Torpedoing of the USS Arizona
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Evidence in support of a torpedo hit

Tom wanted me to meet a survivor of the attack, Metalsmith 1/c Arnold Bauer of the USS Vestal, who claimed to have witnessed a torpedo strike on Arizona. Vestal was tied alongside (bow to stern) and outboard of Arizona when the attack began, so if a torpedo came toward Arizona, it would have to first get past Vestal. Tom and I visited Bauer in his El Cajon home to hear his story:

"[Signalman 2/c Jack Birmingham and I were] at the starboard stern [rail] of the Vestal [waiting to go have breakfast aboard Arizona]…this was, to my knowledge…five to ten minutes before 8…and 8 o'clock was flag time…we saw planes with torpedoes…come over Merry Point…the main one that really got my attention was the first one [to drop a torpedo]. It came down, dropped its torpedo and flew right over my head…once the torpedo went into the water, we headed for the other side [to get away from an expected explosion on Vestal's starboard quarter]…[That torpedo] went under my ship and hit the Arizona. There was quite a boom, a loud boom, and a big column of water went up…between the two ships."

Bauer's account seems to fall in line with other eyewitness accounts, both near and far:

[Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet] and Mrs. Earle stood transfixed [on the lawn of the Earles' new home at Makalapa Heights] as the planes flew over…they saw "Arizona lift out of the water, then sink back down - way down"…"I knew the ship had been hit hard," Kimmel said later, "because even then I could see it begin to list."

- Gordon Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor

Now a torpedo swept right under Vestal and, in the words of Chief Boilermaker John Crawford [standing in Vestal's engineering spaces inside the hull], "blew the bottom out of Arizona."

- Gordon Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor

"You could see all the tracks in the water cause I was up [in the portside Sky Control platform] where I could look down on there and there was a hatch I had opened on the side there and I could look down. But there were all kinds of torpedo tracks in the water and I swear to this day that two of them were headed right toward the Arizona and the Vestal. But everybody says that didn't happen…[but] I saw them. For sure."

- S1/c Don Stratton, in an interview with the author

While all this was going on, the NAS Ford Island fire brigade arrived on the airfield apron to start fighting the fires started by the bombs falling on the island. When they arrived, though, there was no water pressure. The assumption was that Arizona had sunk and settled on the main water line that ran underneath her hull.

Bauer told me that in the months after the attack he volunteered to be a salvage diver on the Arizona wreck, cutting the bolts on fittings and machinery so that they could be raised and re-used. He claims to have seen torpedo damage on the wreck during this time, but acknowledges that it might also have been damage caused by the magazine explosion. His comment, though, sent us to the salvage and damage reports. Would we find evidence of a torpedo hit there?


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