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  • Writer's pictureT. Logan Metesh

USS Utah - Forgotten Battleship of Pearl Harbor

When you think of the ships lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor, undoubtedly the USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma come to mind. Both ships were a total loss to the Navy, but there was also a third total loss that day - the USS Utah, which is often referred to as the forgotten battleship of Pearl Harbor. Her rusted remains are still present in Pearl Harbor, partially submerged off the coast of Ford Island. Since the island is still an active military base and no tour shuttles offer service to the other side of the island, USS Utah remains relatively forgotten, despite being less than a mile from the USS Arizona.

The USS Utah was launched as a Florida-class battleship in 1909 and commissioned two years later, with the hull designation BB-31. In 1931, she was demilitarized and converted into a target ship as part of the London Naval Treaty, which limited the size of naval forces around the globe.

During the attack on December 7, 1941, Utah was struck by multiple Japanese torpedoes. By this time in her life, Utah had been designated AG-16 and was equipped with anti-aircraft guns for training, but in terms of being useful at sea, she wasn’t the same battleship that had once protected Bantry Bay from German raiders.

So why was she targeted? Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of the first wave of attacking aircraft at Pearl Harbor, specifically ordered that Utah not be attacked. While most in the first wave followed orders, not every pilot was on the same page, and it was a case of mistaken identity. In the midst of the fray, the pilot thought Utah was an active battleship and fired on her. Immediately after, five more torpedoes were launched against Utah. One of these hit its target and another missed, hitting USS Raleigh.

The torpedoes may have been wasted, but they did what they were intended to and sank the USS Utah. Efforts were made to right the ship and bring her back into service, but the effort was abandoned due to a cost-to-value ratio that could not justify further efforts. She was drug closer to shore and partially righted to 37-degrees before leaving her be. A plaque was placed on her deck honoring the dead around that time.

In 1971, an official memorial was created nearby on the shore to commemorate the 58 officers and crew who were lost on December 7, 1941. More than just a memorial to the lives lost that day, the USS Utah is also a grave, as she is the final resting place for 54 of her crew that didn’t make it off the ship. For this reason and more, the USS Utah deserves to be forgotten no more.

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