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The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Battleship Row - USAA

The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Battleship Row - USAA



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Pearl Harbor survivors give first-hand accounts of the fiery destruction of battleships like the USS Arizona, USS West Virginia, and USS Oklahoma.


Before Pearl Harbor

Before Oklahoma found herself among her sister ships fending off Japanese bombers, she saw a period of normalcy despite being commissioned in the midst of World War I. Though initially commissioned in 1916, the battleship wasn’t given a real assignment until August 1918, when she was assigned to Battleship Division Six. Under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rodgers, Oklahoma sailed for European waters and was tasked with protecting American convoys in a harbor west of Ireland.

For the short period before the end of the war, the battleship was only called out once to escort troop ships into a United Kingdom port in October 1918. While anchored in the harbor, the crew focused more on camaraderie than war, engaging in football matches to pass the time.


Battleship Row was the name for the moorings on the East side of Ford Island where the battleships were moored. On December 7th, 1941, only 7 of the 9 Pacific Fleet battleships were at Battleship Row. The USS Pennsylvania was in drydock and the USS Colorado was in overhaul in Bremerton, WA.

On Battleship Row from lower left to right: USS Nevada, USS Arizona inboard of USS Vestal, USS Tennessee inboard of USS West Virginia USS Maryland inboard of USS Oklahoma USS Neosho and USS California.

Battleship Row was the primary target of the Japanese attack. Their primary target was actually the carriers, but because the US carriers were not in Pearl Harbor during the attack, the battleships became the primary target. Specifically, the Japaneses had calculated that they needed to incapacitate at least 4 of the battleships. That is why Battleship Row suffered the greatest damage on the “Day of Infamy”.


The History of Battleship Row

In 1919, the US Navy decided to make Pearl Harbor a major base. Because the water was at its deepest along the southeast side of Ford Island, in the middle of the harbor, it was decided to moor the ships with the largest displacement—the battleships—in this area.


Battleship Row: The Story of the Battleships of Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…. The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost.” Except of President Franklin D Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Speech December 8th 1941

Today is the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and as we were then we are at war. Of course it is not the same kind of war and most Americans live in the illusion of peace which makes it even more important to remember that terribly day of infamy.

I remember reading Walter Lord’s classic and very readable book about Pearl Harbor “Day of Infamy” when I was a 7th grade student at Stockton Junior High School back in 1972. At the time my dad was on his first deployment to Vietnam on the USS Hancock CVA-19. As a Navy brat I was totally enthralled with all things Navy and there was little that could pull me out of the library. In fact in my sophomore year of high school I cut over one half of the class meetings of the 4th quarter my geometry class to sit in the library and read history, especially naval and military history.

The main battery of either USS Arizona or Pennsylvania

Over the years I have always found the pre-World War Two battleships to be among the most interesting ships in US Navy history. No they are not the sleek behemoths like the USS Wisconsin which graces the Norfolk waterfront. They were not long and sleek, but rather squat yet exuded power. They were the backbone of the Navy from the First World War until Pearl Harbor. They were the US Navy answer to the great Dreadnaught race engaged in by the major Navies of the world in the years prior to, during and after World War One.

USS Pennsylvania passing under the Golden Gate

Built over a period of 10 years each class incorporated the rapid advances in technology between the launching of the Dreadnaught and the end of the Great War. While the United States Navy did not engage in battleship to battleship combat the ships built by the US Navy were equal to or superior to many of the British and German ships of the era.

US Battleships at the Grand Fleet Review of 1937

Through the 1920s and 1930s they were the ambassadors of the nation, training and showing the flag. During those years the older ships underwent significant overhaul and modernization.

The Battle Force of the Pacific Fleet in 1941 included 9 battleships of which 8 were at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th. In the event of war the US War Plan, “Orange” called for the Pacific Fleet led by the Battle Force to cross the Pacific, fight a climactic Mahanian battle against the battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy and after vanquishing the Japanese foe to relieve American Forces in the Philippines. However this was not to be as by the end of December 7th all eight were out of action, with two, the Arizona and Oklahoma permanently lost to the Navy.

The ships comprised 4 of the 6 classes of battleships in the US inventory at the outbreak of hostilities. Each class was an improvement on the preceding class in speed, protection and firepower. The last class of ships, the Maryland class comprised of the Maryland, Colorado and West Virginia, was the pinnacle of US Battleship design until the North Carolina class was commissioned in 1941. Since the Washington Naval Treaty limited navies to specific tonnage limits as well as the displacement of new classes of ships the United States like Britain and Japan was limited to the ships in the current inventory at the time of the treaty’s ratification.

USS Oklahoma

The ships at Pearl Harbor included the two ships of the Nevada class, the Nevada and Oklahoma they were the oldest battleships at Pearl Harbor and the first of what were referred to as the “standard design” battleships. The two ships of the Pennsylvania class, the Pennsylvania and her sister the Arizona served as the flagships of the Pacific Fleet and First Battleship Division respectively and were improved Nevada’s. The California class ships, California and Tennessee and two of the three Maryland’s the Maryland and West Virginia made up the rest of the Battle Force.

USS California passing under Brooklyn Bridge

The Colorado was undergoing a yard period at Bremerton and the three ships of the New Mexico class, New Mexico, Mississippi and Idaho had been transferred to the Atlantic before Pearl Harbor due to the German threat. The three oldest battleships ships of the New York and Wyoming Classes, the New York, Arkansas and Texas also were in the Atlantic. Two former battleships, the Utah and Wyoming had been stripped of their main armaments and armor belts and served as gunnery training ships for the fleet. The Utah was at Pearl Harbor moored on the far side of Ford Island.

The ships that lay at anchor at 0755 that peaceful Sunday morning on “Battleship Row” and in the dry dock represented the naval power of a bygone era, something that most did not realize until two hours later. The age of the battleship was passing away, but even the Japanese did not realize that the era had passed building the massive super-battleships Yamato and Musashi mounting nine 18” guns and displacing 72,000 tons, near twice that of the largest battleships on Battleship Row.

USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor

The Oklahoma and Nevada were the oldest ships in the Battle Force. Launched in 1914 and commissioned in 1916 the Nevada and Oklahoma mounted ten 14” guns and displaced 27,500 tons and were capable of 20.5 knots. They served in World War One alongside the British Home Fleet and were modernized in the late 1920s. They were part of the US presence in both the Atlantic and Pacific in the inter-war years. Oklahomatook part in the evacuation of American citizens from Spain in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War.

USS Oklahoma Capsized (above) and righted (below)

During the Pearl Harbor attack Oklahoma was struck by 5 aerial torpedoes capsized and sank at her mooring with the loss of 415 officers and crew. Recent analysis indicates that she may have been hit by at least on torpedo from a Japanese midget submarine. Her hulk would be raised but she would never again see service and sank on the way to the breakers in 1946.

USS Nevada aground off Hospital Point

Nevada was the only battleship to get underway during the attack. Moored alone at the north end of Battleship Row her Officer of the Deck had lit off a second boiler an hour before the attack. She was hit by an aerial torpedo in the first minutes of the attack but was not seriously damaged. She got underway between the attack waves and as she attempted to escape the harbor she was heavily damaged. To prevent her from sinking in the main channel she was beached off Hospital Point.

USS Nevada at Normandy

Nevada was raised and received a significant modernization before returning to service for the May 1943 assault on Attu. Nevada returned to the Atlantic where she took part in the Normandy landings off Utah Beach and the invasion of southern France. She returned to the Pacific and took part in the operations against Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she again provided naval gunfire support. Following the war the great ship was assigned as a target at the Bikini atoll atomic bomb tests. The tough ship survived these tests and was sunk as a target on 31July 1948.

USS Arizona

The two ships of the Pennsylvania Class were improved Oklahoma’s. The Arizona and Pennsylvania mounted twelve 14” guns and displacing 31,400 tons and capable of 21 knots they were both commissioned in 1916. They participated in operations in the Atlantic in the First World War with the British Home Fleet. Both ships were rebuilt and modernized between 1929-1931.

They were mainstays of the fleet being present at Presidential reviews, major fleet exercises and making goodwill visits around the world. Pennsylvania was the Pacific Fleet Flagship on December 7th 1941 and was in dry dock undergoing maintenance at the time of the attack. She was struck by two bombs and received minor damage.

She was back in action in early 1942. She underwent minor refits and took part in many amphibious landings in the Pacific and was present at the Battle of Surigao Strait. She was heavily damaged by an aerial torpedo at Okinawa Pennsylvania and was repaired. Following the war the elderly warrior was used as a target for the atomic bomb tests. She was sunk as a gunnery target in 1948.

Arizona was destroyed during the attack. As the flagship of Battleship Division One she was moored next to the repair ship USS Vestal. She was hit by 8 armor piercing bombs one of which penetrated her forward black powder magazine. The ship was consumed by a cataclysmic explosion which killed 1103 of her 1400 member crew including her Captain and Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd, commander of Battleship Division One. She was never officially decommissioned and the colors are raised and lowered every day over the Memorial which sits astride her broken hull.

The Tennessee classships the Tennessee and California were the class following the New Mexico class ships which were not present at Pearl Harbor. These ships were laid down in 1917 and commissioned in 1920. Their design incorporated lessons learned at the Battle Jutland. They mounted twelve 14” guns, displaced 32,300 tons and were capable of 21 knots. At Pearl Harbor Tennessee was moored inboard of West Virginia and protected from the aerial torpedoes which did so much damage to other battleships. She was damaged by two bombs. California the Flagship of Battleship Division Two was moored at the southern end of Battleship Row. She was hit by two torpedoes in the initial attack. However, she had the bad luck to have all of her major watertight hatches unhinged in preparation for an inspection.

Despite the valiant efforts of her damage control teams she sank at her moorings. She was raised and rebuilt along with Tennessee were completely modernized with the latest in radar, fire control equipment and anti-aircraft armaments. They were widened with the addition of massive anti-torpedo bulges and their superstructure was razed and rebuilt along the lines of the South Dakota class.

USS California following Modernization

USS Tennessee with another ship, possibly California in reserve awaiting the breakers

When the repairs and modernization work was completed they looked nothing like they did on December 7th. Both ships were active in the Pacific campaign and be engaged at Surigao Strait where they inflicted heavy damage on the attacking Japanese squadron. Both survived the war and were placed in reserve until 1959 when they were stricken from the Navy list and sold for scrap.

USS West Virginia

The Maryland and West Virginia were near sisters of the Tennessee class. They were the last battleships built by the United States before the Washington Naval Treaty. and the first to mount 16” guns. With eight 16” guns they had the largest main battery of any US battleships until the North Carolina class.

They displaced 32,600 tons and could steam at 21 knots. Laid down in 1917 and commissioned in 1921 they were modernized in the late 1920s. They were the most modern of the Super-Dreadnoughts built by the United States and included advances in protection and watertight integrity learned from both the British and German experience at Jutland.

USS Maryland behind the capsized Oklahoma

At Pearl Harbor Maryland was moored inboard of Oklahomaand was hit by 2 bombs and her crew helped rescue survivors of that unfortunate ship. She was quickly repaired and returned to action. She received minimal modernization during the war. She participated in operations throughout the entirety of the Pacific Campaign mainly conducting Naval Gunfire Support to numerous amphibious operations. She was present at Surigao Strait where despite not having the most modern fire control radars she unleashed six salvos at the Japanese Southern Force.

USS West Virginia, sunk, raised and in dry dock, note the massive damage to Port Side

West Virginia suffered some of the worst damage in the attack. She was hit by at least 5 torpedoes and two bombs. She took a serious list and was threatening to capsize. However she was saved from Oklahoma’s fate by the quick action of her damage control officer who quickly ordered counter-flooding so she would sink on an even keel. She was raised from the mud of Pearl Harbor and after temporary repairs and sailed to the West Coast for an extensive modernization on the order of the Tennessee and California.

USS West Virginia after salvage and modernization

West Virginia was the last Pearl Harbor to re-enter service. However when she returned she made up for lost time. She led the battle line at Surigao Strait and fired 16 full salvos at the Japanese squadron. Her highly accurate gunfire was instrumental in sinking the Japanese Battleship Yamashiro in the last battleship versus battleship action in history. West Virginia, Maryland and their sister Coloradosurvived the war and were placed in reserve until they were stricken from the Naval List and sold for scrap in 1959.

The battleships of Pearl Harbor are gone, save for the wreck of the Arizona and various relics such as masts, and ships bells located at various state capitals and Naval Stations. Unfortunately no one had the forethought to preserve one of the survivors to remain at Pearl Harbor with the Arizona. Likewise the sailors who manned these fine ships, who sailed in harm’s way are also passing away. Every day their ranks grow thinner, the youngest are all 89-90 years old.

As this anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack passes into history it is fitting to remember these men and the great ships that they manned.


The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Battleship Row - USAA - HISTORY

Before dawn on 7 December 1941, the American strategic center of gravity in the Pacific reposed in the seven battleships then moored along "Battleship Row", the six pairs of interrupted quays located along Ford Island's eastern side. Quay F-2, the southernmost, which usually hosted an aircraft carrier, was empty. Northeastward, Battle Force flagship California was next, moored at F-3. Then came two pairs, moored side by side: Maryland with Oklahoma outboard, and Tennessee with West Virginia outboard. Astern of Tennessee lay Arizona , which had the repair ship Vestal alongside. Last in line was USS Nevada , by herself at quay F-8. These seven battleships, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-five years, represented all but two of those available to the Pacific Fleet. The Fleet flagship, Pennsylvania , was also in Pearl Harbor, drydocked at the nearby Navy Yard. The ninth, USS Colorado , was undergoing overhaul on the west coast.

Together, these ships were one short of equalling Japan's active battlefleet. Clearly a worrisome threat to Japanese plans for Pacific Ocean dominance, they were the Japanese raiders' priority target. Twenty-four of the forty Japanese torpedo planes were assigned to attack "Battleship Row", and five more diverted to that side of Ford Island when they found no battleships in their intended target areas. Of these planes' twenty-nine Type 91 aerial torpedoes (each with a warhead of some 450 pounds of high explosive), up to twenty-one found their targets: two hit California , one exploded against Nevada and as many as nine each struck Oklahoma and West Virginia . The latter two ships sank within minutes of receiving this torpedo damage.

Horizontal bombers, armed with heavy armor-piercing bombs, arrived just as the last torpedo planes finished their attacks, and other horizontal and dive bombers came in later. Together, these planes scored many hits or damaging near-misses on the "Battleship Row" ships: two on California , Maryland and Tennessee a few on West Virginia . Most spectacular of the bombers' victims was Arizona , which was struck many times. One bomb penetrated to the vicinity of her forward magazines, which detonated with a massive blast, immediately sinking the ship. Nevada , which got underway during the latter part of the attack, attracted many dive bombers, was hit repeatedly as she steamed slowly between Ford Island and the Navy Yard, and, sinking and ablaze, had to be run ashore.

The Japanese had thus put out of action all seven battleships present on "Battleship Row". Two, Maryland and Tennessee , were repaired in a matter of weeks, as was the Pennsylvania . However, three were under repair for a year or more. Oklahoma and Arizona would never return to service. Even with the addition of three more battleships brought around from the Atlantic, the Japanese battleline was assured of absolute superiority in the critical months to come.

This page features aerial views of the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor's "Battleship Row", and provide links to other views of that area during and shortly after the attack.

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the Online Library's digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

Torpedo planes attack "Battleship Row" at about 0800 on 7 December, seen from a Japanese aircraft. Ships are, from lower left to right: Nevada (BB-36) with flag raised at stern Arizona (BB-39) with Vestal (AR-4) outboard Tennessee (BB-43) with West Virginia (BB-48) outboard Maryland (BB-46) with Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard Neosho (AO-23) and California (BB-44).
West Virginia , Oklahoma and California have been torpedoed, as marked by ripples and spreading oil, and the first two are listing to port. Torpedo drop splashes and running tracks are visible at left and center.
White smoke in the distance is from Hickam Field. Grey smoke in the center middle distance is from the torpedoed USS Helena (CL-50), at the Navy Yard's 1010 dock.
Japanese writing in lower right states that the image was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Online Image: 144KB 740 x 545 pixels

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

Vertical aerial view of "Battleship Row", beside Ford Island, during the early part of the horizontal bombing attack on the ships moored there. Photographed from a Japanese aircraft.
Ships seen are (from left to right): USS Nevada USS Arizona with USS Vestal moored outboard USS Tennessee with USS West Virginia moored outboard USS Maryland with USS Oklahoma moored outboard and USS Neosho , only partially visible at the extreme right.
A bomb has just hit Arizona near the stern, but she has not yet received the bomb that detonated her forward magazines. West Virginia and Oklahoma are gushing oil from their many torpedo hits and are listing to port. Oklahoma 's port deck edge is already under water. Nevada has also been torpedoed.
Japanese inscription in lower left states that the photograph has been officially released by the Navy Ministry.

Donation of Theodore Hutton, 21 September 1942.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Online Image: 144KB 740 x 545 pixels

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

Vertical aerial view of "Battleship Row", beside Ford Island, soon after USS Arizona was hit by bombs and her forward magazines exploded. Photographed from a Japanese aircraft.
Ships seen are (from left to right): USS Nevada USS Arizona (burning intensely) with USS Vestal moored outboard USS Tennessee with USS West Virginia moored outboard and USS Maryland with USS Oklahoma capsized alongside.
Smoke from bomb hits on Vestal and West Virginia is also visible.
Japanese inscription in lower left states that the photograph has been reproduced under Navy Ministry authorization.


The Pacific Fleet Post-World War II

After the war, the Pacific Fleet participated in Operation Magic Carpet, which returned American servicemen from the Pacific islands back to the US mainland. The fleet’s involvement in America’s wars didn’t end with World War II, as the nation soon found itself engaged in Korea and later, Vietnam.

Today, the US Pacific Fleet is still based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
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USS West Virginia (BB-48)

The West Virginia suffered the third-highest number of casualties, having lost 106 sailors during the attack. The vessel suffered two bomb strikes and seven torpedo hits before sinking. Thanks to the shallow waters of the harbor, the West Virginia was later refloated and returned to service in July of 1944. One of the first efforts she took part in was the landing in the Leyte Gulf during the invasion of the Philippines.


The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Battleship Row - USAA - HISTORY

This page features surface views of the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor's "Battleship Row". Among the critical elements seen in some of these views is a large pool of burning oil that drifted southward from the flaming wreck of the Arizona . This caused heat damage to the hulls of ships it passed and prompted a temporary abandonment of USS California .

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the Online Library's digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

View looking up "Battleship Row" on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese attack.
USS Arizona (BB-39) is in the center, burning furiously. To the left of her are USS Tennessee (BB-43) and the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Online Image: 98KB 740 x 605 pixels

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

View looking up "Battleship Row" on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese attack.
The sunken and burning USS Arizona (BB-39) is in the center. To the left of her are USS Tennessee (BB-43) and the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Online Image: 77KB 740 x 610 pixels

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

View of "Battleship Row" from the head of 1010 dock, during or immediately after the Japanese raid. USS Arizona (BB-39) is sunk and burning at right. USS West Virginia (BB-48) is in the right center, sunk alongside USS Tennessee (BB-43), with oil fires shrouding them both. The capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is in the left center, alongside USS Maryland (BB-46).
Note wire spools in the right foreground, one marked "Crescent Wire & Cable Co., Trenton, N.J.".

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 105KB 740 x 610 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

View of "Battleship Row" during or immediately after the Japanese raid. USS Arizona (BB-39) is sunk and burning at right. USS West Virginia (BB-48) is in the center, sunk alongside USS Tennessee (BB-43), with oil fires shrouding them both. The capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is at the left, alongside USS Maryland (BB-46).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 56KB 740 x 605 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

View of "Battleship Row" during or immediately after the Japanese raid. USS West Virginia (BB-48) is at the right sunk alongside USS Tennessee (BB-43), with oil fires shrouding them both. The capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is at the left, alongside USS Maryland (BB-46). Crewmen on the latter's stern are using firehoses to try to push burning oil away from their ship.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 81KB 740 x 610 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

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.

Online Image: 97KB 740 x 610 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

Oil fires burning on the water near Ford Island in the morning of 7 December 1941, shortly after the conclusion of the Japanese raid.
USS Maryland (BB-46) is in the center background. A harbor tug is at right.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 75KB 740 x 605 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

USS Avocet (AVP-4) at Berth Fox-1A, at Ford Island, prior to 1045 hrs. on 7 December, when she moved to avoid oil fires drifting southward along the shore of Ford Island.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 73KB 740 x 550 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

Pearl Harbor Raid, December 1941

USS Phoenix (CL-46) steams down the channel off Ford Island's "Battleship Row", past the sunken and burning USS West Virginia (BB-48), at left, and USS Arizona (BB-39), at right, 7 December 1941.


This Is How The Battleship USS Nevada Survived Japan's Attack On Pearl Harbor

During the dark daysof December 1941, when it seemed as if American and British bases were falling like dominoes across the Pacific, two incidents during the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor gave American morale a much needed boost.

One of these occurred when Army Air Corps lieutenants George Welch and Ken Taylor managed to get airborne in their two Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters from their base at Haleiwa Field and between them downed five enemy aircraft that Sunday morning, ending their attacks only when their ammunition and fuel were exhausted. But their exploits were not fully known until after the attack was over, they had been debriefed and their claims verified, and their story appeared in newspapers to a country hungry for positive war news. They achieved their exploits in the open skies over Hawaii, mostly unseen by those on the ground below.

The second incident was more widely witnessed. The World War I-vintage battleship USS Nevada was the only capital ship that day that managed to get underway during the attack and attempt an escape from the confining waters of Pearl Harbor to the open sea battered and heavily damaged, her captain chose to beach her on a nearby spit of land so she could be repaired and readied to fight another day. Though her run for the sea lasted barely 30 minutes, it was later claimed (rightfully or not) to have been witnessed, at least in part, by just about every serviceman present that Sunday at Pearl Harbor from numerous vantage points. It was photographed while it was happening and gave an immediate lift to the spirits of those resisting the Japanese onslaught. Because of the vast number of witnesses, the story of her dash to the sea began to spread, either by word of mouth or telephone, almost immediately after the attack. Yet her name is little known today by the general public, and the story of how she became the only ship that day to nearly escape the Japanese attack is even less known.

The USS Nevada was launched on July 11, 1914. As the lead ship of her class she boasted what were then three new features that later became standard among U.S. ships: three turrets with three guns each oil fuel rather than coal and heavy armor plating to protect her vital machinery spaces rather than lighter armor spread over the entire ship. In the parlance of the day she was known as a “super dreadnought.”

At 583 feet long, she boasted 14-inch guns as main weaponry, achieved a speed of 20 knots, held a crew of 1,500 men, and displaced some 30,000 tons. Her World War I career was brief, mostly consisting of Atlantic convoy duty. After the war she served in the Atlantic Fleet until 1930, representing the United States at the Peruvian Centennial Exposition in July 1921.

In 1930, she was modernized with the replacement of her “basket” masts for tripod masts, a reduction in her secondary 5-inch armament, a new superstructure, new steam turbines, two new catapults for her three spotter aircraft, and eight new 5-inch antiaircraft guns. At the conclusion of this overhaul, she joined the Pacific Fleet where she remained for the next 11 years.

On December 7, 1941, the Nevada and her sister ships were spending their first weekend in port in more than five months. Vice Admiral William Halsey had been given the task of reinforcing Wake Island’s Marine detachment with additional fighter aircraft. Halsey refused to take the slower battleships with him to try and keep up with his 30-knot fleet of aircraft carriers, and so they were resting at berth that Sunday morning instead of being out on patrol. Nevada’s position was on Battleship Row alongside Ford Island in the center of the harbor, immediately behind the USS Arizona, soon to become famous in her own right. But, unlike other battleships moored nearby that day Nevada was not paired next to an adjacent battleship and so was free to maneuver when the attack began.

At 0600 hours Lieutenant Lawrence Ruff, Nevada’s senior communications officer, rose from his bunk. He had opted to turn in early following the ship’s movie the previous evening. He had volunteered to escort the ship’s chaplain, Father Drinnan, in a motor launch over to the hospital ship USS Solace, where Father Drinnan was scheduled to hear confessions and perform Sunday morning services. Upon his transfer to the Nevada, Lieutenant Ruff had had an opportunity to bring his wife and family over to live the idyllic lifestyle of the Hawaiian Islands, but both had decided that in the rising tensions of the day it was a potentially dangerous location to bring a family. They were soon to have their fears confirmed. Just before 0700 the Nevada’s launch pulled alongside the Solace, and Ruff enjoyed coffee and a light breakfast in the officer’s lounge while Father Drinnan conducted the morning’s services.

At 0600 the assistant quartermaster of the watch roused Ensign Joseph K. Taussig Jr., who had the forenoon watch. Taussig, 21, was the son of a rear admiral who had for the last two years publicly warned of the possibility of a Japanese attack in the Pacific, and so was perhaps better informed of the international situation than his fellow sailors of the same age. Taussig, a junior officer assigned to Nevada’s antiaircraft section, was doubtful of any battleship’s ability to defend itself against attack from the air. He felt that though they were highly trained to man the guns, load, and fire “at a rate of speed which people not involved would not believe possible,” the quality of the overall marksmanship was such that “I can testify with vim, vigor and conviction that we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn except at point-blank range.”

Being officer of the deck, especially on a quiet Sunday spent in port, was usually a boring affair, with little happening to break up the monotony. Taussig spent the first part of his watch trying to think of something to do. It occurred to him that only one boiler had been carrying the burden of powering the ship during the entire four days the Nevada had been in port. He therefore ordered another one lit. This seeming innocent act would have enormous consequences later that morning.

The Nevada’s captain, Francis W. Scanland, and her executive officer had both gone ashore that morning, leaving the ship in the care of its junior-grade officers. Scanland was visiting his wife in nearby Honolulu and had promised to spend the day with her. After all, it was expected to be a leisurely tropical Sunday some of the crew was organizing a tennis tournament against sailors from some of the nearby battleships, while others were looking forward to a swim at nearby Aiea Beach. The Nevada, the northernmost ship in Battleship Row, was also the oldest in harbor that day but stuck to a very rigid tradition of presenting colors every morning while in port at precisely 0800, to the accompaniment of the “Star Spangled Banner” as performed by the ship’s band.

Ensign Taussig, as officer of the deck, was also in charge of the morning’s proceedings. But this was the first time Taussig had ever stood watch for the morning colors, and he was uncertain as to what size flag to fly. He quietly sent a sailor over to the Arizona at 0750 to find out which size flag they were flying. While everyone waited in the morning sun, some of the bandsmen later recalled spotting specks of aircraft in the sky far to the southwest. Band leader Oden MacMillan later recalled seeing planes diving on the far side of Ford Island and a lot of dirt and sand thrown upward, but thought it was all part of some elaborately staged drill. The sailor soon returned with the welcome news that they had the correct flag after all. The ceremonial group, now assembled at the ship’s fantail in splendid dress whites, was in the process of running the colors up on the flagstaff when the first Japanese planes began diving on Battleship Row.

According to acclaimed author Gordon Prange, the first bomb dropped nearby was actually aimed at the Arizona, not the Nevada. As the first reports of an attack began filtering up the chain of command, Mrs. John Earle, a neighbor of Admiral Husband Kimmel, the naval commander at Pearl Harbor, recalled watching the opening moments of the attack on her front lawn overlooking the harbor along with Admiral Kimmel, who had stepped outside to see for himself. She described him as staring “in utter disbelief and completely stunned.”

“I knew right away that something terrible was going on,” Kimmel later recalled. “This was not a casual raid by just a few stray planes. The sky was full of the enemy.”

“Gazing toward Battleship Row, they saw the Arizona lift out of the water, then sink back down—way down. Neither uttered a word the scene was beyond speech,” wrote Prange. “The strike that had transfixed both Admiral Kimmel and Mrs. Earle may have come from the torpedo plane which, having dropped its missile aimed at the Arizona, angled upward over the Nevada’s stern at the exact moment the battleship’s 23-man band struck up the national anthem and the Marine color guard began to raise the flag. The Japanese rear gunner loosed a burst of machine-gun fire by some freak of chance he missed a solid target of some 25 or 30 men, but ripped the flag as it slid along the pole. The bandsmen kept right on playing.” It had never occurred to band leader Oden MacMillan that once he started playing the “Star Spangled Banner” he could possibly stop. Another strafing run kicked up bits of the wooden deck nearby the entire band paused and then started again in unison as if they had practiced it that way. Not one man broke formation and ran. “Not until they finished the last note did they break for cover and sped to their battle stations.”


Watch the video: The Attack on Pearl Harbor (August 2022).