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Warship that survived Pearl Harbor, atomic bomb tests found in Pacific

CBS News logo CBS News 5/14/2020 Stephen Smith

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© Ocean Infinity/SEARCH, Inc.
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The USS Nevada, an iconic U.S. battleship that survived World War I, the attack on Pearl Harbor and even atomic bomb target practice, has been found in the Pacific Ocean. The ship's wreckage was located 65 nautical miles southwest of Pearl Harbor more than 15,000 feet below the water's surface, according to underwater archaeology firm SEARCH and marine robotics company Ocean Infinity, which coordinated the mission.

Commissioned in 1916 in Massachusetts, the USS Nevada sailed to the British Isles two years later for World War I service, according to the Navy. But it was on December 7, 1941 that the battleship's legacy would be made.

Stationed next to the USS Arizona, the USS Nevada was the only vessel able to pull away from a line of moored U.S. ships during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Seaman Second Class Charles T. Sehe, who was 18 years old at the time, recalled "a tremendous, fiery explosion ripped the Arizona apart, showering the decks of the Nevada with hot, searing, metallic debris, burning many of them to death."

"We got hit by eight bombs, but still got underway — the only battleship to get underway," he told the Associated Press in 2015. "Most of that crew was 17 to 23 years of age. But they were trained and able to carry out their duties."

The Nevada lost 60 of its 1,500-member crew in the attack, and more than 100 were wounded. But the crew was able to ground the vessel, preventing it from completely sinking.

The ship was repaired, upgraded and put back in service. She ultimately took part in the D-Day landings, becoming the only battleship to be present at both Normandy and Pearl Harbor, according to Ocean Infinity.

The USS Nevada also played a key role in the invasion of Okinawa, where a Japanese kamikaze attack on March 27, 1945 left 11 of the ship's crew members dead and 41 wounded. A shell attack just nine days later on Okinawa killed two of the crew and damaged the ship.

After the war, in 1946, the Nevada was among about 100 veteran warships used for target practice for atomic bomb experiments at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. On July 1, 1946, a 23-kiloton bomb dropped by a B-29 left the vessel badly damaged and scorched by fire — but still floating. A few weeks later, an underwater detonation sank many ships, but not the Nevada.

In 1948, the damaged vessel was towed to sea off the Hawaiian islands and used as target practice for a Navy gunfire exercise. The USS Nevada finally went down on July 31, 1948.

The warship was recently discovered by Pacific Constructor, an Ocean Infinity vessel that has been forced to remain at sea for about four months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. James Delgado, SEARCH's lead maritime archaeologist on the mission, said the warship "speaks to American resilience and stubbornness."

"It survived torpedoes, bombs, shells and two atomic blasts," he said. "This is why we do ocean exploration to seek out these powerful connections to the past."

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