December 7, 1941 – The Attack on Pearl Harbor

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is an incident that will always remain alive in the history of the United States of America. The seeds of this attack were sown during 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria, a Chinese province.

After Japan’s declaring war against China in 1937 the United States of America helped the Chinese by providing military as well as financial aid. US also gained the wrath of Japan when President Roosevelt decided to cutoff oil exports and export of other raw materials to Japan during July 1941. In October 1941 General Hideki Tojo became prime minister of Japan. Tojo placed a few demands with the US among which was the release of Japanese assets and cessation of the US naval expansion in the Pacific.

The secretary of the US, Cordell Hull proposed the withdrawal of Japanese from China and Indochina in exchange of Japanese assets. This was rejected by the Japanese on December 1, 1941. This was followed by an appeal on December 6 by President Franklin Roosevelt to the Japanese emperor Hirohito. This appeal did not receive any reply but later the same day US code breaking service received the Japanese message hinting an imminent attack. Though a warning was sent from Washington, the damage was already done at Pearl Harbor.

Japan had long expected the US to declare war and their main concern was the US Pacific Fleet which is based in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese decided to cripple the United States by launching a surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet. The first attack wave of 183 Japanese airplanes headed for Pearl Harbor on the fateful Sunday, December 7, 1941 at 6 AM. These planes were detected at Oahu’s northern shore radar station. But the officers ignored them thinking they were American B-17 planes heading in from the US west coast.

The unprepared commanders at Pearl Harbor had left the aircrafts on the airfields, anti-aircraft guns unmanned and ammunition boxes locked. The first wave of Japanese airplanes under the command of flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida struck Pearl Harbor at 7:53 AM and the US officers were caught off-guard. The Japanese airplanes targeted airfields and battleships. A second wave consisting of 167 airplanes targeted other ships and shipyard facilities.

By 9:45 AM Pearl Harbor had suffered immense damage. What escaped were three US Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers and the base fuel tanks. The Pacific Fleet lost eight battleships, three light cruisers, three destroyers, three smaller vessels and 188 aircrafts. The overwhelming casualty included 2335 servicemen and 68 civilians who were killed and an approximate 1178 injured.

The States of the United States of America which was going through the great depression suddenly found the need to unite. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor saw a huge number of young volunteers joining the US armed forces. In his address to the conference president Roosevelt declared December 7, 1941 ‘a date which will live in infamy…’ America under the leadership of President Franklin D Roosevelt declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941 bringing the United States of America in to World War II.