THE ATTACK BY THE FIRST JAPANESE WAVE

When World War II came to America's Hawaiian Islands shortly before 8 a.m on 7 December 1941, it was a quiet Sunday morning. America was not yet at war, and most civilian residents of Hawaii were preparing for church or other peaceful Sunday pursuits. Peacetime Sunday routine prevailed at the United States Navy base at Pearl Harbor, and the normal bustle of a huge naval base was absent. Many officers and enlisted men were on shore leave. The guns of the eight battleships and sixty-two other warships in the harbor were unmanned when the first wave of Japanese aircraft struck without warning. The Japanese attack had not been preceded by a formal declaration of war against the United States.The battleships were not protected by anti-torpedo nets, and their anti-aircraft ammunition boxes were locked.

"Battleship Row" by Stan Stokes

This dramatic image captures the moment when a Japanese "Kate" torpedo bomber launches its deadly torpedo at battleship USS West Virginia.


Permission to illustrate the Pearl Harbor section of the Pacific War Web-site with this superb painting was generously given by internationally recognised and award-winning American artist Stan Stokes . A range of his fine aviation and marine art can be viewed on-line at The Stokes Collection.

The battleships were the primary targets of the Japanese torpedo bombers. USS West Virginia (launched 1921) and USS Oklahoma (launched 1914) were each hit by several torpedoes. The former settled upright on the shallow bed of Pearl Harbor with her superstructure above water. Oklahoma capsized. USS California (launched 1919) took two torpedo hits and sank upright with her superstructure above water. USS Nevada (launched 1914) was hit by one torpedo. It was then the turn of the high altitude bombers with their armour piercing bombs to attack the battleships. A bomb penetrated the hull of the battleship USS Arizona (launched 1915) and ignited the forward battery magazine. The enormous explosion blew the battleship's hull apart and over one thousand American seamen were killed. USS Tennessee (launched 1919) was anchored inboard of West Virginia and survived the initial torpedo attack. Two armour-piercing bombs struck Tennessee but caused only minor damage.

The USS Arizona explodes after a Japanese bomb has penetrated its forward magazine. 1,175 officers and men died when their ship was ripped apart by the blast. The torn hull still rests on the bed of Pearl Harbor and is now the site of a national war memorial.

By 8.30 a.m. on this Sunday morning, "battleship row" was a scene of devastation with four great battleships resting on the bottom of Pearl Harbor and fires raging out of control. After twenty-three years of peace, Americans had been suddenly and violently thrust into World War II by this treacherous act of the Japanese.

NEXT