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December 7, 2012

Rare and Incredible Color Photographs of the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941 marked the official entrance of the US into World War II.

The first sign of the Japanese fleet racing towards Pearl Harbor came at 7:00 am the morning of December 7, when two US Army privates on the Hawaiian island of Oahu were just about to turn off a mobile radar station they had manned since 4:00 am. A slight disturbance on the screen gave pause to their actions - a large yet indistinct patch of light, which appeared to the men to come from 50 planes, seemed to be heading towards the island. Confused, one of the privates called the information center across the island, reaching an army lieutenant who assured them the light was simply a fleet of American B-17s. The lieutenant had heard Hawaiian music playing on the radio station earlier that morning, a signal that typically signified an approaching American aircraft to Hawaii, and determined that the blotch on the radar’s oscilloscope screen must be the incoming fleet.

Careful Japanese precautions and comprehensive planning allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to remain completely shielded from US intelligence. For nearly two weeks prior to the attack, Japanese battleships and destroyers had escorted 43 fighters, 51 dive-bombers, 49 high-level bombers, and 40 torpedo planes from six carriers that floated 200 miles north of Pearl Harbor. The aircraft had traveled in complete radio silence in order to catch the Americans by surprise.

Upon reaching Pearl Harbor, the torpedo bombers skillfully maneuvered themselves into the harbor in groups of twos and threes in a sudden and forceful attack lasting only minutes. In another hour, a second fleet of 167 additional Japanese aircraft bombarded the site.

American residents who watched the attack from afar observed in horror as the screams of men on the sunken battleships rippled through the air, smoke rose from the sea, and the injured and dead swam in bloody waters slick with burning oil. When the effects of the attack subsided, the grim casualties became known: 2,403 American civilians and military personnel had been killed, and 1,178 wounded. Two battleships and 188 aircraft were destroyed.

Below is a collection of 14 rare color photographs of the attack. These photos are scanned from color slides provided by Michael Zarecky and Tommy Luera. They were sold at Pearl Harbor in 1973. However, time has taken it's toll and they had turned red.

Ford Island, the USS Shaw DD-373 explosion can be seen in the background.

A Japanese aircraft takes off from either the Zuikaku or Shokaku.

The explosion of the USS Shaw DD-373.

USS West Virginia BB-48 (foreground) USS Tennessee BB-43 (background).

USS California BB-44.

USS West Virginia BB-48 and USS Tennessee BB-43.

USS Maryland BB-46 (left) and the capsized hull of USS Oklahoma BB-37.

USS Arizona BB-39.

The USS Oglala CM-4 capsized at her dock. Maryland BB-46 and the capsized Oklahoma BB-37 can be seen in background.

USS Downes DD-375 (left) USS Cassin DD-372 (leaning against Downes) and USS Pennsylvania BB-38.

The airfield at Ford Island.

The capsized hull of USS Oklahoma BB-37 and USS Maryland BB-46.

The wreck of the USS Utah AG-16 (former BB-31).

One of the Japanese Zero fighters shot down during the attack.

(Images via Maritime Quest)



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