A naval tragedy

The sinking of the USS Arizona was a catastrophic event that occurred during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941. The USS Arizona was a battleship belonging to the United States Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

On the morning of 7th December, Japanese aircrafts carried out a surprise attack on the naval base, and the USS Arizona was among the ships targeted. At around 8:06 AM, a bomb penetrated the ship's deck and detonated in its forward ammunition magazine, causing a massive explosion. The ship was engulfed in flames, and the crew was unable to control the fire.

The Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, 7th December 1941.

world war two image | pictionid68340713 - catalog100023625 -… | Flickr

The loss of life on the USS Arizona was catastrophic, with over 1,100 sailors and Marines losing their lives. The ship was completely destroyed, and only a handful of crew members managed to escape the inferno.

The impact of the bombing was felt not only in the United States but also around the world, as the attack on Pearl Harbor was the event that led to the United States' entry into the Second World War.

USS Arizona

The USS Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship built for the United States Navy. It was commissioned in 1916 and was one of the largest and most heavily armed battleships of its time. The ship was 608 feet long and had a beam of 97 feet. It had a displacement of 29,626 tons and was powered by four Parsons turbines and 12 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, which allowed it to reach a top speed of 21 knots.

The USS Arizona was equipped with 14-inch guns, 5-inch guns, and anti-aircraft guns, making it a formidable warship. It also had a robust armour system, including a 13.5-inch main belt, 5-inch deck armour, and 18-inch turret armour, which provided protection against enemy attacks. The ship was designed to accommodate a crew of 1,400 sailors and Marines.

The Pennsylvania-class design continued the Nevada class's all-or-nothing principle of armouring only the most important areas of the ship. Krupp armour’s waterline armour belt only covered the ship's machinery spaces and magazines.

7th December 1941

On 7 December 1941, shortly before 08:00 local time, Japanese aircraft from six aircraft carriers attacked the Pacific Fleet as it lay in port at Pearl Harbor, wreaking havoc on the warships and installations defending Hawaii.

The ship's air raid alarm went off around 07:55, and the ship went to general quarters shortly after. 

Shortly after 08:00, ten Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" torpedo bombers attacked Arizona, five from each of the carriers Kaga and Hiry.

All of the planes were armed with armor-piercing shells that had been converted into 797-kilogram (1,757-pound) bombs.

Kaga's plane bombed Arizona from amidships to stern, flying at an estimated altitude of 3,000 metres (9,800 feet). Hiry's bombers then attacked the bow area.

On and around Arizona, the aircraft scored four hits and three near misses. The close call off the port bow is thought to have led observers to believe the ship had been torpedoed, despite the fact that no torpedo damage was discovered.

The sternmost bomb ricocheted off Turret IV's face and penetrated the deck, detonating in the captain's pantry, causing a small fire. The next forward most hit was near the ship's port side, near the mainmast, and detonated near the anti-torpedo bulkhead. The following bomb landed near the port rear 5-inch AA gun.

Japanese Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy flying over Pearl Harbor.  Bombers launched from the Japanese carriers, Kaga and Hiry, inflicted severe damage on the USS Arizona.

Japanese Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy flying over Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 | The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum : Oral Histories (ww2online.org)

Last detonation

The last bomb detonated at 08:06 in the vicinity of Turret II, most likely penetrating the armoured deck near the magazines in the ship's forward section. While not enough of the ship is intact to determine the exact location, the effects are undeniable: about seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion, mostly venting through the sides of the ship and destroying much of the forward interior structure.

The moment of tragedy: Arizona's forward magazines explode in a still from a film made during the Japanese attack.

NHHC (navy.mil)

This caused the foremast and funnel to collapse forward and the forward turrets and conning tower to collapse downward, effectively tearing the ship in half.

The explosion sparked two days of intense fires, and debris rained down on nearby Ford Island.

The blast from this explosion also extinguished fires on the moored repair ship Vestal.

The bombs and subsequent explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board at the time, accounting for roughly half of those killed in the attack.

The USS Arizona sinking after being stuck by Japanese bombs.

Rare and Incredible Color Photographs of the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 ~ Vintage Everyday

Vertical aerial view of Battleship Row, beside Ford Island, soon after USS Arizona was hit by bombs and her forward magazines exploded. Photographed from a Japanese aircraft. Ships seen are (from left to right): USS Nevada; USS Arizona (burning intensely) with USS Vestal moored outboard; USS Tennessee with USS West Virginia moored outboard; and USS Maryland with USS Oklahoma capsized alongside. Smoke from bomb hits on Vestal and West Virginia is also visible. Japanese inscription in lower left states that the photograph has been reproduced under Navy Ministry authorization.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Rarely seen photos of the USS Arizona, sunk Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor (tucson.com)


The loss of life onboard Arizona was horrific, both due to the sheer amount of deaths and the speed in which it occurred.

The shock and terror of those on board is hard to imagine; after all, the USA was not yet at war and although the US intelligence services suspected a Japanese attack was likely, there was no clear indication of where this would be.

Certainly, your average US Servicemen would have suspected nothing was amiss when they woke up that morning, or that they should be extra vigilant.

For most, it was just a typical day – much like any other.

But by the end of the 7th December 1941, families across the United States were suddenly balancing mourning the loss of friends and loved ones and coping with the reality that their country was now at war.

With the fires now out, the damage to the superstructure of Arizona after her sinking can clearly be seen.

The Bomb that Sank USS Arizona : Pearl Harbor was a tragic day (rebellionresearch.com)

Burned out and sunk in Pearl Harbor on 10th December 1941, three days after she was destroyed during the 7th December Japanese raid. Ships in the background are USS Saint Louis (CL-49), in center, and the hulked minelayer Baltimore (CM-1) at left.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Rarely seen photos of the USS Arizona, sunk Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor (tucson.com)

Brothers in arms

There were 37 confirmed pairs or trios of brothers assigned to the USS Arizona. 62 of these 77 men were killed, and 23 sets of brothers were killed.

Only one complete set of brothers, Kenneth and Russell Warriner, survived the attack; Kenneth was away at flight school in San Diego on the day of the attack, and Russell was severely injured but recovered.

Only four of the 63 brothers who died were found and identified: George Bromley, Donald and Joseph Lakin, and Gordon Shive.

The remaining 59 brothers are still missing.

The Beckers, Dohertys, and Murdocks were three sets of three brothers. Each set had one survivor.

Thomas Augusta Free and his son William Thomas Free, the ship's only father-and-son pair, were both killed in action.

Although family members frequently served on the same ship prior to World War II, US officials attempted to discourage the practise following the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, no official regulations were put in place, and by the end of the war, hundreds of brothers had fought — and died — alongside one another.

Delbert “Jake” Anderson, (left) was killed on the USS Arizona during the Japanese attack. Aged just 24, his body was never recovered. His twin brother John D. “Andy” Anderson, (Right) survived the attack and the Second World War, eventually dying in 2015 aged 98.

Anderson family

One died at Pearl Harbor, the other lived. Seventy-five years later, they'll be reunited. - Breaking911

The five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, for example, enlisted together after learning that a friend, Bill Ball, had died aboard the USS Arizona; their only requirement was that they be assigned to the same ship.

All five siblings were killed in action when their light cruiser, USS Juneau, was sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in November 1942. The attack on Pearl Harbour had claimed another five victims.

When the music stops

The naval battleship USS Arizona was hit four times by Japanese bombers and sank, accounting for nearly half of the casualties at Pearl Harbor. All 21 members of Arizona's band, known as US Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22, were among the 1,177 crewmen killed.

When the attack began, the majority of its members were up on deck, preparing to play music for the daily flag-raising ceremony. They moved quickly to take up positions beneath the ship's gun turret. An entire military band has never died in action in American history.

Members of US Navy Band Unit (NBU) 22 who tragically perished during the attack on the Arizona.

Dec 7, 1941:Pearl Harbor bombed (culturearea.blogspot.com)

NBU 22 had attended the latest round of the annual "Battle of Music" competition between military bands from US ships based at Pearl Harbor the night before the attack. Contrary to popular belief, NBU 22 did not perform, despite having already qualified for the finals on 20th December 1941.

Following the assault, the unit was unanimously declared the winner of that year's competition, and the award was renamed the USS Arizona Band Trophy in perpetuity.

Causes of the explosion

Two competing hypotheses about the cause of the explosion have emerged. The bomb detonated in or near the black-powder magazine used for the ship's saluting guns and catapult charges, according to the first theory. This would have detonated first, followed by the ignition of the smokeless powder magazines used for the ship's main armament.

According to a 1944 Navy Bureau of Ships report, a hatch leading to the black powder magazine was left open, possibly with flammable materials nearby. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, black powder may have been stored outside the armoured magazine.

Simplistic representation of the explosion on Arizona.

The Bomb that Sank USS Arizona : Pearl Harbor was a tragic day (rebellionresearch.com)

The bomb could have penetrated the armoured decks and detonated directly inside one of the starboard magazines for the main armament, but smokeless powder is difficult to detonate. To quickly ignite the powder in the 14-inch powder bags, a black powder pad was required. The time elapsed between the bomb being detonated and the magazine exploding was less than what experience suggested burning smokeless powder required to explode.

It appears unlikely that a definitive answer will ever be found, as the physical evidence that has survived is insufficient to determine the cause of the magazine explosion.


Following the attack, several sailors were awarded medals for their bravery and actions under fire:

  • Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, the ship's damage control officer, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in putting out fires and rescuing survivors from the stricken battleship.


Posthumous Medals of Honor were also awarded to two high-ranking officers who were aboard the battleship when it was destroyed:

  • Captain Van Valkenburgh, who reached the bridge and was attempting to defend his ship when the bomb that hit the onboard ammunition magazines destroyed it.
  • Rear Admiral Kidd, the first flag officer killed in the Pacific war.
  • USS Arizona received one battle star for her service in the Second World War.

Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, who won the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Joe George, the saviour of Lauren Bruner and Donald Stratton, was eventually recognised for his bravery 2017.


Arizona was declared "in ordinary" (temporarily out of service) at Pearl Harbor on December 29, 1942, and was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on December 1, 1942.

Unlike many of the other sunken ships nearby, she was so badly damaged by the magazine explosion that she was deemed unfit for service even if she could be salvaged.

In 1942, her surviving superstructure was scrapped, and her main armament was salvaged over the next year and a half.

The aft main gun turrets were removed and reinstalled as United States Army Coast Artillery Corps Batteries Arizona and Pennsylvania on the Mokapu Peninsula, covering Kaneohe Bay at what is now Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

In February of 1942, crews work to extract the USS Arizona’s aft turrets during salvage operations.

National Archives.

The USS Arizona’s Last Salvo | The National WWII Museum | New Orleans (nationalww2museum.org)

Battery Pennsylvania fired its guns for the first and last time during training on V-J Day in August 1945, while nearby Battery Arizona was never completed. Both forward turrets were left in place, though Turret II's guns were salvaged and later installed on Nevada in the fall of 1944 after being straightened and relined.

These same guns were later used against the Japanese islands of Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

USS Arizona 4358-42; Man coming out of turret #3 in 1943. Department of the Navy. Fourteenth Naval District. Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. Fleet Salvage Unit. 

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Rarely seen photos of the USS Arizona, sunk Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor (tucson.com)


The sinking of the USS Arizona is remembered as a tragic event in American history, and the ship has since been declared a memorial to the fallen sailors. The ship remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, and its wreckage serves as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices made by American servicemen and women. The USS Arizona Memorial was built over the remains of the ship to honour the lives lost on that fateful day.

Admiral Arthur W. Radford, commander of the Pacific Fleet, installed a flagpole on the Arizona's main mast in 1950, beginning a tradition of hoisting and lowering the flag. That same year, a temporary memorial was constructed above the deckhouse's remaining portion. The current structure was completed in 1961, during President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration in America.

This memorial is divided into three sections. The assembly room is the first, followed by the main room, which is used for honour and ceremony. The latter is a prayer room where the names of the fallen heroes are displayed. Their names were carved into a marble wall. Alfred Preis, an Austrian-born architect, designed the USS Arizona Memorial. It is visited by over two million people each year. It is only accessible by boat and straddles the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it.

Visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial can pay their respects to the fallen sailors by visiting the site and reading the names of the crew members who lost their lives. The memorial is a place of reflection and serves as a symbol of the sacrifices made by American servicemen and women in defence of their country.

Together again

The bonds formed by the crewmembers of the Arizona have lasted long after the ship was lost on 7th December 1941.

Since 1982, the US Navy has allowed survivors of the USS Arizona to be buried in the wreckage of their ship.

Following a full military funeral at the Arizona memorial, the cremated remains are placed in an urn before being deposited beneath one of the Arizona's gun turrets by divers.

Navy deck crewman Raymond Haerry was one of the lucky ones. Having survived the sinking of the USS Arizona, he served on other ships during both the Second World War and the Korean War, and then taught at the officer candidate school in Newport, Rhode Island,

He retired from the Navy in 1964. He died on September 27, 2016, at the age of 94, in West Warwick, Rhode Island.

Raymond's granddaughter, Jessica Marino, fulfilled his wish to return to the shipmates who died in the attack by handing over his ashes to be interred in the submerged ship at Pearl Harbor, an honour accorded to members of the ship's final crew.

Newsroom - Pearl Harbor survivor’s ashes interred at USS Arizona Memorial - American Airlines Group, Inc. (aa.com)

Over 30 Arizona crewmen who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor have chosen the ship as their final resting place. Crew members who served on the ship prior to the attack may have their ashes scattered above the wreck site, as may those who served on other vessels stationed at Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941.

Tears of the Arizona

Arizona took on a full load of fuel—nearly 1.5 million gallons—on 6th December 1941, in preparation for its scheduled trip to the mainland later that month.

The following day, much of it fed the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ship after it was attacked by Japanese bombers.

500,000 gallons of oil are still slowly seeping out of the ship's submerged wreckage, despite the raging fire and the ravages of time: Arizona continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbour each day, nearly 70 years after it was decommissioned.

Environmental concerns prompted the National Park Service to commission a series of site studies in the mid-1990s to determine the long-term effects of the oil leakage.

Aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, showing the wreck and oil seepage from the ship’s bunkers.

The Bomb that Sank USS Arizona : Pearl Harbor was a tragic day (rebellionresearch.com)

Some scientists have warned of a "catastrophic" oil eruption from the wreckage, which they believe would cause extensive damage to the Hawaiian coastline and disrupt US naval operations in the area.

The National Park Service and other government agencies continue to monitor the wreck site's deterioration but are hesitant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to Arizona's role as a "war grave." Indeed, the oil that frequently coats the surface of the water surrounding the ship has added emotional gravity for many visitors to the memorial, and is sometimes referred to as the "tears of the Arizona" or "black tears."


  • 1940-1941: The United States begins to increase its military presence in the Pacific in response to Japan's aggression in Asia and the Pacific.
  • July 1941: The United States imposes economic sanctions on Japan in response to its invasion of Indochina.
  • 1st November 1941: The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters orders the Imperial Japanese Navy to prepare for war with the United States.
  • 1st December 1941: The Japanese government delivers a final ultimatum to the United States, demanding the lifting of economic sanctions and the withdrawal of American support for China.
  • 7th December 1941: At approximately 7:55 AM, Japanese aircraft begin the attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona is among the ships targeted.
  • 8:06 AM: A bomb penetrates the deck of the USS Arizona and detonates in its forward ammunition magazine, causing a massive explosion.
  • 8:10 AM: The USS Arizona is engulfed in flames and begins to sink.
  • 8:15 AM: The crew of the USS Arizona attempts to control the fire, but it quickly spreads and becomes uncontrollable.
  • 8:20 AM: The order is given to abandon ship.
  • 8:30 AM: The USS Arizona sinks to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.
  • 11:00 AM: The attack on Pearl Harbor ends. The USS Arizona has sunk, and over 1,100 sailors and Marines have lost their lives.

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The Washington Post · Michael E. Ruane