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Pearl Harbor

Introduction | Features


Introduction to the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Japanese military leaders recognized American naval strength as the chief deterrent to war with the United States. Early in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, had initiated planning for a surprise attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at the beginning of any hostilities that the Japanese might undertake. The assumption was that before the United States could recover from a surprise blow, the Japanese would be able to seize all their objectives in the Far East, and could then hold out indefinitely.

By September 1941 the Japanese had practically completed secret plans for a huge assault against Malaya, the Philippines, and the Netherlands East Indies, to be coordinated with a crushing blow on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. Early in November Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was named commander of the Pearl Harbor Striking Force, which rendezvoused secretly in the Kuriles. The force of some 30 ships included six aircraft carriers with about 430 planes, of which approximately 360 took part in the subsequent attack. At the same time, a Japanese Advance Expeditionary Force of some 20 submarines was assembled at Kure naval base on the west coast of Honshu to cooperate in the attack.

Submarines of the Advance Expeditionary Force began their eastward movement across the Pacific in mid-November, refueled and resupplied in the Marshalls, and arrived near Oahu about December 5 (Hawaiian time). On the night of December 6-7 five midget (two-man) submarines that had been carried "piggy-back" on large submarines cast off and began converging on Pearl Harbor.

Nagumo's task force sailed from the Kuriles on 26 November and arrived, undetected by the Americans, at a point about 200 miles north of Oahu at 0600 hours (Hawaiian time) on December 7, 1941. Beginning at 0600 and ending at 0715, a total of some 360 planes were launched in three waves. These planes rendezvoused to the south and then flew toward Oahu for coordinated attacks.

In Pearl Harbor were 96 vessels, the bulk of the United States Pacific Fleet. Eight battleships of the Fleet were there, but the aircraft carriers were all at sea. The Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) was Admiral Husband E. Kimmel. Army forces in Hawaii, including the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions, were under the command of Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, Commanding General of the Hawaiian Department. On the several airfields were a total of about 390 Navy and Army planes of all types, of which less than 300 were available for combat or observation purposes.

The Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor and on the airfields of Oahu began at 0755 on December 7, 1941 and ended shortly before 1000. Quickly recovering from the initial shock of surprise, the Americans fought back vigorously with antiaircraft fire. Devastation of the airfields was so quick and thorough that only a few American planes were able to participate in the counterattack. The Japanese were successful in accomplishing their principal mission, which was to cripple the Pacific Fleet. They sunk three battleships, caused another to capsize, and severely damaged the other four.

All together the Japanese sank or severely damaged 18 ships, including the 8 battleships, three light cruisers, and three destroyers. On the airfields the Japanese destroyed 161 American planes (Army 74, Navy 87) and seriously damaged 102 (Army 71, Navy 31).

The Navy and Marine Corps suffered a total of 2,896 casualties of which 2,117 were deaths (Navy 2,008, Marines 109) and 779 wounded (Navy 710, Marines 69). The Army (as of midnight, 10 December) lost 228 killed or died of wounds, 113 seriously wounded and 346 slightly wounded. In addition, at least 57 civilians were killed and nearly as many seriously injured.

The Japanese lost 29 planes over Oahu, one large submarine (on 10 December), and all five of the midget submarines. Their personnel losses (according to Japanese sources) were 55 airmen, nine crewmen on the midget submarines, and an unknown number on the large submarines. The Japanese carrier task force sailed away undetected and unscathed.

On December 8, 1941, within less than an hour after a stirring, six-minute address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress voted, with only one member dissenting, that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan, and empowered the President to wage war with all the resources of the country.

Four days after Pearl Harbor, December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Congress, this time without a dissenting vote, immediately recognized the existence of a state of war with Germany and Italy, and also rescinded an article of the Selective Service Act prohibiting the use of American armed forces beyond the Western Hemisphere.


Attack on Pearl Harbor: Features

Heroes of Pearl Harbor

Fascinating, inspiring stories and details about American heroes of Pearl Harbor who were recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Pearl Harbor Deceit?

Did FDR know that the Japanese were planning to attack? In his new book, Robert Stinnett says yes. Here's an excerpt.


[The primary source for this text is the U.S. Army Center for Military History. For a more general overview of the war see the Brief History of WWII e-text."]


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