What were the Japanese thinking when they concocted their Pearl Harbor plan? Were they not aware that such an act would ignite outrage in the American people and invite retribution? Had the delivery of the 14-page document to Secretary Hull been on time, would it have mitigated the outcome? Japan eventually paid the dearest price for its conduct.
On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor,Hawaii Territory, killing more than 2,300 Americans. The U.S.S. Arizona was completely destroyed and the U.S.S. Oklahoma capsized. A total of twelve ships sank or were beached in the attack and nine additional vessels were damaged. More than 160 aircraft were destroyed and more than 150 others damaged.
A hurried dispatch from the ranking United States naval officer in Pearl Harbor, Commander in Chief Pacific, to all major navy commands and fleet units provided the first official word of the attack at the ill-prepared Pearl Harbor base. It said simply: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL.
When the first Japanese attack wave arrived over Pearl Harbor seven of their primary targets, the U.S. battleships, were moored along “Battleship Row”, on the eastern side of Ford Island. Another battleship was in drydock in the nearby Navy Yard. Other moorings which the Japanese believed might include battleships, or the equally important aircraft carriers, were at the Navy Yard’s 1010 Dock and along Ford Island’s western side.
The Japanese initially hit airfields, including that on Ford Island. Dive bombers attacked there at about 7:55 AM, destroying many aircraft, among them PBY patrol planes at the island’s southern tip. This attack prompted the dispatch of the famous message “Air raid, Pearl Harbor — this is no drill”, the outside World’s first indication that war had come to the Pacific.
Within a few moments, torpedo planes attacked from east and west, with one of the latter torpedoing the USS Helena at 1010 dock. Others, from the same direction, hit USS Utah and USS Raleigh, off the western side of Ford Island.
The great majority of the torpedo planes came in from the east, flying up the waterway between Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and the Submarine Base to hit the ships on that side of Ford Island. They put two “fish” into USS California, at the southern end of the row. At the northern end, another struck USS Nevada. The outboard ships in the center of “Battleship Row”, USS Oklahoma and West Virginia, each had their port sides torn open by many torpedoes.
As the torpedo planes were completing their work, horizontal bombers swept up “Battleship Row”, dropping armor-piercing bombs. Several ships were hit. One received a death blow, as USS Arizona blew up with a tremendous explosion.
Planes of the second attack wave revisited some of the ships already hit, and also spread destruction in the Navy Yard, where they bombed the drydocked battleship Pennsylvania and three destroyers. Other dive bombers went after the Nevada, which had left her berth and was trying to get to sea. Very heavy anti-aircraft gunfire greeted these aircraft, whose losses were significantly greater than those of the first attack wave.
The raiders had no opportunity to hit American aircraft carriers, all of which were at sea, and did not target fuel storage, most cruisers and destroyers, submarines and most maintenance facilities. However, in just under two hours they had wrecked the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s battleship force, ensuring that it would not interfere with Japan’s plans for conquest.
188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,402 men were killed and 1,282 wounded. The power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.
WHY DID THE JAPANESE ATTACK PEARL HARBOR?
The road to war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930s when differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria, which until then had been part of China. In 1937 Japan began a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to conquer the rest of China. In 1940, the Japanese government allied their country with Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance, and, in the following year, occupied all of Indochina.
The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The U.S. increased military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan.
Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil as a threat to the nation’s survival. Japan’s leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States.
The problem with the plan was the danger posed by the U.S. Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, devised a plan to immobilize the U.S. fleet at the outset of the war with a surprise attack.
The key elements in Yamamoto’s plans were meticulous preparation, the achievement of surprise, and the use of aircraft carriers and naval aviation on an unprecedented scale. In the spring of 1941, Japanese carrier pilots began training in the special tactics called for by the Pearl Harbor attack plan.
In October 1941 the naval general staff gave final approval to Yamamoto’s plan, which called for the formation of an attack force commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. It centered around six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by 24 supporting vessels. A separate group of submarines was to sink any American warships which escaped the Japanese carrier force.
The attacking planes came in two waves; the first hit its target at 7:53 AM, the second at 8:55. By 9:55 it was all over. By 1:00 PM the carriers that launched the planes from 274 miles off the coast of Oahu were heading back to Japan.
WORDS OF THE PRESIDENT.. Franklin Roosevelt.
“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 had 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 were 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 Japanese forces 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, 7 December, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
A SURVIVOR’S STORY
The story of D. Weissman, Seaman, First Class is as follows:
I was in the lower handling room of Turret IV. After the first hit, I went to the shell deck. The lights went out and the ship started to turn over. I went to the lower handling room and followed a man with a flash light. I entered the trunk just outside of handling room on the starboard side. The lower handling room flooded completely. Water entered the trunk. I dove and swam to the bottom of the trunk and left the ship through the hatch at the main deck and swam to the surface.
Eleven men in the lower handling room of turret IV escaped through the lucky bag. When the rescue party cut a hole in the lucky bag, the water rose rapidly but all men were removed before the water flooded the lucky bag completely.
Five men were in the five inch twenty-five caliber handling room preparatory to sending up anti-aircraft ammunition. They escaped to the five inch handling room and reduced flooding through ventilation ducts by stuffing rags in the lines. They were eventually saved by the rescue party by way of the shaft alley.
Eight men with water up to their necks were rescued from the steering compartment after these men, who had set condition “Z,” were enabled to enter the steering room through the hole made for them. Three holes were made in all; pumps were in use constantly to keep the level of the water and oil below the danger point.
As the shock turned into anger, America’s leaders acted quickly. The day after the attack, before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt made his famous speech that labeled December 7 as “a date which will live in infamy.” The Senate voted unanimously for war. The House vote would have been unanimous, too, were it not for one interesting historical footnote: Montana’s Jeannette Rankin (a pacifist) voted against war saying that “she wanted to show that a good democracy does not always vote unanimously for war.” Three days after Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy declared war on the US, and Congress passed another joint resolution fully involving the US in World War II.