USS Arkansas (BB 33)

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The USS Arkansas (BB 33) was a Wyoming class battleship that served with the British Grand Fleet in the last few months of the First World War, and saw active service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific during the Second World War. 

The Arkansas was laid down on 25 January 1910, just as the first American dreadnought battleship, the South Carolina, entered service. She was launched one year later and commissioned on 17 September 1912. A short period of training and manoeuvres followed, but the new battleship did not have to wait long for her first combat experience. In 1914 President Wilson decided to occupy Veracruz in Mexico, to prevent a shipment of arms reaching the Mexican dictator Huerta. The Atlantic Fleet, including the Arkansas was ordered south to take part in the action. Arkansascontributed 17 officers and 313 enlisting men to the landing, which took place on 22 April. The men stayed on shore until 30 April, but the Arkansas remained off Veracruz until the end of September.

During the first three years of the First World War American was neutral, and the Arkansas spent much of her time taking part in training exercises. This changed on 6 April 1917 when the United States declared war on Germany. Arkansas formed part of Battleship Division 7, and spent fourteen months patrolling off the US east coast.

The US Navy provided a complete battleship squadron that served with the British Grand Fleet as the 6th Battle Squadron. In July 1918 the Arkansas was chose to relieve the Delaware. On the way across the Atlantic the Arkansas and her escorts attacked a possible U-boat, although without any visible results, before reaching Rosyth on 28 July.

The Arkansas operated with the Grand Fleet for the last three and a half months of the First World War, a period that saw a number of scares and possible sorties by the German High Seas Fleet, but no actual contact. The Arkansas finally made contact with the German fleet on 21 November 1918, when she formed part of the fleet that escorted the surrendering Germans into the Firth of Forth.

The American battleships left the Grand Fleet on 1 December. The Arkansas was one of a number of American battleships that escorted President Wilson into the port of Brest, and she spent the first half of 1919 operating in Atlantic waters.

In July 1919 the Arkansas was posted to the Pacific Fleet, where she remained until becoming the flagship for the commander of the Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, in the summer of 1921. Over the next few years she was used for the annual midshipman training cruise and a mix of other peacetime duties.

In 1925 the Arkansas began a major refit that lasted until November 1926. Extra deck armour was installed. Oil boilers replaced the original mixed-firing boilers, and the two funnels were replaced by a single funnel. The after cage mast was replaced with a low tripod mast. Three of the five 5in guns on each side were raised from the gun deck to new positions on the open deck above. In 1940, with treaty restrictions lifted, the angle of elevation of her main guns was increased, extending their range.

After the refit the normal peacetime routine was resumed, with midshipman training cruises an annual event.

The Arkansas spent most of the Second World War in the Atlantic theatre. She was at Hampton Roads when the war broke out in 1939, and spent much of the next two years training off the US east coast and in the Caribbean.

The war came closer in the summer of 1941, when Arkansas and New York formed part of the naval force that escorted US troops to Iceland. The British had occupied the island after the German invasion of Denmark, to prevent it from being used as a U-boat base, and the American occupation freed British troops for use elsewhere.

The Arkansas was then part of the American fleet at the conference between Roosevelt and Churchill that produced the Atlantic Charter. Sumner Welles and Averell Harriman were both accommodated onboard from 8 to 14 August 1941.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the Arkansas was one of three American battleships at Casco Bay, Maine (along with the New Mexico and Texas). While the Texas was rushed to the Pacific, Arkansas remained in the Atlantic, where she was to provide the heavy support for US troops convoys heading across the Atlantic.

The first of these convoys left New York on 6 August and arrived in Scotland on 17 August. A second convoy reached Scotland in October, but attention then turned to North Africa. On 3 November the Arkansas sailed from New York, escorting one of the trans-Atlantic convoys heading for Morocco. The Arkansas accompanied two more convoys across the Atlantic to Casablanca in February-April 1943 before going to New York for some a short period in dry dock.

The Arkansas underwent a second major refit during 1942. The cage foremast was replaced with a tripod mast. The remaining casemate guns were removed. Further refits during the war year eventually raised her anti-aircraft armament to nine 40mm quad mountings and twenty single single mounted 20mm guns.  

The summer of 1943 was spent training midshipmen in Chesapeake Bay, but active operations resumed in October when she escorted a convoy to Bangor, Ireland. A second convoy to Ireland followed in January-February 1944.

The Arkansas was allocated to the fleet that was to support the D-Day landings. She arrived at Bangor, Ireland, for shore bombardment training in mid-April, before setting sail for Normandy on 3 June. The Arkansas was allocated to Force 'C', under Rear Admiral Bryant (along with the Texas), and was used to support the landing on Omaha Beach. She opened fire at 5.52am on 6 June, and remained off Omaha Beach for the next week, only moving on 13 June. On 25 June 1944 the Arkansas took part in the bombardment of the port of Cherbourg, engaging the German shore batteries. On the following day the port fell to the Allies. The Arkansas then crossed the channel to Weymouth, ending her part in the fighting in Normandy.

Operation 'Anvil', the invasion of the south of France, had originally been meant to take place at the same time as the Normandy landings, but it was eventually delayed until mid-August. This delay reduced the invasion's strategic value, but it did mean that the Arkansas was able to reach the Mediterranean in time to take part in the operation. She left British waters on 4 July, reached Oran on 10 July and Taranto on 21 July. She was allocated to Task Force 87 ('Camel') Force under Admiral Deyo. She provided fire support during the initial landings on 15 August and took part in the bombardment of Toulon. This time progress inland was quick, and the Arkansas's role in the invasion ended on 17 August.

It was now clear that the US battleships would no longer be needed for shore bombardment duties in the European theatre, but there was now a shortage of suitable ships in the Pacific, where most of the available 'old' battleships were committed to the invasion of the Philippines. The Arkansas set sail for America, reaching home waters on 14 September. After a short period of repairs and modifications she set sail again, passing through the Panama Canal on 22 November 1944.

After spending a short period on the west coast, the Arkansas sailed for Pearl Habor, from where she moved to the main fleet staging area at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands. She was allocated to Task Force 54, under Rear Admiral Rodgers, and with the rest of this force took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima. Arkansas bombarded Japanese positions on the island from 16-19 February and then remained close by to provide extra fire support until 7 March, when she set sail for Ulithi.

The ten active 'old' battleships in the Pacific were all used to support the invasion of Okinawa, forming Task Force 54 under Rear Admiral Deyo. The Arkansas formed part of Group 2 of this task force, alongside the Colorado. (Group 1 contained Texas and Maryland; Group 3 Tennessee and Nevada; Group 4 Idaho and West Virginia and Group 5 New Mexico and New York).

The Arkansas began to bombard the island on 25 March, several days ahead of the actual invasion, which began on 1 April. She remained off Okinawa for 46 days, coming under attack by kamikaze aircraft and from coastal batteries, but she managed to evade or destroy every kamikaze attack on her and wasn't damaged by the gun fire.

On 16 June the Arkansas arrived in Leyte Gulf. On 16 July she was allocated to Task Force 95 (Vice Admiral Oldendorf), a force formed for operations in the East China Sea, and containing the battleships Tennessee, Pennsylvania, California, Nevada, Arkansas and Texas and the battlecruisers Alaska and Guam. This force saw very little action, and the Arkansas wasn't involved in its one offensive sortie, ending the war in the Philippines.

In the last few months of 1945 the Arkansas made four trips between Pearl Harbor and the US West Coast, each time carrying a large number of US soldiers home from the Far East.

The 'old' battleships were seen as obsolete after the end of the war, and were quickly removed from service. The Arkansas had a dramatic end, becoming part of the fleet used as targets for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll (Operation 'Crossroads'). The aim was discover how vulnerable major warships would be to nuclear attack. Test 'Able', where the bomb was detonated above the fleet, was somewhat disappointing, but Test 'Baker' of 25 July, in which the bomb was detonated underwater, resulting in the sinking of ten of the target ships (although one, the Prinz Eugen, didn't sink for five months). The Arkansas suffered massive damage in the explosion, and sank very rapidly.

Displacement (standard)

26,000t

Displacement (loaded)

27,243t

Top Speed

20.5kts

Range

8,000nm at 10kts

Armour – belt

11in-9in

 - lower casemate

11in-9in

 - upper casemate

6.5in

 - barbette

11in

 - turret faces

12in

 - coning tower

11.5in

Length

562ft

Width

93ft 2in

Armaments

Twelve 12in guns in six twin turrets
Twenty one 5in guns
Two submerged beam 21n torpedo tubes

Crew complement

1,063

Laid Down

25 January 1910

Launched

14 January 1911

Completed

17 September 1912

Fate

Target 26 July 1946

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 September 2011), USS Arkansas (BB 33) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_uss_arkansas.html

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