USS Oklahoma Battleship

The USS Oklahoma was a World War I era battleship that was launched in March 1914. Named after the 46th state of the union, the ship was sponsored by Miss Lorena J. Cruce, daughter of Lee Cruce, the then governor of Oklahoma, and commissioned in 1916 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the first few years, under the command of Captain Roger Welles, the USS Oklahoma served in the Atlantic fleet and in 1918 and 1919 was one of the ships that escorted President Woodrow Wilson back and forth in his diplomatic visits to France. From 1927-1929 it was modernized in Philadelphia by an addition of eight 5’’/25 caliber anti-aircraft guns and then rejoined the Atlantic fleet for combined exercises with the Pacific fleet in the Caribbean waters.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the USS Oklahoma was rushed to Bilbao on a mission to rescue American citizens and deliver them to a safe harbor in France and Gibraltar. For the next four years, the battleship served as a training ground for Army reservists and in 1940 was sent on assignment to Pearl Harbor.

The USS Oklahoma was one of the seven unfortunate vessels moored at Battleship Row on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The battleship immediately took three torpedo hits, and as its men attempted to abandon the ship, two more torpedoes struck it. Within twelve minutes of the attack, it had capsized with its masts turned down and its starboard side above water. Many of the crew members aboard the USS Oklahoma managed to escape into the USS Maryland, which was moored at its side, and tried valiantly to save Oklahoma’s anti-aircraft batteries.

429 officers and enlisted men abroad the battleship were killed or went missing and 32 were wounded. Many others were trapped in the capsized hull and were saved in heroic efforts by men such as Julio DeCastro, a civilian yard worker who organized a team that rescued 32 USS Oklahoma sailors. Ensign John C. England was another valiant soldier who initially survived the attack, but eventually lost his life after returning to the burning ship to rescue three men who were in the radio room. Two U.S. Navy ships are named after Ensign England.

The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard began a difficult and ultimately fruitless job of trying to salvage the USS Oklahoma, but after over a year of efforts, the battleship was dry-docked in December 1943. In 1944, the USS Oklahoma was officially decommissioned, stripped of its warfare, and on December 5, 1946, was sold to the Moore Drydock Company in Oakland, California. On May 17, 1947, as the ship was being towed to the San Francisco area for scrapping, a violent storm blew into the Pacific Ocean, and the USS Oklahoma sank 540 miles outside of Pearl Harbor.