USS Oklahoma was a 27,500-ton Nevada class battleship constructed in Camden, New Jersey. Commissioned in May of 1916, she patrolled the waters of the Atlantic for the next five years, protecting convoys to and from Europe, including President Wilson during his voyage to France. In 1921 the battleship traveled to the Pacific and the western coast of South America prior to joining the Pacific fleet. USS Oklahoma spent the remaining decade serving the fleet during a variety of drills, exercises, and training, including the fleet’s trans-pacific cruise to Australia and New Zealand. In the summer of 1927, she also ferried Naval Academy sailors to the west coast during their annual training.
The Philadelphia Navy Yard modernized USS Oklahoma toward the end of the decade, significantly altering its appearance. USS Oklahoma emerged with improved armaments and battle readiness, returning to the Pacific in the 1930s to assist with the battle fleet’s various activities. In July of 1936, USS Oklahoma was sent back east to help evacuate United States citizens during the tensions caused by the Spanish Civil War. She would later return to the Pacific in the winter.
Action in World War II
USS Oklahoma was further relocated from the west coast to Hawaii in 1940 in anticipation of the Japanese threat. In fact, USS Oklahoma was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7th, 1941. Hit by an onslaught of aerial torpedoes, USS Oklahoma’s port side was torn open nearly from bow to stern, causing the ship to capsize and sink to the bottom of the harbor. Over 400 of her crew died as a result, but those who managed to survive were rescued by the dedicated efforts of seamen and civilian employees.
In 1942, USS Oklahoma was the target of a group salvage effort. The salvage team eventually managed to turn her upright and repair the damages from the torpedoes. She was drydocked later that year and had her weapons and equipment removed.
After the War
Too weathered and damaged to return to military service, USS Oklahoma was decommissioned in September of 1944 and sold for scrapping. However, she never made it to her destination, sinking while under tow from Hawaii to California.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet throughout conflicts during the last century, battleships also posed a lasting health risk to soldiers who served on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common on these ships because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.