USS Utah: The Forgotten (Drone) Battleship Sunk at Pearl Harbor

Robert Farley

Key Point: Utah was the oldest battleship to serve in World War II, but not the oldest to serve as a battleship, an honor which goes to USS Arkansas. Her presence at Pearl Harbor is often forgotten because she had ceased to serve as a battleship at the time of the attack. However, her contribution to the preparedness of the Pacific Fleet was every bit as important as that of the other battleships of the line, and her sacrifice should be noted.

Back in July, the United States almost went to war over the downing of a drone along the Iranian border. This is not, strangely enough, the first time that an attack against the United States began with violence against a drone. On December 7, 1941, one of the first attacks conducted by Japanese aircraft was launched against the former battleship USS Utah, a radio-controlled target ship. Today, USS Utah remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, a memorial to those lost in the surprise attack. 


USS Utah (BB-31) was the sixth dreadnought battleship commissioned by the U.S. Navy. Like the preceding Delaware-class, Utah and her sister Florida carried ten 12” gun in five twin, center-line turrets. Displacing 23,000 tons, Utah could make 21 knots on steam turbines. She and her sister were the first U.S. battleships to use turbines, although some later ships would revert to reciprocating engines. 

The commissioning of Utah gave the USN a squadron of four modern battleships, behind the British but competitive with the Germans. Michigan and South Carolina, the first U.S. dreadnoughts, were too slow to operate in the line of battle. The USN took pains to avoid the interoperability problems that plagued its British, German, and Japanese counterparts. Between 1910 and 1921, the battleships were all relatively heavily armed, armored, and consistent in speed. It was not difficult, therefore, for the fleet to operate as a unit. In contrast, the Royal Navy included battlecruisers—which, while useful for many operations, could not operate safely in the battle line. Also, the dreadnoughts of the Royal Navy varied widely in speed; this could be a handicap in battle, as faster ships could get separated from slower. The Kaiserliche Marine and the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered from similar issues. 

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