Torpedoing of the USS Arizona
A second torpedo strike against Arizona?
"A torpedo was seen to pass astern of the Vestal and it apparently hit the Arizona whose bow extended about 100 feet beyond the Vestal. The Arizona also received a bomb hit forward almost simultaneously. Immediately following these the Arizona's forward magazine exploded."
- Commander Cassin Young, Commanding Officer, USS Vestal, in his action report to the Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet, dated 11 December 1941
"It is not known whether a torpedo hit the ship, but I have heard indirectly that the Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Vestal stated that 2 torpedoes passed under his vessel which was secured alongside the Arizona, and struck the Arizona."
- Lieutenant Commander Samuel Fuqua, in a signed statement enclosed with the Commanding Officer, USS Arizona, action report to the Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet, dated 13 Dec 1941
I was intrigued by Commander Young's statement...a torpedo in the water at the same time the bomb destroyed Arizona? At first blush, his description made no sense. At the time that the Hiryu flight dropped their bombs on Arizona, all torpedo planes had since departed the area, so there were no aircraft around that could have dropped a torpedo. In addition, Commander Young wrote that the torpedo "apparently hit the Arizona," which can be interpreted to mean that there was no obvious explosion. If there truly was a torpedo when and where Young described it, could it possibly have been a dud? But from where did it come?
In the Commander-in-Chief, US Fleet, report on the attack to the Secretary of the Navy, dated 15 Feb 1942, one sentence describing "the major effort" on Battleship Row caught Tom's attention: "A recovered unexploded torpedo carried a charge of 1,000 pounds of explosive." As previously discussed, this could not be a reference to the Type 91 Mod 2 torpedoes launched from aircraft. This could only be a submarine-launched Type 97 torpedo, which was thought of at that time as having a 1000-lb. warhead. Could this be the torpedo witnessed and reported by Commander Young?
The pieces of the puzzle were coming together to form a picture that we saw fitting the available evidence:
Taken separately, each of these individual pieces is inconclusive. Put together in context, though, and they suggest that the I-16tou fired its second torpedo at Arizona but that for whatever reason the torpedo failed to detonate. This will be our operating theory as we go forward in our continuing search for definitive evidence.
If true, then it is ironic that Sub-Lieutenant Yokoyama, skipper of I-16tou, may actually have fired on Arizona, much as the Japanese government claimed when they elevated the special submarine crews to Hero Gods status.
In summary, we found no proof that will conclusively settle the long-standing debate on whether or not the USS Arizona was torpedoed during the Pearl Harbor attack. However, we gathered enough circumstantial evidence that suggests to us that Arizona was in fact torpedoed twice: first, by an air-dropped Type 91 torpedo early in the attack; second, by a Type 97 torpedo launched from a midget sub. In this scenario, Arizona was lucky...the first torpedo detonated under the ship — causing no fatal damage — while the second failed to detonate entirely. Unfortunately, her luck with torpedoes would not save her from the horizontal bombers.
We may not have succeeded in solving the mystery of Arizona's torpedoing, but we believe that we have offered a scenario that fits the available evidence better than any other. We challenge anyone to do us one better...maybe the theory that trumps ours will include the proof needed to close the books on Arizona's final moments.