Researchers Locate Wreck of Battleship That Survived Pearl Harbor and Nuclear Bomb Tests
The USS Nevada was scuttled in 1948 after decades of service
The wreck of the USS Nevada—a 27,500-ton battleship that survived both world wars and a brief stint as a target in nuclear bomb testing—has been found off the coast of Hawaii, reports Kristin Romey for National Geographic.
Researchers from cultural resource management firm SEARCH Inc. and marine robotics company Ocean Infinity located the Nevada more than 15,400 feet, or nearly three miles, below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Per a statement, the wreck—found by Ocean Infinity vessel Pacific Constructor, which left port in early 2020 and has “remained at sea on a range of taskings” amid the COVID-19 pandemic—is situated 65 nautical miles southwest of Pearl Harbor.
“It struck me, if there was one ship to find that particularly now could speak to something about human nature and particularly Americans, it would be [the] Nevada—stubborn, resilient,” James Delgado, SEARCH’s senior vice president and the mission’s lead maritime archaeologist, tells National Geographic.
The Nevada was the only battleship able to get underway during the infamous December 7, 1941, attack on the Hawaiian naval base. Its oil-fired boilers took about 40 minutes to generate enough steam to power the enormous vessel, reported Keith Rogers for the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2016. Shortly after moving out, the Nevada was struck by multiple torpedo and bombing hits. Impressively, its determined crew managed to run the flaming ship aground off of Hospital Point, enabling the Nevada to undergo repairs and resume active combat by May 1943, the Naval History and Heritage Command notes.
On June 6, 1944, the Nevada supported Allied soldiers landing on Utah Beach for the D-Day invasion of Normandy by striking “dozens” of German tanks, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The following year, the battleship participated in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, sustaining damage in separate kamikaze and artillery attacks.
Though the Nevada made it out of World War II largely intact, it proved to be too old for further warfare and instead received the unglamorous assignment of serving as a target during nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
In 1946, a slightly off-target, 23-kiloton aerial detonation and an underwater atomic blast left the ship damaged and radioactive—but still afloat. The Nevada ultimately met its end in July 1948, when it was scuttled during a more pedestrian training exercise. As Wyatt Olson reports for Military.com, a four-day shellacking by trainee ship gunners failed to sink the ship, but a single aerial torpedo finally sent her to the seafloor.
To locate the Nevada’s remains, SEARCH and Ocean Infinity drew on archival research and a comprehensive underwater survey, according to National Geographic. Though the United States Navy knew the general vicinity of the ship’s sinking, its exact resting place remained unclear until now, reports Military.com.
“It’s really a great thing that they found it,” Richard Ramsey, a former boatswain’s mate who served on the Nevada from June 1944 to summer 1945, tells National Geographic.
The veteran adds that the Navy “should not have sunk that ship.” Given the fact that the Nevada was the only battleship present at both Pearl Harbor and Normandy, Ramsey says it deserves to be memorialized alongside the USS Missouri, a battleship on which Japan signed its official surrender.
The wreck’s discovery came about when a phone call between SEARCH and Ocean Infinity revealed that one of the latter’s survey vessels was near the site of the Nevada’s sinking. Because the vessel’s precise coordinates were unknown, Pacific Constructor used an autonomous underwater vehicle to search 100 square miles of the seafloor. Once located, the wreck was surveyed with a remotely operated vehicle, according to National Geographic.
Resting upside down on the seabed, the ship is visibly damaged: Its hull bears ripples left by the atomic blast, and its debris field covers some 2,000 feet of the ocean floor.
“Rising from its watery grave after being sunk at Pearl Harbor, [the Nevada] survived torpedoes, bombs, shells and two atomic blasts,” says Delgado in the statement. “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.”