14 Rarely Seen Photos that Reveal the Horror of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

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Pearl Harbor Attack
Scene on the southeastern part of Ford Island, looking northeasterly, with USS California (BB-44) in right center, listing to port after being hit by Japanese aerial torpedoes and bombs. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (National Archives)

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they catapulted the United States into World War II in one swift stroke, removing from the international playing field the bulk of the American fleet, which had been strategically moved to Pearl Harbor only 18 months prior by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The damage to Pearl Harbor and the surrounding area was astounding. More than 2,400 Americans were killed in the attack. Nearly 20 American ships, including five of the eight battleships, and 300 aircraft were destroyed. 

The Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, located on Oahu, Hawaii, just after 8 a.m. The entire attack lasted a mere 75 minutes.

Today, 80 years later, these rarely seen photos from the U.S. Navy and National Archives demonstrate the horror and damage of the attack.

Pearl Harbor Attack
Scene on the southeastern part of Ford Island, looking northeasterly, with USS California (BB-44) in right center, listing to port after being hit by Japanese aerial torpedoes and bombs. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
View looking down Battleship Row from Ford Island Naval Air Station, shortly after the Japanese torpedo plane attack. USS California (BB-44) is at left, listing to port after receiving two torpedo hits.
View looking down Battleship Row from Ford Island Naval Air Station, shortly after the Japanese torpedo plane attack. USS California (BB-44) is at left, listing to port after receiving two torpedo hits. In the center are USS Maryland (BB-46) with the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) alongside. USS Neosho (AO-23) is at right, backing clear of the area. Most smoke is from USS Arizona (BB-39). (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Japanese model of Pearl Harbor, showing ships located as they were during the 7 December 1941 attack. This model was constructed after the attack for use in making a motion picture.
Japanese model of Pearl Harbor, showing ships located as they were during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack. This model was constructed after the attack for use in making a motion picture. The original photograph was brought back to the U.S. from Japan at the end of World War II by Rear Admiral John Shafroth, USN. Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)
Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a Zero Fighter. This is probably the launch of the second attack wave. The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored at Pearl Harbor on both sides of Ford Island.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. View looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)
The forward magazine of USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes during the second Japanese attack wave.
The forward magazine of USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes during the second Japanese attack wave. To the left of the explosion, Shaw's stern is visible, at the end of floating drydock YFD-2. At right is the bow of USS Nevada (BB-36), with a tug alongside fighting fires. Photographed from Ford Island, with a dredging line in the foreground. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph)
Wrecked Army Air Corps B-17C bomber near Hangar # 5 at Hickam Air Field, following the end of the Japanese raid.
Wrecked Army Air Corps B-17C (serial # 40-2074) bomber near Hangar # 5 at Hickam Air Field, following the end of the Japanese raid. This plane, piloted by Captain Raymond T. Swenson, was one of those that arrived during the raid after flying in from California. It was hit by a strafing attack after landing and burned in half. Note Note bicycle parked by the plane. Pith helmet by the case in the left foreground indicates that the photographer was Tai Sing Loo. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
PBY patrol bomber burning at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, Oahu, during the Japanese attack.
PBY patrol bomber burning at Naval Air Station Kaneohe, Oahu, during the Japanese attack. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
View of Pearl Harbor looking southwesterly from the hills to the northward.
View of Pearl Harbor looking southwesterly from the hills to the northward. Taken during the Japanese raid, with anti-aircraft shell bursts overhead. Large column of smoke in lower center is from USS Arizona (BB-39). Smaller smoke columns further to the left are from the destroyers Shaw (DD-373), Cassin (DD-372) and Downes (DD-375), in drydocks at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor.
Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. Note extensive distortion of West Virginia's lower midships superstructure, caused by torpedoes that exploded below that location. Also note 5/25 gun, still partially covered with canvas, boat crane swung outboard and empty boat cradles near the smokestacks, and base of radar antenna atop West Virginia's foremast. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
A Japanese Type A midget submarine is beached on Oahu after it went aground following attempts to enter Pearl Harbor.
A Japanese Type A midget submarine is beached on Oahu after it went aground following attempts to enter Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after Dec. 8, 1941. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives)
USS Arizona sunk and burning furiously on Dec. 7, 1941.
USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously on Dec. 7, 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are playing fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Sailors attempt to save a burning PBY at Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, during the Japanese air raid.
Sailors attempt to save a burning PBY at Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, during the Japanese air raid. This plane was set afire by strafing in the the initial phase of the attack and was sunk in a later strike. Note dog observing the work. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command)
A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of 15 officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid.
A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid. These burial ceremonies took place on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack. Note sandbagged emplacement atop the small hill in the right middle distance. See Photo # K-13328 for another view of this location.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@monster.com.

This story originally misstated the number of ships damaged in the attack. Nearly 20 ships were damaged. 

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