USS Nevada (BB-36): The Battleship That Survived Pearl Harbor and An Atomic Bomb

Photo Credit: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The USS Nevada (BB-36) was the first of a class of two 27,500-ton battleships launched in 1914, rendering all first-generation vessels obsolete. She had a remarkable service career throughout her time with the US Navy, serving during both World Wars, surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and even withstanding a direct hit from an atomic bomb.

The USS Nevada‘s early days of service

USS Nevada (BB-36) and three smaller vessels leaving port
USS Nevada (BB-36), 1915. (Photo Credit: HUM Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

When launched in 1916, the USS Nevada was seen as a revolutionary vessel, with The New York Times calling her “the greatest [battleship] afloat.” She was the first such ship in the US Navy to feature triple gun turrets, among other advancements, and donned the “all or nothing” method of armor, with maximum protection being placed over critical places and none over less important areas.

When she entered service in 1916, Nevada operated along the western Atlantic and Caribbean – that is, until the onset of the First World War saw her tasked with escorting convoys to the British Isles. Following this, she cruised along the shores of Brazil, later moving to the coast of Australia in 1925. During this time, she performed regular exercises and drills.

Nevada underwent some improvements in the years following the war, which helped “modernize” certain aspects of the vessel. These included the installation of a new superstructure, new guns and significant improvements to her defenses.

Surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

Port installation and the USS Nevada (BB-36) shrouded in smoke
Heavy smoke and flames rise through the air from a US port installation and the USS Nevada (BB-36) during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Nevada, along with a number of vessels, including the USS Arizona (BB-39), were docked at the naval base. Unlike the other battleships stationed at Ford Island that day, however, she wasn’t anchored directly next to another vessel.

As if by fate, that morning, Nevada‘s deck officer realized the same boiler had been used since the battleship had docked. As such, he ordered a second be lit. This was critical for Nevada to get underway during and after the attack. With a second boiler, she had enough power to move away from the burning oil drifting toward her from other damaged vessels.

Nevada was the first battleship to open fire on Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was struck by a Type 91 Mod 2 torpedo, after which a second explosive was dropped on the vessel’s gunners by a Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber, sending her into a sinking condition and forcing her to be beached. Still, she survived, despite becoming a target for Aichi D3A Type 99 “Val” carrier bombers during the second wave of attacks.

When the attack finally ended, Nevada had suffered six hits from aerial bombs and one torpedo strike. After some temporary fixes, she was sent to the West Coast for permanent repairs in April 1942.

The USS Nevada was present at the Allied landings on D-Day

Five sailors watching the USS Nevada (BB-36) sail by
USS Nevada (BB-36) returning to New York during World War II. (Photo Credit: US Navy / FPG / Getty Images)

The USS Nevada didn’t return to combat until May 1943, later being transferred to the Atlantic Ocean to guard against a possible German raiding mission.

The following year, she took part in the D-Day landings. During the Allied invasion, her 14- and five-inch guns were used against shore defenses on the Cherbourg Peninsula and German counteroffensives. She remained active throughout, becoming the only battleship to be present at both Normandy and Pearl Harbor.

As Operation Dragoon got underway, Nevada and a number of other US vessels were moved to southern France, where they provided fire support during an offensive against a reinforced fortress known as “Big Willie.”

Assisting in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa

Fire raging on the main deck of the USS Nevada (BB-36)
Gasoline fires spread across the main deck of the USS Nevada (BB-36), after a Japanese kamikaze crashes into the battleship off the coast of Okinawa. The fire was brought under control. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Not long after her service in France, the USS Nevada was once again sent to the Pacific, where she assisted with the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in April 1945. During this time, she suffered damage from kamikaze attacks and artillery shells, both of which didn’t stop her and her crew from aiding the US forces.

Nevada continued to be an asset in the Pacific Theater until June 1945. Following this, she stationed in the western Pacific as part of the US Third Fleet. While she was close to the Japanese home islands during this time, there was no need for her guns to bombard them.

Even atomic bombs couldn’t take out the USS Nevada

Man walking across the damaged stern of the USS Nevada (BB-36)
The stern of the USS Nevada (BB-36) was damaged during the Test Able atomic blast. The detonation of the bomb was part of Operation Crossroads, which occurred in mid-1946 at Bikini Atoll. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images)

As the Second World War came to a close, concerns over the USS Nevada‘s age prevented her from retention in the post-war fleet. Instead, she was chosen to serve as a target for atomic bomb testing that took place in July 1946, as part of Operation Crossroads.

The tests took place at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and left Nevada, which had been painted a reddish-orange color to distinguish her from nearby vessels, heavily damaged and extremely radioactive. This led to her being formally decommissioned in August of that year.

The storied battleship sank to the bottom of the Pacific

USS Nevada (BB-36) at sea
USS Nevada (BB-36) following her 1942 modernization. (Photo Credit: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

For two years, the USS Nevada sat inactive. Eventually, the US Navy had her towed to a location just off the Hawaiian Islands, where a classified explosive was detonated in her hull. The vessel then became the target of heavy artillery from other ships and bombs from aircraft. To finish her off, a single torpedo was dropped amidships.

On July 31, 1948, following a four-day naval gunfire exercise, she sank to the bottom of the Pacific. Since her sinking, her remains, which lie upside down, have been found, some 65 nautical miles southwest of Pearl Harbor. They sit at a depth of more than 15,400 feet.

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Not everyone was happy with the decision to sink Nevada. Richard Ramsay, a boatswain’s mate who served on the battleship during the invasion of Normandy, through to the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, later said “They should not have sunk that ship. In my opinion it should be tied up next to the Missouri.”

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!