During WWII my father served on the USS Arkansas, BB-33. She was a Wyoming class battleship. Her keel was laid down at the Camden, NJ shipyard in 1910 and was commissioned in 1912. The Arky was the oldest battleship in the fleet.
The Arkansas only had 12 inch main guns while all the other battleships in the fleet at the time had 14 or 16 inchers. For much of WWII, she was assigned to escorting supply ships accross the Atlantic. Between December 1941 to April 1944 she made a total of eight trips across the Atlantic as a convoy escort.
Up until June 6th, 1944, the Arkansas had never fired a shot in anger.
But all that would change at Omaha Beach at 0552 on D-Day
The preparation for her role in the invasion began in April of 1944. On 18 April, she set sail for Bangor, Ireland and upon arrival began training for the shore bomardment role she was to play during the invasion. On 19 May, the Arkansas along with the other battleships in her task force, the Nevada and Texas were inspected by Dwight D. Eisenhower and deemed ready for action. Together, these were the oldest ships in the fleet and according to Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower along with the top military commanders fully expected to lose one or more of these ships during the battle.
The three ships put to sea for Normandy on June 3rd, 1944.
We left Bangor (Co. Antrim) on 3 June. The invasion was to be on the morning of the 5th, as you probably know. The ship was sealed. No one could go ashore after, oh, I'd say about 31 May. They sealed the ship. We were all anchored off Bangor, the whole invasion fleet. Only the high-ranking officers that had business were permitted to shore for any reason. We were shown detailed maps and everything off the Omaha beachhead where we were based. I would say we were shown the relief maps probably either 1 or 2 June, because the ship was sealed and no one could go to shore or come and go.
Richard Kelly - USS Arkansas
At long last, the USS Arkansas arrived on her station off the shore of Omaha Beach.
On 3 June the Arkansas left Bangor in her wake, sailed to join Rear Admiral Carleton F. Bryant's fire support force "O", which was parked nearby such famed battleships as the Nevada and Texas and the British Warspite, Rodney and Nelson. In the pre-dawn darkness of 6 June, USS Arkansas took up position 4,000 yards off Normandy's Baie de la Seine beaches.
Slave labourers under the direction of Nazi technicians had made of Normandy's shores an adequate rampart for Fortress Europe. High-calibre guns were sheathed in thick concrete emplacements. Machine-gun nests and pill boxes dotted the countryside, together with slit trenches, tank traps and anti-tank ditches. Between the high and low water levels on the beaches were several rows of underwater obstacles - hedgehogs, tetrahedrons and pole ramps interconnected by barbed wire and liberally sown with mines. Allied planes had hammered these defences but a heavy artillery barrage was needed to cut a swath, through which the invaders might pour.
Behind the Arkansas, the gigantic invasion armada filled the channel to the horizon. She had remained undetected, even with the great clanking of her chain as she lowered anchor. Officers in the Arkansas CIC [Combat Information Center] anxiously pencilled charts, gun crews sprawled at their stations and lookouts peered at the shadowy shoreline until their eyes ached. In the distance the rumble of the pre-invasion aerial assault was audible. At 0530 the surface around battleship Arkansas began erupting with near misses from unseen shore batteries. Turrets buzzed as their electric motors swung them into position; ammunition passers formed their queues. Twenty-two minutes later Skipper Richards ordered his guns into action. For the old Arkansas, Operation Overlord was underway.
At 0730 the landings at Omaha beach were begun.
Ship's history, USS Arkansas
The Arkansas first opened up with her 12"/50 (30.5 cm) Mark 7 main guns on a battery at Longues sur Mer.
At 05:30 hrs on D-Day, the batterie was engaged by the French cruiser, FFS Georges Leygues and the American battleship USS Arkansas.The batterie opened fire on the destroyer Emmons stationed off Omaha beach. Due to the fact that the underground cables from the Fire control bunker had been destroyed by the previous bombing raids, the gunners used their direct sights to engage the invasion fleet.
The batterie then engaged the Arkansas..The French cruiser Montcalm also became involved in the exchange of fire.
30 minutes later, the guns then turned their attention to Gold sector and engaged HMS Bulolo, the Gold flagship with the Army Corps commander on board.The accuracy of the batterie forced the ship to weigh anchor. After a further 20 minutes of bombardment, it fell silent.
Ajax was joined by HMS Argonaut in shelling the batterie which was put out of action at 08:45hrs.It had taken 179, 6" and 5.25" shells from the two cruisers. Two of the casemates received direct hits through their embrasures....
The French and the British both claimed the defeat of the batterie as their own....
The two remaining guns opened up again in the late afternoon but were silenced by the French cruiser, FFS Georges Leygues The batterie's 120 survivors out of 184 crew , surrendered the next day to the British 231st Infantry Brigade. The batterie had fired a total of 115 rounds.
Once the batteries were silenced, the Arkansas turned it's attention to providing support to the men on the beaches.
One of my more distinctive memories was the battleships in action on D-Day. I think they were the [USS] Arkansas (BB-33) and the [USS] Texas (BB-35). It was such a din! They were behind us as we were going in and these shells would sing their way right over the ship. Some of the targets, I would say, were 8 and 10 miles inland. Every once in a while you would hear or see a big explosion way inland and we knew they had hit an ammunition dump or something.
It was such a hectic thing, everybody firing this way, beach fire coming at you. They were firing at us from the pillboxes on the beach. You would hear the shells coming at you. You could hear them whirring by and when you saw them hit the water...well if you were in the wrong place, forget about it. Those German 88s were awful. Once you heard them bark and you were still alive, you knew they hadn't gotten you because that shell would be on top of you before the noise got there.
We did get hit by shrapnel [steel fragments from artillery shell bursts] every once in awhile. I do remember one incident when we got hit I was directly beneath one of the gun mounts trying to set up an aid station under gun number 4. As I was coming up the ladder, I heard this noise, and then heard a fellow who was in the gun mount, say, "Round and round she goes and where she stops nobody knows." Evidently, a piece of shrapnel had gotten into the gun mount and wound its way around until it exited. I couldn't imagine how cool he was.
Sometimes, the guys on the beaches were able to call for support directly.
I remember one night we got the Navy’s 16” shells coming in. The USS Arkansas and the USS Texas were out there in the channel. By accident our radioman got a hold of them. And the Germans were moving stuff up to blow us off the high ground. We made contact with them but we didn’t know who they were. We wanted artillery support. We gave them our location, where we were according to their map. They got all that and the guy on the radio said, “Fire for place” to see how close they were to us. They were too close. That old boy said, “Boy, you’re too close.” From where we were, we were up so high that you could look out to the channel and see them firing. You could see the flash. Boy, it looked like a house coming at you. That old boy said, “Raise it up about 200 yards and fire for effect.” You couldn’t see the ships but you could see the flashes and then all hell would break loose. This was near Ste.-Mère-Église. I could see the shells coming in. They were traveling. They fire a far piece. I liked it. We sent patrols out to see what happened. Boy, they blew those Germans all to hell. They really did a number on them.. They went “whir-r-r-r-r” as they passed overhead.
The USS Arkansas and it's task forced remained on station off Omaha Beach until 13 June when it moved to a position off Grandcamp les Bains where on 25 June it engaged German shore batteries off Cherbourg where
the enemy repeatedly straddling the battleship but never hitting her. Her big guns helped support the Allied attack on that key port, and led to the capture of it the following day. Retiring to Weymouth, England, and arriving there at 2220, the battleship shifted to Bangor, on 30 June.
Once the invasion force move inland enough the Arky supported Operation "Anvil," the invasion of the southern French coast between Toulon and Cannes, from August 15th through the 17th. After some refitting, the USS Arkansas was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and participated in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It was in the Pacific that the Arkansas faced it's most deadly enemy: the Japanese Kamakzi's.
The Arkansas returned from the war and was finally sunk off the Bikini Islands in atomic bomb tests conducted there after the war. It survived the first test but succumbed to the second. "On 25 July 1946, the venerable battleship was sunk in Test "Baker" at Bikini. Decommissioned on 29 July 1946, Arkansas was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 August 1946."
It is now enjoyed by recreational divers.
This may not be the most eloquent tribute to my father and the men who served with him on the USS Arkansas, but I hope that if any of these honored veterans find this page, they will feel that I have honored their service in some small way.
They have honored us by their courage under fire in the service of freedom.
For more stories remembering Operation Warlord, Blackfive has an index of bloggers paying tribute on this the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day.
Go there now.