Capsizing of the USS Oklahoma
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Theory

So what if Oklahoma was hit by a Type 97 torpedo, launched from a midget submarine set up in the channel opposite Battleship Row? Would this really have made any difference in the grand scheme of things? Oklahoma was hit by at least 5 torpedoes – but most probably more – in a short span of time. Because all hatches and access scuttles were open in preparation for an Admiral's inspection on Monday, there was no real watertight integrity at the time of the attack. Battleships of that era were notoriously unstable, so the influx of water along the port side was enough to fatally upset Okie's stability curve and the ship rolled over, as a result. One torpedo more or less would not have affected that outcome, would it?

My theory is that instead of guaranteeing Oklahoma's capsizing, the lack of watertight integrity caused by all the open hatches might have actually helped Oklahoma right herself after an initial port list. In this scenario, the steady flooding would have worked its way through opened watertight boundaries to the starboard side as the waterline rose. This "free surface" effect inside the hull could have helped the ship to recover some of her list as she settled to the bottom.

Is there any precedent for this? Hit almost as hard as Oklahoma, the crew of West Virginia set watertight boundaries not long after the attack began and the influx of water along her port side was contained to that side. Only the efforts of damage control parties kept the ship from potentially capsizing as she settled to the bottom. So why would Oklahoma right herself when West Virginia would not? That's just it...WeeVee's damage control parties sought to contain the flooding so that she ship would remain upright and not sink. They failed only in the latter, as the damage overwhelmed their efforts and the ship ended up on the bottom. But in containing the flooding from the torpedo hits, the ship took on a port list that was reduced through counterflooding along the starboard side. What I propose is that without watertight integrity, Oklahoma was essentially counterflooding herself.

Is there any evidence that might support this theory, other than eyewitness accounts of the ship "pausing" in her roll to port?

There are a couple of famous photographs of Battleship Row taken by Japanese aircraft during the height of the first wave attack. Two were taken within a minute or less of each other. The earliest of the two (catalogued in the NH&HC archives as NH50931) I have come to refer to as the "Matsumura photograph," since according to David Aiken, it was taken by one of the crew of the kanko flown by Lt. Hirata Matsumura. The other (NH50472) I call simply, the "overhead photograph," for obvious reasons. In the Matsumura photograph, West Virginia can be measured as actually listing approximately 4 degrees farther to port than Oklahoma. In the overhead photograph, taken maybe a minute or less afterward (notice the bomb blast off Arizona's starboard quarter), the reflection of sunlight on the decks indicate that Oklahoma is now rolling farther to port than West Virginia. Basically, the two photographs taken together establish a timeline where Oklahoma was not listing as badly as West Virginia, but then something happened to cause the Oklahoma to overtake West Virginia in her roll to port.

Tom and I concluded that if a submarine-launched torpedo was fired at Oklahoma, it hit an instant after the Matsumura photograph was taken. The torpedo track seen heading directly to the side of Oklahoma in the overhead photograph may or may have come from the submarine torpedo, depending on how long after the Matsumura photograph the overhead photograph was taken. I doubt it is a submarine torpedo because according to the Japanese experts on the special submarines, the Type 97 torpedo did not leave much of a visible trail on the surface in the last couple hundred metres of its run.


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