Battleship Arizona is afloat in technical history

January 22, 1992|By Fred Rasmussen

BATTLESHIP ARIZONA: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY.

Paul Stillwell.

Naval Institute Press.

404 pages. $48.95.

It's difficult to imagine the U.S.S. Arizona in any way except in the newsreels that documented her destruction 50 years ago.

However, the Arizona had a long and successful career before her end on Dec. 7, 1941, when she went to the bottom carrying 1,177 men during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. More men were lost on the Arizona than on any other U.S. Navy vessel before or since. Only 337 survived.

This technical-historical study of the Arizona was written by Paul Stillwell, who is on the staff of the U.S. Naval Institute and is director of oral history and editor-in-chief of Naval History magazine. Mr. Stillwell served for five months aboard the New Jersey and several years ago wrote a similar work on that battleship.

He employs in this book the same technique of combining technical data with oral interviews of those who served aboard them. Mr. Stillwell crisscrossed the United States in his pursuit of Arizona vets. In one case, his subject died the afternoon after being interviewed.

The Arizona's keel was laid in the New York Navy Yard in 1914. Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, witnessed the first bolts being placed into the keel by 3-year-old Henry Williams Jr. (Mr. Stillwell was able to interview Mr. Williams for this book).

Hull 39, as the Arizona was known, was launched in June of 1915 and was christened Arizona by Esther Ross, who swung the bottles containing Ohio champagne and Arizona water over her bow plates.

Commissioned in 1916, the Arizona displaced 35,000 tons. It was 608 feet in length, with a beam of 97 feet and a maximum draft of 29 feet. It carried three 20,000-pound anchors and made a maximum speed of 21 knots. It was modernized in 1931 with additional refinements, but remained a stunning example of the superdreadnought class of naval vessels.

The end for the Arizona came at 8:10 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, when a Japanese attack fighter swooped in low and dropped a bomb on her forward powder magazine.

Still seeping oil after 50 years into the azure waters of Pearl Harbor, the Arizona has been turned into a memorial. It now is host to more than a million visitors a year.

This book is not only a valuable contribution to the lore of ships but also to our understanding of perhaps the best-known ship of World War II.

Mr. Rasmussen is a librarian at The Sun.

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