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

A captured Japanese photograph taken aboard a Japanese carrier before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Captured Japanese photograph taken aboard a Japanese carrier before the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of bomb damage at Pearl Harbor after the surprise Japanese aerial attack.
Pearl Harbor, taken by surprise, during the Japanese aerial attack. Wreckage at Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor. (December 7, 1941). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of a machine-gunned truck after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
A machine-gunned army truck at Hickam Field, Hawaii, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (December 7, 1941). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of the USS Shaw exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor.
USS Shaw exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, T.H. (December 7, 1941). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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 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

A picture of bomb damage aboard the USS California after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
USS California; Bomb Damage, 2nd deck starboard side. (circa 1942). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of the USS Arizona sinking after being hit by Japanese air attack in Pearl Harbor.
The battleship USS Arizona sinking after being hit by Japanese air attack on Dec. 7,1941 at Pearl Harbor. Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of the USS Oklahoma after refloating in 1943.
USS Oklahoma - Salvage; Aerial view from overhead after refloating. (December 24, 1943). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of Battleship Row in a mass of flames after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
"Battleship Row" is a mass of flames and smoke, with USS Oklahoma in the foreground, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Caught unawares, 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

Picture of warships damaged at Pearl Harbor.
Warships damaged at Pearl Harbor. (December 7, 1941). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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

Picture of a wing from a Japanese bomber shot down during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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. (December 7, 1941). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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.

Resources and Further Reading

Keyes, Allison. "At Pearl Harbor, This Aircraft Risked It All to Find the Japanese Fleet." Smithsonian.org. 6 Dec. 2016.

Grier, Peter. "Pearl Harbor Resurrection: The Warships That Rose to Fight Again." The Christian Science Monitor. 7 Dec. 2012.

Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau staff. "How Long Did the Battle of Pearl Harbor Last?VisitPearlHarbor.org. Oct. 2017.

Taylor, Alan. "World War II: Pearl Harbor." TheAtlantic.com. 31 Jul. 2011.