The Myth That “Eight Battleships Were Sunk” At Pearl Harbor


Mr. Neumann is a professor at the Hofstra University School of Law.

Every year as December 7 approaches we hear and read that eight battleships were sunk at Pearl Harbor. That is even repeated in a 2001 article by HNN staff on the HNN website debunking movie myths about Pearl Harbor.

It didn’t happen.

Eight battleships were there. Two were “lost in action,” the Navy’s term for damage that permanently destroys a ship’s usefulness. None were “sunk,” which means disappearing below the sea surface (the most obvious but not the only way to become lost in action). Pearl Harbor is shallow, with only a few feet of water separating the battleship’s bottoms from the harbor bottom. No capital ship could disappear below the waves in a shallow harbor.

Here is what happened to each of the eight battleships during and after the attack: Pennsylvania was in dry dock when the attack began and suffered only superficial damage caused when a destroyer in the same dry dock exploded. (Sinking a capital ship in dry dock is physically impossible, even if the dry dock is flooded.) Maryland was also lightly damaged. Both ships were seaworthy later that month. Tennessee suffered more damage, but was seaworthy early in 1942. California and West Virginia were torpedoed and settled onto the bottom of the harbor, their main decks well above water. If they had suffered the same damage at sea, they would have been sunk, but the shallowness of the harbor saved them — illustrating the foolishness of attacking ships in port. Both were repaired, with many improvements, and went to sea again. Nevada was the only battleship in motion during the attack. Her crew ran her aground to prevent sinking. Oklahoma capsized, and the forward magazine of Arizona exploded. These are the two battleships that actually were lost in action. Visitors to the Arizona memorial see nothing above water, but that is because the Navy removed the ship’s superstructures, guns and turrets, which would otherwise be mostly above water today.

The six surviving battleships fought in decisive battles later in the war. On D-Day, Nevada shelled German emplacements behind the Normandy beaches, with devastating effect. The other five survivors shelled many Japanese-held Pacific islands before the Marines and Army landed on the beaches. When the U.S. invaded the Philippines, the Japanese sent three naval forces to ambush American troop ships. One of them, with two Japanese battleships, came up the Surigao Strait, where West Virginia, Tennessee, California, Maryland, and Pennsylvania (all allegedly had been “sunk” three years earlier at Pearl Harbor) were on shore-shelling duty, together with Mississippi. After U.S. destroyers sank one of the Japanese battleships with torpedoes, the U.S. battleships sank the other one with gunfire. This was only time in history that U.S. battleships ever crossed an enemy’s “T” — the maneuver for which battleships were originally designed and built. And it was the last time that any battleships of any navy fired on each other in battle.

Despite initial appearances, the attack on Pearl Harbor was an abject strategic failure. The Japanese attacked a fleet in port, where it is hard to cause permanent loss of a capital ship and where repair facilities are already nearby. They attacked obsolete ships and in so doing taught the U.S. Navy from the very beginning to rely on aircraft carriers rather than battleships. The Japanese attacked without any guarantee that the most valuable U.S. ships — the carriers — would be present, and all the U.S. carriers were safely elsewhere on December 7. At Midway six months later, those same American carriers sank two-thirds of the Japanese carrier fleet, inflicting a wound from which the Japanese navy never recovered. And the Japanese ignored the unglamorous target that truly would have crippled the U.S. Navy for perhaps a year or more: the oil tanks next to Pearl Harbor. Without the ability to refuel at Pearl, the U.S. Navy would have had to retreat to San Diego, San Francisco Bay, and Puget Sound.

Related Links

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Richard Neumann - 2/6/2007

It's on the other side of Ford's Island, not next to Arizona. In 1931, Utah ceased to be a battleship. The guns were removed, and it was converted into a radio-controlled target ship. After the conversion, Utah did have a small crew, despite the radio-controlled feature. Its primary function after 1931 was to get shot at during target practice. Its hull number on Dec. 7 was AG-16, having lost the BB-31 designation in 1931.

Whitney Sprague - 1/28/2007

You know, that rather large lump in the water next to the Arizona?

Geoffrey I. Palikar - 12/21/2006

Professor - you are still 'wiggling' as fast as you can - but it won't help because you can't retract your sensationalistic , snake oil use of the word "sunk". You have taken things out of context to "wiggle" your way out of a very poorly written article - who apparent motive was
sensationalism. Ships were indeed "sunk" at Pearl Harbor - and there is NO - repeat NO offical
US Naval history that purports differently.

And while you may claim that Samuel Elliot was the premier American nautical historian working during the 20th century - he didn't work with an interdiciplinary approach, which more than likely skewed his approach to things as they were happening. So much of military history is being intensely reviewed precisely because the military historians of the day didn't use an interdiciplinary approach. And there are so many military historians who still myopically reject an interdiciplinary approach. In fact, keeping the superiority of an interdiciplinary
approach in mind - I can't think of a worse thing to do than attempt to write history while its happening - you can't all get the diverse input that you need for a comprehensive view.

Your 'red herring' reply that the Japanese excelled at torpedo bombing and at night surface fighting - has nothing to do with your original article. Moreover, the notion that the Japanese excelled at torpedo bombing - is a highly realtive issue based upon US technological problems with our torpedo designs - an issue that had not to do with the torpedo bombing skills of our US submariners. Had the R& D community actually listened to US submarine commanders sooner - our US torpedo bombing would have been just as effective and noteworthy as the Japanese - and we eventually outmatched the Japanese torpedo bombing skills once we fixed
our WW2 torpedo designs.

Since you bring up the subject of Japanese torpedo bombing - the claim that attacking Pearl Harbor was an abject strategic failure is another superficial hindsight opinion. Using an interdiciplinary approach, we now know that had the WW2 version of Bushido not clouded the minds of the Japanese so severely - the Japanese would have taken a much more aggressive stance of attacking ALL US supply/logistical ships as well as US capital ships right off the West Coast. The fact that the Japanese WW2 version of Bushido would not allow them to torpedo US supply ships played a major part in allowing the US to regain a solid toehold in the
Pacific. (See comments about the Forgotten War/Aleutian Islands below.)

It was a total confluence of higly complex events that created an abject strategic failure on the part of the Japanese in WW2. The japanese strategic failure just isn't a simple black & white picture as you present. {And we haven't even mentioned the pure luck of the draw at Midway, et al.}

The point, professor, is that the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor was not an abject strategic failure from the gitgo - nor was it destined to be an abject failure. The Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor was simply one of many elements in a highly complex confluence of events that became inexorably intertwined and turned the WW2 Japanese war plan/actions into an abject strategic failure. We were not destined to win WW2 - we were lucky to have had the better military minds at the time. War is unpredictable - and there are innumerable issues where the luck of the draw could have gone against us in WW2.

The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor turned out to be "part" of an abject strategic mistake from the long view of history - but it wasn't a strategic mistake at the time it
took place - it was a simple imperfect raid that bought the Japanese strategic time just as they thought it would - because they 'sunk' a majority of the Pacific fleet in one fell swoop - and
created a strategic time gap. In the Japanese minds, that strategic time gap was going to allow them to conquer the Pacific and plase the US in a position to sue for peace. "IF" the Japanese hadn't blinded themselves with such a dysfunctional culture of warfare - they just
might have given as much worse run for our money that what they did.

As far as our 'obsolete' ships in port - isn't it funny how we didn't call them 'obsolete' when Pearl Habor was attacked. They were the only capital ships we had at the time in the Pacific - and there is nothing to suggest that we would not have upgraded and/used them against the Japanese in the Phillipines. Additionally - militaries have been using 'obsolete' equipment for milleniniums with excellent results. Moreover, define "obsolete'. Its not the 'obsoleteness' of the equipment - its how you employ the equipment that matters. Military thinking becomes obsolete long before equipment does. So the issue of 'obsolete' is another highly realtive term than we bandy about indiscriminately as another red herring when we don't really know what we are talking about.

May I remind you that it was the 'obsolete' Fairey Swordfish
Mk II torpedo bomber (a simple slow-go 'obsolete' bi-plane) that damaged the Bismark's rudder - which in turn led to the Bismark's demise. In other words, it was an 'obsolete' piece of equipment that allowed a confluence of critical events to occur.

May I remind you that it was mainly 'obsolete' naval and ground equipment that won back the Aleutian Islands in the Forgotten War. Although the US complained vociferously about the German submarines sinking our merchant marine ships in the Atlantic - but we turned around and did exactly what the Japanese would not do - we agressively torpedoed Japanese supply ships. In the Forgotten war of the Aleutian Islands, Rear Admiral Charles McMorris routinely interdicted Japanese supply convoys. It was only "after" the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, that the Japan abandoned attempts to resupply their Aleutian garrisons by the surface and resorted to submarine resupply instead. And a close srcutiny of the recapture of US Aleutian Islands will reveal that we won that encounter using field expedient methods and a variety of 'obsolete' equipment.

BTW - US submarines then went on and routinely interdicted ('sunk') Japanese supply ships in droves for the remainder of the war. If any part of WW2 history is highly overlooked - the US -v- Japanese Pacific submarine doctrines are rarely discussed. Now there was an abject strategic Japanese failure!

And BTW - while WW2 was really the ascendancy of the aircraft carrier - there were plenty of naval battles that relied upon concerted action with other standard capital ships - and aircraft carrier is rather naked without capital ships surrounding it in fleet formation.

So please stop 'wiggling' about with the red herring issues of capital ships at Pearl Harbor being 'obsolete' and not 'sunk'. Professor, face it, you wrote a very poor superficial article at best.

Richard Neumann - 12/14/2006

The 15-volume official Navy history of World War II was written by Samuel Elliot Morison, the premier American nautical historian working during the 20th century. By presidential directive, Morison was commissioned a rear admiral in 1942 so that he could research and observe this history while it was happening and have the widest and deepest possible access to people, places, and documents. Separately, in two other books, The Two-Ocean War and Strategy and Compromise, Morison explained what he had determined to be the bigger picture of the naval war. Because of Morison’s extraordinary skill as an historian, his unparalleled access to top commanders, and his understanding of life at sea (he actually followed Columbus’s Caribbean routes under sail so that he could see and feel what the sailors on Columbus’s decks saw and felt), these books are, among other historians, accorded much respect.

Morison considered the Pearl Harbor attack to have been a strategic mistake by the Japanese. Actually, the words he used were “stupid and suicidal.” (The Two-Ocean War, p.70) “It was a hit-and-run raid, and the hit was not decisive.” (The Two-Ocean War, p.77)
“Our three aircraft carriers were safe; the repair shops, which did an amazingly quick job on damaged ships, were almost untouched, as was the fuel-oil tank farm, filled to capacity, whose loss would have tied up the fleet for months.” (The Two-Ocean War, p.68) “The Japanese high command, by their idiotic act, had made a strategic present of the first order to the United States; they had united the country . . . .” (The Two-Ocean War, p.69) At best, “the Pearl Harbor attack was only a qualified tactical success because no aircraft carrier was sunk, and the installations and fuel tanks at Pearl Harbor were hardly touched. And from a strategic point of view, the thing was idiotic. For if Japan had attacked only British and Dutch possessions, the American Congress might well have refused to declare war; and if Japan had attacked the Philippines” and not Pearl, “the Battle Fleet (according to the Rainbow-5 plan) would have gone lumbering across the Pacific, very likely to be sunk in deep water by Japanese bombers based on the Marshall islands.” (Strategy & Compromise, pp. 67-68)

My period of specialty is 1890-1954, and the heart of that period is the two interwar decades. It is difficult to understand the international behavior of the United States, Britain, and Japan during that time without detailed knowledge of the 15 interwar battleships — their batteries, weight of broadside, speed, cruising and shooting ranges, displacement, etc., in comparison with the capital ships of other navies. National leaders were as aware of these details as current leaders are now of things like nuclear missile capacities. The U.S. had an army equal to that of a small European country together with a tiny army air corps. Because an attacker would have had to cross an ocean to get to us, it was assumed that these ships were our national defense. All that was no longer true by 1941, but it is hard to understand the period without knowing these ships.

They would — as Morison recognized — have been helpless going to the aid of the Philippines. They were the slowest capital ships on the sea, and had to be because our navy was required to have what naval officers of the time called “long legs,” the ability to travel great distances without refueling. They also had almost completely ineffective antiaircraft capacities, without Bofors guns, twin-mount 5-inchers, or effective fire control. (These capacities were mostly added later.) U.S. antiaircraft fire at sea was so inadequate generally that at Midway one of the cruisers trying to protect Yorktown was reduced to firing its main battery into the sea before approaching torpedo planes, hoping to down them with splashes. The Japanese excelled at torpedo bombing and at night surface fighting. A person with affection for the memory of these ships cringes at what would have happened to them if they had been attacked at sea rather than at Pearl. Think of day torpedoing like what happened to the British off Malaya and night battles like Savo Island — with far greater loss of ships and life than what did happen at Pearl.

When you read something with which you disagree, the appropriate response is not scorn and ridicule. The appropriate response is to ask the other person why they believe the thing with which you disagree. The answer is often reasonable, even if you still disagree. Here, the answer is that every idea in the original article except one is part of the accepted discourse among historians specializing in this period.

The exception is my point that the word “sunk” in this context confuses the public. And the first person to post in response proved my point with his dictionary quotation about the battleship taking two hours to sink. After two hours, what would you expect to see where the ship had been? Most people would say empty water, except perhaps for lifeboats. Exploding does not take two hours, but going down like Titanic might. The word evokes an image that is not consistent with what happened at Pearl.

Mr Palikar in particular might want to read HNN’s rules governing discussion boards. The link appears with the comment menu. Name calling and other forms of ad hominem attack are not permitted on this website. Nor are they acceptable in most other places.

Geoffrey I. Palikar - 12/10/2006

The "professor's" common definition of "sunk" is all wrong - no matter how much he attempts to nuance the issue. Its pure demogogic sensationalistic snake oil - nothing more. And now that several folks have called his cards on the definition of 'sunk' - the "professor" wants to wiggle around and claim the the term"sunk" is too fuzzy/elastic. Wiggle all you want "professor" - snake oil by any other name is still snake oil.

And IF the "professor" attempts to wiggle more by improper use of a nuanced definition in maritime law regarding any legal term for "sunk" - this simply doesn't apply to strategic

military matters.

The "professor's" concept of 'Foolishness to attack a ship in Harbor' - is also wholly without

merit - and reveals his total military incompetence.

>>>The "professor" is totally out of "time context" - Pearl Harbor attack took place in 1941 -

not 2001. The "professor" utterly fails to understand the state of the art of war in a WW2

context. (And its clearly a military subject that is way too complex and detailed for the "professor" to grasp.)

>>>The "professor" shows no understanding for the concept and necessity of "strategic time"

with respect to overall strategic, operational and tactical issues. The IJN significantly delayed all US naval 2nd strike capability throughout the entire Pacific. The IJN set the US back significantly with regards to the most irreplaceable strategic element of "TIME"- which all the IJN intended to do. And 'time', my dear "professor" is the most irreplaceable strategic element of war - there is simply never enough time in war.

>>> The "professor" shows no understanding that the IJN accomplished a major fait accompli and this single air-raid sinking 8 US ships in port is exactly what allowed the IJN to initially conquer the vast majority of the Pacific - and garner its resources to feed the IJN war machine - which is exactly what the IJN intended to do.

>>>The "professor" shows no understanding of 'military dominoes'. The IJN accomplished a major "air raid" in minimal time with massive enemy damage - with insignificant IJN losses - and significantly disrupted the element of strategic time delaying any immediate US military response. Ergo - Bataan and Corregidor never had a fighting chance to hold out - there were NO US strategic naval reserves to send. The IJN accomplished their intended mission at Pearl Harbor - the IJN "sunk" 8 US ships in port. And, hence, the rest of the Pacific rim was a cakewalk for the IJN.

Sun Tzu (circa 500BC) said that 'All war is deception' - and if the professor would bother to read up on the basics of war - he would find that deception is a highly prehistoric holdover of 'primitive' warfare {from Homo Erectus and our primate cousins}. The masterful IJN deception of an air-raid in the middle of the Pacific Ocean simply "sinking" 8 US ships in port >> played a major role in throwing the US totally off strategic balance. Ergo, the established US war plans for the Pacific had to be totally scuttled - the US had to start from strategic scratch because the IJN had already stolen the initiative and the momentum.

BTW - With respect to any comments regarding issue of any better 'logistical' targets that the IJN supposedly missed at Pearl Habor - such comments reveal complete ignorance regarding the

IJN-WW2 culture of 'bushido'. (Another subject that is clearly too complex for the "professor"

to grasp.)

The US won back the Pacific from the IJN at great human sacrifice to the US over a period of very bloody years. What the 'professor' doesn't seem to grasp is that the US defeated the IJN with more than a fair share of sheer luck for the US. Many WW2 naval battles could have gone either way. In order for the US to regain the Pacific inititative and momentum, it was NO cakewalk for those who fought and died in the Pacific. Oh yeah...and it all started with a naval air-raid in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that "sunk" 8 US ships in port, which allowed the IJN to steal the inititative and momentum and the etire Pacific rim.

Once walks away from the "professor's" article asking oneself: Would YOU want the "professor" in charge of military strategy for the current Irak war? Hmmmmmmmm...no, I'd actually rather deal with the highly flawed thinking of Rumsfeld before the massively flawed thinking of the "professor".

Benj. W. Homestead - 12/9/2006

Agreed, Mr. Berkowitz. From a purely intellectual or operational standpoint, "sunk" isn't terribly a terribly useful at this point in time, and consequently, a discussion at this point in time of whether or not the battleships were "Sunk" is irrelevant.

Would you concede, however, that the term had a deeper emotional impact than would "lost in action" or "mission kill" on the average US citizen who, prior to the attack, had been so reluctant to get involved in the crisis in Europe? I further posit that in 1941 a headline of "US Operational Readiness Obliterated by Japanese" lacks the panache and sensationalism as well.

At THAT time, a discussion of whether the ships were "sunk" may have been slightly more interesting in academic circles but equally irrelevant to the public at large.

Benj. W. Homestead - 12/9/2006

Dr. Neumann, it would appear that you're using a quasi-sensational headline around the anniversary of Pearl Harbor to over emphasize a relatively minor technical point.

Nothing in your article or your follow supports the notion that attacking ships in port was in anyway foolish. I take umbrage to both that bald assessment and your qualification in the follow-up, as each wrongly discredits the true value of the attack: exploiting a weakness of the US; destroying the operational readiness of all eight ships, the port and the forces stationed on the base; and allowing time to seize control of direction of the war in the Pacific.

Though I hate to quote Sun Tzu, as he tends to be overused as some ultimate authority on "all things war", it nevertheless seems oddly and directly appropriate here: "Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots." This is nearly a verbatim description of what the IJN did at Pearl Harbor. Precisely in what way is that FOOLISH?

The attacks disrupted momentum of the US forces. The US lost time in launching a counter attack. This gave the IJN time to establish a foothold in the Philippines and the rest of the Pacific rim with virtually no resistance, making MacArthur's subsequent defeats possible and making the massive bloodshed of US troops all but inevitable.

Essentially your article appears to quibble over the use of the term "sunk". Regardless of whether the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in any semblance to that commonly defined term that you appear to be coopting it for use as a "term of art", your analysis would lead some to believe that the attack was somehow not significant to either the soldiers, sailors and civilians who died OR to the operational capacity of US forces.

Let's leave aside the quality that "8 Battleships SUNK by Japan" would have to rally the emotions of the average Joe Citizen in Waukeegan. Let's leave aside the question of whether all eight ships were "lost in action"... clearly not all eight were.

If you frame the discussion in terms of whether "the Japanese navy deserve[s] credit for destroying half the U.S. battleships", it's a no-brainer! They didn't. But let's leave that debunking to the folks who research urban legends. Ships are tools in war, nothing more. The IJN did much worse than completely destroy some tools, as the legend of Pearl Harbor would have us believe, they took advantage of one of our weaknesses and in doing so restructured the terms of the military "discussion" that ensued. I get the distinct impression that your article is based on a premise similar to a chess historian correcting a statement like "Kasparov took Karpov's queen" when in fact Kasparov forced Karpov to give up his queen.

If you leave semantics out of the discussion, the fact remains that half the US battleships were destroyed OR incapacitated, directly forcing the strategic decisions of FDR to regroup and focus on the European front first. Time proverbially is money in business, but in war, time is measured in blood and lives lost. The affect on US force readiness was immediate, it was long lasting, and it was nothing but masterful stroke of strategy behalf of the IJN. The subsequent battles in the Pacific were so intractable and bloody that the US ultimately resorted to direct theretofore-unimaginable attacks on the citizens of Japan.

Let's not forget that subsequent to Pearl Harbor was the Battle of Attu, the first war on American soil since the War of 1812. The Japanese took control of American soil. The Japanese interred its inhabitants, nearly half of whom died of disease and starvation IN JAPAN. Professor, do you seriously believe that any of that would have been possible had the US not been crippled and rather had been ready to respond to the Pearl Harbor attack?

Sunk, damaged or delayed, it was a brilliant and deadly attack, regardless of whether you or Admiral Yamamoto recognized it or not. Pick bones with feasibility of the notion of "hakko ichiu" at the core of the Japanese vision. Dissect the lack of clarity of vision of the Japanese to take marginally different steps than the ones they chose and directly attack the US's undefended ports and harbors off the California coast.

However, let's not play games with language or try to reinvent history. Japan came dangerously close to winning WWII against the US before the war even started.

A few wayward subs off of California, deployment of a few troops here and a few ships there, and you would have had mayhem in a Los Angeles and San Francisco largely unprotected by the US fleet. That would have forced FDR to put troops and resources on the ground IN the US rather than in Europe, and the outcome of WWII would have been very different.

You point out the facts very well insomuch as you describe the damage to each ship (though I note that you do little to account for the significant loss due to the damage to the port itself); however, your analysis is ultimately irrelevant. Were the ships truly SUNK? Who cares? The damage was done.

Now, should you care to focus on the lack of follow-through by the IJN and characterize that as FOOLISH. I would have no qualms.

Richard Neumann - 12/9/2006

When the public hears or reads in the media that “eight battleships were sunk at Pearl Harbor,” it understands that to mean that eight battleships were destroyed there — which simply is not true. The sloppy use of the word “sunk” combined with ignorance of the facts about most of the ships appear to be the causes of the misunderstanding. For precision and clarity, during the war the Navy used the term “lost in action” to refer to ships that suffered damage rendering them useless. The Navy did not lose eight battleships in action at Pearl Harbor, and it does not deserve blame for having done so. Nor does the Japanese navy deserve credit for destroying half the U.S. battleships in commission at the time (a total of 16 after the delivery of North Carolina). The Japanese attack was bold, clever, and skilled in technique, but it was not the brilliant strategic masterstroke the public assumes it to have been. (Morison criticized the Japanese attack, for reasons similar to the ones I mentioned in the article.) I agree with the posted comments that the survival of the repair facilities was of enormous benefit, that they would have been difficult for the Japanese to destroy, and that the 72-hour turnaround of Yorktown in the Pearl repair yard was essential to the outcome at Midway. Correction of one inaccuracy in the article: I had forgotten that today the top of the barbette that once supported Arizona’s number 3 turret does protrude above the water.

Geoffrey I. Palikar - 12/8/2006

Now just which military war college did "Professor" Neumann attend - the School of Imperial Hubris ??
"Professor" Neumann's military accumen...AIN'T - it's actually more an incompetent attempt at shamanism than bona fide 'military' history. For those of us who are actually bona fide military professionals (w/28+ years active duty and a personal library of 1000+ volumes on military subject), I have never read such poorly researched historical blathering before. In fact "Professor" Neumann's total misapplication of the facts doesn't pass the 2LT test! "Professor" Richard K. Neumann Jr. should refrain from publishing his sad distorted hallucinations - much less purporting them as credible 'military' reading material. And "SHAME" on HNN for allowing "Professor" Neumann to publish such poorly researched garbage - an utter sham from a shaman of history.

Robert Murphy - 12/7/2006

Thanks very much for some illuminating feedback, Mr. Berkowitz.


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/6/2006

You make valid points. Admiral Nagumo, commanding the Japanese Mobile Fleet, was not especially imaginative. With hindsight, a third strike probably was justified.

Even more critical than the oil were the major repair facilities (e.g., drydocks) and the submarine base. Remember, the consensus of the postwar debriefings of surviving Japanese commanders were that submarine operations were one of the three things that beat them, the others being island-hopping and fast carrier operations/the seatrain.

Again confounding the argument is whether they had appropriate weapons to take out major repair, base facilities, and oil tanks. We often forget the inaccuracy and limited effect 1941 ordnance. The Japanese did develop state-of-the-art weapons to hit warships, but their bombs would have been of dubious effect against drydocks -- that took something like the 1944-1945 "earthquake" bombs designed by Barnes Wallis. Against the oil farm, they'd need both blast and incendiary munitions.

Howard C Berkowitz - 12/6/2006

"Sunk" isn't terribly useful terminology, compared to "mission kill" and "platform kill". USS Arizona was more than mission killed; when the ship breaks apart and the pieces rest on the bottom, that ship is as dead as HMS Hood, which was in more pieces in deeper water.

Robert Murphy - 12/5/2006

If I may most humbly say, truly a fine article Professor Neumann. I really enjoyed it.

I do have a question for you, however, regarding the Japanese failure to strike the US Navy's fuel stores at Pearl Harbor. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the IJN left largely intact an even more vital strategic target, and that was the harbor's repair and maintenance facilities. Had the shipyard been destroyed, then surely the raising and restoration of those six battleships would have been delayed for months. Far more significantly, damaged US aircraft carriers would have had to sail all the way to the West Coast for repairs--the Yorktown, need I add, would certainly have had to sit out Midway.

Then again, at the risk of sounding diffident, perhaps I am missing other factors here. Maybe the shipyard would not have been such an easy target; if I am not wrong, the USAAF found during its strategic bombing campaign that industrial targets are not easily destroyed. Certainly the oil tanks would be a far softer target.



Joseph Francis - 12/4/2006

SUNK, noun, "to displace PART of the volume of a supporting substance or object and become TOTALLY OR PARTIALLY submerged or enveloped; fall or descend into or below the surface or to the bottom (often fol. by in or into): The battleship sank within two hours. His foot sank in the mud. Her head sinks into the pillows."
Nevada Class (BB-36 and BB-37), "...Both ships were SUNK in the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor..."

USS Oklahoma (BB-37), "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..."
Pennsylvania Class (BB-38 and BB-39),
"USS Arizona (BB-39) SUNK and burning furiously, 7 December 1941..."
Tennessee Class (BB-43 and BB-44), "USS Tennessee (BB-43), at left, alongside the SUNKEN USS West Virginia (BB-48), photographed from the capsized hull of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) on 10 December 1941, three days after the Japanese raid..."
USS California (BB-44), "Over two and a half years after she was SUNK, California reentered combat, providing heavy gunfire support for the invasions of Saipan, Guam and Tinian during June and July 1944..."
I count 5 in the above that are listed as being SUNK, per the US Navy's historical website. And one additional battleship, often overlooked, but still targeted and SUNK, was the USS Utah (BB-31, later AG-16). While it was at the time, a radio-controlled target-ship, it HAD started it's career as a battleship. So, that makes a total of 6 battleships (5 active, 1 redesignated) that were sunk on December 7, 1941.