American Ships Sunk at Pearl Harbor


By: Tara Tyrrell

There were 100 commissioned warships and service auxiliary ships that were present at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked. Although only 16 of those 100 were damaged, it was the amount of damage to the most significant of the ships that left the biggest mark. Here are the ships that were sunk at Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma

Two of the fleet were lost forever, with the two battleships USS Arizona (BB-39) and USS Oklahoma (BB-37) being sunk in the initial attack. Arizona exploded and sank after a bomb detonated in a powder magazine, killing 1,177 officers and crewmen, and the Oklahoma was sunk by several torpedoes during the attack and 429 crew died when she capsized on Battleship Row.

The USS Nevada

The USS Nevada (BB-36) was the only battleship to get underway during the attack, but she was hit by one torpedo and at least six bombs while steaming away from Battleship Row, forcing her to be beached at Hospital Point.

The Nevada was refloated and repaired, and later served as a convoy escort in the Atlantic and as a fire-support ship in four amphibious assaults. At the end of World War II, the Navy assigned her to be a target ship in the atomic experiments conducted at Bikini Atoll, and she was finally retired in 1946 and sunk during naval gunfire practice in 1948.

Sunk at Pearl Harbor, explosion of the USS Arizona

Eliminating the battleships

During the attack, the Japanese had a key focus on eliminating the battleships, as they were one of the biggest threats to the internal affairs of Japan and their campaigns for conquering Manchuria.

Stealthy Japanese planning permitted the attack on Pearl Harbor to remain undetected by US intelligence, and in the days before the attack, Japanese destroyers and battleships had led fighters, dive-bombers, high-level bombers, and torpedo planes into position to the north of the Hawaiian Islands.

Upon reaching Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, the torpedo bombers that had travelled in complete radio silence attacked the harbor in groups of twos and threes in a surprising, quick and powerful attack, with the second fleet of Japanese aircraft blitzing the site an hour later.

USS California

A number of other boats were sunk in the attack, but later recovered and repaired. The USS California (BB-44) lost 100 crew members that morning, after the ship suffered extensive flooding damage when hit by two torpedoes on the port side. Both torpedoes detonated below the armor belt causing virtually identical damage each time. A 250 kg bomb also entered the starboard upper deck level, which passed through the main deck and exploded on the armored second deck, setting off an anti-aircraft ammunition magazine and killing about 50 men.

Sunk at Pearl Harbor: USS California BB-44

After three days of flooding, the California settled into the mud with only her superstructure remaining above the surface. She was later re-floated and dry-docked at Pearl Harbor for repairs. USS California served many missions throughout the war, and was eventually decommissioned in February, 1947.

USS West Virginia

USS West Virginia (BB-48) was sunk by six torpedoes and two bombs during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but in May 1942, was salvaged from the seabed by draining the water from the hull.

USS Cassin and USS Downes

USS Cassin (DD-372) and USS Downes (DD-375) were Mahan-class destroyers. The two destroyers were in dry-dock at Pearl Harbor during the attack, when an incendiary bomb ignited fuel tanks on Downes. Cassin slipped from her keel blocks and rested against Downes which were both destroyed by uncontrollable fires. Both ships were considered lost, but their machinery and equipment were salvaged and sent to Mare Island Navy Yard where entirely new ships were built around the salvaged material and given the wrecked ships’ names and hull numbers.

USS Downes DD-375

USS Oglala

USS Oglala (ID-1255/CM-4/ARG-1) was a minelayer and was the flagship of the Pacific Fleet Mine Force. Japanese torpedo planes of the first attack surge hit the cruiser with a single torpedo, and Oglala rapidly took on water and sank. She was later salvaged in 1942 and continued service until 1965 (after being redesignated as an internal combustion engine repair ship ARG-1).

Many other ships were damaged in the attack, and many lives were lost. The salvageable ships that were recommissioned all played a big part in the remaining years of World War II and many missions after that.

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