December 7, 1941...

The December 7 1941 Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor was one of the great defining moments in history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy's battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire's southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant.

Eighteen months earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had transferred the United States Fleet to Pearl Harbor as a presumed deterrent to Japanese agression. The Japanese military, deeply engaged in the seemingly endless war it had started against China in mid-1937, badly needed oil and other raw materials. Commercial access to these was gradually curtailed as the conquests continued. In July 1941 the Western powers effectively halted trade with Japan. From then on, as the desperate Japanese schemed to seize the oil and mineral-rich East Indies and Southeast Asia, a Pacific war was virtually inevitable.

  Pearl Harbor looking southwest, October 30, 1941.
This is a picture of Pearl Harbor looking southwest, October 30, 1941, prior to the attack.
Image Credit - navsource.org
By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed U.S. officials (and they were well-informed, they believed, through an ability to read Japan's diplomatic codes) fully expected a Japanese attack into the Indies, Malaya and probably the Philippines. Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack east, as well.

The U.S. Fleet's Pearl Harbor base was reachable by an aircraft carrier force, and the Japanese Navy secretly sent one across the Pacific with greater aerial striking power than had ever been seen on the World's oceans. Its planes hit just before 8AM on 7 December. Within a short time five of eight battleships at Pearl Harbor were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. Several other ships and most Hawaii-based combat planes were also knocked out and over 2400 Americans were dead. Soon after, Japanese planes eliminated much of the American air force in the Philippines, and a Japanese Army was ashore in Malaya.

These great Japanese successes, achieved without prior diplomatic formalities, shocked and enraged the previously divided American people into a level of purposeful unity hardly seen before or since. For the next five months, until the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, Japan's far-reaching offensives proceeded untroubled by fruitful opposition. American and Allied morale suffered accordingly. Under normal political circumstances, an accomodation might have been considered.

However, the memory of the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor fueled a determination to fight on. Once the Battle of Midway in early June 1942 had eliminated much of Japan's striking power, that same memory stoked a relentless war to reverse her conquests and remove her, and her German and Italian allies, as future threats to World peace.


Sequence of Events

Saturday, December 6 - Washington D.C.
U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt makes a final appeal to the Emperor of Japan for peace. There is no reply. Late this same day, the U.S. code-breaking service begins intercepting a 14-part Japanese message and deciphers the first 13 parts, passing them on to the President and Secretary of State. The Americans believe a Japanese attack is imminent, most likely somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Sunday, December 7 - Washington D.C.
The last part of the Japanese message, stating that diplomatic relations with the U.S. are to be broken off, reaches Washington in the morning and is decoded at approximately 9 a.m. About an hour later, another Japanese message is intercepted. It instructs the Japanese embassy to deliver the main message to the Americans at 1 p.m. The Americans realize this time corresponds with early morning time in Pearl Harbor, which is several hours behind. The U.S. War Department then sends out an alert but uses a commercial telegraph because radio contact with Hawaii is temporarily broken. Delays prevent the alert from arriving at headquarters in Oahu until noontime (Hawaii time) four hours after the attack has already begun.

Sunday, December 7 - Islands of Hawaii, near Oahu
The Japanese attack force under the command of Admiral Nagumo, consisting of six carriers with 423 planes, is about to attack. At 6 a.m., the first attack wave of 183 Japanese planes takes off from the carriers located 230 miles north of Oahu and heads for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor - At 7:02 a.m.
Two Army operators at Oahu's northern shore radar station detect the Japanese air attack approaching and contact a junior officer who disregards their reports, thinking they are American B-17 planes which are expected in from the U.S. west coast.

Near Oahu - At 7:15 a.m.
A second attack wave of 167 planes takes off from the Japanese carriers and heads for Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor is not on a state on high alert. Senior commanders have concluded, based on available intelligence, there is no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Aircraft are therefore left parked wingtip to wingtip on airfields, anti-aircraft guns are unmanned with many ammunition boxes kept locked in accordance with peacetime regulations. There are also no torpedo nets protecting the fleet anchorage. And since it is Sunday morning, many officers and crewmen are leisurely ashore.

At 7:53 a.m.
The first Japanese assault wave, with 51 "Val" dive bombers, 40 "Kate" torpedo bombers, 50 high level bombers and 43 "Zero" fighters, commences.

  Battleship Row
Battleship Row under attack.
- U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph
Torpedo planes attack "Battleship Row" at about 0800 on 7 December, seen from a Japanese aircraft. Ships are, from lower left to right: Nevada (BB-36) with flag raised at stern; Arizona (BB-39) with Vestal (AR-4) outboard; Tennessee (BB-43) with West Virginia (BB-48) outboard; Maryland (BB-46) with Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard; Neosho (AO-23) and California (BB-44).

West Virginia, Oklahoma and California have been torpedoed, as marked by ripples and spreading oil, and the first two are listing to port. Torpedo drop splashes and running tracks are visible at left and center.

White smoke in the distance is from Hickam Field. Grey smoke in the center middle distance is from the torpedoed USS Helena (CL-50), at the Navy Yard's 1010 dock.

  The USS Arizona.
USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously, 7 December 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb. At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are spraying fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship.
The Americans are taken completely by surprise. The first attack wave targets airfields and battleships. The second wave targets other ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasts until 9:45 a.m. Eight battleships are damaged, with five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels are lost along with 188 aircraft. The Japanese lose 27 planes and five midget submarines which attempted to penetrate the inner harbor and launch torpedoes.

Escaping damage from the attack are the prime targets, the three U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, Lexington, Enterprise and Saratoga, which were not in the port. Also escaping damage are the base fuel tanks.

The casualty list includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, with 1,178 wounded. Included are 1,104 men aboard the Battleship USS Arizona killed after a 1,760-pound air bomb penetrated into the forward magazine causing catastrophic explosions.

  The USS Shaw.
The forward magazine of USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes during the second Japanese attack wave. To the left of the explosion, Shaw's stern is visible, at the end of floating drydock YFD-2.At right is the bow of USS Nevada (BB-36), with a tug alongside fighting fires.
Photographed from Ford Island.
In Washington, various delays prevent the Japanese diplomats from presenting their war message to Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, until 2:30 p.m. (Washington time) just as the first reports of the air raid at Pearl Harbor are being read by Hull.

News of the "sneak attack" is broadcast to the American public via radio bulletins, with many popular Sunday afternoon entertainment programs being interrupted. The news sends a shockwave across the nation and results in a tremendous influx of young volunteers into the U.S. armed forces. The attack also unites the nation behind the President and effectively ends isolationist sentiment in the country.

Monday, December 8
The United States and Britain declare war on Japan with President Roosevelt calling December 7, "a date which will live in infamy..."

Thursday, December 11
Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. The European and Southeast Asian wars have now become a global conflict with the Axis powers; Japan, Germany and Italy, united against America, Britain, France, and their Allies.



Pictures from December 7, 1941


USS Maryland & USS Oklahoma
USS Maryland (BB-46) alongside the capsized USS Oklahoma (BB-37). The USS West Virginia (BB-48) is burning in the background.
Image Credit - navsource.org
Ford Island
Ford Island, seen on 10 October 1941 from much the same angle as Japanese bomber pilots viewed it on 7 December.
Image credit - navsource.org
USS Phoenix
The USS Phoenix steams down the
Ford Island channel past the USS West
Virginia (left) and the USS Arizona (right).


Attack on Pearl Harbor
Three US battleships - the USS West Virginia, left, severely damaged; the USS Tennessee, damaged; and the USS Arizona, sunk - are hit by Japanese bombs.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
Arizona burning out of control at right. West Virginia, decks awash sunken at her berth and burning fiercely Tennessee trapped between the two raging fires.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
Struck by 2 torpedoes and 2 bombs, the USS California settles to the bottom.


Attack on Pearl Harbor
The wreckage of American planes that were bombed at the US Army's Hickam Field.




The Arizona Memorial


The USS Arizona Memorial is the final resting place for many of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The 184-foot-long Memorial structure spanning the mid-portion of the sunken battleship consists of three main sections: the entry and assembly rooms; a central area designed for ceremonies and general observation; and the shrine room, where the names of those killed on the Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.

  The USS Arizona Memorial.
The USS Arizona Memorial grew out of wartime desire to establish some sort of memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who died in the attack. Suggestions for such a memorial began in 1943, but it wasn't until 1949, when the Territory of Hawaii established the Pacific War Memorial Commission, that the first real steps were taken to bring it about.

Initial recognition came in 1950 when Admiral Arthur Radford, Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), ordered that a flagpole be erected over the sunken battleship. On the ninth anniversary of the attack, a commemorative plaque was placed at the base of the flagpole.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who helped achieve Allied victory in Europe during World War II, approved the creation of the Memorial in 1958. Its construction was completed in 1961 with public funds appropriated by Congress and private donations. The Memorial was dedicated in 1962.

As a special tribute to the ship and her lost crew, the United States flag flies from the flagpole, which is attached to the severed mainmast of the sunken battleship. The USS Arizona Memorial has come to commemorate all military personnel killed in the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Arizona Memorial The Arizona Memorial
The "Tears of The Arizona", where oil still seeps from the wreckage.
The Arizona Memorial


The Arizona Memorial The Arizona Memorial



Casualties
US Army: 218 KIA, 364 WIA.
US Navy: 2,008 KIA, 710 WIA.
US MarineCorp: 109 KIA, 69 WIA.
Civilians: 68 KIA, 35 WIA.
TOTAL: 2,403 KIA, 1,178 WIA.
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Battleships
USS Arizona (BB-39) - total loss when a bomb hit her magazine.
USS Oklahoma (BB-37) - Total loss when she capsized and sunk in the harbor.
USS California (BB-4 4) - Sunk at her berth. Later raised and repaired.
USS West Virginia (BB-48) - Sunk at her berth. Later raised and repaired.
USS Nevada - (BB-36) Beached to prevent sinking. Later repaired.
USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) - Light damage.
USS Maryland (BB-46) - Light damage.
USS Tennessee (BB-43) Light damage.
USS Utah (AG-16) - (former battleship used as a target) - Sunk.
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Cruisers
USS New Orleans (CA-32) - Light Damage.
USS San Francisco (CA-38) - Light Damage.
USS Detroit (CL-8) - Light Damage.
USS Raleigh (CL-7) - Heavily damaged but repaired.
USS Helena (CL-50) - Light Damage.
USS Honolulu (CL-48) - Light Damage..
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Destroyers
USS Downes (DD-375) - Destroyed. Parts salvaged.
USS Cassin - (DD -3 7 2) Destroyed. Parts salvaged.
USS Shaw (DD-373) - Very heavy damage.
USS Helm (DD-388) - Light Damage.
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Minelayer
USS Ogala (CM-4) - Sunk but later raised and repaired.
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Seaplane Tender
USS Curtiss (AV-4) - Severely damaged but later repaired.
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Repair Ship
USS Vestal (AR-4) - Severely damaged but later repaired.
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Harbor Tug
USS Sotoyomo (YT-9) - Sunk but later raised and repaired.
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Aircraft
188 Aircraft destroyed



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