Seventy-five years ago today, December 7th went from being an ordinary day to a date which will live in infamy. Hordes of Japanese fighter-bombers swooped down from the sky onto the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, killing thousands of soldiers and sailors, devastating the American fleet, and propelling the United States into World War II with extreme prejudice. The attack would prove the tipping point that pushed the entire world into war, kicking off a chain of events that would lead to such horrors as the D-Day assault, the only wartime usage of an atomic bomb, and a godawful Michael Bay movie.
By the time the attack concluded that fateful morning, the damage to the American naval fleet must have seemed catastrophic. While the navy’s aircraft carriers luckily avoided the attack, the Pacific Fleet’s battleship forces were devastated; the super-dreadnaught USS Arizona, most notably, went out in horrifying fashion when her ammunition magazines exploded and shattered the ship, taking the lives of almost half the 2,403 fatalities lost that day.
Yet despite the horrific damage inflicted, only three of the 16 ships destroyed in the attack were ultimately written off. The rest were brought back to life, one by one, and sent back off to fight in the war. In some cases, the vessels returned to service in a couple months; others were out of action for years while engineers set about rebuilding them.
So in honor of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we at The Drive are paying tribute to the 13 ships that, with the help of the men and women of the Greatest Generation, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the business of fighting the last—and hopefully, the final—world war.
USS West Virginia
The Colorado-class battleship West Virginia (BB-48) was one of the most heavily-damaged ships in the attack, taking seven Japanese torpedos to the port side and a pair of bombs before being overwhelmed by the fire from the dying Arizona and sinking to the sea floor. Nevertheless, after the attack, she was pumped free of water, patched up, and sent off for repairs and refit in Washington’s Puget Sound Naval Yard, ultimately returning to service in July 1944.
The lead ship of the Tennessee-class of battleships, BB-43 was hit by a pair of bombs in the Pearl Harbor attack, but she wound up trapped for a week and a half after the attack wedged between her moorings and a sunken ship. Two and a half months of repairs were enough to put her back into service, where she became a workhorse of the Pacific fleet for the rest of the war.
The first of the Nevada-class battleships, BB-36 was the only battleship not moored up when the attack started, giving her a chance to maneuver—and ultimately beach herself, after six bomb impacts and one torpedo detonation heavily damaged the ship. After being cobbled back together enough to make sail, she was sent to Puget Sound for a refit, returning to service in October 1942. She would go on to serve as the Naval flagship for the D-Day operation; in honor of her proud service, she was intentionally nuked in the first atom bomb test at Bikini Atoll.
The Tennessee-class battleship California (BB-44) was already two decades old when she was attacked at Pearl Harbor, with two bomb hits and two torpedo impacts sending her plummeting into the bottom of the harbor—even after a three-day struggle to keep her afloat. Three months later, she was brought back to the surface and sent off for a full repair, eventually rejoining the fleet in January 1944.
The Colorado-class Maryland (BB-46) was shielded by the Oklahoma from torpedo attack, but took a pair of armor-piercing bombs to her hull during the assault. She limped to Puget Sound by the end of the month, and was brought back into service two months later.
The Mahan-class destroyer Downes (DD-372) was in drydock when the Japanese struck, landing an incendiary bomb close enough to a fuel tank to start a blaze. The ship’s hull was damaged beyond repair, but enough parts were salvaged to be shipped to California and have a new ship of the same class, name, and service number built around them, which makes us wonder if DD-372 should have been named the USS Theseus.
The Mahan-class Cassin (DD-372) was also in drydock during the attack, and suffered the same fate. She “returned” to service in February 1944.
The Mahan-class Shaw (DD-373) was hit by a trio of bombs during the attack, sparking a fire that eventually hit the ship’s forward ammo magazine and caused a massive explosion. Nevertheless, she was cobbled back together enough to sail to San Francisco, where she was fully repaired and returned to service in June 1942.
The Omaha-class light cruiser Raleigh (CL-7) took a torpedo square on the port side during the attack, sending her listing hard to her left side. Nevertheless, she stayed afloat, and was fixed up at Pearl over the subsequent weeks, eventually returning to service in February 1942.
A St. Louis-class light cruiser, CL-50 happened to be in the berth usually occupied by the Pennsylvania, leaving her straight in the line of fire for the Japanese planes. After being hit by a torpedo, she could barely make 10 knots, so the Helena was moved to dry dock and patched up before being sent to California for structural repairs, which were completed in June 1942.
The repair ship Vestal (AR-4) was hit by a pair of bombs during the attack, but also sustained severe fire damage from the Arizona. Nevertheless, the crew managed to fight the fires long enough to intentionally ground her; over the ensuing weeks, repair crews were in such short supply that the Vestal’s own crew performed much of the fixing themselves. She was back in service by August 1942.
Commissioned in 1907 as a passenger ship named the SS Massachusetts, the Oglala (CM-4) was converted to a minelayer for World War I. During the attack on Pearl harbor, the shockwave a torpedo detonation against the neighboring Helena broke the Oglala’s thin hull, flooding and ultimately sinking her. A difficult salvage operation raised her by summer 1942; she was then sent back to the mainland for extensive repairs, eventually rejoining the fight in February 1944.
The seaplane tender Curtis (AV-4) was hit by a bomb and a crashing Japanese airplane during the attack, setting off multiple fires. After brief repairs at Pearl, she returned stateside for a full fix-up; luckily, it only took four days, and she was back in service in Hawaii by the end of January 1942.