- Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday, December 7, 1941 at 7:55 a.m. by fighter planes from Japanese aircraft carriers that had sailed undetected almost 500 miles north of Oahu, one of Hawaii’s islands.
- This attack would thrust the United States into World War II and changed history forever.
- Over 2,400 American soldiers died and 1,178 wounded were treated at hospitals in Pearl Harbor alone.
The attack in Hawaii was a surprise to many people, but the Japanese were ready for it. They had planned this attack for months.
The Japanese thought that they would be able to conquer Southeast Asia (modern-day Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam as well as parts of India) and most of China within weeks during World War II. Japan wanted control over these areas so it could get raw materials for its empire – especially oil.
Pearl Harbor was a crucial target because the U.S Navy’s Pacific fleet was stationed there in 1941.
Another reason the Pearl Harbor attack happened was that Japan’s relations with the U.S had been deteriorating. In 1927, the US banned all immigration from Japan to America because of anti-Japanese feelings and racial prejudice.
Japan also wanted to become a world power during the war. It hoped Pearl Harbor would give it this chance.
Why Pearl Harbor?
Pearl Harbor is situated on Oahu Island, Hawaii. It was established as a United States Navy deep-water naval base. It became one of the best natural harbors in the Pacific.
Pearl Harbor also served as a receiving point for American ships carrying people and supplies to Hawaii. Pearl Harbor was considered the main base in the Pacific Ocean.
Pearl Harbor was one of the main bases for the US Pacific Fleet. During World War I, Pearl Harbor was considered one of the most important military posts in the country.
It became a significant naval base towards the end of the 1930s when United States entered World War II.
It looked like Pearl Harbor would be a good place to protect American shipping interests: merchant and military vessels, including submarines, that carried supplies across the Pacific Ocean to the Philippines and other islands.
In late 1941, Pearl Harbor was an important military base where battleships were based. Pearl Harbor was also near Pearl City where most of the Japanese immigrants settled when they first came to Oahu. Almost 50% of Pearl City residents were living below the poverty level by December 1941 due to difficult conditions.
So Japan chose Pearl Harbor to be attacked because Pearl Harbor was the biggest American naval base in the Pacific Ocean, which meant that more than half the Pacific fleet was stationed there. Pearl Harbor was a good target because it was close to Japan and provided easy access for Japanese aircraft carriers.
Japan felt that Pearl Harbor needed to be destroyed to cripple the US Pacific Fleet. The Japanese also wanted Pearl Harbor as a potential future military base closer to the west.
How did it all begin?
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the commander of Japan’s naval forces. He didn’t want a fight with the US, but he wanted to take over countries in southeastern Asia. He wanted to use their oil so that Japan could fuel its military vehicles and naval fleet.
The Japanese Admiral was inspired by a book called The Great Pacific War written by British naval authority. It was about how Japan destroyed the United States fleet and attacked Guam and the Philippines.
When the British flew planes into Taranto and attacked the Italians during World War II, it made Admiral Yamamoto feel like the book’s story about airplanes attacking a harbor could happen.
On December 13, 1940, Japan’s ambassador to the United States told President Franklin Roosevelt that if his government didn’t stop helping China and Russia in their war against Japan, Tokyo could not promise its help with the war that the nation was fighting against Germany.
The United States had some signs that an attack might happen. But they didn’t have a person who was in charge of gathering this information.
On November 26, 1941, 31 warships carrying fighter planes and bombers left Japan. They moved close to the Hawaiian Islands.
On December 6, 1941, the United States got hold of a Japanese message. The cryptologist gave it to her superior. He was supposed to get back to them on Monday, December 8th.
But on Sunday, December 7, radar operators on Oahu saw airplanes flying towards the island and they called their supervisor. He told them that it was probably US bombers and should not worry about it.
On December 7, 1941, Japan sent 350 planes to attack America. The bombers dropped bombs on America’s ships and fighter planes killed many people.
The attack lasted one hour and fifteen minutes. It began at 7:55 am.
Captain Mitsuo Fuchida sent the coded message, “Tora, Tora, Tora”, to the Japanese fleet after flying over Oahu to tell them that he had caught the Americans by surprise.
The Japanese planned to give the US a declaration of war before they attacked. The message was delayed so it became a sneak attack!
Two lieutenants (Kenneth M. Taylor and George Welch) had been at a party the night before. They had gone to sleep when explosions woke them up.
In their tuxedoes from the night before, they raced to their waiting aircraft and helped shoot down seven Japanese airplanes together. Both men were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award for gallantry in the US Army Air Corps.
Nineteen US naval vessels were sunk or damaged and 188 aircraft were destroyed in total; 2,280 people died, 1,109 were wounded and 68 civilians also died in the attack.
The total size of all ships lost at Pearl Harbor came to 670,921 tons. Sixty of those who died in Pearl Harbor were servicemen attached to the Royal Air Force.
The Japanese even attacked Pearl Harbor’s dog, Duffy. He was a blue tick hound that survived Pearl Harbor but later became a casualty of World War II when his owner, Petty Officer Walter Welborn, was killed.
The next day, the United States declared war on Japan. This was the way the US entered World War II. In four years, they sank a lot of Japanese aircraft carriers, battleships, and cruisers.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Americans went to work on all of their damaged ships. Except for three ships, every ship was now able to return to the sea.
The Americans and their allies won the war by defeating Japan and its ally Germany in 1945.
The USS Arizona
Japanese people wanted to destroy the American Navy, so they could take over more of the South Pacific. They practiced for months, and on December 7, 1941, they attacked.
Their planes filled the sky over Pearl Harbor and bombed and shot the ships below.
One plane dropped a bomb in a battleship’s ammunition magazine at 8:10 am. The ship exploded and sank with more than 1,000 men inside who were trapped by that bomb. This ship was the USS Arizona.
Next, the battleship USS Oklahoma was hit by torpedoes. 400 sailors were on board. The ship lost its balance and rolled over into the water.
Less than two hours later, every battleship in Pearl Harbor had been hit by torpedoes or bombs. All but the USS Arizona and the USS Utah could be repaired.
The US answers back
On December 8, President Roosevelt gave a speech in which he said that the attack on Pearl Harbor was “a date which will live in infamy.” Congress also passed a declaration of war on Japan.
Three days after the attack, Hitler from Germany and Mussolini from Italy declared war on the US. The US War Department completely changed before this new conflict. Key positions were given to trusted officers.
Thousands of young men wanted to serve in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The New York Times reported that people were coming in lines because they wanted to serve. People were lined up for days. The Army got 2,684 applications for service since Pearl Harbor happened.
Pearl Harbor changed America and its relationship with Japan forever.
Pearl Harbor today
Pearl Harbor was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2010. When visitors go to Pearl Harbor today, they can see Pearl Harbor’s sunken ships on dive tours.
Today Pearl Harbor has a Navy museum, which includes exhibits of Pearl Harbor history as well as artifacts and photos from the attack.
Visitors can also go to Pearl Harbor National Monument. They can see the wreckage of the USS Arizona which shows people who fought bravely in this important battle.
Pearl Harbor has become one of Oahu’s major tourist attractions.