Artifact Spotlight: Pearl Harbor Drawing

--Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

1. Pencil Drawing of the Attack on Battleship Row, Pearl Harbor
 As we approached the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, museum staff searched for an appropriate artifact in the collection for this week's artifact blog. After pouring through a small group of photographs, artifacts, and documents, we settled on an artist's depiction of this monumental event that brought the United States into the Second World War.

The Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor was designed to cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet's ability to play a decisive role in the empire's future actions in Southeast Asia. Two waves of Japanese aircraft completely destroyed almost two hundred airplanes, sunk or damaged eight battleships in addition to several cruisers and destroyers, and killed 2,402 servicemen. The sketch above shows the devastation on Battleship Row and Ford Island. The battleships, in view are (from left to right) USS California, USS Maryland, inboard of a capsizing USS Oklahoma, and USS Tennessee inboard of USS West Virginia.

USS California was struck by two torpedoes causing massive flooding before a bomb hit exploded her ammunition magazine and tore a large hole in the bow.  It took three days for California to sink to the harbor bed.  California was later re-floated and re-entered the war with a redesign that used as much of the original hull and ship components as could be salvaged. The artist has placed California closer to the other ships than she actually was on that day.

The USS Maryland was protected from torpedo attack by the USS Oklahoma but took two bomb hits during the raid. Flooding from one of these hits, the ship stayed afloat and sent out rescue and firefighting crews to its neighboring vessels. After the raid, USS Maryland made it to the repair docks and returned to the war in February, 1942.

The USS Oklahoma, shown turning over while crewmen jump overboard, was struck by five torpedoes during the attack. The first three hits forced the evacuation of the ship. Many of the crew swam over to the neighboring USS Maryland where they continued the defense. The last two torpedoes hit in quick succession and caused the battleship to completely roll over with her masts pinning the ship in its overturned position. Over 400 of the crew were killed but 32 sailors were rescued as their fellow servicemen cut holes through the hull to free them.
USS West Virginia, shown on the sketch engulfed in smoke and flames, was hit by six to seven torpedoes as well as two bombs. Over 100 of her crew perished in the attack and the ensuing fires. West Virginia sunk where she was moored, pinning the USS Tennessee in place between Maryland and USS Arizona. When West Virginia was raised and sent for repair, workers discovered the bodies of crew members in a sealed supply compartment. The men lived off rations until December 23 when their oxygen ran out.

Tennessee sustained two bomb hits but suffered severe damage when USS Arizona's  forward magazine took a direct hit and exploded. Large amounts of Arizona's oil  rained onto both Tennessee and West Virginia's decks and caused massive fires. As depicted in the sketch, large pools of oil from the damaged vessels of Battleship Row had formed all along the harbor and often caused further destruction. After the raid, Tennessee maneuvered out of her position and was sent for repairs. The battleship later took part in actions off Saipan, Guam, Leyte, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Awarded 10 service stars, Tennessee was placed out of commission in 1947 and scrapped in 1959.

2. Japanese aerial photo of Ford Island and Battleship Row
looking east. Swan's location was in the vicinity of the
hammer-head crane in the top right of the photograph
The sketch was donated to the museum in 1987 by  Lieutenant James E. Wilkie. The artist, known only as "Selley" from his signature, gave the sketch to the donor's father, Buren B. Wilkie, who served in the navy from 1929 to 1949. According to museum records, the artist was a crew member of the tender USS Swan (AVP-7) during the attack. On December 7, Swan was sitting on a marine railway across the water from Ford Island while undergoing boiler repairs. The image of the devastation depicted by "Seeley" appears to be from a vantage point he may have had from this section of the Navy Yard. Swan joined the fight with her 3” anti-aircraft guns, shooting down one confirmed plane and firing on two others that went down in the harbor. The tender received minor damage from machine gun fire and was underway again by mid afternoon. After the attack, Swan remained at Pearl Harbor aiding in the salvage operation of all the damaged and partially sunken vessels. She was decommissioned at Newport Naval Station in 1946.

This sketch offers a personal glimpse into the horrors and destruction of that day, as well as the courage of men in uniform as they fearlessly defended their ships and risked life and limb to save their fellow servicemen.

1. Naval War College Museum
2. Naval History and Heritage Command


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