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While “rescue operations” are generally not about perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is rightfully surprising. While the Utah, Arizona and Oklahoma battleships were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid continued to fight Japanese and German forces around the world and at least three non-combatant ships. continued to serve in the war.


A total of 21 ships were tagged as damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline service or sent to the West Coast of the United States for repairs and new equipment. But 12 others were sunk and some of them were even declared lost. Before the end of the war, seven of the sunken ships would participate in the combat and three more would serve in peacetime.

The USS West Virginia burns down on December 7 due to Japanese attacks. He would continue to punish Japanese forces across the Pacific. (US Navy)

USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay

The USS West Virginia was one of the hardest hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could know exactly how many torpedoes had hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes passed through holes in the hull and detonated inside against the lower decks.

Salvage crews were forced to create large plots held in place with underwater concrete. As the seawater was pumped out, the ship’s electric drive was expected to be inoperable or in need of major repairs, but, surprisingly, it turned out that the seawater had not reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and engines were repaired and the vessel headed for the Puget Sound shipyard.

The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and returned to combat in the Pacific. During the Battle of Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three shells against the Japanese fleet. It later struck Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served in Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the oldest battleships to sail in Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.

Meet Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The USS Shaw explodes in Pearl Harbor on December 7. He then fought across the Pacific. (US Navy)

USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte and the Philippines

The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6 years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor began, but the modern warship was undergoing overhaul on December 7, 1941 and all of its ammunition was stored below decks. He was therefore unable to protect himself when dive bombers hit him, tearing the deck near the number 1 gun, severing the bow and shattering the fuel tanks. All of this damage led to a massive fire in the front stores which then exploded.

The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. The damaged sections were cut, a false bow was installed, and the ship sailed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.

The revised USS Shaw fired at Japanese forces in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte and the Southern Philippines. He served in the war before being disarmed in October 1945.

Meet Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
USS Nevada fires its guns on the Normandy coast on D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sank at Pearl Harbor. (US Navy)

USS Nevada bombs Normandy

The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor to be ready to fight on December 7 and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02 a.m., approximately 60 seconds after the start. of the attack. He was able to shoot down between two and five enemy planes, but still suffered a torpedo and six bombs which doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to run aground to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.

While Admiral Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic about Nevada’s chances, rescue officials were rather optimistic. Most of the holes were small enough to be filled with wood instead of steel. It took considerable work for the ship to be able to navigate to the west coast. Upon arrival in Puget, he received new anti-aircraft guns and a complete overhaul.

Nevada participated in the Aleutian Islands campaign just a year after Pearl Harbor before fighting in Normandy on D-Day. He returned to the Pacific and fought in Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Meet Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The battleship USS California was in dry dock in 1942 as crews prepared to begin major repair operations. (US Navy)

USS California slammed Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells

The California crew were able to get into combat position as the Japanese bombers approached, but that just left the officers in a perfect position to watch the trajectory of the torpedo that struck the ship in the first few minutes. As damage control began, a second torpedo struck the ship followed by a single bomb. It all got worse when the crew had to abandon ship as USS Arizona fires floated around California.

But the crew returned and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Recovery operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. When the ship came out of the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the west coast in October 1942.

By the time the California left Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had almost all new parts, from the engine to many guns. He used them to fight in the Marianas, bomb Saipan and Guam, then crush a Fuso-class battleship in Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of ammunition.

Meet Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The USS Downes on the left and the capsized USS Cassin on the right are seated on the partially flooded floor of Dry Dock No.1 on December 7, 1941, having suffered several internal bombardments and explosions. (US Navy)

USS Cassin

USS destroyers Cassin and USS Downes were in dry dock on December 7. They were therefore essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were very susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? The bombs passed through the entire Cassin and exploded on the floor of the dry dock, and both ships were set on fire and hit by tons of fragments. Cassin even knocked over his blocks and hit the floor of the dry dock.

USS Cassin the keel and hull were deformed from the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The hull veneer was wrinkled. The crews dismantled the ship and sent almost everything except the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new hull. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.

The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau and the Philippine Islands. Yes, there was a pretty busy war for a “lost” ship on December 7th.

Meet Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The USS Downes left Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on December 8, 1943, almost exactly one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (US Navy)

USS Downes

The Downes arguably suffered more than the Cassin in drydock, as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes’ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by the damage and there were huge holes from the blasts. Downes had aluminum plating on her deckhouse which was completely destroyed.

Like the Cassin, the Downes had her hull demolished and most of her entrails were put into another hull at the Mare Island shipyard.

This new improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island and Luzon. Like the Cassin, he had been declared lost after the damage at Pearl Harbor.

Meet Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer (and the reason you have an iPhone)
The USS Oglala can be seen in the foreground, mostly submerged to the side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor. (US Navy)

USS Oglala

Minesweeper Oglala was technically untouched on December 7, but a torpedo passed under him and hit the USS Helena.. The resulting explosion crippled the former Oglala which had been built as a civilian ship in 1906. Crew members brought their weapons to Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station which saved the lives of West Virginia crew members.

The vessel suffered terribly, capsizing and eventually sinking until only a few feet of the starboard side of the vessel remained above the water. It was declared lost and the Navy even considered detonating it with dynamite to clear the dock next to which it had sunk. But the decision was made that he could destroy the wharf, so the Navy had to bail him out. At this point, it made sense to dry dock and fix it.

After repair and overhaul at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was relaunched as a repair vessel and served across the western Pacific. She actually joined the Marine Reserve Fleet after the war and was not scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after it was built as a civilian liner.

(Author’s Note: Most of the information for this article is from the Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: why, how, fleet recovery and final assessment by Vice-Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)


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