Pictures of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

Relive the event that marked the start of U.S. intervention in World War II

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese military forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack destroyed much of the United States' Pacific fleet, especially the battleships. This collection of pictures captures the attack on Pearl Harbor, including pictures of planes caught on the ground, battleships burning and sinking, explosions, and bomb damage.

Before the Attack

Captured Japanese photograph taken aboard a Japanese carrier before the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

The Japanese military had planned its assault on Pearl Harbor for months before the attack. The attacking fleet, consisting of six aircraft carriers and 408 aircraft, left Japan on Nov. 26, 1941. In addition, five submarines, each carrying a two-man midget craft, the day before. This photo taken by the Japanese Navy and later captured by U.S. forces, shows sailors aboard the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku cheering as a Nakajima B-5N bomber launches to attack Pearl Harbor.​

Planes Caught on the Ground

Photograph of the wreckage-strewn Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor following the Japanese attack

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

Although the U.S. Pacific Fleet suffered the most damage, its air defenses also took a beating. More than 300 Navy and Army Air Force planes stationed at nearby Ford Island, Wheeler Field, and Hickam Field were damaged or destroyed in the attack. Only a handful of U.S. fighters were able to get aloft and challenge Japanese attackers.

Ground Forces Surprised

Photograph of a machine-gunned army truck at Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the attack on Pearl Harbor

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

More than 3,500 soldiers and civilians were killed or wounded in the attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 1,100 alone died aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. But many others were killed or injured in related attacks on the Pearl Harbor base and nearby sites like Hickam Field, and millions of dollars in infrastructure was destroyed.

Explosions and Fire on the Battleships

Photograph of the exact moment the USS Shaw exploded during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Explosion of the U.S.S. Shaw.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons 

Seventeen ships were destroyed or damaged during the attack, although the majority of them were able to be salvaged and returned to active service. The U.S.S. Arizona is the only battleship that still lies at the bottom of the harbor; the U.S.S. Oklahoma and U.S.S. Utah were raised but never returned to service. The U.S.S. Shaw, a destroyer, was hit by three bombs and severely damaged. It was later repaired.

Bomb Damage

Bomb hole through upper deck, USS California
Bomb hole through upper deck, USS California.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

The attack on Pearl Harbor came in two waves. The first wave of 183 fighters began at 7:53 a.m. local time. A second wave followed at 8:40 a.m. In both attacks, Japanese aircraft dropped hundreds of torpedoes and bombs. The American Naval fleet was decimated in less than 15 minutes during the first wave alone.

The U.S.S. Arizona

Photograph of the USS Arizona on fire after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

The majority of American casualties occurred aboard the U.S.S. Arizona. One of the Pacific Fleet's flagship battleships, the Arizona was struck by four armor-piercing bombs. Moments after the final bomb struck, the ship's forward armaments magazine exploded, obliterating the nose and causing such severe structural damage that the ship was nearly torn in half. The Navy lost 1,177 crew.

In 1943, the military salvaged some of the Arizona's major arms and stripped the superstructure. The rest of the wreck was left in place. The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, was constructed atop the site in 1962.

The U.S.S. Oklahoma

USS Oklahoma - Salvage; Aerial view from overhead after refloating

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons 

The U.S.S. Oklahoma was one of three battleships destroyed in the attack. It capsized and sank after being struck by five torpedoes, killing 429 sailors. The U.S. raised the ship in 1943, salvaged its armaments, and sold the hull for scrap after the war.​

Battleship Row

From left to right: USS West Virginia (severely damaged), USS Tennessee (damaged), and the USS Arizona (sunk)
From left to right: USS West Virginia (severely damaged), USS Tennessee (damaged), and the USS Arizona (sunk).

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

Caught unaware, the American fleet was an easy target for the Japanese because they were neatly lined up in the harbor. Eight battleships were docked at "Battleship Row," the Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Of these, the Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia were sunk. The other battleship to go down, the Utah, was docked elsewhere at Pearl Harbor.

Wreckage

Photograph of warships damaged at Pearl Harbor

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons 

When the attack was finally over, the U.S. military took stock of its losses. The harbor was littered with the wreckage not just from the eight battleships, but also three cruisers, three destroyers, and four auxiliary ships. Hundreds of planes were also damaged, as was the dry dock on Ford Island. Cleanup took months.

Japanese Wreckage

Photograph of a wing from a Japanese bomber shot down on the grounds of the Naval Hospital, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, during the attack on Pearl Harbor

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons

U.S. forces were able to inflict some minor casualties on their Japanese attackers. Just 29 of the Japanese fleet's 400-plus aircraft were brought down, with another 74 damaged. An additional 20 Japanese midget submarines and other watercraft were sunk. All told, Japan lost 64 men.

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