In 1991 on the approach of the 50th Anniversary Commemorations for the Pearl Harbor attack, I decided to send in on 4 December a short letter and article to the USS Arizona Memorial and Visitor center, for staff to make use as they might for captioning displays and such. No reply was expected given the busy schedule. In those days, my future work in the Pacific War field was yet undreamed of, and distracted, I did not pursue the matter further. Since I have not had the pleasure of returning to Pearl Harbor since 1976, it is unknown if any of the letter's insights have been included in the display literature. I do know that I have not seen the discoveries mentioned or printed in the latest of Pearl Harbor works, and so on the occasion of the 60th anniversary year I want to dredge up this old work for the benefit and interest of my readers.
Throughout the 1980's like many Pacific War historians, I spent my share of time pouring over photographs of the Pearl Harbor attack, and as was my specialty, focused chiefly on target identification and timing of photographs to determine circumstances. In 1987 I first discovered that my long-held theory that the USS OKLAHOMA's capsize could not have been as short as commonly reported was precisely correct. At the same time, it pointed to some helpful indicators of the exact timing of USS ARIZONA's explosion. Further research followed, but despite interesting discoveries remained far too meager to contemplate yet another book on the subject, and is offered here in hopes that it will prove useful for serious Pearl Harbor researchers.
I am therefore posting the article with no changes, aside from the addition of new captioned photographs that utilize web means to make the text clearer. It may well be that one of the new books of the past decade since has included these observations, and I would welcome such information.
A.P. "Tony" Tully 5 June 2001
In the voluminous information both pictorial and oral, that has been written and published about the Pearl Harbor attack, it would be surprising to discover if anything really new could be discovered by once more scrutinizing the photographic and filmed evidence. Yet I hope to demonstrate here that just such an adjustment of the historical record is both possible and necessary.
The sequence of events concerned involves the torpedoeing of the USS OKLAHOMA and the sinking of the USS ARIZONA, as well as complementary events in Battleship Row. In past publications the USS OKLAHOMA has been invariably described as capsizing and sinking in about eight minutes, example, "...bottom up, a huge dead whale lying in the water. Only eight minutes had passed since the first torpedo hit" (Lord, DAY OF INFAMY,p96). Others, in addition, indicate or strongly imply that ARIZONA blew up after OKLAHOMA had already turned turtle. At the very least, a certain ambiguity appears to prevail, when in this matter at least, precise determination IS possible. A determination that permits the following categoric statement:
At the time of the detonation of the USS ARIZONA's magazines (sometime between 0807-0815 hours), the USS OKLAHOMA was still upright, still afloat, and by no interpretation possible did she capsize within eight minutes. This is incontestably proved by the motion picture film of the ARIZONA disaster, with the result that the USS ARIZONA was the very first capital ship to be sunk at Battleship Row.
The key to this answer lies in very careful examination of the explosion sequence. Many publications have printed frames from it, and a few have even pointed out that the listing masts of the torpedoed USS WEST VIRGINIA are visible in front of the USS ARIZONA, listing about 25 degrees to port.
However, very few of these frames are printed full length, or at the right frame to reveal the full story. When the film is viewed, the camera pans to the right as the explosion progresses and leaps forward (the filming person doubtless instinctively `tracking it'). When it does so, at frames 209-240, as the magazine fireball bursts forward, it obscures the listing WEST VIRGINIA and continuing to pan right, the camera captures beyond doubt another pair of tilting masts. This is indeed, the USS OKLAHOMA, heeling like WEST VIRGINIA hard to port, about 35 degrees. There can be no mistaking the distinctive `birdbath' AA platform and signal platform on the mainmast.
The best published, still picture of the critical frames is found in WARSHIPS ILLUSTRATED No 10 - The US NAVY in WW II by Arms & Armour Press 1987 edited by Robert Stern. Another is on page 45 of H.P.Willmott's PEARL HARBOR published by Galahad books 1981. Other publications print the frames, but crop too short on the right for the OKLAHOMA to be visible, and of course, the film itself can be freeze -framed on a VCR to verify the above assertion.
Here then, is undeniable proof of the actual sequence of events. The ARIZONA exploded, probably as assumed about 0810 or so, when both WEST VIRGINIA and OKLAHOMA were listing sharply from their torpedo hits. Sometime afterward, the OKLAHOMA began her slow capsize, and was bottom up by 0815 or 0825, but in any case not in eight minutes by whatever reckoning, for it is near certain she was first hit at 0759-0800 by torpedo attack.With this fact established, it prompts another look at some of the more familiar scenes from Japanese planes taken in the first ten minutes of the attack. These often published aerial photographs need little introduction to the enthusiast and for simplicity I refer to them by camera angle. In the view of Battleship Row from off USS NEVADA's starboard quarter, the USS CALIFORNIA has just taken her first torpedo hit, timing this picture to about 0805 to 0807 hours. The OKLAHOMA and WEST VIRGINIA heel to port, but not as sharply as in the next photo, taken from directly above Battleship Row. In this one, bombs are starting to fall around ARIZONA and VESTAL, and the time must be about 0808 to 0810 or later. When this is combined with the above discovery from the film, I submit that this photograph is made only mere moments before the explosion of ARIZONA's forward magazines, given the close congruency between the state of the torpedoed WEST VIRGINIA and OKLAHOMA, and helps to verify more-or-less the long accepted detonation time of about 0810.
The final result is that the USS OKLAHOMA was hit first about 0800 exactly, or slightly earlier, and finally turned turtle and sank sometime after the explosion of the USS ARIZONA which can now itself be determined to have taken place some fifteen minutes after the start of the attack.
One other minor point might be made about the photographic evidence. I have discovered, when closely examining the photograph of the tanker NEOSHO pulling back from the listing USS CALIFORNIA --- one can see the bow of the USS VESTAL swung out just above the upturned hull of the USS OKLAHOMA. To my knowledge, this point also has never been noted in captions to this photograph.
The above represent my attempt to contribute to the ongoing effort by the USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL staff to validate, correct, and supplement the historical record of the attack this fiftieth year anniversary, and are offered strictly in that humble spirit with no censure implied.
November 28, 1991
It lays beyond my calculation talent at present to make full use of the discovery, and it is my hope that one of my readers with the necessary mathematical skills can calculate approximately the degree of list of both the USS WEST VIRGINIA and USS OKLAHOMA in the film sequence. What the `eyeball' observation reveals is that OKLAHOMA's list is a bit sharper but still comparable to WEST VIRGINIA's, and thus apparently the WEST VIRGINIA's counter-flooding had not yet taken effect, nor the OKLAHOMA received the final torpedo hits that tumbled her over as so well described in John D. Virgilio's article "Japanese Thunderfish" in the December 1991 Naval History Magazine.
Since USS TANGIER's log gives an explosion time of 0806 for ARIZONA, this dove-tails nicely with Virgilio's work. The assessment then is that the ARIZONA exploded before WEST VIRGINIA corrected her list, and before the last torpedo hits on OKLAHOMA. It may be that the 0810 time commonly cited is a tad too late. Calculations of list can also be helpful in determining the times of the important commonly published Japanese aerial photos of the attack on Battleship Row. The discovery that NEOSHO and VESTAL backed out at nearly the same time is also interesting, but was always implied by the log times of both vessels. Photographic evidence will be discussed somewhat more in an extensive page on the USS UTAH I will be posting this week as well.
A.P. "Tony" Tully
E-Mail to: tullyfleet -aol.com
Pearl Harbor , by Wilmott, H.P. Galahad Books, 1981.
USS Arizona , by Leeward Publications, 1978.
7 June - 1620