Six Japanese aircraft carriers had sailed to within 300 miles of the Hawaiian Islands, loaded with fighters, torpedo planes and bombers. They were on Oahu in minutes, like a swarm of angry mosquitoes.
As Americans remember the 75th anniversary, little has lessened the horror of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Just after Christmas, however, on Dec. 26 and 27, another step will be taken to move toward further healing for both nations involved in this horrendous attack.
Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, announced Monday that he would visit Pearl Harbor, becoming the first sitting Japanese leader to go to the site of Japan’s attack. In a televised news conference, he said he would travel with President Barack Obama to the American naval base to address his country’s wartime history. He may also be reciprocating the visit President Obama made in May to Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the nuclear bomb at the end of the war with Japan in 1945.
“We must never repeat the horror of war,” Mr. Abe said in a televised news conference on Monday. “I want to express that determination as we look to the future, and at the same time send a message about the value of U.S.-Japanese reconciliation.”
Although the attack must not and cannot be forgotten now, the U.S. did bounce back, in double time. All but three of the ships damaged or sunk on Dec. 7 were raised, repaired, and sailed again. In fact, by the end of the war, the U.S. had chased down and destroyed every Japanese aircraft carrier used to launch the attack.
But it was the USS Arizona that got the worst of it. Hit by armor-piercing bombs, it exploded, killing 1,177 — the single largest loss of life in American naval history. Her hull is still in the mud where she sank.
The Arizona remains the final resting place for most of her crew, including 23 sets of brothers — family who died shoulder-to-shoulder, fighting a war that hadn’t even been declared yet.
The Battleships of Pearl Harbor
The USS Pennsylvania was built at Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned one hundred years ago in June 1916; she served as the Atlantic Fleet’s flagship into the early 1920’s. When Japan attacked on December 7, 1941, the USS Pennsylvania was in drydock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. Her relatively light damage was repaired over the next few months, and she operated along the U.S. west coast and off Hawaii until October 1942. Following an overhaul that significantly updated her secondary battery of 5” guns and added many anti-aircraft machine guns, Pennsylvania went to Alaskan waters, where she participated in the recapture of Attu in May 1943 and Kiska in August.
In 1945, Pennsylvania was seriously damaged by a Japanese aerial torpedo off Okinawa on 12 August 1945. Too old for retention in the post-war fleet, Pennsylvania was repaired only enough to fit her for target duty. She served in that capacity during the July 1946 Bikini atomic bomb tests. Subsequently moored at Kwajalein for studies of residual radioactivity, USS Pennsylvania was sunk at sea on 19 February 1948. Pennsylvania received eight battle stars for World War II service.
The USS Arizona, a 31,400 ton battleship built at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, was commissioned in October 1916.
From 1940, she, and the other Pacific Fleet battleships, were based at Pearl Harbor on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Arizona was moored in Pearl Harbor’s “Battleship Row” on the morning of 7 December 1941, when Japanese carrier aircraft attacked. She was hit by several bombs, one of which penetrated her forecastle and detonated her forward ammunition magazines. The wrecked battleship’s hull remains where she sank, a tomb for many of those lost with her. Arizona (BB-39) was awarded one battle star for her service in World War II
The USS Nevada, first of a class of two 27,500-ton battleships, was built at Quincy, Massachusetts. She was commissioned in March 1916. The only battleship able to get underway during the 7 December 1941 Pearl Harbor Raid, Nevada was the object of intense attacks by Japanese aircraft. Left in a sinking condition after receiving one torpedo and several bomb hits, she had to be beached. After permanent repairs and improvements, including a greatly enhanced anti-aircraft gun battery, Nevada returned to combat during the Attu landings in May 1943.
With the coming of peace, Nevada steamed back to Hawaii. She was too old for retention in the post-war fleet, and was assigned to serve as a target during the July 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini, in the Marshall Islands. That experience left her damaged and radioactive, and she was formally decommissioned in August 1946. After two years of inactivity, USS Nevada was towed to sea off the Hawaiian islands and sunk by gunfire and torpedos. Nevada received 7 battle stars for World War II service.
The USS Oklahoma, a 27,500-ton class battleship, was built at Camden, New Jersey. She was commissioned in May 1916. In 1940, Oklahoma’s base was shifted from the U.S. west coast to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. She was hit by a great number of Japanese aerial torpedoes. With her port side torn open over much of its length, Oklahoma rapidly rolled over and sank to the harbor bottom, with the loss of over 400 of her crew.
Too old and badly damaged to be worth returning to service, Oklahoma was formally decommissioned in September 1944. She was sold for scrapping in December 1946, but sank while under tow from Hawaii to California in May 1947. Oklahoma received 1 battle star for World War II service.
USS Tennessee V
The fifth Tennessee launched on April 30, 1919. On the morning of 7 December 1941, Tennessee was moored on Battleship Row, the name given to a line of these deep water berths located along the southeast side of Ford Island. As the first bombs fell Tennessee went to general quarters and closed her watertight doors. In about five minutes, her antiaircraft guns were manned and firing. Tennessee, though her guns were firing and her engines operational, could not move. The sinking West Virgina had wedged her against the two massive concrete quays to which she was moored.
Dive bombers were simultaneously coming in from above and the torpedo hits on West Virginia had also released burning oil, and Tennessee’s stern and port quarter were soon surrounded by flames and dense black smoke. While her physical hurts were relatively minor, Tennessee was still seriously threatened by oil fires raging around her stern. When Arizona’s magazines erupted, Tennessee’s after decks were showered with burning oil and debris which started fires that were encouraged by the heat of the flaming fuel.
Tennessee carefully crept ahead, past Oklahoma’s sunken hull, and moored at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard.
Temporary repairs were quickly made and Tennessee steamed north, arriving at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 29 December 1941, and commenced permanent repairs.
In February 1947, was placed out of commission. Tennessee remained in the inactive fleet for another 12 years and in 1959 was sold to the Bethlehem Steel Company for scrapping. Tennessee earned a Navy Unit Commendation and 10 battle stars for World War II service.
USS California V
The fifth California was launched on November 20, 1919 by Mare Island Navy Yard. In 1940 California switched her base to Pearl Harbor. During the Pearl Harbor attack, a bomb exploded below decks, setting off an antiaircraft ammunition magazine and killing about 50 men. A second bomb ruptured her bow plates and the inrushing water sank her into the mud with only her superstructure remaining above the surface. When the attack ended, 98 of her crew were lost and 61 wounded.
On 25 March 1942 California was refloated and drydocked at Pearl Harbor for repairs. After serving several missions till 1946 and in 1959 was sold for scrap metal. California received seven battle stars for World War II service.
USS Maryland III
The Maryland was launched on March 20, 1920. With a new type seaplane catapult and the first 16 inch guns mounted on a U.S. ship, Maryland was the pride of the Navy. In 1940 Maryland and the other battleships of the battle force changed their bases of operations to Pearl Harbor. She was present at battleship row along Ford Island when Japan struck December 1941. Maryland managed to bring all her antiaircraft batteries into action. Despite two bomb hits she continued to fire and, after the attack, sent firefighting parties to assist her sister ships. The Japanese announced that she had been sunk, but, battered yet sturdy, she entered the repair yard at Puget Sound Navy Yard. Maryland received seven battle stars for World War II service and was decommissioned in April 1947. Maryland was sold for scrapping to Learner Co. of Oakland, Calif., July 1959.
USS West Virginia II
The second West Virginia was launched on November17, 1921. In 1941, West Virginia carried out a schedule of intensive training, basing on Pearl Harbor and operating in various task forces and groups in the Hawaiian operating area.
On Sunday, 7 December 1941 the West Virginia took five 18-inch aircraft torpedoes in her port side and two bomb hits. West Virginia was abandoned, settling to the harbor bottom. On May 17, 1942 West Virginia was refloated and during the ensuing repairs, workers located 70 bodies of West Virginia sailors who had been trapped below when the ship sank. West Virginia entered her final stages of inactivation in the latter part of February 1946 and was decommissioned in January 1947. She never again received the call to active duty, and in 1959 was sold for scrapping to the Union Minerals and Alloys Corp. of New York City. West Virginia, although heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor and missing much of the war, earned five battle stars.
A new documentary coming out this week takes viewers where they’ve never gone before: To the lower decks of the Arizona, where haunting “frozen in time” images — an officer’s dress uniform still on its hanger, an unassuming foot locker — give a sense of what everyday life must have been like on board — right up until the moments when the first bombs hit.
The 60-minute film, “Pearl Harbor: Into the Arizona,” premieres on CuriosityStream, the world’s first ad-free, on-demand streaming service for documentary and nonfiction programming. Due to NPS (National Parks System) restrictions, no human has ever seen inside the USS Arizona below her second deck. But the 11th Hour, which is equipped with ultra-HD 4K and 3D image capture and recording technology, could go where humans couldn’t: Indeed, based on advance clips provided by CuriositySteam, the documentary is a bit of a starmaking turn for the self-spooling submersible.
Still, nothing can compete with the haunting images of naval life remarkably preserved in their watery resting place. “Pearl Harbor: Into the Arizona” is available now to watch for free on any streaming-enabled device with a 30-day trial at http://www.CuriosityStream.com.