Torpedoing of the USS Arizona
Lack of evidence of a torpedo hit
The initial damage report, forwarded to Commander Battleships, Battle Force, by Commander Ellis Geiselman, Commanding Officer, USS Arizona, dated 17 December 1941, stated: "From the report of the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Vestal, which was moored alongside of the Arizona, to port, bow to stern, the Arizona apparently sustained a torpedo hit abt Fr. 35, port side. Damaged [sic] caused by this torpedo hit cannot be determined as the ship in this area has been completely destroyed. The outboard fuel oil tanks were filled to 95% capacity in the area of the possible torpedo hit."
A report by Admiral William Furlong, Commandant of the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, dated 24 July 1942, repeated the assumption of the time that "ARIZONA was struck by one torpedo on the port side at about frame 35" but aside from mentioning the complete devastation of the forward half of the wreck, there is no more reference to possible torpedo damage."
The USS Arizona's War Damage Report, dated 7 October 1943, stated that divers examined both sides of the ship above the mudline from bow to stern, then used a high-pressure excavating nozzle to examine "below the mudline forward of Fr. 70 down to about 10 feet inboard of the turn of the bilge on each side of the ship." Wreckage projecting beyond the sides of the ship forward of Frame 70 was cut away by civilian and Navy divers. Torpedo damage was looked for but not found, "although the condition of the flat of the bottom forward inboard of the areas searched…is not known. The bottom structure in the forward part of the ship is not accessible from inside and is embedded in the mud outside."
From this, we can see that the salvage divers were well aware of a possible torpedo hit on Arizona's bow and spent a number of dives looking for that damage. In the end, they could not find torpedo damage in any of the areas they searched, which is not the same as some historians' claim that they proved there was none.
The Archeological Record of the USS Arizona wreck, compiled in 1989 by the National Park Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Unit states that, "Site examination of the ARIZONA port bow reveals no indication of torpedo damage, but it is possible that an entry hole exists farther down in the area buried by silt. There is, however, no sign of buckling of the metal at the silt line or other indications of torpedo damage."
During our investigation, diver John Chatterton dove on the wreck primarily to record current preservation efforts, but also to look for any signs of torpedo damage. As expected, he found none of the latter, as the mudline on the wreck is much higher now than it was in 1943.
Historians have created a tally of the torpedo drops (actually, Flight Leader Mitsuo Fuchida created the first tally) and they count none against Arizona.
In photographs taken by the Japanese during the height of the attack, there does not appear to be any disturbance in the water in the immediate vicinity of Arizona's port bow. That means that any water thrown up by a torpedo hit had to have happened several minutes before those photographs were taken for the water to have settled — much like it did for the early torpedo hit on Nevada's bow — or after. I sincerely doubt it was after, especially since the overhead photograph captured the bomb hit on Arizona's stern. Also, there is no oil gushing from the bow of Arizona. The initial damage report stated that the outboard fuel tanks were filled almost to capacity in the area where the torpedo was assumed to have hit. If there had been a torpedo strike, I would expect it to have opened the fuel oil tank to the sea and create an oil slick similar to what can be seen spreading out from both West Virginia and Nevada.