The attack on Pearl Harbor was the culmination of a decade of deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States over the status of China and the security of Southeast Asia. The breakdown began in 1931 when Japanese army extremists, in defiance of government policy, invaded and overran the northern-most Chinese province of Manchuria. Japan ignored American protests, and in the summer of 1937 launched a full-scale attack on the rest of China. Although alarmed by this action, neither the United States nor any other nation with interests in the Far East was willing to use military force to halt Japanese expansion.
Over the next three years, war broke out in Europe and Japan joined Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance. The United States applied both diplomatic and economic pressures to try to resolve the Sino-Japanese conflict. The Japanese government viewed these measures, especially an embargo on oil, as threats to their nation's security. By the summer of 1941, both countries had taken positions from which they could not retreat without a serious loss of national prestige. Although both governments continued to negotiate their differences, Japan had already decided on war.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was part of a grand strategy of conquest in the Western Pacific. The objective was to immobilize the Pacific Fleet so that the United States could not interfere with these invasion plans. The principal architect of the attack was admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet. Though personally opposed to war with America, Yamamoto knew that Japan's only hope of success in such a war was to achieve quick and decisive victory. America's superior economic and industrial might would tip the scales in her favor during a prolonged conflict.
On November 26, the Japanese attack fleet of 33 warships and auxiliary craft, including six aircraft carriers, sailed from northern Japan for the Hawaiian Islands. It followed a route that took it far to the north of the normal shipping lanes. By early morning, December 7, 1941, the ships had reached their launch position, 230 miles north of Oahu. At 6 am, the first wave of fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes took off. The night before, some 10 miles outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor, five midget submarines carrying two crewmen and two torpedoes each were launched from larger \"mother\" subs. Their mission: enter Pearl Harbor before the air strike, remain submerged until the attack got underway, then cause as much damage as possible.
Meanwhile at Pearl Harbor, the 130 vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet lay calm and serene.
At 6:40 am, the crew of the destroyer USS Ward spotted the conning tower of one of the midget subs headed for the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The Ward sank the sub with depth charges and gunfire, then radioed the information to headquarters.
Before 7 am, the radar station at Opana Point picked up a signal indicating a large flight of Planes approaching from the north. These were thought to be either aircraft flying in from the carrier USS Enterprise or an anticipated flight of B-17s from the mainland, so no action was taken.
The first wave of Japanese aircraft arrived over their target areas shortly before 7:55 am. Their leader, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, sent the coded messages \"To, To, To\" and \"Tora, Tora, Tora,\" telling the fleet that the attack had begun and that complete surprise had been achieved.At approximately 8:10 am, the USS Arizona exploded, having been hit by a 1,760 pound armor-piercing bomb that slammed through her deck and ignited her forward ammunition magazine.
Ships, named like USS Oklahoma, USS Utah or USS Virginia hit by several torpedos and rolled coompletely over.
After about five minutes, American anti-aircraft fire began to register hits, although many of the shells that had been improperly fused fell on Honolulu, where residents assumed them to be Japanese bombs. After a lull at about 8:40 am, the second wave of attacking planes focused on continuing the destruction inside the harbor, destroying the USS Shaw, USS Sotoyomo, a dry dock, and heavily damaging the Nevada, forcing her aground. They also attacked Hickam and Kaneohe airfields, causing heavy loss of life and reducing American ability to retaliate.
Army Air Corps pilots managed to take off in a few fighters and may have shot down 12 enemy planes. At 10 am the second wave withdrew to the north, and the attack was over. The Japanese lost a total of 29 planes and five midget submarines, one of which was captured when it ran aground off Bellows Field. The commander of this midget submarine, Ensign Sakamaki, became the first US captured prisoner of the pacific war.
The attack was a great, but not total, success. Although the U.S. Pacific Fleet was shattered, its aircraft carriers (not in port at the time of the attack) were still afloat and Pearl Harbor was surprisingly intact. The shipyards, fuel storage areas, and submarine base suffered no more than slight damage. More importantly, the American people, previously divided over the issue of U.S. involvement in World War II, rallied together with a total commitment to victory over Japan and her Axis partners.
December 7, 1941 Losses*
United States Japan
Personnel Killed 2388
Navy 1998 64
Marine Corps 109
Army and Army Air Corps 233
Personnel Wounded 1178 unknown
Marine Corps 69
Army and Army Air Corps 364
Sunk or Beached** 12 5
Destroyed 164 29
Damaged 159 74
Congressional Declaration of War on Japan
December 8, 1941
Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial Government of Japan and the
Government and the people of the United States and making provisions to prosecute the same.
Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the
people of the United States of America: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of
Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized
and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry
on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all of the resources of
the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.
Approved, December 8, 1941, 4:10 p.m. E.S.T.
Franklin D. Roosevelt\'s Infamy Speech
December 8, 1941
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and
deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its
Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air
squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to
the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue
the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned
many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the
United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very
many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San
Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak
for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this
premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the
uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.\"