December 7 1941 is a day that will forever live in infamy. On this date, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise attack on Naval Base Pearl Harbor. The Japanese intended the attack to be a preventative measure to keep the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese plans for military conquest over the overseas territories of the U.S., United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. The surprise attack came as a shock to the American people who up until this point had not experienced the horrors of World War 2. Following the attack, the United States declared war on Japan and an active alliance with Great Britain was established leading Germany and Italy to declare war on the U.S. on December 11th. The U.S. would return the favor on December 12th and the nation was thrust into active involvement in the Second World War
Pearl Harbor Attack Map
Why Did the Attack on Pearl Harbor Occur?
An oft forgotten fact by most Americans is that the Japanese actually sank a U.S. warship anchored off of Nanking (now known as Nanjing), China on December 12th, 1937. The U.S. and Japan were not at war, and the Japanese claimed that they did not see the American flags painted on the deck of the warship and paid indemnities for the incident. This followed by the more than 200,000 killed in the Nanking massacres had already turned American opinion against the Japanese. Earlier in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had moved Pacific Fleet to Hawaii from San Diego and started a military buildup in the Philippines to help discourage Japanese
aggression in the Far East. The Japanese subsequently saw these moves as a certainty that if they invaded British Southeast Asia that the U.S. would enter the war. As a result, The Japanese leadership decided that a pre-emptive strike and Philippine invasion was the only way to avoid American interference with their plans. When the U.S. cut-off oil exports to Japan in July, 1941 after Imperial forces invaded Indochina following the fall of France, the Japanese were forced to seize and secure new sources of raw materials and preceded with attack plans against Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor Movie Attack Scene
Pearl Harbor Attack Commanders
Admiral Husband Kimmel
Admiral Walter Short
Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd (Died onboard USS Arizona during the attack)
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo
Marshal General Isoroku Yamamoto
Pearl Harbor Attack Order of Battle
49 other ships
6 aircraft carriers
2 heavy cruisers
1 light cruiser
23 fleet submarines
5 midget submarines
United States Navy Ships Lost or Significantly Damage at Pearl Harbor
United States Navy Battleships
Arizona: Exploded; total loss. 1,177 servicemen killed.
Oklahoma: Capsized, 429 dead. Refloated November 1943; capsized and lost while under tow to the mainland May 1947.
West Virginia: two bombs, seven torpedoes, sunk; returned to service July 1944. 106 servicemen killed.
California: two bombs, two torpedoes, sunk; returned to service January 1944. 100 servicemen killed.
Nevada: six bombs, one torpedo, beached; returned to service October 1942. 60 servicemen killed.
Tennessee: two bombs; returned to service February 1942. 5 servicemen killed.
Maryland: two bombs; returned to service February 1942. 4 servicemen killed. (including floatplane pilot shot down).
Pennsylvania (Kimmel’s Flagship): in drydock with Cassin and Downes, one bomb, debris from USS Cassin; remained in service. 9 servicemen killed.
Ex-battleship (target/AA training ship)
Utah: Capsized; total loss. 58 servicemen killed.
United States Navy Cruisers
Helena: One torpedo; returned to service January 1942. 20 servicemen killed.
Raleigh: One torpedo; remained in service.
Honolulu: Near miss, light damage; remained in service.
United States Navy Destroyers
Cassin: in drydock with Downes and Pennsylvania, one bomb, burned; returned to service February 1944.
Downes: in drydock with Cassin and Pennsylvania, caught fire from Cassin, burned; returned to service November 1943.
Shaw: Three bombs; returned to service June 1942.
United States Navy Auxiliaries
Oglala (minelayer): Damaged by torpedo hit on Helena, capsized; returned to service (as engine-repair ship) February 1944.
Vestal (repair ship): Two bombs, blast and fire from Arizona, beached; returned to service by August 1942.
Curtiss (seaplane tender): One bomb, one Japanese aircraft; returned to service January 1942. 19 servicemen killed.
Pearl Harbor Attack Summary Video
Pearl Harbor Attack Losses and Casualties
4 battleships sunk
3 battleships damaged
1 battleship grounded
2 destroyers sunk
1 other ship sunk
3 cruisers damaged
1 destroyer damaged
3 other ships damaged
188 aircraft destroyed
155 aircraft damaged
4 midget submarines sunk
1 midget submarine grounded
29 aircraft destroyed
Pearl Harbor Attack Summary
The Japanese intended the Pearl Harbor attack to be a pre-emptive action against the United States to keep the American fleet out of action while the Empire of Japan expanded throughout Asia. The Imperial Fleet launched 335 Japanese bombers, fighters, and torpedo planes in two waves from six aircraft carriers against Pearl Harbor. The attack resulted in all eight U.S. Navy battleships being damaged, and four being sunk. Six of the eight would be returned to service with only two being lost for service. A total of 188 U.S. aircraft would be destroyed in the attack along with three cruisers, three destroyers, one mine layers, and one anti-aircraft training ship being sunk or damaged. In total, 2042 Americans would be killed with 1,282 wounded. Surprisingly, the Japanese did not attack the submarine piers, shipyard, fuel and torpedo storage facilities, or power station during the attack.
Japanese losses were relatively light from the Pearl Harbor attack. The Imperial Navy lost five midget submarines, 28 aircraft, had 65 KIA or wounded, and one sailor was captured.
Pearl Harbor Attack Conclusions
In more modern terminology, the Japanese are considered by many to have strategically snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in World War 2 with their tactical victory in the Pearl Harbor attack. Unknown to Japanese planners at the time, the United States had adopted “Plan Dog” in 1940 that would emphasize keeping the Imperial Navy out of the eastern Pacific and focusing on keeping the shipping lanes to Australia free while focusing on defeating Germany. Whether by fate or sheer luck, the U.S. aircraft carriers would not touched by the attack on Pearl Harbor which resulted in the Pacific Fleet retaining the ability to conduct offensive operations in the short term. Once the battleships were repaired, they would be used primarily in a shore bombardment role while carriers would prove to be the deciding naval asset during the war. This coupled with the Japanese decision to not launch a third attack wave against Pearl Harbor infrastructure would prove to be deciding factors in the Pacific Theater during World War 2.
Pearl Harbor Attack References
Guarding The United States And Its Outposts, in Guarding the United States and Its Outposts Official U.S. Army history of Pearl Harbor by the United States Army Center of Military History Last accessed 30 November 2013.
War comes to Hawaii Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Monday, September 13, 1999, Last accessed 10 April 2013. (Dead Link)
United States Declaration of War on Japan, 1941, Last Viewed 4 December 2013.
Video of first Newsreel from December 23, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Last accessed on 30 November 203.
Attack on Pearl Harbor 2, Nippon News, No. 84. in the official website of NHK. Last accessed on April 11,2013.
U.S. Declaration of War on Japan, WorldWar2Facts.org, Last Viewed: December 7th, 1941.
The Hull Note, WorldWar2Facts.org, Last Viewed: December 7th, 1941.