USS Arkansas (Bikini Atoll — 170 fsw)


The USS Arkansas (BB-33) is a Wyoming-class dreadnought battleship of epic proportions and history. She served in both World War I and World War II. It is cool to think of diving a battleship that served in both World Wars. She was built over 110 years ago.

The term “dreadnought” refers to a type of battleship design that started in the early 1900s with the Royal Navy HMS Dreadnought. The design generally has two features: (1) an “all big guns” armament with a large number of heavy-calibre guns and (2) steam turbine propulsion.

USS Arkansas (BB-33)

The USS Arkansas was laid down in January 1910, launched a year later in January 1911 and commissioned in September 1912.

The original large armament consisted of twelve x 12-inch guns in pairs along the centerline in six gun currents. In addition, she had other armament including 16 x 5″ guns, anti-aircraft guns, and torpedo tubes (which were later removed).

Below are two pictures of the 12″ guns on the Arkansas from Navsource. The photo on the left shows them firing the guns in practice prior to WW I.

Her armor plating was between 11-12 inches depending upon area of the ship and and she had a top speed of 20.5 knots (23.5 mph). She was 562 feet long (almost two US football fields in length!) and had a beam of 93 feet. That is a big ship with a lot of big guns.

She was originally powered by four-shaft Parsons steam turbines and twelve coal-fired water-tube boilers.

Arkansas fitting out with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background (Library of Congress Prints & Photographs)
Arkansas underway on trials in May 1912 (Photo: National Museum of the Navy)

In 1925, the Arkansas underwent modernization and had her beam widened from 93 feet to a massive 106 feet and the coal-fired boilers were replaced with oil-fired boilers. Some of the 5″ guns were removed and eight 3″ anti-aircraft guns were installed.

Veracruz Incident

Prior to World War I, in early 1914, there was an international incident with Mexico which resulted in the US occupation of Veracruz. The Arkansas helped with the occupation effort and supplied 17 officers and 212 enlisted men.

Image and text provided by University of Oregon, Knight Library; Eugene, OR.
Photo courtesy of The Evening Herald.(Klamath Falls, Or.) 1906-1942, 21 April 1914, Image 1, via

She remained in Mexico waters until the end of September 1914. She then participated in four years of peacetime duties on the East Coast and Caribbean.

World War I

During WW I, the Arkansas served in the Atlantic Fleet and performed patrol duties on the East Cost and then in July 1917 joined the British and didn’t see much action in the war. The photo below is from Navsource and is noted “A Enrique Muller photo on 1 January 1918 showing among other things; sailors on the stern aboard one of the small boats of the Arkansas (BB-33), possibly readying it in preparation for a trip ashore once the ship anchor.”

NARA FILE #: 165-WW-334A-7. Photo # HD-SN-99-02138 courtesy of, Defense Visual Information Center. Photo i.d. courtesy of Pieter Bakels.

She was present in the Atlantic when the Germans surrendered in 1918. In July 1919, she was assigned to the Pacific Fleet.

World War II

USS Arkansas underway of the US east coast 11 April 1944 (Official US Navy Photogram)

Until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec 1941, the Arkansas served primarily as a training ship. At the outbreak, she performed convoy escort duties and participated in the June 1944 D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. She was offshore fighting German shore batteries and repelling aircraft attacks. Later in June, she bombarded German artillery at Cherbourg, France. She was the oldest battleship in active duty in the US Navy.

She moved into the Mediterranean and provide support for invasion of the south France coast near Cannes. In 1944, she moved to the Pacific Ocean in preparation for attacks on Japanese-held islands. She participated in the bombardment of Iwo Jima and the spent forty-six days bombarding Okinawa starting on March 25, 1945 and had to fight off numerous kamikaze attacks. At the end of the war, she participated in Operation Magic Carpet to bring thousands of soldiers home.


Due to her age, the Arkansas was selected for Operation Crossroads in Bikini Atoll. She survived the Able test blast but was heavily damaged . She was then one of 9 ships that sank during the Baker test and now sits in 170 feet of water. She is ship #3 in the diagram below and was only 170 yards from the epicenter of the blast.

Diving the Wreck

Because of her close proximity to the epicenter of the atomic bomb, she has some very interesting characteristics.

Probably the most distinguishing are the concave lines in the hull caused by the force of the blast. Remember that the hull armor was 11+ inches thick but was essentially made “concave” into the spaces between the hull beams and it is severely dented and rippled. The National Park Service notes that in some cases the indentations are up to six feet deep. The superstructure has never been found. It is likely pounded into coral silt under the hull since battleships are top heavy and sink upside down.

By National Park Service, Jerry Livingston and Larry Nordby – Delgado, James P., et al., The Archeology of the Atomic Bomb, National Park Service, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1991, p 95., Public Domain,

She lies mostly upside down with her port side largely intact and the starboard side pressed into the lagoon floor. The stern is partially flattened and and you can see the big depressions mentioned above. The downline is tied to the outboard port side prop shaft (in the first picture below).


Once again, conditions were not ideal for taking wide angle photos. However, I was able to get a few pictures.

Port side outboard prop
Smaller caliber guns (upside down)
Another gun on the port side
Bill at a gun without the casemate
Large barrel of a 12″ gun
Craig at the 12″ guns
This will give you an idea of how large those barrels are in diameter!
The famous bow of the Arkansas
Bill at the bow
Another prop down in the sand (inboard port)
Two props on the port side. Notice the sand in the deep depression in the hull
The view of the prop and the stern from the opposite direction


Wikipedia Dreadnought Article

Naval History & Heritage Command : USS Arkansas (BB-33)

Encyclopedia of Arkansas

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