Unforgettable photos from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 76 years ago today

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U.S. Navy

Under the South Pacific sun on December 7, 1941, troops serving the US fleet at Pearl Harbor began a calm Sunday morning unaware that Japanese bombers were headed toward America’s most important Pacific base.

There, like a string of pearls draped across the docks and waterfront, was the majority of the US’s naval might.

The devastating Japanese onslaught began around 8 a.m., eventually killing 2,403 Americans and wounding many others, sinking four battleships, and damaging military airfields.

The Pearl Harbor attack spurred America into World War II, leading ultimately to Allied victory over the Japanese in the Pacific and the Nazis and other Axis powers in Europe.

Here are photographs from the attack and its immediate aftermath.

Amanda Macias and Kamelia Angelova contributed to an earlier version of this story.


On the morning of December 7, 1941, an attack planned by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto to demobilize the US Navy was carried out.


Around 7 a.m., an Army radar operator spotted the first wave of the Japanese planes. The officers to whom those reports were relayed did not consider them significant enough to take action.

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An aerial view of Battleship Row in the opening moments of the raid.
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U.S. Navy

The Japanese hit most of the US ships in Oahu before 8 a.m.


The Japanese also took the opportunity to attack military airfields while bombing the fleet in Pearl Harbor. The purpose of these simultaneous attacks was to destroy American planes before they could respond.

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U.S. Navy

More than 90 ships were anchored at Pearl Harbor. The primary targets were the eight battleships in Battleship Row.

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Battleship Row during the attack.
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U.S. Navy

The USS West Virginia, left, was one of the first battleships to sink during the attack. The Japanese successfully damaged all eight.

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The West Virginia and the USS Tennessee.
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U.S. Navy

At about 8:10 a.m., the USS Arizona exploded as a bomb ignited its forward ammunition magazine. About half of the total number of Americans killed that day were on this ship.

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U.S. Navy

Here’s another picture of the USS Arizona.


The USS Shaw, a destroyer, also exploded during the three-hour attack by Japan.

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U.S. Navy

The damaged USS Nevada tried to escape down the channel toward the open sea but became a target during the second wave of 170 Japanese planes, hoping to sink it in the channel and block the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor. The ship was grounded with 60 killed on board.

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National Archives and Records Administration

A Japanese plane hit by American naval antiaircraft fire was engulfed in flames. Fewer than 30 Japanese planes were lost in the attack.


About 188 US planes were destroyed, and another 159 were damaged.


Sailors at the Naval Air Station in Kaneohe, Hawaii, attempted to salvage a burning PBY Catalina in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

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U.S. Navy

People in New York’s Times Square bought newspapers with headlines like this one, “Japs Attack US.” The US entered World War II after the surprise attack.


Salvage work soon began on the destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes. The Japanese failed to damage any US aircraft carriers, which were surprisingly absent from the harbor.

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U.S. Navy

About 10% of Japanese planes were lost on December 7, 1941.


The USS Oklahoma was considered too old to be worth repairing.

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One of the Oklahoma’s propellors peeking out from the water.
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U.S. Navy

Here, a Marine holds a piece of shrapnel removed from his arm after the attack.

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US Marine Corps Photo

Sailors participated in a memorial service for the more than 2,400 Americans killed in the attack.

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Library of Congress