On January 14, 1911, the USS Arkansas was the largest U.S. battleship launched from the shipyards in Camden, N.J. The 26,000-ton Wyoming class battleship, commissioned in September 1912, went on to work with the British Brand Fleet before and throughout World War I.
The Arkansas then served as a training ship for Naval Academy midshipmen, underwent a major modernization in 1925 that included new oil-fired boilers, more deck armor, and other changes. She continued as a training ship until World War II began, and escorted occupation forces to the Atlantic Charter Conference in Iceland, where President Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the summer of 1941.
The USS Arkansas spent the early years of America’s involvement in the war escorting convoys across the Atlantic. She didn’t see her first combat experience until her big guns pounded the German positions during the invasions of Normandy and Cherbourg in June 1944, followed by the invasion of southern France two months later.
Then, the battleship went to the Pacific to support the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa before bringing troops back home when the war ended in 1945.
The ship’s final duty? As a target in the “Operation Crossroads” atomic testing at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946. She was moored next to the USS Nevada – the only battleship to get underway during Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor five years earlier – and survived the first blast, called “Test Able.” The second blast, dubbed “Test Baker,” occurred on July 25, 1946. The USS Arkansas sank almost immediately, despite being 500 feet from the zero point.
“In sinking, she carried with her the dubious honor of being the first battleship to be sunk by an atomic bomb, and the first battleship to be sunk by a bomb that never touched her,” according to the 1947 official military report titled “Bombs in Bikini.”