Pearl Harbor Battleships


By: J. Owen

The battleships were the primary targets for during that Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Had the aircraft carriers been in Hawai‘i on December 7th, 1941, they would have been the primary target. However, none of the three US Pacific Fleet carriers were at Pearl on the “Day of Infamy”. As a result, the Pearl Harbor Battleships sustained the most damage of any vessels during the attack.

At the time there were nine battleships stationed at Pearl Harbor. Seven were lined up on Battleship Row off Ford Island. The Pennsylvania was in in Pearl Harbor, but she was in dry dock getting repairs. The Colorado was at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington undergoing an overhaul.

Pearl Harbor Battleship USS Pennsylvania

USS Pennsylvania in dry dock. The smoke in the background is from the USS Arizona.

The Battleships on Battleship Row during the attack were the Nevada, Arizona, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maryland, and California.

The Utah was once a battleship, but in 1931 she was demilitarized and converted into a target ship. The Japanese pilots were aware of this and Utah was removed from their target list, but overzealous pilots attacked the ship anyway. Perhaps because she still looked like a battleship.

The Oklahoma sustained major losses when numerous torpedoes hit her and she capsized. Four hundred twenty-nine sailors died on the Oklahoma. She never returned to service. The Oklahoma was on her way to the mainland US under tow when a storm caused her to sink and she is now lost at sea.

The greatest damage of all the Pearl Harbor Battleships befell the Arizona when her front magazine exploded. 1,177 men died on the Arizona and she never recovered. Today, you can visit the Arizona Memorial, which was built above the sunken Arizona.

The West Virginia was nicknamed the “Wee Vee”. She had the unfortunate location outboard of Tennessee. That made her more susceptible to torpedoes. Seven torpedoes struck the West Virginia. She was also hit by armor piercing aerial bombs. There was significant damage, but the West Virginia was able to return to active duty in 1943. One hundred six men were lost on the West Virginia.

Inboard of the West Virginia, the Tennessee was shielded from torpedoes. She was lucky that the two armor piercing bombs that landed on her deck did not completely detonate. With minimal damage at Pearl Harbor, the Tennessee’s repairs were complete by February 26, 1942. Five died on the Tennessee.

The Maryland was another inboard ship. She too sustained minimal damage as a result of her positioning. The Oklahoma on her outside protected her from torpedo attacks. Like the Tennessee, Maryland was hit by two bombs and was back in service on the same day. 4 died on the Maryland.

Unable to achieve watertight integrity, California had serious flooding after being hit by torpedoes. She sank to the bottom of the harbor with 100 of her crew dead. It took until 1944 before California was repaired and able to join the Pacific Fleet’s fight in the Marianas.

Like the California, the Nevada was alone without another ship inboard or outboard. This means that she was not protected like the Maryland, but it also means that she could maneuver better. The Nevada was damaged from a torpedo from a plane that she eventually shot down. The damage did not prevent her from getting underway. As she was heading for the harbor exit, the second wave of planes was arriving. They focused their attack on Nevada in hopes of using her to block the harbor entrance. Quickly aware of this possibility, she was grounded at hospital point. Sixty men were lost on the Nevada.

Now there are no active battleships in the US Navy. The only Pearl Harbor Battleships left are the remains of the USS Utah, the sunken USS Arizona, and the Battleship Missouri Memorial. Visiting Pearl Harbor is an excellent way to learn more about these ships and their rich history.

Today you can see the sunken Arizona at Pearl Harbor. The other Pearl Harbor battleships are not there.  However, to get the feel of life on a battleship you should visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial.  The Remember Pearl Harbor Tour visits both the Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri.

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