The Ultimate Irony

On August 31, 1911 the USS Utah was commissioned. This battleship was a Florida class ship and the only one named after the state of Utah. The Captain of the ship at commissioning was William S. Benson, a Battleship sailor to the core. He later went on to become the first Chief of Naval Operations in World War 1 and a strict traditionalist.

Utah 1911

It was Benson who said he could not "conceive of any use the fleet will ever have for aviation" and he secretly tried to abolish the Navy’s Aviation Division. However Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt reversed the decision because he believed aviation might someday be "the principal factor" at sea with missions to bomb enemy warships, scout enemy fleets, map mine fields, and escort convoys. Grudgingly allowing it a minor mission, the Navy slowly built up its aviation.

UTAH Forecastle

One of my many hobbies is to collect Blue Jacket’s Manuals. These are the manuals issued to every sailor in basic training to help them prepare for their future roles as men-of-war (or is it people-of-war these day?). The manuals have been around since 1902 and were first written by Lieutenant Ridley McLean, USN. You can view the older copies on-line here:

I love reading the older ones (pre-WW2) since the attitudes of the leadership were strongly displayed and taken as pure gospel. There is absolutely no doubt that the battle line was and always would be centered around the mighty Battleship. The Tenth Edition was printed in 1940 (I have my Grandfather Parkin’s copy) and is a fascinating read. All of the left over traditions from the previous war are included in the way the book is written and its content.

The Battleship is of course listed as the pre-eminent ship of the line. In Chapter 24, General Features of Ships of the US Navy are listed. Under battleships, the following description is listed:

“Battleships are heavily armored, carry heavy armament, and are of moderate speed of about 20 knots. They are designed to fight any vessel anywhere.

All battleships have a huge fuel capacity and a long cruising radius. All battleships are heavily armored at the waterline and carry thick armor in the barbettes leading to the turrets, thick armor in tubes leading up to the conning and fire control towers, and thick armor in wake of the uptake space of smoke pipes. All turrets are heavily armored. A heavy protective deck of special steel covers the vitals of the ship.”


Prior to the second world war, the Utah had seen valiant service in Vera Cruz Mexico and served an important role during the first world war. As newer battleships were built, the Utah was relegated to auxiliary roles as a training ship for anti-aircraft weapons and as a target ship. This was a very important role and these words from the Official USS Utah Memorial Organization capture this role best:

“The legacy of USS Utah was ever-present in the struggle of the Pacific. The training it had provided to the pilots, warships, subs and antiaircraft gunners enabled the Pacific Fleet to be an effective fighting force early on. The testing weapon system had allowed that fleet first-hand experience in working effectively. The ship had contributed significantly to the scientific testing of remote systems, gunnery training and aerial attack. In a larger sense, Utah helped prepare America for war.”

The beginning of Utah’s end came on December 7, 1941. From the ship’s history :

“One of the first vessels attacked by the Japanese was Utah. Commanders Genda and Fuchida, planners of the attack, had ordered their pilots to ignore the training ship, which as a non-combat ship was not worthy of attack, but eager pilots dropped two torpedoes on Utah and the nearby light cruiser Raleigh. One torpedo slammed into Utah‘s port side at 8:01 a.m. as the crew raised the flag on the fantail. Some minutes later a second hit the same area.”


It didn’t take long for the Utah to start its roll which would end in the deaths of many sailors. It is incredibly ironic that the first ship to be sunk in Pearl Harbor was the same ship commissioned by an Admiral who once claimed that Naval aviation was a waste of time.


The memorial to the Utah and her sailors is on the back side of Ford Island. I lived in Barracks 55 in the early seventies and used to run by the place where she rested. I always thought it was a shame she never got more attention for her sacrifices. Up until today, I didn’t realize how important her role really was.

What pre-conceived notions and ideas are you holding on to today? As we face the future of Naval warfare, do you think the leaders and planners are seeing the possibilities for the next conflict? Or are we clinging too tightly to our own “Battleships”?

Mister Mac

2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Irony

  1. Loved Ford Island, hated the boat ride simply because it forced me to wait around for it. Being from Arizona, I always paid more attention to the USS Arizona, so reading about the Utah was interesting.

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