How well does the general public understand the level of destruction that occurred at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941? Numbers like the 2,403 American lives lost under the pressure of the Japanese attack paint a grim picture, but it doesn’t help visualize the horrific memories the survivors walked away with.
For that, we turn to a series of photographs taken during the attack. Pulled straight from the history of World War II and provided by the United States Navy, Air Force and U.S. Archives, these images show why the nation went to war with Japan and why, 76 years later, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is still being observed.
The Gallery of Pearl Harbor
While the naval base at Pearl Harbor enjoyed a quiet Sunday, a Japanese aircraft carrier was celebrating the send-off of its first attack wave.
The USS Arizona became an icon of Pearl Harbor after being one of two vessels permanently sunk during the attack. Today, she rests beneath the USS Arizona Memorial, a structure designed by architect Alfred Preis, who was detained at Sand Island for his Austrian heritage.
Though two torpedoes struck her port side and she suffered deadly flooding, the USS California (pictured below) returned to service in May of 1944, taking part in the invasion of the Mariana Islands. During the Pearl Harbor attack, she lost 100 crew members.
This poignant photo depicts the explosions aboard the USS Shaw as she suffers three bomb hits from Japanese bombers. By mid-1942, she was on her way from San Diego, CA back to Pearl Harbor to return to service.
From a submarine base off of Battleship Row, sailors look on helplessly as fires rage across the harbor. The submarine base wasn’t hit during the initial attack but may have been a target during the proposed third attack wave.
A view of the USS West Virginia as lifeboats carried the wounded and uninjured survivors to shore. She sank after being struck by two Type 99 No. 80 Mk 5 bombs and a torpedo, but was refloated and repaired by 1944.
A rare view of Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row during the attack taken from a Japanese plane. The fountain of water in the background is a torpedo striking the USS West Virginia.
A view of Battleship Row from a Japanese bomber. Note what looks like a large oil spill and that many of the ships appear to be underwater.
The tail of a Japanese Mitubishi A6M2 Zero fighter found crash-landed at Building 52 at Fort Kamehameha on Oahu. The fighter was piloted by Takeshi Hirano, who was killed in the crash.
The Japanese strike force aimed to sink the USS Nevada at the harbor’s canal to trap the other battleships. This photograph is a stunning snapshot of a fireball bursting from the battleship.
Many of the vessels struck during the attack were near completely annihilated. This image of the Shaw makes it difficult to believe that she was eventually repaired.
The harbor wasn’t the only place that took on damage during the attack. This black-and-white shows a Japanese Nakajima B5N Type 97 carrier attack plane (“Kate”) that crashed near the Naval Hospital.
Air bases across Oahu were also struck by Japan to prevent an American counter strike. These black plumes of smoke rise from Wheeler Army Airfield in the center of Oahu.