The attack on Pearl Harbor 71 years ago left a tangled mess of burning and shattered warships. But in 'one of history's greatest salvage jobs,' many of the sunken ships rose to fight the Axis.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a shocking defeat for the United States military. Japanese aircraft left a wrecking yard of burning and shattered warships in their wake. It’s a story every US school child still learns today.
But it’s not the whole story. Even as the smoke cleared the US Navy was hard at work untangling the mess and salvaging the fleet. Many of the sunken warships rose again to fight the Axis. Only three were damaged beyond repair.
“The salvage and restoration of those ships is a saga of expertise, tenacity, hard work, and invincible optimism,” wrote University of Maryland historian Gordon Prange in his classic history of Pearl Harbor, “At Dawn We Slept.”
When the waves of Japanese torpedo planes and aerial bombers swept over the US Hawaiian naval base their primary targets were seven battleships berthed alongside quays in Pearl Harbor proper and the Pacific fleet flagship USS Pennsylvania, which was in dry dock at the time.
Five of these battleships were sunk outright. That does not mean they were all blown apart by a rain of Japanese munitions.
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