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This year is the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and this summer saw the release of a new movie about the event. It thus seems appropriate for me to post here my long-accumulated data and study on a peculiarly neglected victim of the raid, the target ship USS UTAH.(AG-16). The UTAH was a former battleship (Ex-BB 31) and given both her size - one of the next biggest ships next to those of Battleship Row present that day - and the fact that her wreck is one of only two still at the battle site, this neglect is somewhat surprising. Perhaps because of this, or her unusual history and form, the author can honestly say he has been interested in UTAH as AG-16 since childhood. As in many of my related studies, such obscurity simply provoked further study, and this page is my attempt to honor the ship and crew. Not a general history, this page focuses on the details of the attack on UTAH at Pearl Harbor and the subsequent history of her wreck, including salvage, memorials, and condition to date. For that reason, only a short pre-war synopsis is provided here.
For a more detailed and full operational history of the USS UTAH, readers are urged to visit the official USS UTAH survivor's page at:
Not many ships in Pearl Harbor were older than the UTAH (AG-16), ex-BB-31, launched 3 December 1909 and commissioned 31 August 1911. She served as BB-31 for nineteen years, then, following the London Naval Conference of 1930, she was disarmed and decommissioned in February 1931. Next, from 1 July 1931 UTAH was converted to a new role as a large fleet target ship, and commissioned as auxiliary AG-16 on 1 April 1932. She was 521.5 feet long overall, 88 feet wide at the waterline, and drew 29.5 feet. Now somewhat lighter, UTAH now displaced 19,800 tons, with four boilers driving four shafts. The former BB emerged as a quite innovative vessel. She was entirely remote-controlled with only a small crew of six to eight men to maintain her. By means of signals from the control ship, almost everything was automated, from changes in course and speed, and even regulating the valves to her machinery and boilers! In accordance to treaty, all her main armament of ten 12-inch and 5-inch bombardment guns of the secondary battery had been removed, though the actual turrets themselves remained aboard without their barrels and fixed in place. In time, it was found that the 100-pd water bombs dropped on her in practice would sometimes freeze, increasing the damage to the teak decks. To help protect them, patches of concrete were poured over the areas of the deck most often struck. (Contrary to most reports, cement was laid only in patches, and did not cover all the deck). As further protection, the decks were covered with two layers of 6-inch thick by 12-inch wide and 10 to 20 foot long wooden timbers. These timbers were arranged with the bottom layer laid transverse and the top layer in a fore-and-aft direction. When repeated strikes had splintered them, the timbers would be stacked and offloaded to be replaced by fresh ones. Finally, sandbags would be placed in any of the `holidays' --- irregular open spaces -- not easily filled with timbers.(1) The timbers were to feature significantly in her final hour as will be seen.
The forecastle of UTAH when in target ship mode, showing the large rectangular timbers piled in two layers on the deck beneath. The combination of timbers to absorb shock, and cement patches served well to protect UTAH from structural damage.
Then, in June 1935 UTAH was augmented to serve as a mobile gunnery training ship. This new role would be performed in addition to her target ship duties. For this purpose, 50-caliber machine guns and latest development weapons were mounted on her decks as they came on line for practice and testing. Since she continued to serve as a target ship, it was necessary to first dismantle these and stow them below decks during operations when the ship was being struck by practice bombs. Usually the routine involved one "bombing" session during the day, and then two bomb runs after sunset. In this regard, the UTAH was one of the only ships that ran lighting at night.(2)
Interesting aerial photograph of USS UTAH on 10 December 1936 as configured for target ship duty. Compare to the above photograph and one can discern how the decks are almost entirely covered by the timbers, the top layer arranged fore-and-aft. Small patches of concrete on the deck are also visible.
In the summer of 1939, in preparation for the fall training season UTAH received at Puget Sound an increased AA-armament. Four 5in/25 guns and two 1.1 inch quads were added. Two of the 5-inch guns were atop No.1 and No.2 turrets. The No.1 atop the old turret, whereas the No.2 turret was removed and the 5in/25 mounted directly atop its barbette which was extended to form a flat surface level with the roof of No.1 turret. The other two 5in/25's were placed on the 01 - or supestructure - deck abreast the bbridge foremast on both sides.(3) Since UTAH remained also on target duty, and it was not practical to regularly dismantle these larger weapons, another protection was found. Large sheds, their shape aptly described by their nickname "dog houses", were therefore lowered atop and secured over the gun mounts, range-finders, and any sensitive equipment when not in use. In this configuration with 521 crew now embarked, she sailed once more on training and target duty through 1941. In doing so she performed an invaluable service in providing training as a mobile target for both surface gunnery and naval aviators learning bomb and torpedo attack tactics. One time the C-in-C USN reported "Under her present employment, she is one of the most useful vessels in the fleet".(4)
USS Utah in 1940, after conversion to AA-training ship, but before last 5-inch installed.
On 31 May 1941, UTAH entered the Navy Yard at Puget Sound to receive additional anti-aircraft weaponry. In August 1941 the work was finished, and UTAH emerged considerably re-armed. She carried two 5in/25 mounts forward atop No.1 and No.2 turrets respectively. Two 5in/38 mounts to port atop the port aircastle with two 5in/25s in the same position on the starboard aircastle. (The `aircastles' are the projecting casemates abreast the bridge area for the former secondary battery). On the 01 level abeam the bridge, a quad 1.1 inch gun was carried on both sides of the ship. Aft, came two more 5in/38s atop No.4 and No.5 turrets, this time enclosed with gun shields. Finally, four Oerlikon 20mm (later scheduled to be replaced by 40mm Bofors) and eight 0.50-calibre guns completed the ensemble. An advanced gun director and stereoscopic range-finder was mounted on the top of No.3 turret and anti-aircraft and 5-inch directors fitted on the foremast area. She was painted in Measure 14 scheme, with dark sea gray on the hull and lower superstructure and `light haze gray' on the upperworks.(5) In this configuration, UTAH left the west coast for what would be the last time on 14 September 1941. Before departing, she had been loaded with and carried a large quantity of ammuniton (mostly propellant charges) for the Fleet.
USS UTAH at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
On Thursday, 5 December 1941, in the evening, UTAH returned to Pearl Harbor (allegedly following a submarine scare that led to cancellation of Wendsdays' practice), after completing nine weeks of practice bombings with carrier and USMC and Army Air Corps planes. Significantly, a Japanese spy reported not only her arrival, but also that UTAH had departed again that evening. This was not the case, and supports an interesting story: According to Lee Soucy, the UTAH did not tie up at F-11, but was scheduled to enter No.1 drydock to offload her timber. However, fleet flagship PENNSYLVANIA had damaged a screw and naturally taken precedence. Forced to wait, the UTAH in fact stayed in midstream some distance to the side of Battleship Row that night. Then, in the morning, she moved around to the north side of Ford Island.) Friday morning UTAH waited while USS LEXINGTON backed out at 0828 from F-9, and then UTAH tied up with her starboard side against the quays of berth Fox-11, bow facing roughly northeast.(6) Astern of her, the seaplane tender USS TANGIER (AV-8) had been moored at Fox 10 since 3 November, and was facing the opposite direction, on a 230 True bearing. (7) Ahead, were moored the light cruisers USS RALEIGH and USS DETROIT. The UTAH's stay would be short. She was scheduled to move to the shipyward on Monday morning, have the wood removed, and depart for the West Coast. The crew spent all day Friday and most of Saturday morning lifting and stacking the protective timbers to facilitate a fast offload on Monday morning. Consequently soon much of the timbers were now piled in stacks eight feet high topside in preparation to be taken off the ship.
On Sunday morning 7 December 1941, both her skipper, Commander James Mortimer Steele, and XO, Commander W. F. Warris, were ashore on leave. Acting C.O. was thus Engineering Officer LtCdr. Solomon S. Isquith. Though sources disagree slightly, at the time of the attack, the UTAH appears to have had actually mounted four 5/38s and four 5/25s, with two 1.1 quad mounts and fifteen .50 caliber machine-guns. This differed from the assigned secondary armament of four 3in/50, one quad 40mm and one twin 40 mm, two quad 1.1s, four 20mm and eight .50 caliber machine-guns. As it happened, whatever the true battery, it proved completely irrelevant that day. The reason was that heavy "dog house" steel sheds were secured in place over all the weapons except the single 50-calibre mounts. Even the machine guns were dismantled and stored below decks. In short, though No.2 boiler was lit and hot to provide steam while in port, UTAH was almost totally defenceless when the attack eventuated.(8)
Rough photomorph by the author to convey how UTAH may have appeared with sheds in place. Though crude, it succeeds in depicting the unique configuration of December 7th and aids interpretating the photographs of attack and salvage. The special steel sheds were in place and secured over all the guns and directors. Sheds thus appear over the turrets, on the aircastles, and also cover the 1.1 guns on the 01 deck and the 5-inch directors on either side of the foremast.
Another photomorph to restore the impression of the North Side of Ford Island at 0755. The previous photomorph helps identify the features here and make sense of the irregular upperworks. The steel sheds on the aft turrets are clearly visible, as are the pair on the starboard aircastle. Less distinct, the sheds over the 1.1 mount and over the 5-inch directors of the foremast act to give the superstructure a hybrid, blocky appearance.
0757 to 0801: UTAH is Torpedoed
When the attack began, UTAH was about to activate cranes at 0800 to begin shifting the lumber to prepare it for offloading at the Navy Yard. The first attack planes began sweeping in at less than ten minutes before 0800, and the ships in harbor were preparing for morning colors. As on most of the other ships, on UTAH the bugler and bo'sun were on the fantail for the raising of the colors. In a matter of seconds the bugler began to blow "General Quarters" instead. UTAH's alarm was a big gong with a single stroke, and it now sounded a few times before abruptly silenced. At 0759 a group of planes were seen coming in low over Pearl City. (These were sixteen torpedo planes from the carriers SORYU and HIRYU, and were two-plane groups). The crew was gathering aft for the raising of the flag at 0800 and could hear dull booms from Battleship Row. The flag was just being hoisted and still at the `prep' position at half-mast, when a column of water shot up alongside the RALEIGH just ahead. A torpedo was then sighted heading for the UTAH herself, and the crew immediately broke for their stations. No one ever finished raising her colors.
In the attack that followed, UTAH was struck by two, perhaps even three (see below) torpedoes, blowing massive holes through the fuel tanks, sending seawater and fuel cascading into her compartments, and bursting her old seams. Though UTAH's acting commanding officer would later estimate 0801 as the time the first torpedo struck, a number of details as well as photographs operate to rule this out. Instead, almost certainly, the first hit on UTAH came about 0756/57, almost the exact same moment the RALEIGH is torpedoed. In fact, it is quite likely UTAH was the first ship to be struck that morning. A photograph showing Battleship Row receiving hits at about 0800 clearly shows both the RALEIGH and UTAH hit and smoking. UTAH in fact is already notably listing to port. Further, several survivors accounts agree that UTAH was hit just before she raised morning colors, and indeed, the photographs show the flag only half-raised in the `prep' position of 0755. Finally, one of the group of planes that attacked the north side of Ford Island held its torpedo, skimmed across, and torpedoed the HELENA and OGLALA at 1010 dock, an event which took place at 0758. All of these factors and more point to being hit prior to 0800.(9)
Or is this mistaken? After all, caution must exercised here. There has always been a bit of dispute when the photos of Battleship Row were taken, and USS TANGIER's report is explicit that she opened fire on planes at 0800. She says it is at 0803 that three torpedo planes struck at UTAH. In fact, her report states "Observers aft differ as to whether all three torpedoes hit UTAH or whether two torpedoes hit UTAH and one slid between UTAH's stern and this ship's stern." The possible veracity of this report can be judged by its remarkable consistency with other events: At 0804 the RALEIGH was seen to take a bomb, and settle aft. "At 0805 - USS Arizona, West Virginia, and Oklahoma hit by torpedoes or bombs or both....At 0806 - Arizona exploded internally, foremast capsized, forward part of ship on fire. At 0811 UTAH sunk bottom up." It's worth noting that a clock was stopped burned and blasted on USS Arizona at 0805 by a bomb that exploded in the wardroom, and all agree the main explosion came with moments of the first hit. Nevertheless, the weight of evidence points strongly to UTAH being the first or second ship torpedoed, and within only a minute or two of the first bomb hit on Ford Island's #6 hangar, generally accepted as at 0755.
As it happens, details of the attack on UTAH are somewhat scanty, but this is partly compensated for by photographic documentation. This data, when collated with survivor/eyewitness and salvage reports, allows some reconstruction of the events. As will become clear, it is significant that most witnesses say three Japanese planes, not two, made runs on UTAH. For example, Seaman 2nd Class Truett L. Davis had seen planes coming in, but descended the ladder from the forecastle to the Junior Officer's quarters to swab them, when "the UTAH shook and shuddered with a loud explosion, quickly followed by at least two more." In addition, most accounts that comment on this point agree that the first torpedo to hit the UTAH struck amidships. UTAH's acting skipper, LtCdr. Isquith's report later estimated that the first torpedo hit was at 0801 about frame 84. Though the time estimate was about four minutes too late, the location estimate was nearly exactly correct. This would make it almost dead-on frame 80, since a torpedo hole extending from frames 77 to 82 was found by divers. Just forward of the mainmast, this opened the former No.3 shell room and the port engine room to the sea. Contrary to the impression given in some accounts, it seems the second torpedo hit did not come immediately, though within only a minute or two.
Overhead, this first hit was observed with not elation, but rather disgust by Lt. Matsumura Heita of the HIRYU. After all, before take-off, he had expressly directed that drops not be made on the UTAH. The eight planes of HIRYU's group had bypassed the ships north of Ford Island, but several of the SORYU group had made drops. As if that was not bad enough, seeing the first hit on UTAH, a pilot from the SORYU - Lt. Nakajima Tamotsu - dipped down and proceeded to do the same thing. (Dec 7th says his name is Nakajima Akitsu, int'vd 1/28/51). (10) Perhaps his torpedo was the second hit. Contrary to popular and persistent misconception, the UTAH was not mistaken for an aircraft carrier. In no regard did she resemble one, and it is far more likely that if she was mis-identified at all, it was as a heavy cruiser or battleship. It is worth noting that USS PENNSYLVANIA was in Drydock No.1 and initially overlooked. UTAH may have been taken for the expected eighth battleship, but certainly not for either USS LEXINGTON or USS ENTERPRISE.
This second torpedo struck in the vicinity of frame 57, for a torpedo hole covering frames 55 to 61 was found by the divers. This is a location approximately beneath the stack, just at the break of the aircastle and after deck. Since frames on U.S. warships then were four feet apart, this means the impacts were about sixty-five feet apart. That is, roughly under between the mainmast and foremast respectively. (A recent article by David Aiken - "Torpedoeing Pearl Harbor"in December 2001affirms that the second torpedo struck UTAH forward. This is in accordance with the evidence (11). Curiously enough, it is quite possible a third torpedo struck UTAH between these hits, but failed to detonate, for a puzzling twelve-foot hole at frames 69 to 72 (under the forward part of No.3 turret) was found by the salvage teams. It has been assumed it was simply a structural failure from shock damage, and this may well be the case. (12) There is however, another possibility, for just such `dud torpedo' strikes were reported by an eyewitness, Mess Attendant Clark B. Simmons. In a recent interview with National Geographic (2001), he says:
"I looked out...on the port side toward Pearl City...and as I looked out the port, I saw a plane making a run on the UTAH. And as she dropped her, the torpedo, the wing dipped and then straightened up, and the torpedo headed for the UTAH. And another one right behind it did the same thing. And as it hit the ship we felt the jar but the torpedoes did not explode. They went right into the hull of the ship and let water in. And at that time the bugler sound - man your battle stations, which our battle station was below deck. [We] went down [below], and there was water coming through the ship. It was knee deep."
Taken at face value this extraordinary claim would imply that the torpedoes that hit UTAH did not detonate! This has not been reported before, but given the singular neglect of the UTAH in books, this itself is not decisive. Still, though it is true UTAH's side plating was thin, the damage and flooding suffered seems inconsistent with duds. Twenty to twenty-five foot long holes appear consistent with torpedo detonations. However, given Mr. Simmons' perspective, there is another possibility to consider: Namely, that he did witness at least one dud torpedo hit as described. This could very well be the twelve-foot hole found at frames 69 to 72. A more likely other possibility is a near-miss bomb explosion. At this juncture, it is impossible to know. In any case, whatever their nature, the three holes blown through the hull proved lethal.
A very familiar, but nonetheless classic photograph shows UTAH starting to capsize to port after being torpedoed. The photo was taken from the stern of USS TANGIER at approximately 0805, and in fact is one of the few photographs depicting the 0755 to 0820 phase of the attack from sea-level perspective. The moment frozen in time is one of high drama: Abandon Ship has just been sounded, and UTAH is listing some 40 degrees. Just visible on the port side can be seen drifts of the protective timbers that have slid overboard from the ship. The steel sheds are secured firmly in place, and the heel of the ship strains hard against the mooring lines to the F-11 quays. Amidships, crewmen can be seen starting over the side and walking down the emerging bilge.
Many of those below decks at first had no idea what had caused the "terrific jarring" of the ship. Many in Main Radio (above the engine room) thought at first that another vessel had collided with the ship. The damage was aggravated by the fact that the blisters had just been painted and were wide open, and thus filled fast. The first hit flooded the port engine room, and UTAH immediately began to list to port and settle aft. Tragically, many of the engine room crew were trapped when `battle bars' - heavy iron gratings - slammed shut on the port ladder and airshaft leading up out of the compartment, blocking escape up. The starboard engine room was also taking water rapidly, the engine room crew continuing to work as the water rose around their legs. They reported that steam had dropped, and that they could not start the drain pumps. Water was already rising above the starboard high pressure turbine and reduction gear, but the lights were still on.
The order came down for the engine gang to get out of there and the men hurriedly complied. Fortunately the gratings on the starboard side had not slammed shut and many escaped by going up the starboard main airshaft ladder instead. No. 2 boiler room which had the duty reported that steam was dropping rapidly and cut in an additional burner to hold steam. At this point the second torpedo hit abaft the foremast, and snuffed the fires, and the black gang then had to evacuate the boiler room, leaving the auxiliary pumps running, but of course slowing down as steam dwindled. After the second hit the listing immediately increased to 15 degrees.
When the first torpedo hit, UTAH's crew instinctively trooped below to take shelter, being quite used to "bombing". However after the second hit, feeling the steepening tilt of the deck, it was realized the ship would likely capsize. So a countermand was issued and all directed to return topside instead. The order was passed "All hands on deck and all engine room and fireroom, radio and dynamo watch to lay up on deck and release all prisoners." All hands were instructed to equip themselves with life jackets and move to the high (starboard) side. Men who had moved down to below the armored deck now heard another bugle call, the bosun's whistle, and as he ran to and shouted down one hatch after another, the dire call "Abandon Ship! Abandon Ship!"
As the men hurried topside, UTAH's list to port rapidly increased, underscoring the wisdom of the order. However, once on deck men were confronted with Japanese planes savagely strafing the deck, and to make matters worse the once protective timbers now became a menace. They had been unfastened and stacked high to be offloaded, and were becoming increasingly hazardous. Swaying ominously, they began to topple down on the hapless crew, sliding, splintering, and tumbling overboard in a chaotic jumble. As they did, they Injured or pinning men beneath them or behind doors jammed shut as timbers slid against them. It also prevented many men from getting out life jackets "due to the fact that the life jackets were stored in canvas bags in the air castles" and the timbers and gear blocked access. Intriguingly, it seems that a never-reported bomb hit also struck UTAH, for Isquith's report in this context mentions it was "not practible for many men to obtain life jackets due to miscellaneous gear stored in the starboard aircastle moving and a a bomb explosion in the port aircastle which took place at this time." (13)
This is an intriguing detail. Did a bomb hit the port aircastle of the UTAH? At this juncture, it is impossible to say, though the flat declaration of the report is hard to argue with. Electrician's Mate Hettinger also reported "smoke or powder" of some kind filling the lockers compartment near the Captain's cabin, and this is the same general area, for the lockers were within the aircastle. Radioman 3/cl Warren Upton was abandoning the ship through this region at the time and also said "additional explosions shook the ship and what seemed to be a third large explosion occurred." (14) At least one near-miss was alleged. However since subsequent salvage operations ultimately never exposed UTAH's port main deck rail, it cannot be known if there is actually bomb damage to the port aircastle. The context of the ship's action report suggests this impact came about 0803 to 0805. This would be roughly consistent with when bombs were being dropped. However it instead possibly be a stray anti-aircraft shell bursting aboard, which could explain the explosion reported. In any case, by this time the list was now so great that water on the port side now lapped at the main deck, but providentially the lights were still on.
There was good reason for it. At the forward distribution board, Fireman 2nd Class John B. Vaessen noticed that the voltage commenced dropping immediately after the ship was hit. He could feel the deck listing rapidly, and realized what it portended. Yet with sturdy mind to duty, he cut power forward and then aft in an attempt to maintain lights in the ship as long as possible to aid the men desperately seeking to escape the capsizing ship. His example was not unusual; thoughout the UTAH such dedication to duty was repeatedly displayed that day. In Central Station beneath the conning tower, Electrician's Mate 2/cl George Hettinger stubbornly continued to replace fuses in the distribution board though they repeatedly blew out until the order to abandon.
Another man concerned about making conditions safe for the crew's escape was Chief Watertender Peter Tomich. Charged with the task of regulating the valves and operation of the giant boilers, Tomich knew very well the terrible danger if the rising water reached still steaming boilers and acted to prevent that happening. While others were streaming out of the ship, Tomich went back below and thoroughly shut down the boilers, preventing further catastrophe for the survivors. At last sight, he was quickly but methodically going from one valve and gauge to the next, turning each off in their proper sequence. His effort succeeded and prevented a boiler explosion, but tragically, this act of heroism came at the cost of his life. UTAH capsized before he could get back out. For this classic case of bravery beyond the call of duty, Congress posthumously voted Tomich the Congressional Medal of Honor. There was a final irony. The Medal of Honor mailed to the next of kin of Tomich was returned, with postmark of "not valid address". The post office data was out of date, and subsequent attempts to locate Tomich's relatives failed. So to this day, his posthumous Medal of Honor remains unclaimed.(15)
By 0805 UTAH was listing 40 degrees to port, but thanks to Vaessen's efforts, the lights were still on, affording precious escape opportunity for the crew. As if trying to help, the old battleship's list slowed perceptibly at this time. It seemed like the mooring lines were going to hold. Isquith took full advantage. Most of the men were now crowded topside, and he gave the order, "All hands on deck and abandon ship over starboard side." Since the lights were still on it was realized someone was still on duty. The ordere was repeated, but no report was received from the dynamo room. Meanwhile, the attacking planes were now returning from a northerly direction and began to strafe the ship. The crew members still on the mess decks scrambled up the wide ladders leading to the main deck. Once at the rail, most men climbed over the side and slid down the bulging armor into the water. Others went hand over hand down the stretching hawsers to the mooring quays.
Throughout this, planes were machine-gunning the survivors trying to abandon or swimming away from the capsizing UTAH. In truth, for some reason the strafing of the UTAH seems to have been inordinately concentrated and heavy. All survivor's accounts agree on this fact; and perhaps this was due to the relatively exposed position of the sinking giant on the north side offering a tempting target to planes finishing their runs. Whatever the reason, there is no doubting its ferocity, and it is quite likely that some of UTAH's casualties perished from this gunfire as much as by drowning. Some men were killed on the bridge at the outset from machine-gunning. The photograph of her capsizing shows the flag half-raised and is often captioned "no one ever finished raising the flag". But this is not because no one tried; it is important to remember that one Melvyn Gandre in fact was killed by strafing trying to raise the flag.
The abandonment was as orderly as it could be, given the circumstances. UTAH was still upright and heeling sharply and boats were already circling around in the water to give aid to swimmers who might need it. Most opted to swim to the mooring quays, or climb across or swing hand over hand via the 2-foot thick mooring lines which were stretching tauter by the second as the ship turned. But many were hit by strafing as they swung hand-over-hand, or flung into the water when the lines snapped.
Seaplane tender USS TANGIER was moored astern and in reverse direction of the UTAH.
Seeing the dual menace of the strafing and the gear crashing about in the aircastles, Isquith later claimed that he "directed that the crew divide into three groups, one group going up the ladder from the starboard aircastle to the Captain's cabin, one going up the ladder from the starboard wardroom country to the passage inboard of the Captain's stateroom, and one going up the ladder leading from the starboard wardroom country near the wardroom pantry to the forecastle." Reportedly very shaken, Isquith himself joined the group seeking to escape through the ports in the Captain's cabin.
According to Isquith's estimate, it was 0810 when UTAH's list hit 80 degrees. Isquith himself was still aboard, being somewhat heavy set had moved to Commander Steele's cabin where there was a larger porthole he could fit. The door to the forecastle was jammed, so they made their way through the porthole by climbing on the captain's bed. As Isquith popped through, the bed inevitably broke loose, but LtCdr. L. Winser, the Radio chief, grabbed the officer's hands just in time and pulled him to safety. Mess Attendent Simmons joined them. As UTAH heeled to port, not only was she turning further away from her moorings, but her stern was swinging out into the channel and she was drifting further from the quays as well. The result was inevitable. The mooring lines now began snapping and snaking through the air. When the lines parted there was a great tremor, and the ship shook as if struck again. The spasm seemed to kick her over; already on her side, UTAH abruptly rolled bottom up with a splash. Then with a giant spasmodic shudder, came to rest. The time was 0812. (16)
Photographs add more information and make clear that it was an assymetrical capsize, both in trim and relative position. As the target ship had turned on her side, the stern had both settled deeper and swung more out into the channel then had the bow. The UTAH had in fact come to rest in a position 165 degrees from upright, the extreme stern and part of the starboard bottom submerged and the bow region raised. The bilge keels of both port and starboard side were readily visible, but the trim of the wreck was such that the rudder was submerged and only a blade of the inboard starboard propeller projected above the water.
Thirty officers, and 431 men, 461 total, survived the sinking. Among the last to get out were Gunnery Officer Lt. P. Hauck and Gunners Mate 2nd Class James Clark, who remained securing watertight doors and hatches in forward lower compartments till it was all but too late, being driven out by the inflow of water and having to swim out of the ship. For which act Captain Steele was later proud to recommend Clark's promotion. Others, however, never made it off the ship. The senior officers lost were Navigator LtCdr Charles Michael and 1st Lieutenant LtCdr Rudolph Bielka who with four officers and 51 men went down with UTAH or were killed by the strafing. One of them was Chief Tomich, still in the firerooms when last seen. Also still below, but determined not to be added to the loss tally was fireman Vaessen. As the ship rolled onto her side, Vaessen had scrambled for balance as the room turned around him. Finally the lights dimmed and went out for good. It was clear that escape by going topside was now impossible, for Vaessen correctly guessed UTAH was now bottom up. Though very worried, he showed a singular clarity of thought in the situation. Orienting himself, he made his way over to the dynamo room, entered the starboard dynamo work shop, and found a manhole to the bilge compartment there. By a singular stroke of fortune, his wrench happened to fit the manhole's bolts! Once opened, from here he was able to climb up to the ship's bottom and begin banging on the hull.
According to USS TANGIER's action report, UTAH was bottom up at 0811, thus confirming the time of capsize cited in Isquith's report. Depending on when hit, she had thus lasted perhaps thirteen minutes after the first torpedo hit. The hull was still creaking, gurgling and settling into the mud when twenty minutes later her Commanding Officer arrived at the naval base. Commander James Steele would have been aboard UTAH that morning, but for a happy circumstance. On Saturday he had the pleasure of bringing aboard UTAH for lunch and tour his wife and daughter who had arrived via the liner LURLINE in early November from Texas . Afterward, following activities that evening, Steele had returned with his family to spend the night at the Halekulani Hotel. They were in a bungalow there next to a patch of beach until they could find a permanent place to stay. All three slept there the night of the 6th, and Commander Steele was asleep there next morning when his wife and daughter ran in to wake him. They had risen early and were enjoying the surf when they had begun to hear heavy thuds and booms and even saw a ship with puffs of smoke bursting above her. Since UTAH was the target ship and not on duty, they had immediately guessed something was wrong. Steele immediately but calmly "as was usual for him" made a series of calls to contact his crew and ascertain the facts. Then, having dressed in civilian clothes (which was customary) he forthwith departed for the naval base soon after 0800 in the white Lincoln Zepher his family had brought over with them.(17)
Arriving at 0835 the same time as UTAH's skipper was the ship's dentist, Lt.jg Victor J. Niiranen. Like the skipper and XO he had been ashore when the attack started. He too, would have been aboard that morning but for a similar well-timed interlude with family. He had been showing his wife who had arrived from the states a new beach cottage in Kuhio and had spent the night there. By the time they arrived Commander Steele could only stare with distress at his command's upturned hull. He had been quite proud of ship and had only had command since her refit in Bremerton and was naturally upset at having not been aboard. However, to every cloud there is a silver-lining and Niiranen was grateful for his own absence: reports indicated his cabin had been demolished by the first torpedo and his roommate was missing.(18)
Though they had been `abandoned' by the ship, some of UTAH's officers did not abandon her yet. By a stroke of fortune, Commander Steele's Gig had survived the sinking, and Winser now took command of it. He proceeded to circle around the settling hull, rescuing and assisting survivors whereever possible. Several of the men had climbed atop the 20-foot mooring piles, but had to be removed quickly for they were exposed to the fierce strafing still going on.
As UTAH's men swam and scrambled ashore onto Ford Island, they found a fortuitously placed ditch. It had been dug as a Public Works project for a sewer pipe to be installed, and now served to give good temporary cover for the survivors from the strafing and bomb explosions. Yet as men of the UTAH huddled in the ditch for protection, a loud banging was heard coming over the water from the upturned hull. At considerable risk, while the attack was still in progress Warrant Officer and Machinist Stanley A. Syzmanski and Chief Machinist Mate MacSelwiney made their way back to the ship. With some effort, they clambered upon the forward end, tracing the banging by ear. Soon it was discerned it was void space V-98. This was the space under the dynamo room. Thereupon the team contacted the TANGIER astern for aid and equipment. However, reportedly, the TANGIER declined to provide assistance, supposedly due to some red tape from an OD about "Title B" equipment. Perplexed and annoyed, Semanski and MacSelwiney hastened forward to the RALEIGH instead.
The TANGIER's refusal was possibly also due to the fact that 0820 she had begun preparations to get underway, and by 0830 was unmooring. But at 0833 as she was slipping her lines a report was received of a Japanese submarine in the channel and the sortie was aborted. Two minutes later she had joined the gunfire duel raging that culminated with USS MONAGHAN's ramming of the midget sub. In the meantime of course, Semanski had headed over to the RALEIGH.(19)
The RALEIGH at the time had more than her own share of trouble, struggling to stay afloat from the torpedo hit between her pairs of stacks. Her main deck was almost awash and she was lurching alternately to port and starboard as the free water shifted about. Nonetheless, Captain Simmons immediately provided cutting equipment and some men to assist. Armed now with an acetylene torch, the party returned to the bottom of the UTAH and went to work, and after 1100 out popped fireman Vaessen at last. (Contrary to some accounts, Vaessen was not subsequently KIA, but in fact was still alive and well at the 2001 Reunion).
The day's ordeal had not quite ended for the men of USS UTAH. In the afternoon, several of the radio division's survivors were transferred to the USS ARGONNE, since she was flagship of the Base Force of which UTAH was administratively a member ship. That night, one of the UTAH men - Seaman 1/class Pallas Brown - was killed and another wounded in the left arm by AA-fire from friendly ships mistakenly shooting at planes from USS ENTERPRISE. The shots that struck ARGONNE apparently came from a gun on USS CALIFORNIA's main mast.
Salvage Operations on UTAH
Initially, in the high pace and energy of recovery operations that ensued in the year following the attack, it was supposed that UTAH would be raised in due course, and if not restored, surely removed. She was declared "in ordinary" - temporarily out of service -- on 29 December 1941 until the salvage group had made a determination for her future prospects. Until that time, the job would be put on hold until some of the more valuable battleships had been refloated and more urgent diving work accomplished. By a twist of fate, the salvage leader making such decisions was none other than UTAH's own Commander James Steele. On 14 December 1941 he had taken charge of the new Base Force Salvage Organization, and despite being shaken by the loss of his own ship and so many of his crew, coordinated the recovery work around the shattered base with great energy and skill. By the time he was replaced by Captain Homer N. Wallin on 9 January 1942, Steele had earned promotion to Captain. (He would later be awarded the Legion of Merit by Admiral Nimitz for salvage work, and go on to command battleship USS INDIANA in 1944). An impressive number of USS UTAH's crew joined their skipper in the salvage work, among them Gunnery Officer LtCdr. F.C. Stelter jr., Lt. Hal C. Jones senior watch officer, and Acting X.O. LtCdr Solomon Isquith. Denied the chance to fight back when their ship was sinking, they now pitched in and drove the salvage operations with unsung gusto. To read the list of first salvage leaders is to nearly be reading the list of UTAH's officers. That December, however, Steele fully realized that whatever sentiment might attach to his former command, UTAH must take place close to dead-last in the salvage priorities, and there could be hardly any prospect of thinking of raising her for some time. Contrary to many accounts which dismiss her as `worthless' or `useless target ship' this was in fact a keenly felt loss. With her speed UTAH's experience with and heavy anti-aircraft armament might have figured heavily in defense of U.S. carriers at Coral Sea and Midway and later. But that was not to be.
However, it was felt possible to at least recover some of the ship's valuable store of anti-aircraft shells and ammunition. On 7 January 1942 the wreck was inspected to investigate the feasibility of salvers cutting their way into the forward part of the target ship and removing the munitions of the forward "A" magazine group. This initial inspection found UTAH's cagemast and mainmast had broken off, and the upper deck of the ship was resting on firmly packed soil. There was no danger of the hulk suddenly shifting. The inspection results favorable, the actual cutting of holes in the hull began on 12 January. The work was tedious and dangerous, as the divers had to work deep inside a topsy-turvy, upside down world. There was always the possibility of setting off trapped gases in the hull. It was near the end of the month as the increasingly difficult work pace slowed down that some members of the crew engaged in an amusing farce in trying to arrange for divers to recover the UTAH's safe. As related by a former Navy Diver in "Descent into Darkness", it turned out to be a cover for an officer to recover the contents of his own stateroom, which `happened' to be chosen for the entry point. A six-foot square hole for this purpose was cut into the starboard side of the ship at frame 60, and the matter is of interest because this hole is clearly visible in salvage operations when no damage had been reported to the starboard side! (20) The safe itself was brought up on 11 February, but contained little of value. Not long after this bit of low-key intrigue, salvage work tapered off for now as the hazards increasingly outweighed the potential gains. However, the first effort had been basically successful in its objectives. By the time the first phase was suspended on 14 February 1942, 1,229 rounds of 5-in/25, 600 rounds of 5-in/38 and 850 shells for the 5-inc/51 guns had been recovered from the vessel.(21)
Skipper of USS UTAH, Commander James Mortimer Steele was ashore the morning of the attack. Having spent the evening with his wife and daughter in Waikiki, he hurried back to the base. Arriving to find his ship sunk, Steele subsequently accepted command of the first Pearl Harbor salvage forces. Along with many of his officers, he conducted the initial rescue and salvage work with great energy, before being relieved by Captain Wallin. Steele would earn the Legion of Merit from Admiral Nimitz for his efforts and go on to command of battleship USS INDIANA.
In April 1942, the Chief of Naval Operations ruled that in view of the minor military value of UTAH at the time, any further salvage should be carried out with a regard to ultimate scrapping. Therefore, when schedule permitted, possibly even after the war, she was to be refloated but merely to be scrapped. However, the spectacular successes with the salvage of the other damaged battleships, particularly the difficult cases of the USS WEST VIRGINIA and USS CALIFORNIA and the improvement of the war situation led to a change of heart by the fall. Since a plan had been worked out to salvage the even larger capsized battleship USS OKLAHOMA, it was felt that a similar method might yet bring UTAH back up as well.
To be sure, her bottom-up state presented similar challenges involved in salvaging OKLAHOMA, but these were not expected to be insurmountable. In fact, the initial intention was a straight-forward one: UTAH would be surveyed, sealed, and refloated by a large bubble of compressed air pumped in to allow the hull to be dragged upside down to drydock.(22) Such a method had been used with some success with some of the German battleships scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1919. It would be somewhat an ignominous end for the old warrior, but the priority then was to clear berthing zone and channel. The preliminary survey by divers to chart the holes in the hull and examine the wrecks condition began in November 1942. However, within a month's time it became clear that the hull lacked the strength to hold the compressed air for such a trip, and would likely founder once more. Quite possibly in an even more obstructing location. Another method was required, and the alternative was clearly to right UTAH, then refloat her, just as was being done with the OKLAHOMA.
On 3 January 1943 initial preparations commenced, proceeding slowly in tandem with the OKLAHOMA's work, but in the same fashion. Inspection determined that she was sunk in 43 feet of water, capsized 165 degrees with her bow 19 1/2 feet higher than her stern. The propellers of UTAH were removed and a floating stanchion to the F-11 quay was built. A model of the interior was constructed and divers began to enter the hull to establish boundries for compressed air bubbles. Though the UTAH had been judged unable to hold enough air to be floated outright, it was still felt that sections of the interior could be sealed and subdivided to dewater part of the hull and hold a partial air bubble. This would reduced the dead weight of the old battleship and assist in her righting. The task was laborious, dangerous and long, for the divers would have to close some hatches and open many others to create the subdivisions and the work would span several months. The same procedure was being attempted on OKLAHOMA, and the work on the UTAH would closely parallel the pattern of the salvage in progress across Ford Island. Like the OKLAHOMA, a series large electric winches would be placed on the shore to haul the ship back upright, and the foundations of these began to be set in place in April 1943. At that point, work slowed, as all waited to see if the results of the method on USS OKLAHOMA's salvage efforts. After that battleship was successfully righted in June 1943, the experts involved in righting her became available for use, and work at the UTAH site steadily resumed. This was duly shifted to opposite Berth Fox 11and seventeen of the winches with cables strung over `A-frame' struts attached directly to the hull like those used for Oklahoma were installed. The blister plating on the starboard side was cut away around the turn of the bilge to provide fairlead to the hitchpads for this purpose. The pair of F-11 quays were removed, for it was projected that UTAH might slide inland enough to foul them during the righting operation. (They would never be replaced.) However, during this period tragedy intervened. On 22 June 1943 while salvage teams were engaged in sealing hatches for the air bubble divisions, a cutting torch set off trapped gases in the hull near the magazine. The concussion ruptured the suit of a navy diver and jammed his air valve, and he drowned before others could reach him.(23)
By 15 November 1943 the righting head-frames were in place, but the preparations and completion of the winches and foundations ashore proceeded more slowly. It was not till the end of January 1944 that the ship was ready for a righting attempt. However, throughout, a curious ambivalance regarding the final goal of the salvage effort and ultimate disposition of UTAH had prevailed. Plans shifted back and forth, as the costs of various alternatives were weighed against the gains. In fact, though the righting preparations were complete, BuShips now recommended that work cease! However Furlong had gone too far now to quit, and Pacific Bridge Company felt the same way, and persuaded BuShips to reconsider. On 1 February Furlong reported that he felt within a year the UTAH would have been raised upright, refloated, patched, and drydocked for scrapping. On the other hand, LtCdr Francis Whitaker of BuShips suggested that once upright, since clear of the channel, UTAH should be left where she was and salvage work end. Admiral Robert Ghormley had still another proposal: right the ship, refloat her, then tow the UTAH to sea and sink her, in a procedure reminiscent of the salvage and disposal of USS MAINE in 1911. The one point of agreement was that the righting effort should indeed proceed since all required equipment and personnel were present and ready.
Starting at 0800 9 February 1944 the righting operation commenced. At first the operation showed promise. Gradually, from her upside down state of 165 degrees, UTAH slowly rolled back to starboard, and after 30 hours of pulling had returned to 90 degrees, directly on her side. The hulk was coming afloat more forward than aft, and retained a stern trim. This was consistent with the circumstances observed in her sinking photographs. By the afternoon of 11 February UTAH had reached position about 68 degrees to port but by now, things were starting to go wrong. The old battleship was starting to sink into the soft harbor mud rather than roll on top of it, and had settled so deep that the A-frames had become embedded in the bottom. In fact they were jammed so tightly between cables and bottom that they would have to be dynamited free before pulling operations could resume.(23)
USS UTAH during the righting operations, at just less than 90 degrees to port on 10 February 1944. At this juncture it became possible to conduct some limited salvage of some of her weaponry. A number of details are visible here. One of the "dog house" sheds remains in place over the the forward starboard aircastle 5in/25, though its twin is now uncovered. The soon to be removed starboard 1.1 quad mount on the 01 deck is still in place at this time. Incredibly still in position just in front of the quad, and in other areas of the wreck, were some of the protective timbers. Also visible is the starboard gig, surprisingly still locked in position on the deck, mute testimony of the rapidity of UTAH's capsize. Toward the rear, the aft set of davits marks the location of the mainmast.Learning of these mounting complications and inclined to leave UTAH where she was in view of her dead aboard, on 26 February CinC Admiral Nimitz himself recommended that all salvage work cease once UTAH was pulled upright at Fox-11 and clear of the channel. This put paid to the variety of schemes for refloating and disposing of the target ship, and it only remained to finsih bringing her upright. With the headframes now blasted out of the way, the 3-inch wires were resited and welded to the main deck and looped around barbettes as had been done with OKLAHOMA. In the interim, since they were now relatively accessible, the No.1 5-inch gun and the two 5-inch mounts on the starboard aircastle were removed, as was the starboard 1.1 gun on the 01 deck. (24)
End of first phase of the pulling operation; the A-frames are attached directly to the hull at sections with plating removed for the purpose. UTAH is seen on 13 February 1944 in a 68 degree position, which approximates the angle she obtained when the mooring cables snapped on December 7 and she tumbled over. A number of interesting details are worth mention. Notice the hole cut in the starboard side right behind the break in the deck of the aircastle. According to Cdr. Raymer's book, this was the hole cut to retrieve UTAH's safe. Note also that the `dog house' steel shed remains in place over the forward 5-in mount on the aircastle, though the after one has fallen loose.
On 3 March 1944 the righting attempt resumed, but this time proceeded far more slowly with diminishing results. Instead of rolling further upright, as OKLAHOMA had at this stage, the UTAH not only continued to settle vertically, but also began to slide toward the shore instead of roll. The liquid mud of the bottom was not firmly gripping the hull to provide the leverage required. The ship was actually sinking downward faster than she was turning, and at length the load on the winches was too great to continue. UTAH still had a list of nearly 40 degrees, but the cables were snapping under the strain. Thus, on 13 March, 1944, further righting was halted. The final position of UTAH by then was a 37 degrees 45 minute port list, with all but part of the starboard forecastle, portions of the bridge and 01 deck, and starboard aircastle still submerged. Though she remained on the bottom, she was now clear of the channel as Nimitiz wished and the inclination grew to avoid further effort and leave the situation as it stood. Incidentally, in none of the various salvage phases were any of the bodies of UTAH's missing dead encountered, and to this day remain entombed, within her rusting hull. On 15 March Furlong formally suspended the work; on 5 September 1944 UTAH was declared "out of commission" and it was made official when UTAH was formally stricken on 13 November 1944. Her long and steadfast service life ended, and a new one as an enduring legacy began.
End of final pulling attempt on 13 March 1944. The UTAH has sunk too deep into the muddy bottom to continue to roll; the strain is too great for the cables and winches. She has attained the position familiar to visitors today. By this time the A-frames had been removed, and the cables attached directly to the ship and barbettes, but could not achieve the necessary leverage for a final turning operation. By this time, the starboard 1.1-in quad and the two aircastle 5-inch guns have been removed. A last set of wires to the forecastle stabilizes the ship against sliding back, but proved unnecessary. Two days later, all salvage work on UTAH officially ended.
Dedication of the USS UTAH Memorial - 1972
With World War II ended, the UTAH faded from the Navy's attention for a few years. Then, in the fall of 1950, at the approach of the tenth anniversary year of the sinking, the first memorial to the UTAH was built. Though modest, it was directly adjacent and even upon the site, taking the form of mounted plaques. Two separate plaques were dedicated; one was mounted on the wharf edge to the north and in front of UTAH's bow, and the other was mounted directly on the exposed portion of the 01 deck, atop the empty base where the starboard 1.1-inch gun had stood. The one on the ship (and still in that position today) reads: "In Memory, Officers and Men, USS UTAH, Lost in Action 7 December 1941." The plaque ashore at wharf edge bore a slightly more detailed inscription: "Near this spot at Berth Fox 11, on the morning of 7 December 1941 the USS UTAH was struck on the portside with what is believed to have been three aerial torpedoes and was sunk. She was subsequently rolled over to clear the channel but was left on the bottom." (20)
The UTAH as she appeared in 1951 just after erection of the first memorial. The plaque can be seen projecting from the superstructure deck where the starboard 1.1-inch mount stood. The cement deck is mostly intact. Just to the left can be seen some of the original protective timbers still on the deck, and further to the left a portion of the starboard forecastle rail is above water. To the right, the circular features on the starboard aircastle are the 5-in/25 gun bases.
It must be regarded as somewhat ironic that the original inscription's claim of three torpedoes is likely true after all, especially since it said `struck'. Despite this early memorialization, at the time it was by no means certain that UTAH would remain where she lay. In 1956 the issue was raised to clear the site, since the Commandant of the 14th Naval District felt that carriers of the ESSEX-class currently using the north side of the harbor had insufficient space to reprovision. He proposed that UTAH be raised and scrapped, since her removal would facilitate such carrier transfers. The idea was to use the salvage operation as a training project for divers and harbor clearance methods. However, estimates quickly showed that at most UTAH would be worth only $280,000 for scrap, whereas recovery could cost up to $4 million. Furthermore, the elaborate salvage equipment used on her and OKLAHOMA had since been disposed of, and divers were not readily available. The matter continued to be mulled until it reached the desk of the Chief of Naval Operations. He killed the project with a simple observation: the need didn't warrant the effort and UTAH was the final resting place of fifty-eight (sic 57) men and should not be disturbed. He directed that a pier tangent to UTAH be built to serve the aircraft carriers' needs.(21)
So UTAH was saved from the salver's torch, but still remained in almost total neglect, rusting away in obscurity though the years that followed. Then in 1970, Senator Frank E. Moss of the state of Utah began a fight to arrange for the construction of an expanded memorial to honor the USS UTAH and her dead. Support grew and on October 19, 1970 Congress authorized the design and building of a new monument. Appropriately, groundbreaking began on December 7, 1971 and construction was rapidly accomplished. Senator Moss himself dedicated the Memorial on May 27th, Memorial Day of 1972. The basic form of the memorial was simple and understated in contrast to that spanning the nearby wreck of the USS ARIZONA. Like it, it was made of white marble, but unlike ARIZONA's does not span the vessel in any way. Though the 1950 plaque mount on the 01 deck was left in place, the second plaque ashore was transferred to the new memorial's entrance. (22)
The Memorial plaque placed on what was the deck of the 01
From the northwest shore of Ford Island a 70-foot walkway extends perpendicular to the wreck's starboard bow, and adjoins a 40-by-15 foot concrete platform at right angles. Here visitors can stand and gaze out across a short distance to the visible remains. A U.S. Navy color guard raises the flag each morning to honor the entombed sailors within.
The 1972 UTAH memorial as viewed from shore. The visible remains of the starboard aircastle are visible just to the left and beyond. The relocated second plaque can be seen just below the flagpole.
The USS UTAH Today: 1972 to the Present
Following the dedication of the Memorial in 1972, UTAH once again drops more or less from attention for a decade. Interestingly, in this span of time, the author himself had occasion to accomplish a long-held desire to view and adequately photograph the neglected wreck. On 6 August 1976 he was part of a family group taking the Pearl Harbor tour, and includes the following snapshots for their nolstagic interest and also because precisely dated photographs of UTAH prior to the late 80's are actually somewhat rare. In fact, at the time, pictures of the wreck were hardly ever published, even in the brochure books. These were taken only four years after the dedication of the memorial, and nicely fill the gap.
One of four pictures taken on 6 August 1976; this is easily the clearest and best. The tour boat would stop and pause in respect for some minutes, then get back underway. Several details are useful when compared to more recent photos. The concrete deck has clearly deterioated since 1976, as its fair condition here shows. Just visible on the top of the aircastle facing you on the right side of the picture is the circular bases where the two 5-in/25 guns stood. The memorial plaque is in its original postion atop the 1.1-in gun mount.
The third in the series of pictures, this view shows the memorial from slightly angled on the port bow as the tour boat pulls away. The fourth picture in the series is similar to this one, but even more distant, but makes clear that the uprights supporting the 01 deck had not yet rusted or broken twenty-five years ago.
Ironically, when visiting Pearl Harbor, unless one is fore-armed with knowledge and a picture of the ship, it is rather difficult to realize what one is looking at. In fact the impression can be given that you are looking at much of the length, whereas in reality it is only a small portion of the battleship. It is the projection of the starboard aircastle and what remains of the first two levels of the forward superstructure, the so-called `O1' or superstructure deck. The rusted cylindrical object half-submerged just in front is the top of the armored conning tower. Extending from the forecastle some distance till it angles under the water is in fact the starboard forecastle rail, and one can clearly see some rusted bollards for tieing mooring lines.
Photo of UTAH bridge and foremast area deliberately reversed to assist in recognition of the exposed remains of the present. The red square shows what is visible today. The aircastle faces you.
In 1986, the most important inspection and survey of the wreck since 1944 was carried out as part of the Submerged Cultural Resources Study. It was a detailed and fairly complete inspection of both USS ARIZONA and USS UTAH, and yielded very valuable information that shed further light on the condition of UTAH on 7 December, as well as just how incomplete the 1944 salvage attempt had been.(23) Though the survey did not specifically call attention to some of these discoveries, they follow from careful compiling of the prior evidence.
Intriguing aerial photo of UTAH and memorial platform from a 1992 tourist calendar. Though `semi-translucent' views of USS ARIZONA like this are common, the water seems darker around UTAH. Nonetheless, it succeeds as few pictures do in showing the giant size of the sunken ship which looks so misleadingly small from above. The bow is clearly visible on the left. Most interesting, one can clearly see the irregular shape of the "roofed over" turret No.1, and the circular barbette of turret No.2. Just behind it and inboard of the visible remains the oval shape of the armored conning tower can be discerned. Barely visible behind it, are the remains of the cage foremast base. To the right, the main deck is lower and thus deeper, and fades quickly from sight.
The revelations of the UTAH wreck as found in 1987 and remains today can be summarized as follows. In essence, the 1944 salvage apparently only removed the No.1 5in/25 gun, and the two starboard 5in/25 guns above the aircastle. The dives and sketches show clearly that the 5in guns on the aft turrets, and even that atop No.2 turret, remained in-situ. Thus, this is strong enough evidence to conclude that the port aircastle 5in/38 guns also remain. There was of course little left of the cage foremast apart from its base, but the mainmast surprisingly still partly stands, though broken and embedded in the mud. On the port-side, a quad 1.1 mount protrudes from the mud, apparently still attached to its place on the 01 deck, its barrels bent. This actually is an archeological detail of some importance, as there had been question whether the 1.1 quad visible on the starboard side in the Puget Sound photograph had a twin on the port side installed before her loss. As the port side never was free from mud after the righting operation, the only details of the damage there come from the 15 March 1942 wreck survey report. As reported above, it found three three holes in the hull. A fourth of course exists in the starboard side where the safe was removed.
Since 1987, no additional work with the UTAH is known, but for the 50-year anniversary commemorations in 1991 UTAH occupied some renewed media attention. The wreck and her survivors featured with welcome prominence in some CNN coverage and footage. In 1998 with the completion of the Cleary Causeway, the UTAH is at last readily accessible to interested tourists. The causeway now connects northern Ford Island directly with Oahu shore proper, and it is hoped that visits and interest will rise accordingly.
The USS UTAH at the turn of the century is in an advanced stage of decay, and the ravages of the years are plainly visible when compared to the author's photographs of summer 1976. The O1 deck's braces have snapped, and the concrete facing has split and slide free in places.
The time remaining for such visits and viewing may prove shorter than one might suppose. The years have not been kind to UTAH, especially since 1980. Thoughtful comparison of photographs over time reveal that there was little change in the condition of the wreck in the twenty-year period of 1951 to 1971. The new Memorial was built in 1972, and there was still little change. However, something accelerated the disintegration forces and rust in just the next four years, because by 1976 the 01 deck's concrete was starting to split and loosen, and part of it had broken off. By 1985 a whole section of it near the rear had slid overboard and exposed the wood beneath. By 2001 there is little doubting that wreck is an accelerated state of corrosion and collapse. A great gash has now opened in the starboard aircastle's side, and the deck itself is no longer safe to support the weight of a boarder. The supports of the superstructure have completely rusted and snapped, and the 01 deck is consequently only supported by the submerged part of the superstructure.
Series of shots of the superstructure `01' deck of UTAH, showing the ravages of time. The top was taken in 1950. Though 1971 photos show it much the same as 1950, by the time of the author's photograph of 1976 in the center, the concrete near the rear portion of the 01 deck is starting to split and fallen away, as had the interesting remnant of the protective timbers. The bottom photo taken around 1985 in a tourist brochure shows that the process accelerated in less than a ten year period. By 2000, almost all the concrete facing is gone save the portion near the front of the deck.
Surprisingly, at the time of writing, some lingering traces of oil still seep from the wreck. Today, with the rust and ruin of the wreck showing wicked acceleration, the twilight years of the exposed UTAH remains are clearly at hand. Indeed, the 1987 survey concludes with "The slow but inexorable corrosion of the metal structure accelerated by wind-generated waves and boat activity will eventually finish the disintegration process of the visible remains".
The USS UTAH today. A beautiful photograph of 2002 showing USS TARAWA at the RALEIGH's former berth ahead of the wreck. The old target ship's hulk appears nearly dwarfed by the modern combatant, but we see but a fraction of UTAH. Under the surface the hull is in fact of comparable length. (Courtesty of USS TARAWA via Dave Smith, EM 3c, USS UTAH survivor.)
Today, with the rust and ruin of the wreck showing wicked acceleration, the sunset years of UTAH's visible remains are clearly at hand.
A.P. "Tony" Tully
27 June - 1505
Special thanks and debt to Lee Soucy, USS UTAH survivor and Chairman Memorials Committee, USS UTAH Association, who provided important revision details on 26 February 2002.
Submerged Cultural Resources Study: USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark by Lenihan, Daniel J., Editor, Submerged Cultural Resources Unit National Park Service.(1989?) (Undated, but I obtained my copy in April 1992).
Special thanks go to David Aiken who provided some e-mail feedback and corrections in summer 2001, and a preview of his December 2002 article "Torpedoeing Pearl Harbor".
Special thanks go to John De. Virgilio who provided some impact details in a telephone conversation of 15 February, 1998.Descent into Darkness - A Navy Diver's Memoir by Cdr. Raymer, Edward C. (Ret.). Presidio Press, Novato, CA 1996.
"Japanese Thunderfish" , by John F De. Virgilio, Naval History , Winter 1991.
Resurrection: Salvaging the Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor by Daniel Madsen, USNI Press, 2003.
U.S. Battleships of World War II , by Friedman, Norman. USNI Press, 1985.
Target: Pearl Harbor , by Michael Slackman, USS Arizona Memorial, 1990.
Pearl Harbor and Hawaii - A Military History by the Editors of the Army Times Publishing Company, Walker Publishing Inc., 1971.
Torpedoeing Pearl Harbor , David Aiken, Military History, December 2001.
U.S. Warships in World War II , by Paul H. Silverstone, Doubleday, 1973.
Dec.7 1941 , Gordon W.Prange with D. Goldstein and K. Dillon, McGraw-Hill, 1988.
American Battleships - A Pictorial History of BB-1 to BB-71, by Max R. Newhart, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. Inc., Missoula, MT, 1995.
Not of USS UTAH, but these plans and photographs have to be seen to be believed. The USS Texas (BB-35) is the next battleship class after the FLORIDA/UTAH, and as such most of her interior fittings and general layout bear a very strong resemblance to AG-16's internal arrangements and scale. TEXAS even has `aircastles' like UTAH and in the 70's with her cement deck resembled her in that respect as well.
(1) Interviews with Lee Soucy, Chairman USS Utah Association, 27-27 February 2002.
(3) U.S. Battleships - An Illustrated Design History , by Norman Friedman. USNI Press, Annapolis, MD 1985, pp 379-381.
(4) FY36 Annual Report, C-in-C U.S. Fleet, cited in Friedman (ibid), p379.
(5) (Ibid, Friedman note 3). Comment: As Friedman pointed out, the actual armament appears to have differed from the assigned battery. The placement for the 1939 and 1941 weapons are thus further derived from photo analysis by the author.
(6) Soucy Interview, ibid.
(7) USS Tangier Action Report.
(8) USS Utah Action Report.
(9) Analysis of the photos by the author; USS Helena Action Report.
(10) Dec.7 1941 , Gordon W.Prange with D. Goldstein and K. Dillon, McGraw-Hill, 1988.
(11) Torpedoeing Pearl Harbor , David Aiken, Military History, December 2001.
(12) Torpedo hole details from John De Virgilio, and conversation 15 February 1998.
(13) USS Utah Action Report.
(14) This and other survivor's stories are derived from posted accounts on file with USS Utah History Organization - http://www.ussutah.org/history2.htm.
(15) Medal of Honor
(16) USS Utah Action Report.
(17) Letter to the author 25 June, 2003 from Lola Steele Shepherd, daughter of Captain J.M. Steele.
(18) Pearl Harbor and Hawaii - A Military History by the Editors of the Army Times Publishing Company, Walker Publishing Inc., 1971.
(19) USS UTAH and USS TANGIER Action Reports.
(20) Descent into Darkness - A Navy Diver's Memoir by Cdr. Raymer, Edward C. (Ret.). Presidio Press, Novato, CA 1996.
(21) Resurrection: Salvaging the Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor by Daniel Madsen, USNI Press, 2003. Much of the sequence and date details of the UTAH's salvage is derived from this book and analysis of dated photographs.
(22) Pearl Harbor: How, Why, Fleet Salvage, and Final Appraisal , by Homer N. Wallin, 1946?.
(23) (Madsen, p 216)
(24) Date of removal of the guns not precisely indicated, but photo analysis allows the determination that it took place between 13 February and 13 March, 1944. Most likely between the two pulling phases.
(25) Locations and text derived from photo analysis.
(26) Ibid, Wallin.
(27) That the 1950 plaque remained in place is derived from photo analysis.
(28) Submerged Cultural Resources Study: USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark by Lenihan, Daniel J., Editor, Submerged Cultural Resources Unit National Park Service.
Battle of Midway