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Sunday Battleship Blogging: USS Oklahoma

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USS Oklahoma and her sister, USS Nevada, were the first of the “standard type” US battleships. The intention behind the standard type design was to create a squadron of battleships that could operate together without embarassing differences in speed or capability, while still being able to take advantage of technological innovations as they came along. All standard type battleships could make 21 knots, used oil-fired boilers, and carried their main armaments in four superfiring turrets split fore and aft. The most notable development of the standard type was the “all or nothing” armor scheme. This scheme concentrated the ship’s armor in a box around the magazines and machinery. Tests and experience had shown that engagements were likely to take place at ranges that would make smaller secondary weapons useless. Thus, it was pointless to attempt to protect the less vital parts of the ship with light belts, as heavy shells could penetrate the light armor and probably the consequently lighter main belt as well. For example, whereas Oklahoma carried a 13.5″ main belt and 4.5″ deck armor concentrated around her middle, her immediate predecessor New York carried a 12″ main belt, little deck armor, light fore and aft protection, and an 6″ upper belt that protected from not much of anything. Oklahoma accomplished this on a displacement virtually identical to New York. See here for a discussion and defense of the standard type; I would dissent considerably from the overall conclusions, noting that the superior speed of the Queen Elizabeths, the Royal Navy battlecruisers, and the Japanese Kongo class more than made up operationally for the improved staying power of the American ships.

Oklahoma entered service in May 1916. She displaced 27500 tons and carried 10 14″ guns in two twin and two triple turrets. Unfortunately, Oklahoma was equipped with reciprocating engines, leading to vibration problems for her entire career. For this reason, she was the least popular battleship in the fleet. During World War I she engaged in some convoy escort (only the oldest US dreadnoughts joined the Grand Fleet, because of concerns over oil supplies). Rebuilt between 1927 and 1929, Oklahoma had the misfortune of being refit during the US Navy’s aesthetic fallow period. Her cage masts were replaced by ungainly tripod masts, leaving the impression that Oklahoma had been hit by an ugly bomb. This was perhaps of greatest embarassment during her visit to Spain in 1936, when she helped rescue American refugees during the Spanish Civil War.

USS Oklahoma was top of the list of first-line battleships to be replaced by new construction. On December 7, 1941 the ugly battleship that no one liked was moored outboard of USS Maryland. Between five and nine torpedos hit Oklahoma’s port side. Although her torpedo protection was good for 1916, and had been improved in 1929, Oklahoma could not survive this kind of attack. She rolled over to her port side, stopping only when her masts became stuck in the mud. Some survivors of the attack described the turtle-turned Oklahoma as more psychologically devastating than the upright Arizona. Fortunately, about half of her crew escaped, many because of heroic efforts to cut open the underside of her hull. Her sister, USS Nevada, was the only battleship to get underway during the attack, eventually beaching herself near the mouth of the entrance channel.

No serious effort was made to restore Oklahoma to service, as her advanced age and extraordinary damage would make the effort more trouble than it was worth. However, something had to be done with the hulk. Salvage efforts began in March 1943, involving a massive effort to roll the old battleship over and patch her hull. Her guns and upper works were removed to make the hulk more stable, and Oklahoma made it to drydock by December. Patched more fully, she spent the rest of her career as an abandoned hulk at Pearl. In 1947, on the way to being scrapped in San Francisco, she slipped her tow line and sank in the Pacific Ocean. Nevada was refloated, repaired, and modernized, and participated in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

Trivia: Who were Kusumi Tadashi and Kondo Shojiro? Google is cheating…

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