19 unforgettable images from the Pearl Harbor attack 81 years ago

USS West Virginia pearl harbor
The USS West Virginia burns in Pearl Harbor.US Navy
  • The devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:48 a.m. on December 7, 1941, and it drew America into World War II.

  • The attack killed some 2,400 Americans and wounded many others, while sinking four battleships and damaging many more. Here are photographs from immediate aftermath.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

December 7, 1941, began as a perfect Sunday morning for the troops serving the US fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Under a early morning South Pacific sun, softball teams were lining up on the beach. Pitchers warmed up their arms, while batting rosters were finalized and the wives and kids came over from seaside church services.

They did not know that for hours the Japanese naval fleet and air forces had been speeding across the ocean toward America's Pacific base. There, like a string of pearls draped across the docks and waterfront, was the majority of America's naval might.

The devastating Japanese onslaught began at 7:48 a.m., eventually killing 2,402 Americans and wounding many others, sinking four battleships and damaging many more.

The US promised never to forget this day of infamy. The attack spurred America into World War II, leading ultimately to Allied victory over the Japanese in the East and Nazis and other Axis powers in the West.

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.

torpedo plane takes off from shokaku to attack pearl harbor
One of more than 180 planes used in the attack.AP

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

aerial view of battleship row in the opening moments of the japanese attack on pearl harbor
An aerial view of Battleship Row in the opening moments of the raid.U.S. Navy

The Japanese hit most of the US ships in Oahu before 9 a.m.

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A Japanese plane flying over Pearl Harbor as black smoke rises from the area.AP

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.

pearl harbor, december 7. 1941, naval air station airfield
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.U.S. Navy

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

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The West Virginia and the USS Tennessee.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 sinking.

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

pearl harbor, december 7, 1941, destroyer shaw
U.S. Navy

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

uss nevada
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.

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About 190 US planes were destroyed, and another 159 were damaged.

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Hickam Field near Pearl Harbor.AP

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.

pearl harbor, december 7, 1941, sailors at naval air station
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.

pearl harbor, december 7, 1941, headlines, new york

Salvage work soon began on the destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes. The Japanese failed to damage any US aircraft carriers, which weren't in the harbor.

pearl harbor damage
U.S. Navy

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

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A Japanese torpedo plane being hoisted from the bottom of the sea.AP

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

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One of the Oklahoma's propellers peeking out from the water.U.S. Navy

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

pearl harbor marines
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

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