December 7, 1941: Japan Launches a Surprise Attack on Pearl Harbor, Sinks USS West Virginia

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack

In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The raid killed more than 2,400 Americans and prompted the United States to enter World War II.  Torpedoes and bombs sank four U.S. battleships, including the USS West Virginia, which lost two officers and 103 crew members.

The battleship, which had originally joined the naval fleet in 1923, was a great source of pride for West Virginians. She was raised from the mud of Pearl Harbor and rebuilt in time to serve during the last year of the war. The ship went back to sea in July 1944 and participated in the invasion of the Philippines. At Surigao Strait—the largest naval battle of the war—the West Virginia led the line and was the first American ship to open fire. In September 1945, the West Virginia was in Tokyo Bay for Japan’s official surrender, the only Pearl Harbor survivor present.

World War II marked the end of the battleship era. The West Virginia was decommissioned in 1947 and sold for scrap in 1959.