touching bottom

USS Oklahoma (BB-37)

USS Oklahoma (BB-37), the only ship of the United States Navy to ever be named for the 46th state, was a World War I-era battleship and the second of two ships in her class, with her sister .

After being launched in 1912, Oklahoma served in World War I as a member of BatDiv 6, protecting Allied convoys on their way across the Atlantic. After years of spending time in the Pacific and the Scouting Fleets, Oklahoma was modernized from 1927 to 1929. She rescued American citizens and refugees from the Spanish Civil War in 1936; after returning to the West coast in August of that year, she spent the rest of her life in the Pacific. She was sank by Japanese bombs and torpedoes on 7 December 1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor, taking 429 of her crew with her as she capsized.


Oklahoma was the last ship of the U.S. Navy to be installed with vertical triple expansion reciprocating machinery instead of steam turbines; she had a vibration problem throughout her lifetime as a result.

Her keel was laid down on 26 October 1911 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey. She was launched on 23 March 1914, being sponsored by Miss Lorena J. Cruce. She was commissioned at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 2 May 1916 with Captain Roger Welles in command.

Service life

Presidential escort

Oklahoma joined the Atlantic Fleet and was homeported at Norfolk, Virginia. She trained on the eastern seaboard until 13 August 1918, when she joined sister ship Nevada in the task of protecting Allied convoys in European waters. In December she was among the ships that escorted President Woodrow Wilson to France, departing 14 December for New York City and winter fleet exercises in Cuban waters. She returned to Brest on 15 June 1919 to escort President Wilson in George Washington home from his second visit to France, returning to New York on 8 July.

Overhauled and re-assigned

A part of the Atlantic Fleet for the next two years, Oklahoma was overhauled and her crew trained. The secondary battery was reduced from twenty to twelve 5"/51 caliber guns in 1918. Early in 1921, she voyaged to South America's west coast for combined exercises with the Pacific Fleet, and returned later that year for the Peruvian Centennial. She then joined the Pacific Fleet for six years, highlighted by the cruise of the Battle Fleet to Australia and New Zealand in 1925. Joining the Scouting Fleet in early 1927, Oklahoma continued intensive exercises during that summer's Midshipmen Cruise, voyaging to the East Coast to embark midshipmen, carrying them through the Panama Canal to San Francisco, and returning by the way of Cuba and Haiti.

Rescuing Americans and refugees in Spain

After being modernized by addition of eight 5"/25 caliber guns at Philadelphia between September 1927 and July 1929, Oklahoma rejoined the Scouting Fleet for exercises in the Caribbean, then returned to the west coast in June 1930 for fleet operations through spring 1936. That summer, she carried midshipmen on a European training cruise, visiting northern ports. The cruise was interrupted with the outbreak of civil war in Spain, as Oklahoma sped to Bilbao, arriving on 24 July 1936 to rescue American citizens and other refugees whom she carried to Gibraltar and French ports. She returned to Norfolk on 11 September, and to the West Coast 24 October.

The Pacific Fleet operations of the Oklahoma during the next four years included joint operations with the Army and the training of reservists.

Pearl Harbor assignment

She was based at Pearl Harbor from 6 December 1940 for patrols and exercises, and was moored in Battleship Row on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked. Outboard alongside , Oklahoma took three torpedo hits almost immediately after the first Japanese bombs fell. As she began to capsize, two more torpedoes struck home, and her men were strafed as they abandoned ship. Within 12 minutes after the attack began, she had rolled over until halted by her masts touching bottom, her starboard side above water, and a part of her keel clear.

Many of her crew, however, remained in the fight, clambering aboard Maryland to help serve her anti-aircraft batteries. 429 officers and enlisted men were killed or missing. One of those killed—Father Aloysius Schmitt—was the first American chaplain of any faith to die in World War II. Thirty-two others were wounded, and many were trapped within the capsized hull, to be saved by heroic rescue efforts. Such an effort was that of Julio DeCastro, a civilian yard worker who organized the team which saved 32 Oklahoma sailors. Some of those who died later had ships named after them such as Ensign John England for whom and DLG-22 are named.


The difficult salvage job was commenced on 15 July 1942 by Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard men under the immediate command of Captain F.H. Whitaker, USN. Preparations for righting the overturned hull took 7¾ months. The actual righting took 3¼ months, between 8 March 1943 and 16 June, with Oklahoma being towed into dry dock on 28 December. Decommissioned 1 September 1944, Oklahoma was stripped of guns and superstructure, and sold on 5 December 1946 to Moore Drydock Company of Oakland, California. Oklahoma sank on 17 May 1947, 540 miles out of Pearl Harbor, while under tow to San Francisco for scrapping.



  • Beigel, Harvey M. Parallel Fates: The USS Utah (BB 31/AG-16) and the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) in Peace and War. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 2004. ISBN 1575101130.
  • Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battle Cruisers 1905–1970. Doubleday and Company. ISBN 0385-0-7247-0.

See also

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