Taking to the Seas: The Ships of the Harbor

January 04, 2017

The attack on Pearl Harbor took the lives of over 2,400 Americans. Some of them were on land, scurrying for cover as Japanese bombers and fighters strafed them and destroyed civilian structures and businesses. The rest were in the thick of the battle, some manning gigantic water vessels that were dormant and unprepared for the assault.

When the Japanese commenced their attack on December 7th, 1941, they targeted pivotal battleships like the USS Arizona in an attempt to completely cripple the United States Pacific Fleet. While the battleships of Pearl Harbor, those that were docked at Battleship Row at the time of the attack, get most of the attention, there were far more ships that came under fire from the incoming Japanese fighters.

Some of the vessels that fought back during the attack and provided some degree of defense were those that accompanied the much larger battleships, like the sunken USS Oklahoma and Arizona and the severely damaged Nevada and Pennsylvania.

By the Numbers

Though the eight battleships moored at Battleship Row were the main targets of the Japanese bombers, several other American vessels felt the brunt of the incoming attack.

PH Aerial looking Southwest

Though many ships were raised and later rejoined the war, the USS Utah, an auxiliary Florida-class battleship, sank and still rests at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. In addition, the minelayer USS Oglala, the harbor tug USS Sotoyomo, and the destroyer USS Shaw were all lost under the Japanese bombardment.

In total, the United States suffered damage to six battleships, three destroyers, three cruisers, and four auxiliary vessels out of over 90 different ships that were present at the time of the attack. Considering that Japan’s intent was to cripple the United States Pacific Fleet, it’s accurate to say that their mission was a partial failure.

The Types of Ships

Though the eight battleships tend to get most of the attention when discussing the history of Pearl Harbor, the US Navy also had cruisers, destroyers, minelayers, and auxiliary vessels present at the time of the attack.


Once considered the “little brother” of the battleship, the World War II cruiser was a warship similar to a battleship but on a smaller scale. As the battleships started to become obsolete, the cruiser replaced them as the largest and most powerful surface vessel after the aircraft carrier.

Razzle Dazzle Warships


Smaller than a cruiser, the destroyer was known for its speed. While not as well-equipped as cruisers, the destroyer served as an escort vessel to larger ships, providing defense against short-range attacks. Destroyers were typically outfitted with torpedoes and anti-aircraft guns.


Just as the name implies, minelayers were built with the purpose of deploying submerged mines as traps for incoming enemy vessels.


Auxiliary vessels were those in place to provide support to the attack ships. These ships often provided aid in the form of repairs, ammo and supply replenishment, and transport of crew members if their vessels became damaged.

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