The early morning quiet of a routine December Sunday on Oahu was shattered when aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy came screaming over Pearl Harbor and launched one of the deadliest attacks on American soil in history. In the course of the devastating attack, the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) took several hits and started to list. Before long, she was capsized in the harbor, 429 of her men lost on board. Oklahoma was one of two biggest losses of life on that day, the other being the explosion and sinking of the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) with 1,177 members of her crew. Unlike Arizona, however, Oklahoma’s location is unknown to this day.
In the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack, while Arizona was left to sit where she sank, Oklahoma was righted and raised. Deemed too damaged to return to service, the Navy decided to sell her. After salvaging the ship’s armaments and superstructure, what remained was sold to a scrapyard in California. As she was being towed to the West Coast, a severe storm caused Oklahoma to quickly sink into the depths of the Pacific, nearly taking the two tugs that were towing her down with her.
This time, Oklahoma would not be raised again.
Where is USS Oklahoma?
While the whereabouts of many ships sunk during World War II have been discovered, Oklahoma’s final resting place remains a mystery. What is known is that she was approximately 500 to 700 miles northeast of Oahu when the storm threatened to sink the tugs that were towing her.
In an effort to save themselves, the crews of Hercules and Monarch released the cables tethering them to Oklahoma and let her sink to the bottom of the Pacific, in water far deeper than Pearl Harbor. Her exact coordinates were never reported by the crews that were pulling her to California, making finding her exact location a huge challenge for any potential search team.
It’s not impossible that she’ll eventually be found, especially since Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen and his team aboard his Research Vessel Petrel began searching the Pacific for World War II-era shipwrecks. To date, they have already uncovered the location of USS Ward (DD-139), USS Indianapolis (CA-35), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Juneau (CL-52), among others.
Oklahoma’s distance from Hawaii doesn’t rule out one day locating her. Lexington was discovered than 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia. While Allen hasn’t said whether Oklahoma is among the many prospects his research team is on the hunt for, finding her would be their most significant discovery yet.
Honoring the Men of Oklahoma
In honor of the men killed when Oklahoma capsized and sank, the USS Oklahoma Memorial stands near the entrance to the Battleship Missouri, which is moored where Oklahoma was on the morning of December 7, 1941. The memorial provides details about the once-mighty battleship and features 429 white markers, one for each of the crew lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor.