9 Of History’s Most Famous Shipwrecks — And How These Doomed Vessels Met Their Ends

Published March 13, 2022
Updated May 13, 2022

From the RMS Titanic to the Queen Anne's Revenge, these shipwrecks remain just as haunting today as they did when they first sank.

The ocean has long devoured ships and sailors. Strong winds, wars, and natural disasters have wrought devastating shipwrecks throughout the ages.

Though some of the most famous shipwrecks happened in modern times — like the sinking of the Titanic or the explosion of the Maine — shipwrecks have a long, varied, and fascinating history.

These are some of the most intriguing shipwrecks of all time, from the “miracle” sinking of the Kublai Khan fleet to the destruction of Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge.

The Infamous Shipwrecks Of Pearl Harbor

Famous Shipwrecks Pearl Harbor

National Archives and Records AdministrationThe USS Arizona burns during the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

On Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised would “live in infamy” — Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack killed 2,043, pulled the U.S. into World War II, and created some of the most shocking shipwrecks of all time.

The surprise attack began at 7:55 a.m. Then, Japanese planes suddenly roared through the sky over Pearl Harbor, launching an attack that would last for nearly two hours. By the time they disappeared back over the horizon, the Japanese forces had destroyed or damaged 19 U.S. Navy ships.

“The first thing I knew of the attack was when I heard the air raid alarm,” remembered John MacRay Baker, then a sergeant with U.S. Marine Corps stationed on the USS Arizona. “Some seconds later I heard an explosion in the distance and machine gun fire.”

Uss Arizona Memorial

Wikimedia CommonsThe USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii.

Before long, Baker remembered, “A tremendous shock shook the ship and she seemed afire at once… there was a constant hail of splinters and the ship was being machine-gunned constantly.”

Baker survived. But he was one of the lucky ones. By the time the smoke cleared, 1,177 sailors aboard the USS Arizona had been killed, 900 of whom remain entombed with the ship.

On other ships, some sailors met a particularly gruesome fate. A number of men on the USS West Virginia were trapped underwater for days — even weeks — before they perished. Rescue was impossible, so other soldiers had to listen helplessly to their desperate banging.

Today, there are just two shipwrecks left in Pearl Harbor: the USS Arizona and the USS Utah. Though the other damaged ships were repaired or scrapped, these two stand as a reminder of the “infamous” day in December when the Japanese attacked.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.