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Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Arkansas


USS Michigan represented more of an evolution of the pre-dreadnought type than a revolution in the sense of Dreadnought. The next four classes of American battleships took the lessons of Dreadnought to heart, combining all big-gun armaments with speeds in excess of 20 knots. USS Arkansas, second of the Wyoming class, carried 12 12″ guns in six twin turrets, could make 21 knots on direct drive steam turbines, and displaced about 28000 tons. Like all American battleships, Arkansas was relatively well armored and carried a well distributed centerline armament.

USS Arkansas’ first action was off Vera Cruz in 1914, where she bombarded Mexican positions and landed four companies of men to participate in street fighting. Upon American entry into World War I, Arkansas’ first duty was defense of the East Coast. In July 1918 she was deployed to Scotland to serve with the Sixth Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet, but saw no action apart from an unconfirmed U-boat sighting. Arkansas was one of the eighteen battleships retained under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, and received a light modernization in 1926 that removed her aft cage mast and increased her anti-aircraft armament.

The 1930 London Naval Treaty further reduced the battleships fleets of the world, cutting US strength to 15 ships. Arkansas was the oldest ship retained under the Treaty. The reduction of fleets meant that only the most modern units were kept. Consequently, Arkansas became one of the oldest active battleships in the world. Unfortunately, apart from the Brazilian battleships, some old French and Russian battleships, and the older Italian dreadnoughts prior to reconstruction, Arkansas was completely outclassed by any ship that she might conceivably meet in combat. The US Navy saw little point in further modernizing Arkansas, and for the rest of the 1930s Arkansas was relegated to training duties. In 1937 she was placed in reduced commission.

Arkansas’ operational tempo increased as the war in Europe heated up. She engaged in several more training cruises, including exercises with New York and Texas, which had also been withdrawn from the main battle line. She covered landings in Iceland in the summer of 1941, and served as an accomodation ship for a conference between FDR and Churchill. When war came in December 1941, no serious thought was given to transferring Arkansas to the Pacific. Along with Texas and New York, she remained in the Atlantic and underwent an overhaul that further increased her AA armamament and replaced her forward cage mast. Demonstrating that obsolescence is in the eye of the beholder, for the next three years she escorted convoys and carried out shore bombardment operations, including support for the D-Day landings in Normandy and Operation Anvil in southern France. In late 1944 she made for the Pacific, where she bombarded Japanese positions on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The USN remained committed to keeping Arkansas as far away from Japanese ships as possible, and she was excluded from a group of older battleships detailed to defend against HIJMS Yamato in April 1945.

USS Arkansas’ final mission was to help determine the effect of atomic weapons on naval vessels. Anchored in Bikini Atoll, she survived the first blast but was in very close proximity to the second, which reportedly flipped her end over end and quickly sent her to the bottom. Three other US battleships (Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New York) survived the blasts only to be later sunk as targets. HIJMS Nagato joined Arkansas at the bottom along with dozens of other US, German, and Japanese ships.

Trivia: What dreadnought class carried the fewest guns in its main armament?

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