December 7, 1941 was just another quiet Sunday morning at the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, when at 0855 hours, the Japanese Air Force and Navy launched a massive surprise attack. This was to be the first wave and was followed by a second wave of attack at 0945 hours.
Over 400 Japanese planes and 5 midget submarines participated in the attack that lasted 110 minutes.
The very next day on 8 December 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the Congress calling for the United States to join the war. The US Congress voted unanimously to join the war with only one dissenting vote from Representative Jeanette Rankin of Montana.
Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States and World War II had begun.
Why Pearl Harbor?
Through the 1930s, as Japan grew stronger economically and militarily, it planned to expand into China and other areas of Indochina, since Japan was a small country with limited natural resources to support its growth.
On 7 July, 1937, a clash between China and Japan over the Marco Polo Bridge soon escalated into a war. The US put pressure on Japan by launching economic sanctions against the latter in the hope that it would back down. This only made the Japanese more resolute to stand their ground. Hectic negotiations failed to find a solution and tension between the two countries increased.
During this period American political opinion was divided on US involvement in Europe against an increasingly aggressive Nazi Germany and Japan in the Far East. The US did not believe that the Japanese would be able to attack US military assets in Hawaii, given the 4,000 miles distance between the two territories.
On the other hand, the Japanese believed that with political opinion divided within the US, the country would be reluctant to enter the war. Furthermore, a confident Japanese Navy led by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto convinced the military establishment that a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor would not only surprise the US but destroying their Pacific Fleet would limit their ability to join the war against Japan. It was to prove a fatal gamble.
With the attack on Pearl Harbor not only did US join the war but hastened Germany and Italy’s decision to declare war on the US, thus triggering World War II.
US Pacific Fleet – down but not out
Central to the Japanese plan to attack on Pearl Harbor, was neutralizing the three US Navy aircraft carriers, destruction of the submarine bases, fuel storage depots, ammunition depots and battleships that were docked there.
On that fateful day, the three aircraft carriers of the Pacific Fleet were out to sea and therefore remained safe. The submarine bases, fuel depots and ammunition depots also remained mostly untouched. This ensured the US Pacific Fleet was able to recoup its military capability quickly and enter action in short time. In all, the US lost 20 ships and around 300 aircraft on the ground that day.
2,335 US Defense personnel and 68 civilians lost their lives, 1,143 US servicemen were wounded along with 35 civilians.
65 of the attacking Japanese were killed and one captured.