied upon. With other obsolete battleships, Pennsylvania was an atomic bomb target in 1946 and was scuttled at sea two years later.
The Pennsylvania class numbered two ships, both built on the east coast:
- USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), built by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia. Keel laid in October 1913; launched in March 1915; completed in June 1916.
- USS Arizona (BB-39), built by the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York. Keel laid in March 1914; launched in June 1915; completed in October 1916.
- Displacement: 31,400 tons (normal)
- Dimensions: 608' (length overall); 97' 1" (extreme beam)
- Powerplant: 31,500 to 34,000 horsepower geared turbines, driving four propellers; 21 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Twelve 14"/45 guns in four triple turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery): Twenty-two 5"/51 guns in single casemate mountings (eleven guns on each side of the ship); soon reduced to fourteen 5"/51 guns. When modernized in the early 1930s, two more 5"/51 guns were removed and eight 5"/25 anti-aircraft guns were added.
USS Pensylvania (BB-38)
The lead ship of the class was commissioned in June 1916, and served as the Atlantic Fleet's flagship into the early 1920s. Though her operations during this time were primarily off the U.S. east coast and in the Caribbean area, Pennsylvania briefly cruised to France in December 1918. Transiting the Panama Canal to the Pacific early in 1921, she became flagship of the newly organized Battle Fleet. During the next eight years, she led the Navy's battleships in maneuvers in the Atlantic, Caribbean and in the Pacific, including a cruise to Australia and New Zealand in mid-1925.
From June 1929 to May 1931, Pennsylvania received an extensive modernization at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania. She emerged with new "tripod" masts, improved combat systems, and an enlarged armored conning tower to better support her mission as fleet flagship. Through the following decade, Pennsylvania continued her pattern of drills, at-sea exercises and periodic major "Fleet Problems" conducted to refine the Navy's war plans.
When Japan attacked on 7 December 1941, Pennsylvania, flagship of the United States Fleet, was in drydock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. Her relatively light damage was repaired over the next few months, and she operated along the U.S. west coast and off Hawaii until October 1942. Following an overhaul that significantly updated her secondary battery of 5" guns and added many anti-aircraft machine guns, Pennsylvania went to Alaskan waters, where she participated in the recapture of Attu in May 1943 and Kiska in August.
In November 1943, Pennsylvania bombarded Makin during the amphibious assault on the Gilbert Islands. She repeated this role a few months later at Kwajalein and Eniwetok, and in June and July 1944 at Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Her guns supported landings in the Palaus in September 1944 and at Leyte in October. When the Japanese Navy responded vigorously to the latter operation, Pennsylvania helped to destroy part of the enemy fleet in the Battle of Surigao Strait.
In January 1945, Pennsylvania took part in the Lingayen Gulf invasion. Freshly returned to the combat zone after another overhaul, she was seriously damaged by a Japanese aerial torpedo off Okinawa on 12 August 1945, the last major Navy ship to be hit during the Second World War. Too old for retention in the post-war fleet, Pennsylvania was repaired only enough to fit her for target duty. She served in that capacity during the July 1946 Bikini atomic bomb tests. Subsequently, moored at Kwajalein for studies of residual radioactivity, USS Pennsylvania was scuttled at sea on 19 February 1948.
USS Arizona (BB-39)
Arizona was commissioned in October 1916, and after shakedown off the east coast and in the Caribbean, she operated out of Norfolk, Virginia, until November 1918, when she made a brief cruise to France. She made a second cruise to European waters in April–June 1919, proceeding as far east as Turkey. During much of 1920-21, the battleship was in the western Atlantic and Caribbean areas, but paid two visits to Peru in 1921 in her first excursions into the Pacific. From August 1921 until 1929, Arizona was based in Southern California, making occasional cruises to the Caribbean or Hawaii during major U.S. Fleet exercises.
In 1929-31, Arizona was modernized at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, emerging with a radically altered appearance and major improvements to her armament and protection. In March 1931, she transported President Herbert Hoover and his party to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In August of that year, Arizona returned to the Pacific, continuing her operations with the Battle Fleet during the next decade. From 1940, she, and the other Pacific Fleet battleships, were based at Pearl Harbor on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Arizona was moored in Pearl Harbor's "Battleship Row" on the morning of 7 December 1941, when Japanese carrier aircraft attacked. She was hit by several bombs, one of which penetrated her forecastle and detonated her forward ammunition magazines. The resulting massive explosion totally wrecked the ship's forward hull, collapsing her forward superstructure and causing her to sink, with the loss of over 1100 of her crewmen. In the following months, much of her armament and topside structure was removed, with the two after triple 14" gun turrets being transferred to the Army for emplacement as coast defense batteries on Oahu.
The wrecked battleship's hull remained where she sank, a tomb for many of those lost with her. In 1950, she began to be used as a site for memorial ceremonies, and, in the early 1960s a handsome memorial structure was constructed over her midships hull. This USS Arizona Memorial, operated by the National Park Service, is a permanent shrine to those Americans who lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor and in the great Pacific War that began there.
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- Hodges, Peter. The Big Gun: Battleship Main Armament 1860-1945, (1981), highly detailed coverage
- Hone, Trent. "The Evolution of Fleet Tactical Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1922-1941," The Journal of Military History - Volume 67, Number 4, October 2003, pp. 1107-1148 in Project Muse
- McBride, William M. Technological Change and the United States Navy, 1865-1945 (2000) excerpt and text search