The USS Utah (BB-31/AG-16) was one of two Florida class “dreadnought” battleships. BB-31 was the first ship of the United States Navy named after the state of Utah, built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation and commissioned into service on August 31st, 1911. The following year she joined her sister ship the USS Florida (BB-30) in the American occupation of Veracruz during the Mexican Revolution which signified the USS Utah’s first participation in a war.

At the beginning of World War I the USS Utah operated in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay as an engineering and gunnery training ship. Then in August 1918 the USS Utah was sent into Irish waters (Bantry Bay) where she provided convoy protection until the war ended with the Armistice in November of the same year. At the conclusion of the war, the USS Utah was part of the fleet that escorted President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference. Thereafter the conference USS Utah (BB-31) returned to her homeport in New York.

USS Utah possibly just after
commissioning in 1911

Between World War I and World War II, the USS Utah had served as the flagship for Battleship Division 6, followed by various duties with training exercises and fleet maneuvers. In the early 1920’s USS Utah (BB-31) served as the flagship of the American fleet in European waters, followed with a goodwill tour of South America. Returning stateside the USS Utah went through a modernization upgrade at the Boston Navy Yard, most notable was the new propulsion system going from coal-fired propulsion to oil-fired boilers (reducing from two to one smoke funnel).

Right after the modernization and another goodwill tour through South America for the USS Utah, the London Naval Conference of 1930 had dictated limitations with warships. Part of that treaty included the USS Utah being converted from a battleship to a mobile target role. In 1931 the USS Utah had her designation changed to AG-16, was demilitarized and converted into a target ship. For the next decade the USS Utah provided many services in fleet exercises, later having gone through another conversion into an Anti-Aircraft training platform. After this conversion USS Utah was transited to the Pacific Coast in 1940. This brought the USS Utah to Hawaii several times among other locations in Washington and California.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941 the USS Utah (AG-16) was moored on Ford Island and was among the first ships attacked. Having taken two torpedoes, a portside list evolved later snapping the mooring lines. The ship had rolled over on it’s beam ends, and although some sailors were saved from the ship in this position, ultimately 64 of the USS Utah’s crew were lost that day with 461 sailors having survived. One added note is the USS Utah was scheduled to return stateside the following day, December 8th.

USS Utah capsizing during the
Attack on Pearl Harbor

There was an attempt to raise the USS Utah, using the same method that was used in rotating the USS Oklahoma upright. Unfortunately rather than rotating, the USS Utah did not grip the harbor bottom and slid into/towards Ford Island. With the value of the USS Utah being of a target ship, recovery efforts thereafter were abandoned for the next several years. The USS Utah was decommissioned in September, 1944 and two months later stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. Another effort to salvage the USS Utah wreckage in the 1950’s was attempted but with no success.

The USS Utah was awarded one Battle Star for service in World War II, and is considered a war grave with a number of sailors entombed inside. In 1972 a memorial to honor the USS Utah crew was built adjacent to the wreck where with special permission can be visited by the public.

After the war, interviews with Japanese participants in the Pearl Harbor raid cleared up the mystery of why was the USS Utah attacked? The Japanese fleet knew very well that the Utah was no longer a Battleship. Genda and Fuchida, who respectively planned and led the attack, ordered their men not to attack the Utah. However, one of the young pilots still mistook the Utah for an active battleship and attacked it, as did his wingman.

Contributing references:

  • Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from
  • USS Utah (BB-31) – History, Specs and Pictures – Navy Warships and Submarines. (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from
  • Why did the Japanese Sink the Utah? (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from
  • Warship Wednesday Sept. 30, 2015: The Deseret Battlewagon. (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from
  • Naval History and Heritage Command. (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from
  • USS Utah (BB-31). (n.d.). Retrieved January 07, 2017, from