80 years ago today, on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and torpedo planes staged a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, propelling the United States into World War II. In less than 2 hours, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was devastated, and more than 3,000 Americans were either killed or wounded.

USS Arizona memorial at night with lights from the neighboring area illuminating the water and memorial
The USS Arizona Memorial the night before the 62nd Commemoration of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, 12/6/2003. National Archives Identifier 6669640

Within the holdings of the National Archives, you will find records chronicling U.S. military history and battles, including photographs, video footage, maps, ship plans, and other records related to the events of Pearl Harbor.

US serviceman on board the USS Arizona memorial folding an American flag as they retire the colors

US servicemen on the USS ARIZONA Memorial retire the colors at a mass re-enlistment ceremony, 7/20/1984. National Archives Identifier 6389552

Sailors pay tribute to casualties of the Pearl Harbor attack at a Hawaiian Islands cemetery, circa Spring 1942. National Archives Identifier 12009116
Color photograph of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, showing smoke and fire on the water
Photograph of Pearl Harbor, 12/7/1941. National Archives Identifier 12009098

Wreckage at Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor. National Archives Identifier 520595

Black and white photograph of the USS shaw in drydock while clouds of dark smoke can be seen in the background
USS Shaw (DD373) lies in drydock YFD-2 after being hit by three bombs which exploded her forward magazine. Part of the drydock at right is under water while while the other side is listing heavily. National Archives Identifier 12008979
Document showing the radar plot from station Opana Pearl Harbor

Radar Plot from Station Opana, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, ca. 1941. National Archives Identifier 2600930

“This is not a Drill” Dispatch, 12/7/1941

This Navy dispatch sent from the Commander in Chief of the Pacific announces the attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by the Japanese Navy. It was received at the Squantum Naval Reserve Aviation Base on December 7, 1941 from the First Naval District. It states, “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL.”

Received dispatch reading "Air raid on Pearl Harbor X this is not a drill"
National Archives Identifier 596244

DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives, has online teaching activities related to Pearl Harbor. In Pearl Harbor Dispatch Analysis, students analyze the “This is Not Drill” naval dispatch in an activity that encourages students to look for evidence to decode the true meaning of the message.

Learn more on the Education Updates blog.

USS Arizona Memorial at dusk with a line of sailors on the dock assigned to the ceremonial guard

US Navy (USN) Sailors assigned to the ceremonial guard Naval Station (NS) Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (HI), preparing in the early morning hours for the 63rd commemoration of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor at the battleship USS ARIZONA (BB 39) Memorial, 12/7/2004. National Archives Identifier 6669772

The Cartographic unit at the National Archives holds maps and aerial photographs depicting Pearl Harbor, as well as plans for ships that were present on December 7, 1941.

Manuscript color map of Pearl Harbor after the attack

Manuscript color Map of Pearl Harbor after the Attack, National Archives Identifier 29032720. Prepared by the Joint Intelligence Center, Pacific Ocean Areas to illustrate the locations of roads, railroads, airfields, buildings, storage tanks and positions of unnamed ships in the harbor.

The battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) was bombed and sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The following ship plans for the USS Arizona list alterations to the ship’s design dated as late as June 1941. 

Ship plans for the USS Arizona
Ship plans for the USS Arizona

L: Plans for the Battleship USS Arizona (BB-39): Booklet of General Plans - Second Deck / Third & Splinter Decks / First Platform. National Archives Identifier 75840426

R: Plans for the Battleship USS Arizona (BB-39): Booklet of General Plans - Inboard Profile, 8/31/1934. National Archives Identifier 75840420
Map of Pearl Harbor

Map of Pearl Harbor, one of approximately 40 new pictures of combat action during first six months of Pacific war, released in connection with publication of “Battle Report” by Comdr. Walter Karig, USNR and Lt. Welbourne Kelley, USNR. Rec’d Nov. 27, 1944. Local ID: 80-G-47105. National Archives Identifier 12009088

Because the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a surprise, there is very little American footage of the attack itself. The following film captures about three minutes of the attack and its aftermath:

Japanese planes bomb Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona explodes & sinks, 12/7/1941. National Archives Identifier 76168

Learn more on the Unwritten Record blog.

“Day of Infamy” Address

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a six-minute speech before a joint session of Congress that ended with a request for a declaration of war. Congress approved within hours.

Learn more about the writing of this speech on the Pieces of History blog.

Annotated draft of FDR's "Day of Infamy" address, page 1
Annotated draft of FDR's "Day of Infamy" address, page 2

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's annotated draft of a proposed message to Congress requesting a Declaration of War against Japan. The speech was dictated by Roosevelt on December 7, 1941 in the hours following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The handwritten notations are Roosevelt's modifications and corrections to the typewritten first draft. The final version of the speech incorporating Roosevelt's annotations was delivered by the President to a Joint Session of Congress on December 8, 1941. National Archives Identifier: 593345

USS Arizona memorial with the American flag raised above

The American flag is raised at the USS ARIZONA Memorial, 6/1/1988. National Archives Identifier 6434051

On DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives, you can find primary sources like maps and speeches – even images taken by the Japanese military during the attack that were later captured.

DocsTeach also includes posters that used the attack on Pearl Harbor as a rallying cry for a variety of war efforts, like joining the Coast Guard, buying war bonds, or working harder in a factory. Learn more on the Education Updates blog.

World War II poster reading "The Navy needs ships to avenge Pearl Harbor let's go"
World War II poster of Dorie Miller reading "above and beyond the call of duty"

Learn more about the records held at the National Archives related to Pearl Harbor:

The American Soldier in World War II

We invite you to explore The American Soldier in World War II website, offering a portrait of Americans who served in the war and of U.S. society and culture in the 1940s.

During World War II, the U.S. Army administered more than 200 surveys to over half a million American troops to discover what they thought and how they felt about the conflict and their military service. Topics covered by the army’s troop surveys include leave policies, food preferences, radio listening habits, combat experiences, racial views, mental and physical health, postwar plans, and more. The surviving collection of studies, held by the National Archives, is now accessible at The American Soldier in World War II. Browse and search over 65,000 pages of responses handwritten by service members, view and download survey data and original analyses, read topical essays, and access additional learning resources.

Screenshot of the American Solider in World War II website"

The American Soldier in World War II website is based at Virginia Tech and directed by Virginia Tech assistant professor of history Edward J.K. Gitre. It has been made possible in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom (PW-253766-17 and PW-264049-19) and has also received support, resources, and cooperation from Zooniverse.org, National Archives and Records Administration, University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute, Social Science Research Council, and George C. Marshall Research Library. The records and transcriptions will be made available in the National Archives Catalog in the future.

This resource is also made possible by the nearly 7,200 citizen-archivists who submitted a combined quarter-million transcriptions and annotations in a little over two years. Learn more at: https://americansoldierww2.org

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