This post has been updated with an audio clip from the Naval Institute’s oral history program.
USS Nevada (BB-36) – dubbed the “unsinkable battleship” that served in two world wars – was found nearly three miles below the water’s surface about 65 nautical miles southwest of Pearl Harbor, a team of researchers announced Monday.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Nevada was the only battleship to get underway during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. After extensive repairs, Nevada returned to service, including firing its 14-inch and 5-inch guns to support the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944. In 1945, Nevada assisted the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC).
Following Word War II, the Navy deemed Nevada too old for retention. The battleship was used for target practice, surviving two atomic weapons tests at the Bikini Atoll and the Marshall Islands in July 1946. Damaged and radioactive – but still afloat – the Navy formally decommissioned Nevada in August 1946. Two years later, the Navy towed Nevada out to sea near Hawaii. Gunfire from other ships was unsuccessful in sinking Nevada, which was finally brought low by aerial torpedoes strikes, according to NHHC.
“On a sunny day in 1948, Nevada was towed off the coast of Oahu and used for target practice. After five days of pounding by everything the Navy could throw her, Nevada was dispatched by a torpedo,” according to the book Silver State Dreadnought.
While Navy officials knew roughly where Nevada rested on the seafloor, the ship’s exact location was not known until it was found more than 15,400-feet below the water’s surface in late April by the team from Florida-based archeology firm SEARCH Inc. and Texas-based underwater mapping firm Ocean Infinity.
“Nevada is an iconic ship that speaks to American resilience and stubbornness. Rising from its watery grave after being sunk at Pearl Harbor, it survived torpedoes, bombs, shells and two atomic blasts. The physical reality of the ship, resting in the darkness of the great museum of the sea, reminds us not only of past events but of those who took up the challenge of defending the United States in two global wars,” James Delgado, SEARCH’s senior vice president and the lead maritime archeologist on the mission, said in a statement.
“This is why we do ocean exploration, to seek out these powerful connections to the past.”
The search for Nevada was conducted aboard Ocean Infinity’s research vessel Pacific Constructor. Ocean Infinity used a fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), which can operate in depths greater than 19,600 feet. In November 2018, a team from Ocean Infinity used similar equipment to find the wreckage of the missing Argentine submarine ARA San Juan (S-42), a year after the German-made TR-1700 submarine with diesel and battery power went missing.
“We look forward to future collaborations between our companies,” Shawntel Johnson, the director of search and recovery at Ocean Infinity, said in the statement. “It is our hope that by sharing the USS Nevada’s story that it not only honors those who served in the Navy and fulfills an important educational role, but that in these challenging times it also serves as a symbol of perseverance and courage.”
Nevada, the first of two 27,500-ton battleships, was commissioned in March 1916. Nevada escorted troopships to Europe during World War I and spent much of the time between wars operating in the Atlantic. The battleship underwent extensive upgrades between 1927 and 1930, before moving to the Pacific.
During the Pearl Harbor attack, Nevada endured one torpedo strike and several bomb hits, according to a first-person account of the battle by retired Capt. Charles Merdinger from his Naval Institute oral history.
“I’d just put on one sock and was putting on the second when, all of a sudden, I heard a boom and a rat-a-tat. The whole place seemed to erupt, and a fellow ran by my room saying, ‘It’s the real thing. It’s the Japs’,” he said.
However, Nevada did not sink during the attack. Nevada‘s crew beached the battleship, and after salvage and repair work they were able to steam to the U.S. West Coast in April 1942 to receive permanent repairs.
“Nevada has a proud place in Navy’s history — commissioned in 1916, she served in both World Wars and was present at the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941; the only battleship to get underway after the attack. During the attack, the ship and crew sustained at least six, and possibly, as many as ten bomb hits and one torpedo hit but remained in the fight. With our sailors’ quick thinking, the crew grounded the ship, preventing her from sinking. The ship was repaired and immediately returned to the fight, proving the resiliency and toughness of our sailors then, as are today,” retired Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, the director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, said in a statement.