Pearl Harbor was the beginning of a war between two countries that would last nearly 4 years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The attack was swift and successful for the Japanese and it caught the Americans totally off guard. The “Day that will live in infamy” drew the United States into a World War in which would change American history forever.
The political climate in the pacific area in 1940 was filled with turmoil. The Japanese had extended their empire south through French Indochina and the Japanese Army was invading China, conquering a third of the country. The United States of America was shocked to see this after witnessing Hitler and his Nazi’s conquer most of Europe. So, the American’s had placed embargoes on their extensive trade with Japan and both countries were negotiating to try to solve their differences.
The U.S. tried to negotiate with the Japanese to try to avoid war, trying to convince them that if war broke out between Japan and the United States, Japan, in the long run, would be devastated. So, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Japanese ambassador Namura and Kiruzo talked on how to solve this crisis. These negotiations proceeded into the summer of 1941.By this time, the Japanese had realized that if they wanted to expand their empire, they would have to fight America and, possibly, her allies. So, they decided to fight. But, in order for Japan to fight America on even terms, they would have to move south, into the East Indies (where there was a lot of raw materials for the Japanese War Machine), which, at that time, were controlled by the western powers: Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, and the United States. But, there was another thorn in Japan’s side, the United States Pacific Fleet was moved from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This was a knife at Japan’s throat. If they decided to move south, then the Americans would attack. So, the Japanese had to come up with a plan to get rid of this threat. They called upon their new Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. He saw that the British, in 1940, torpedoed the Italian fleet at Toranto using old Fairy Swordfish torpedo bombers. So, Yamamoto thought if the British could use old biplanes to sink three battleships at Toranto, then he could use his modern Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and Aichi D3A dive bombers to destroy more. So, he came up with a daring plan.
He would use his six fleet aircraft carriers to strike Pearl Harbor from the sea and he ordered his invasion fleet to wait until X-Day, the Day of attack. The six aircraft carriers, commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, would leave the Kurile Islands on November 26th, head towards Hawaii, bomb the airfields, torpedo the American ships, and destroy Pearl Harbor. While they were planning for war, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo instructed his ambassadors in Washington, D.C. to keep up negotiations for as long as they could, to try to deceive the Americans. But what Tojo didn’t know was that American cryptographers had cracked the Japanese Imperial Code and were reading every message that was coming from Tokyo to all of the ambassadors in Washington and Berlin. So, the Americans knew the negotiations were not sincere and that they were planning so kind of moved on the Pacific. But, they didn’t know where. It could’ve been the Philippines, Guam, Wake, or the East Indies (Little did they know that it was to be all of them). So, finally, the Americans started building up its armed forces, just in case.
On November 26, 1941, the First Air Fleet left Japan en route to Hawaii. This cruise had to be of the utmost secrecy. If the American found out about this force, they might destroy it and Japan would lose the war automatically. On December 6, the officials in Hawaii, Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short, received a war warning from Washington and they went on alert. But the next day, December 7, the alert didn’t take effect, because it was Sunday and everybody had the day off. Meanwhile, in Washington, American intelligence intercepted a 14-part message to the Japanese ambassadors stating for them to break diplomatic relations with the U.S. With this, the Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall sent another war warning to all of his oversea bases in the Pacific. But, this message was not received until too late. At 8:00am, Hawaiian time, just as the island of Oahu started to wake up, 230 Japanese Zero fighter, Kate torpedo bombers, and Val Dive Bombers, appeared out of the north, and attacked everything; warships, airfields, and even people on the ground. In 110 minutes, the United States Navy suffered its worst disaster in history and the cost was staggering
2,403 American sailors and soldiers were killed
1,178 people were wounded
Nearly 200 airplanes were destroyed
7 battleships sunk
3 light cruisers,3 destroyers,and 5 other vessels were either sunk of damaged severely
The Japanese attackers last less than 100 men: 5 of their midget subs and 1 larger one was sunk outside the Harbor entrance and 29 of their planes were destroyed by American P-40 Warhawk fighters or to anti-aircaft fire. The Japanese attack was the most successful operation in military history, but they made some mistakes. Even with all the Japanese success, the damage could have been much more extensive. While they concentrated their attacks on U.S. ships and airfields, they completely missed the dry-docks and the American carriers that had arrived later that day. And Nagumo was too afraid to risk his task force anymore than he had to.
Over half the U.S. Pacific fleet was out to sea, including the carriers.
Simultaneously, nearby Hickam Field was also the victim of the surprise attack by the Japanese. 18 Army Aircorps aircraft including bombers and fighters and attack bombers were destroyed or damaged on the ground. A few U.S. fighters struggled into the air against the invaders and gave a good account of themselves.
As great a disaster Pearl Harbor was since a declaration of war was not given it outraged the US. The attack caused rage within the American people and they rallied quickly to bear arms against the Japanese. Also, most ships damaged at Pearl Harbor were rebuilt within a year. So, this attack can be summed up by what Admiral Yamamoto said after the attack, “I fear all we have done is to awaken the sleeping giant, and fill him with terrible resolve.”