07 December 2021

USS Utah: The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor

Today, Dec 7 2021, is the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of the losses of the attack on Pearl Harbor was the battleship USS Utah, now often referred to as “The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor.”  

The USS Utah at Pearl Harbor as it appears today. From ussutah1941.org

The USS Utah was launched on Dec 23 1909 with Utah Governor William Spry’s daughter, Mary Alice Spry breaking a bottle of champaign on the ship’s bow. At the time of its launch it was the largest vessel in the US Navy. In 1932 the Utah was converted for use as a target and training ship.

USS Utah in 1913. From US Navy History and Heritage Command

On Dec 7, 1941, the Utah was moored off Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. The attack on the fleet at Pearl Harbor began at 7:55 am and lasted about 2 hours, but for Utah it was over in a few minutes.

At 8:01 am the ship was hit by the first of two torpedoes and immediately started to list to port (left side of the ship). At 08:12 am, the mooring lines snapped causing the Utah to completely capsize.

The crew abandoned the ship. Most sailors were stationed below deck and they quickly headed topside. There are many heroic stories of sailors helping with the evacuation such as Chief Peter Tomich who remained at his post in the engineering section until he saw that all boilers were secure and all men were evacuated, even at the cost of his own life. Tomich posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Fireman 2nd Class John B. Vaessen also remained at his post in the electrical room making sure that the ship had enough power to keep the lights to aid in the evacuation process. After the ship capsized, Veassan was trapped for 2 days in the overturned hull of the ship. For those 2 days he tapped on the hull hoping for rescue. Machinist S.A. Szymanski and other men from the neighboring USS Raleigh were able to cut through the hull of the Utah and rescue Vaessen. The Navy Cross was awarded to Vaessen for his actions. He died in 2018.

 Rescue and recovery efforts at USS Utah, Dec 1941. From ussutah1941.org

Altogether, 30 officers and 431 enlisted men of the USS Utah survived the attack and 6 officers and 52 enlisted men died. Only the remains of 4 men were recovered and interred ashore leaving 54 sailors still entombed within the Utah.

As the ship had little military value no effort was made to refloat it. A small monument is present at the site of the USS Utah on the opposite side of Ford Island from the USS Arizona. Of the several battleships sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbor, only the USS Arizona and the USS Utah remain.

USS Utah Memorial in 1950, From US Navy History and Heritage Command


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