My grandfather, Howard William West Sr. served on the USS Arizona in the early 1920s. In researching his life on the ship, culling what information I can from his USS Arizona Log Book 1924-1925 and the History of the USS Arizona, I’m trying to identify some of the US Navy ships he photographed as he traveled throughout the Pacific Ocean.
My first task is to identify which of the ships are the USS Arizona since it is a famous naval vessel much photographed. That will cull those from the collection of scrapbook photographs, leaving me with less to identify. That’s the hope.
I thought the article, “How to Identify U.S. Naval Ships,” by eHow.com should be useful. It recommended looking for the hull number and looking it up on the US Navy site, without a clear link to where to look. I found a starting point at US Navy Ships. Many of the photographs I’m identifying do not show the hull number, so that’s not helpful, but it’s a start.
The page features the different types of ships in the US Navy including Aircraft Carriers, Amphibious Assault Ships, Cruisers, Littoral Combat Ships, Destroyers, Frigates, and Subs. According to Wikipedia, the USS Arizona was a Pennsylvania-class battleship. Battleship isn’t on the US Navy list. Wikipedia defined the Pennsylvania class as a “Standard-type battleship” defined as a super-dreadnought. Another not on the Navy list.
The Standard-type battleship is described as:
Characteristics of the Standard type included:
- all-or-nothing armor scheme
- four main gun turrets arranged two fore and two aft all on the centerline
- designed range of about 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) at economical cruising speed
- top speed of 21 knots (39 km/h)
- tactical turn radius of 700 yards
I finally search the archives of the US Navy site and find USS Arizona (BB 39) which describes the ship as “Battleship 29.” It was 608 feet long with top speed at 21 knots, held a complement of 1,081, and featured twelve 14 inch guns, twenty-two 5″ guns, four 3″ guns, and two 21″ torpedo tubes. The complement number is fascinating as that was what the ship was designed for and of the 1,513 crewmen aboard the ship at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, 1,177 died, both numbers well over the number the ship was meant to hold. How and why they exceeded their complement numbers is research for another day.
During the time of my grandfather, the archive reported:
Sailing for Panama Bay on 3 August , Arizona became flagship for Battleship Division 7 when Vice Admiral McDonald transferred his flag to USS Wyoming (BB-33) and Rear Admiral Josiah S. McKean broke his flag on board as commander of the division on 10 August at Balboa. The following day, the battleship sailed for San Diego, arriving there on 21 August 1921.
Over the next 14 years, Arizona alternately served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 3 or 4. Based at San Pedro, during this period, Arizona operated with the fleet in the operating areas off the coast of southern California or in the Caribbean during fleet concentrations there. She participated in a succession of fleet problems (the annual maneuvers of the fleet that served as the culmination of the training year), ranging from the Caribbean to the waters off the west coast of Central America and the Canal Zone; from the West Indies to the waters between Hawaii and the west coast.
Following her participation in Fleet Problem IX (January 1929), Arizona transited the Panama Canal on 7 February for Guantanamo Bay, whence she operated through April. She then proceeded to Norfolk Navy Yard, entering it on 4 May 1929 to prepare for modernization.
It is those next 14 years in which my grandfather served upon the Arizona. It is also that modernization that makes identifying the Arizona photographs challenging for me. What was changed and what time period am I looking at when I look for the images of the Arizona across decades of image? I discovered that the Arizona was launched in New York in June 1915, making it just over 10 years old when my grandfather arrived on board. What did the ship look like then?
In early photographs, I see only one giant gun on the bow of the ship. In others I see two or three, especially in later images closer to the destruction at Pearl Harbor.
I used a Google Image search to turn up many photographs, graphics, model kits, and artwork featuring the USS Arizona, but without more information, the results help me narrow things down, not get to specifics. I highly recommend this method, though, if you are researching locations or things.
On World Battleships List: US Dreadnought Battleships, I learned that the Arizona was reconstructed at the Norfolk Navy Yard in July 1929 and recommissioned and launched in March 1931. This meant that my grandfather was on the ship before the reconstruction. The site included military images of the reconstruction, which gave me a before and after image to help my research.
The World Naval Ships Forums is a great resource for helping to identify ships from around the world’s military including the US. It is a fan community of naval vessels and features some excellent experts who will not just help you identify the ship but tell you much about its history, structure, construction, and experiences.
As I go through the images and segregate them into like ships, here are some other references and resources you may find helpful in your own search.
- List of United States Navy ships – Wikipedia
- U.S. Navy Ship Rosters at HullNumber.com
- U.S. Navy Ships – US Government Archives
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