The Battleships of Pearl Harbor
April 22, 2017
There was a reason the Japanese had their sights set on Pearl Harbor: it was home to the US Pacific Fleet and they knew that the ships based there would prove a nuisance in the Pacific. Though no aircraft carriers were present on the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked other targets in their efforts to cripple the U.S. Navy.
Moored at what was known as Battleship Row were eight US Navy battleships, the mighty vessels that would prove the greatest obstacle for Japan’s advances in the Pacific. The USS Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, California, Nevada, Tennessee, Maryland, and Pennsylvania received the brunt of Japan’s attack.
Each ship met its own fate, as detailed below:
USS Arizona (BB-39)
Probably the best known of the Navy’s battleships, the Arizona was among the first to fall in Japan’s assault. During the sinking of the Arizona, 1,177 sailors perished, their remains buried within the wreckage. Today, the USS Arizona Memorial is Pearl Harbor’s most visited site and continues to serve as a final resting place for sailors who survived the attack and passed away later in life.
USS Oklahoma (BB-37)
The USS Oklahoma was another casualty of the attack. During the course of Japan’s onslaught, the Oklahoma suffered a series of five torpedo strikes that caused the vessel to flood and capsize. 429 sailors died on board, their remains gathered and placed in mass graves pending identification. A program launched in 2011 allowed for the identification of these remains for individual burial. The Oklahoma was lost to the Pacific while in transit to a scrap yard in California.
USS West Virginia (BB-48)
The West Virginia suffered the third-highest number of casualties, having lost 106 sailors during the attack. The vessel suffered two bomb strikes and seven torpedo hits before sinking. Thanks to the shallow waters of the harbor, the West Virginia was later refloated and returned to service in July of 1944. One of the first efforts she took part in was the landing in the Leyte Gulf during the invasion of the Philippines.
USS California (BB-44)
By the time the Japanese pulled back and left the harbor, 100 crewmen were left dead on the California. After two bomb and two torpedo strikes, the California sank. By January of 1944, the California had been refloated and returned to service. She participated in the invasion of the Philippines, specifically in the Leyte Gulf and the Battle of Surigao.
USS Nevada (BB-36)
After being struck by six bombs and one torpedo, the Nevada lost 60 sailors. To avoid sinking in deeper waters, the Nevada maneuvered out of the harbor before being grounded off Hospital Point. Within months, the vessel was refloated and by October of 1942, she returned to service to assist in convoy runs before assisting in the invasion of Normandy.
USS Tennessee (BB-43)
Five sailors perished aboard the Tennessee during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Though the battleship was struck by two armor-piercing bombs, neither detonated completely and the ship suffered mostly from debris from the Arizona and the West Virginia. By February of 1942, the Tennessee began taking part in training exercises. After a series of appearance-changing alterations, the Tennessee joined the Aleutian Islands Campaign in 1943.
USS Maryland (BB-46)
As the smoke cleared from Pearl Harbor, the Maryland had lost four crewmen. Two bombs damaged the lower part of the vessel’s hull. The Japanese reported that the Maryland had sunk, but in February of 1942, she returned to service after repairs and supported the fleet at the Battle of Midway.
USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)
After being struck by one bomb, the Pennsylvania lost nine crewmen and suffered minor damages. She is believed to be the first battleship to fire on the Japanese bombers and fighters. After a period of repairs, the Pennsylvania embarked to Alaska and assisted in the 1943 Aleutian Campaign.