The USS Utah During World War I and World War II
On December 7, 2017, the bell was placed on permanent display in the University of Utah’s Naval Science Building.
President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy William H. Moody proposed naming a battleship for the state of Utah on their visit in 1903. The proposal became reality when Congress authorized its construction on May 13, 1908.
Commissioned in August 1911, the USS Utah joined the Atlantic Fleet in 1912 after Captain William S. Benson led this ship through its shakedown cruise.
In 1914 the Utah participated in action at Vera Cruz during the Mexican Revolution. She assisted in the transport of refugees to Tampico, Mexico and sent a landing force to occupy Vera Cruz, Mexico to prevent weapons and ammunition from being delivered to General Huerta.
After the United States entered World War I, the USS Utah was stationed at Bantry Bay, Ireland and served as the flagship for Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers, Commander of Battleship Division 6. Her main responsibility during the war’s final months was to protect supply convoys. She ended her service in Europe by joining the honor escort carrying President Woodrow Wilson to France.
After the London Naval Treaty of 1930, the USS Utah was redesignated as a “miscellaneous auxiliary ship.” She now served as a remote controlled target ship to train anti-aircraft gunners. She effectively filled this role for the Navy from 1931 to 1941.
On December 7, 1941, the USS Utah was moored on the northwest side of Ford Island opposite Battleship Row. In the first minutes of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Utah was struck by at least two torpedoes and began listing heavily to port. The order was given to abandon ship and by 0812 the ship had rolled over and sunk. Six officers and fifty two enlisted men were killed, including Chief Petty Officer Peter Tomich, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day.
After the attack, the Utah was partially turned “… inshore to clear the approach to an adjacent pier.” The Navy began to assess the damage to determine if she could be repaired and if salvage operations could begin. On September 5, 1944 she was declared “out of commission, not in service” and was struck from the Navy’s list of ships on November 13, 1944.
How Did the Ship’s Bell from the USS Utah End-Up at the University of Utah?
The ship’s bell from the USS Utah was originally presented by the United States Navy to the Utah State Historical Society in April 1961. Transfer of the bell was arranged through the office of Senator Wallace F. Bennett and was given to the Historical Society on an indefinite loan basis. For almost six years the bell was housed at the Historical Society’s offices in the Kearns Mansion on South Temple.
Discussions began in 1965 to loan the bell to a new Naval History Museum that was to be located in the Naval Science Building on the University of Utah campus. The museum was to be an affiliate of the Utah State Museum of Natural History. In January 1965, the Board of Trustees of the State Historical Society passed a resolution supporting the creation of the museum. Everett L. Cooley, Director of the Utah State Historical Society and Major Gaut, curator of the Naval History Museum, began communicating to arrange the loan of the ship’s bell and other items from the Historical Society’s collection. The bell was to be loaned to the museum with the condition that the Historical Society could ask for its return if in the future a new Utah State History Museum was established. The bell was transferred in February 1966 with the intention of either displaying it inside the Naval Science Building or on an appropriate foundation outside the building.