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THIS WEEK IN MILITARY HISTORY - The USS Arkansas

Seen here is the crew of the Arkansas lined topside to watch the USO show in Oran, North Africa.

Yesterday marked the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. While we reflect on that and also remember everyone who gave their lives in order to free Europe from Nazi occupation and to keep America safe. This week’s blog post will be about the history of the USS Arkansas, specifically its involvement in D-Day. 






The USS Arkansas is a 26,000-ton Wyoming-class battleship, built in Camden, New Jersey in September 1912. From 1913 to 1918, she cruised the Mediterranean, participated in the U.S. intervention in Mexico, and operated with the British Grand Fleet during WWI. In 1919, she joined the Pacific Fleet for two years before returning to the Atlantic, where she carried Naval Academy midshipmen on cruises from 1923 to 1925. After undergoing extensive modernization, the Arkansas spent the next two decades serving in the Atlantic area, making annual Midshipmen’s cruises to Europe, and operating along the west coast on training operations.


Prior to the outbreak of WWII, there were talks of decommissioning and scrapping the Arkansas. The USS Arkansas had spent the time in between the two wars sailing around the world on training and goodwill missions, and by 1941, the USS Arkansas was over 20 years old. It seemed like she had done her duty; there were faster warships with bigger guns, and she was the oldest battleship in the Navy. There were those in the Navy who believed it was time to retire the “old girl.” However, once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States officially entered WWII in December of 1941, all talks of scrapping the Arkansas stopped.

Arkansas bombarding German positions on 6 June 1944 off Omaha Beach

The United States had lost a lot of its Pacific fleet in the attacks on Pearl Harbor, which meant that all remaining ships, including the USS Arkansas, were badly needed. Instead, the battleship was refitted and employed as an escort and training ship for the first two years of the war. After being overhauled in 1942 for the third time in her life, the USS Arkansas was sent to assist with Operation Torch in Northern Africa, where she stayed from November 1942 until she returned to the English Channel in April 1944, taking part in Operation Neptune before she would have her time to shine and participate in the most important and history-changing invasion in WWII history, Operation Overlord.


Chaplin T.J. Fallon, holding Catholic church services aboard Arkansas off coast of Normandy, 11 June 1944.

On June 6th, 1944, as C-47s dropped bombs and young men stormed the beaches of Normandy, the USS Arkansas sailed as the flagship of the American Naval forces. The USS Arkansas “Arkie” pounded the beaches of Normandy with her 12” guns. Anthony Sirco, a young gunner onboard the USS Arkansas, wrote in his journal detailing his experiences onboard the USS Arkansas on June 6th, 1944.


“June 6, at 0530 the “Arkansas” was anchored in her firing position. The light of dawn brought the shores of France surprisingly close, still a little hard to see as the bombers had just left and dust had not settled yet. At 0600 Arkie opened up with a five- and three-inch battery. Enemy sent up challenge flares to see if we were actually their enemy. They soon found out when our 12-inchers began to speak. Shore battery became a menace with close hit near the Arkie. The Arkie could not turn all the guns on shore, but we spotted the one firing so close, but before we got the range they had straddled us with two consecutive shots.” The Germans were set on hitting the Arkansas. "We were hit by 6 inch shell about turret two, one shell missed the fantail by 20 feet." German radio traffic referred to the huge old ship blasting the shore as "the devil ship. "The troops gained a foothold and pushed inland, but many times it looked as if they would be pushed back into the sea. During the landing hundreds of landing craft were destroyed because the Germans turned their still intact weapons onto the craft"



By 0800, the Arkansas's guns had changed their target and aimed beyond the beaches to take out the German nests that were targeting Allied soldiers left and right. 


"We got a direct hit demolishing the target." By 0930, "We were firing at a Nazi gun emplacement in the mouth of a cave, one of our shells burrowed it way through side then exploded burying both the gun and crew alive."

"0245 p.m.: By this time we destroyed all the targets assigned to us plus an unexpected 6th battery. I got permission to go topside to see what it was like. There were thousands of ships of all kinds. They also brought some wounded troops aboard. Some were horribly mutilated."

Arkansas anchored at San Pedro wearing measure 21 camouflage.

For the next week, the USS Arkansas continued to shell the enemies, taking out railroad junctions and anti-aircraft trucks. Following orders, the USS Arkansas sailed down the coast of France and helped dislodge the Germans from the city of Cherbourg before sailing on to win battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa against the Japanese. 


Once the war was over and Japan had surrendered, along with the Germans, the USS Arkansas transported veterans home from the Pacific. By then, she was an obsolete and old battleship. The USS Arkansas had gone above and beyond for her country, and it was time for her to retire. Instead of sending her back to the States to be scrapped, she was sent to serve as a target for atomic testing at Bikini Atoll in the Marshalls. She survived the first round of testing before finally being sunk by an underwater shot. She remains at the bottom of the ocean at Bikini Atoll to this day and is a regular tourist spot for scuba divers.


Arkansas in July 1946 showing the damage from the first Bikini bomb test.

This amazing ship is an excellent example of American determination and perseverance. The USS Arkansas went from a ship slated to be scrapped to the flagship of the American Naval forces and was instrumental in the success of the D-Day invasion. 













Works Cited 


“Battleship Photo Index BB-33 USS ARKANSAS.” NavSource Naval History - Photo Archive Main Index, 2024, https://www.navsource.org/archives/01/33a.htm


RAY HANLEY Special to the Democrat-Gazette. “A Diary of D-Day.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, June 2, 2024. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2024/jun/02/a-diary-of-d-day/


“USS Arkansas - BB 33 - Battle of Normandy.” 2016. February 19, 2016. https://www.dday-overlord.com/en/material/warships/uss-arkansas


"USS Arkansas Battleship, 1912 - 1946,." Naval History and Heritage Command. Accessed June 5, 2024. https://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/us-navy-ships/battleships/arkansas-bb-33.html


"USS arkansas D-day " Newspapers.com. The Daily World, September 18, 1945. https://www.newspapers.com/article/the-daily-world-uss-arkansas-d-day/148705742/


"USS Arkansas decommissioned " Newspapers.com. The Mountaineer Echo, October 10, 1945. https://www.newspapers.com/article/the-mountaineer-echo-uss-arkansas-decomi/148705897/.

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