In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria causing a strain on the Japanese-American relationship. In 1937 Japan attacked China. The American Congress at the time was in favor of a policy of isolationism. The isolationist wanted America to stay out of the growing conflicts between other nations. American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned about the growing power and ambitions of Japan. In May of 1940, Roosevelt transferred the naval headquarters from California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In 1941, Japan invaded French Indo-China. In response, the United States froze all Japanese assets in the United States and cut off oil and steel shipments to Japan. The Japanese viewed these actions by the United States as nearly an act of war. The Japanese were heavily dependant on United States for these natural resources and would not be able to continue their expansionist ideas without these resources.
The Japanese were following a policy they called hakko ichiu, or “all eight corners of the world under one roof.” Under this idea of hakko ichiu, Japan believed its destiny was to have all of Asia under one rule, Japanese rule.
In October of 1941, General Hidek Tojo was elected Prime Minster of Japan. He agreed with a plan to attack Pearl Harbor. The plan to attack Pearl Harbor was designed by Admiral Isoroku Yamomoto. Yamomoto saw Pearl Harbor a “a dagger pointed at our throat.” With the blessings of the Prime Minster Tojo, Yamomoto put the plan to attack Pearl Harbor into motion. Yamomoto selected Vice Admiral Chuich Nagumo to lead the fleet. The fleet consisted at its core of six aircraft carriers: Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, Shokaku, Soryu and Zuikaku. The six carriers had 420 planes between them. Escorting the six carriers were eleven destroyers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, three submarines and eight tankers. Twenty other submarines joined the group before they arrived at their destination at Pearl Harbor.
Japan began peace talks in November 1941 with United States. These talks were designed to lull the United States into the idea that peace was still possible. The Japanese fleet set sail on November 26 th from Tanken Bay. They took a northern sea route which was typically not used during the winter time. Their plan heavily depended on the element of surprise. On November 27 th, the United States sent a warning issued to all naval and army bases in the Pacific to go to high alert. Intelligence intercepts indicated that the peace talks which the Japanese were engaging in were not sincere.
On December 2nd the Japanese fleet received a message from Japan to “Climb Mt. Niitaka” which was the code to continue with the plans for attacking Pearl Harbor. The fleet of Japanese ships sailed about 4,000 miles from Japan to just 220 miles North of Oahu. On December 7th at 6:00 a.m. the Japanese launched its planes to attack Pearl Harbor.
December 7th was a Sunday. Saturday nights typically hosted a battle of the bands between different ships crews. Sunday morning was a time for relaxing or going to church. On December 7th the Japanese Ambassador sent the last part of a fourteen part message indicating that they were rejecting the United States peace plans. Washington sent telegrams to bases in the Pacific warning about a possible Japanese attack against American bases. The telegram sent to Hawaii was sent at 7:33 a.m. Hawaii time. It was not marked priority, so was sent by motorcycle through the regular mail services to the army headquarters. The telegram arrived at 11:45 a.m. and was not decoded till 2:45 p.m. that afternoon.
At 6:00 a.m., 220 miles north of Oahu, the Japanese launched the first of two waves of planes to attack Pearl Harbor. The first group of planes was made up of 183 planes consisting of 43 fighters, 49 high level bombers, 51 dive bombers, and 40 torpedo bombers. These planes attacked both the airfields on the island and the ninety ships anchored at Pearl Harbor. At 7:02 a.m. a radar station on the north point of Oahu picked up a group of planes. The radar operators reported their sighting to their commanders. Their commanding officers assumed that the sighting was a group of B-17 bombers which were scheduled to arrive from California.
At 7:52 the lead Japanese plane broke radio silence stating “toro, toro, toro,” which was the code that the attack was a surprise. The planes attacked the airfields, which were easy target for the Japanese planes. The Americans had lined their planes wing tip to wing tip on the runways to guard against sabotage. Because of the great distance, they did not believe that Japan could attack Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were able to destroy the majority of the planes on the island. Only 14 American planes were able to get airborne during the attack. These planes were credited with shooting down 11 of the attacking Japanese planes.
The attack on the Harbor was devastating. In the first wave, the Battleship Utah was attacked and capsized taking 58 sailors to their graves. The Battleship Arizona was bombed and its front ammunition supply exploded. The ship sank in only 19 minutes taking 1,177 men to their deaths. The Battleship Oklahoma took six torpedo hits and rolled over killing 400 sailors. By 8:35 a.m. the first wave of planes completed their attacks.
A second wave of 167 high level bombers and dive bombers attacked ships in Pearl Harbor arrived a little before 9:00 a.m.. The Battleship Nevada was able to get underway. The Japanese concentrated their attacks on the Nevada. The captain drove the ship aground to keep it from clogging the narrow entrance to the harbor. The Japanese planes bombed and damaged many American ships before returning to their carriers around 9:45 a.m..
The lead pilot of the Japanese wanted to return to Pearl Harbor to attacked the repair facilities and oil storage areas on the island. Vice Admiral Nagmo decided against the third attack. He was concerned about the missing American aircraft carriers that they expected to find at Pearl Harbor. The Americans had some good luck that their entire fleet of aircraft carriers were not present on December 7 th. The aircraft carrier Enterprise was sent to Wake Island and the carrier Lexington was sent to Midway to deliver planes. The carrier Saratoga was being repaired in California while the carrier Yorktown was not yet battle ready.
At the end of the attack, 21 ships were sunk, including eight battleships. There were 164 planes were destroyed and 159 planes that were badly damaged. The human toll was 2,388 Americans dead, 68 of them were civilians, and 1,178 were wounded. The losses for the Japanese were very light. 29 planes were shot down. Five midget subs were captured or destroyed. Human toll of the Japanese was 59 airmen and 9 out of 10 submariners, the tenth being captured.
The day after Pearl Harbor President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the following six minute speech to congress:
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 …
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately panned 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 the 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 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. … There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, our interests are in grave danger.
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.
The Senate voted 82-0 and the House of Representatives was 388-1 to go declare war. The Japanese had woke a sleeping giant. At Pearl Harbor, crews tried to rescue all the men trapped in sunken ships. Pearl Harbor is a very shallow harbor which was an advantage to the Americans to be able to salvage sunken ships. If the harbor was very deep many of these ship would have been lost. By mid February, the Battleships Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee were repaired along with the cruisers Honolulu, Helena, and Raleigh, and destroyers Helen and Shaw. It took six months for the Battleships Nevada, California and West Virginia to return to action. The Arizona was to badly damaged to salvage. Because of the danger to divers from the sharp steel pieces the bodies of its crew remained in the ship. It was later turned into a memorial to the attack.
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