Some suggest the name was probably coined by melding the words arid and zone, to designate the dry area in the southwestern United States which was admitted to the Union as a state on February 14, 1912.
However, some authorities maintain that the name was derived from the Aztec Indian word Arizuma, which can be translated as “silver bearing.” (Navy)
The first ‘Arizona’ was an iron-hulled, side-wheel steamer completed in 1859; she operated out of New Orleans carrying passengers and cargo to and from ports along the gulf and Atlantic coasts of the US.
Her commercial service ended on January 15, 1862 when Confederate Major General Mansfield Lovell seized her at New Orleans along with 13 other steamers for use as a blockade runner. (Navy)
On the evening of February 27, 1865, a fire broke out and rapidly spread. When no possibility of saving the ship remained, the crew manned the boats; some leaped overboard and swam to shore. The vessel burned until she exploded. Out of a crew of 98 on board four were missing. (Navy)
“The second Arizona was launched at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1865 and named the Neshaminy. Her name was changed to Arizona on May 15, 1869. Her name was again changed on August 10, 1869, this time to Nevada.” (New York Times, June 12, 1915)
“The naval constructors at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn are busy completing the arrangements for the laying of the keel of the battleship. No. 39, which is to be a sister ship of the new Pennsylvania, and which with that ship will share the honor of being the world’s biggest and most powerful.” (New York Times, July 1, 1913)
The keel of the third ‘Arizona’ (Battleship No. 39) was laid on the morning of March 16, 1914 with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in attendance.
She was launched on June 19, 1915; “The Arizona, biggest of the super dreadnoughts of our navy, was launched at the Brooklyn Navy yard yesterday afternoon, while 75,0000 people – the greatest crowd that ever gathered to see an American ship go down and the ways – cheered to the echo Uncle Sam’s newest battleship named for the newest of the States.” (New York Times, June 20, 1915)
Arizona had an overall length of 608 feet, a beam of 97 feet (at the waterline), and a draft of 29 feet 3 inches at deep load. She was propelled by four direct-drive Parsons steam turbine sets, each of which drove a propeller 12 feet 1.5 inches in diameter. At full capacity, the ship could steam at a speed of 12 knots for an estimated 7,500 nautical miles (8,790 miles.)
She was commissioned on October 17, 1916, and went on a shakedown cruise. The battleship returned the day before Christmas of 1916 for post-shakedown overhaul, completing the repairs and alterations in April 1917.
Arizona left the yard on April 3, 1917; on April 6, 1917, two days after the US Senate voted 82 to 6 to declare war against Germany, the US House of Representatives endorsed the decision by a vote of 373 to 50, and the US formally entered the First World War.
Assigned to Battleship Division 8 operating out of the York River, Arizona was only employed as a gunnery training ship for the Navy crewmen who sailed on armed merchant vessels crossing the Atlantic in convoys.
The fighting ended on November 11, 1918 with an armistice. A week later, the Arizona left the US for the United Kingdom, then on to France. Arizona joined nine battleships and twenty-eight destroyers escorting President Woodrow Wilson on the ocean liner George Washington into Brest for one day on Wilson’s journey to the Paris Peace Conference.
A recurring theme in subsequent years was the annual ‘Fleet Problems,’ large-scale fleet versus fleet naval exercises. Four months after ‘Fleet Problem IX’ in January 1929, Arizona was modernized at the Norfolk Navy Yard.
Arizona carried twelve 14-inch guns in triple gun turrets. The turrets were numbered from I to IV from front to rear. The ship carried 100 shells for each gun.
Defense against torpedo boats was provided by twenty-two 51-caliber five-inch guns mounted in individual casemates in the sides of the ship’s hull. They proved to be very wet and could not be worked in heavy seas. Each gun was provided with 230 rounds of ammunition.
The ship mounted four 50-caliber three-inch guns for anti-aircraft defense, although only two were fitted when completed. The other pair were added shortly afterward on top of Turret III. Arizona also mounted two 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes and carried 24 torpedoes for them.
She had an ongoing history of serving as flag ship for different Admirals across different oceans (the flag ship carries the commander of a group of ships; officers of the rank of Rear Admiral, Vice-Admiral, or Admiral are designated as flag officers.)
When an Admiral takes command of a ship, a task force or a fleet, the chief signalman is given the job of raising the Admiral’s flag. (The Admiral’s flag is blue with white stars. A Rear-Admiral will have two stars on his flag, a vice-admiral will have three stars and a full Admiral carries four stars.)
“During the ceremony, the flag is bunched up into a ball and hoisted up in that fashion until it gently bumps the masthead and the balled up flag breaks open to a full flag furl. When this takes place the flag officer’s flag has broken open and he has taken command.” To say that a Commander “Broke his flag,” means that particular officer has been assigned task force or Fleet Commander. (Everett)
Some reference the Arizona as the ‘Flagship of the Fleet.’ Starting in 1920 the Arizona became flagship for Commander Battleship Division 7, Rear Admiral Edward W. Eberle and later became flagship when Vice Admiral McDonald transferred his flag to Wyoming (BB-33) and Rear Admiral Josiah S. McKean broke his flag on board as commander of the division.
For the next decade and a half, Arizona alternately served as flagship for Battleship Divisions 2, 3 or 4. Based at San Pedro during this period, Arizona operated with the fleet in the operating areas off the coast of southern California or in the Caribbean during fleet concentrations there.
On September 17, 1938, Arizona became the flagship for Battleship Division 1, when Rear Admiral Chester W Nimitz broke his flag.
Arizona’s last ‘fleet problem’ was XXI. At its conclusion, the US Fleet was retained in Hawaiian waters, based at Pearl Harbor. She operated in the Hawaiian Operating Area until late that summer, when she returned to Long Beach in September 1940.
She was then overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, into the following year. Her last flag change-of-command occurred on January 23, 1941, when Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd relieved Rear Admiral Willson as Commander, Battleship Division 1.
She continued various kinds of training and tactical exercises in the Hawaiian operating area. She underwent a brief overhaul at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard commencing in October 1941, and conducted her last training (with Nevada (BB-36) and Oklahoma (BB-37)) (a night firing exercise) on the night of December 4, 1941.
Shortly before 8 am, December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft from six aircraft carriers struck the Pacific Fleet as it lay in port at Pearl Harbor, and wrought devastation on the battle line and on the facilities defending Hawaii. Arizona’s air raid alarm went off about 7:55, and the ship went to general quarters soon thereafter. Shortly after 08:00, the ship was attacked.
The last bomb hit at 08:06 in the vicinity of Turret II, likely penetrating the armored deck near the ammunition magazines located in the forward section of the ship. While not enough of the ship is intact to judge the exact location, its effects are indisputable. About seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a cataclysmic explosion.
The USS Arizona is the final resting place for many of the ship’s 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The 184-foot-long Memorial structure spans the mid-portion of the sunken battleship and consists of three main sections: the entry room; the assembly room, a central area designed for ceremonies and general observation; and the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall. (Lots of information here is from the Navy, NPS and Arizona.)