The righting and refloating of the capsized battleship Oklahoma was the largest of the Pearl Harbor salvage jobs, and the most difficult. Since returning this elderly and very badly damaged warship to active service was not seriously contemplated, the major part of the project only began in mid-1942, after more immediately important salvage jobs were completed. Its purpose was mainly to clear an important mooring berth (F-5) for further use, and only secondarily to recover some of Oklahoma's weapons and equipment.
The first task was turning Oklahoma upright. During the latter part of 1942 and early 1943, an extensive system of righting frames (or "bents") and cable anchors (pad-eyes) was installed on the ship's hull, twenty-one large winches were firmly mounted on nearby Ford Island, and cables were rigged between ship and shore. In order to distribute the strain fore and aft 21 triangular timber righting frames 40 feet high were erected on her capsized bottom. From the steel cap at the apex of each bent six heavy steel cables led to the 126 pad-eyes (21 bents x 6 cables each = 126 pad-eyes) welded into the inverted vessel's starboard side along a line where the greatest leverage could be exerted. Also, from each steel cap at the apex two steel cables led to the enormous 16-sheave burton tackle whose pendant was geared at 8000-to-1 ratio to a 5-horsepower electric winch firmly embedded ia a deep concrete foundation on Ford Island. Fuel oil, ammunition and some machinery were removed to lighten the ship. Divers worked in and around her to make the hull as airtight as possible. Coral fill was placed alongside her bow to ensure that the ship would roll, and not slide, when pulling began.
The actual righting operation began on 8 March 1943. The twenty-one 5-horsepower motors pulled the big ship over to a 90-degree position in a little over one hundred hours. The bents and cables were then removed one at a time, and a new hold taken by the refastened cables topside, with rerigging of cables taking place as necessary as the ship turned over. This part of the operation continued until mid-June 1943, until she was righted completely.
To ensure that the ship remained upright, the cables were left in place during the refloating phase of the operation. Oklahoma's port side had been largely torn open by Japanese torpedos, and a series of patches had to be installed. This involved much work by divers and other working personnel, as did efforts to cut away wreckage, close internal and external fittings, remove stores and the bodies of those killed on 7 December 1941. In Oklahoma, as in all the sunken ships, decomposed organic matter from the provisions, clothing and bodies of the victims generated a gas so deadly that even when water was freed from the compartments men had to work with gas masks. The ship came afloat in early November 1943, and was drydocked in late December, after nearly two more months of work.
Once in Navy Yard hands, Oklahoma most severe structural damage was repaired sufficiently to make her watertight. Guns, some machinery, and the remaining ammunition and stores were taken off. After several months in Drydock Number Two, the ship was again refloated and moored elsewhere in Pearl Harbor. She was sold to a scrapping firm in 1946, but sank in a storm while under tow from Hawaii to the west coast in May 1947.
During the salvage process, when the ship was rolled over and made watertight, about 400 bodies were recovered. Only 35 of them were positively identified, so the rest were interned in a mass grave in the National Cemetery of Hawaii.
Photographs of Salvage Operations of the USS Oklahoma, 1942-1944
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USS Oklahoma BB-37 Pearl Harbor Damage Profile
USS Oklahoma BB-37 Pearl Harbor Damage Profile
USS Oklahoma BB-37 Pearl Harbor Damage Profile
The capsized hull of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) resting at approximately 150 degree position, with a barge alongside to support rescue efforts, probably on 8 December 1941. USS Maryland (BB-46) is at right, and USS California (BB-44) is in the center distance. NARA #80-G-32453
The capsized battleship is under salvage at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 8 March 1943. This view looks abeam, with the ship in the 130 degree position. Her starboard deck edge is just rising from the water. Note the 21 wooden bents and the cables to Ford Island
The capsized battleship is rotated upright, while under salvage at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 8 March 1943. This view looks forward, with the ship in the 130 degree position. Her starboard deck edge is just rising from the water. Note the 21 wooden bents and the cables to Ford Island NH 63916
Commencement of righting operations on the capsized battleship, at Pearl Harbor, 8 March 1943. Photographed from Ford Island, where several large winches and tackle anchors were emplaced to pull Oklahoma upright. NH 63915
Aerial photo of commencement of righting operations on the capsized battleship, at Pearl Harbor, 8 March 1943. Ship is in 130 degree position. Note 21 wooden bents attached to the cables to Ford Island, where several large winches and tackle anchors were emplaced to pull Oklahoma upright.
Photographed on Ford Island, where 21 large winches and tackle anchors were emplaced to pull Oklahoma upright. This is a photo of winch #13 of 21. The motors were salvaged from 21 former Honolulu street cars.
Photographer's Mate 3rd Class T.E. Collins resting on the base whaler of one of the timber righting towers. After photographing the oil and mud smeared interior of the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor, 18 January 1943. He entered the ship through Number Four Air Lock, where pressure was raised to ten lbs. per square inch. An oxygen mask had to be worn at all times. Note his mask, tank suit, boots, gloves, and camera. NARA #80-G-276601
Ductwork installed to ventilate the capsized battleship's starboard side blister during salvage work. Photographed 11 December 1942, as the ship was being prepared for righting. Note the "pad-eye" lugs welded to the blister side, to which the righting cables will be attached. NH 63920
Aerial view during righting operations. Oklahoma has been rotated to approximately 90 degrees, 19 March 1943
Aerial view toward Ford Island. Oklahoma has been rotated to approximately 90 degrees.
Close view from forward. Ship righted to about 68 degrees on 24 March 1943. Notice two men on Turret 2 to the left of the conning tower.
Ship righted to about 45 degrees, on 29 March 1943, while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor. She had capsized and sunk during the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid. Naval Air Station Ford Island is in the background. NARA #80-G-410533
Water level view from abeam. Ship righted to about 45 degrees on 29 March 1943
Ship righted to about 45 degrees, on 29 March 1943, while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor. She had capsized and sunk after receiving massive torpedo damage during the 7 December 1941 Japanese air raid. Ford Island is at right and the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard is in the left distance. NARA #80-G-410534
Ship righted to about 45 degrees, 29 March 1943. Taken from fantail area looking forward. Note silt on turret 3 & 4.
From starboard aft looking forward. Oklahoma has been rotated to approximately 45 degrees
View of damage from forecastle looking aft. Oklahoma has been rotated to approximately 10 degrees.
Lifting section # 1 of the five-section main cofferdam patch used to seal the ship's port side amidships, from frames 43 to 75. Stevedoring barge YS-109 is in the left center background. NH 64493
Oklahoma righted but not refloated. Cofferdam patches are being attached to port side. Notice righting cables are still attached to prevent roll back.
Pencil plan of the ship's midships section, showing arrangements for ballasting and refloating. Probably drawn at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard in late 1942 or early 1943. NH 92097
Aerial view from astern, 3 November 1943. Pumping operations underway for refloating.
Aerial view from off the port side, 6 November 1943, after the ship had been refloated. Note the five large cofferdam patches installed from frames 43 to 75 to seal the extensive torpedo damage in that area, and cofferdams built around the main deck edge by the after turrets to increase the waterplane area and improve stability during the refloating process. NH 64496
View from off the port side, 24 December 1943, more than a month and a half after refloating and four days before the ship entered drydock. NH 64497
View of stern after righting and refloating
In Drydock Number Two at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 1 January 1944, after removal of patches. This view looks aft from about Frame 35 and shows the extensive torpedo damage to her port side. Note displaced armor plate sections, with some missing. Debris on the drydock floor is mainly concrete used to seal the cofferdam patches. NH 63917
In Drydock Number Two at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 1 January 1944, after removal of patches. Looking aft port side
USS Wisconsin (BB-64) tied up outboard of the hulk of USS Oklahoma (BB-37), at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, 11 November 1944. Note: anti-torpedo netting outboard of the ships; great
difference in lengths of these two battleships. NH 78940
Last Updated 09 January 2004
rise out of the ashes like the Phoenix