Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor (or Hawaii Operation, Operation Z, as it was called by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters) was an unannounced military strike conducted by the Japanese navy against the United States' naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 (Hawaiian time, December 8 by Japan Standard Time), later resulting in the United States becoming militarily involved in World War II. It was intended as a preventive action to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from influencing the war the Empire of Japan was planning to wage in Southeast Asia against Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States. The attack consisted of two aerial attack waves totaling 353 aircraft, launched from six Japanese aircraft carriers.
The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships (two of which were raised and returned to service later in the war) and damaged four more. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, and one minelayer, destroyed 188 aircraft, and caused personnel losses of 2,402 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 hit. Japanese losses were minimal, at 29 aircraft and five midget submarines, with 65 servicemen killed or wounded.
The attack was a major engagement of World War II. It occurred before a formal declaration of war and before the last part of a 14-part message was delivered to the State Department in Washington, D.C. The Japanese Embassy in Washington had been instructed to deliver it immediately prior to the scheduled time of the attack in Hawaii. The attack, and especially the surprise nature of it, were both factors in changing U.S. public opinion from an isolationist position to support for direct participation in the war. Germany's prompt declaration of war, unforced by any treaty commitment to Japan, quickly brought the United States into the European Theater as well. Despite numerous historical precedents of unannounced military action, the lack of any formal declaration prior to the attack led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim "December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy".
Background to Conflict ¹
The strike was intended to neutralize the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and hence protect Japan's advance into Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, where Japan sought access to natural resources such as oil and rubber. Both the U.S. and Japan held long-standing contingency plans for war in the Pacific which were continuously updated as tensions between the two countries steadily increased during the 1930's, with the Japanese expansion into Manchuria and mainland China.
In 1940, following Japan's invasion of French Indochina and under the authority granted by the Export Control Act, the United States halted shipments of airplanes, parts, machine tools, and aviation gasoline, which was perceived by Japan as an unfriendly act. The U.S. did not stop oil exports to Japan at that time in part because prevailing sentiment in Washington was that such an action would be an extreme step, given Japanese dependence on U.S. oil, and likely to be considered a provocation by Japan.
Japanese planning staff studied the 1940 British attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto intensively. It was of great use to them when planning their attack on US naval forces in Pearl Harbor.
Following Japanese expansion into French Indochina after the fall of France, the U.S. ceased oil exports to Japan in July 1941, in part because of new American restrictions on domestic oil consumption. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had earlier moved the Pacific Fleet to Hawaii and ordered a military buildup in the Philippines in the hope of discouraging Japanese aggression in the Far East. As the Japanese high command was (mistakenly) certain any attack on the United Kingdom's Southeast Asian colonies would bring the U.S. into the war, a devastating preventive strike appeared to be the only way for Japan to avoid U.S. naval interference. An invasion of the Philippines was also considered to be necessary by Japanese war plans, while for the U.S., reconquest of the islands had been a given of War Plan Orange in the inter-war years.
War between Japan and the United States had been a possibility each nation had been aware of (and developed contingency plans for) since the 1920s, though tensions did not begin to grow seriously until Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria. Over the next decade, Japan continued to expand into China, leading to all out war in 1937. In 1940, Japan invaded French Indochina in both an effort to control supplies reaching China, and as a first step to improve her access to resources in Southeast Asia. This move prompted an American embargo on oil exports to Japan, which in turn caused the Japanese to initiate their planned takeover of oil production in the Dutch East Indies. Furthermore, the transfer of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from its previous base in San Diego to its new base in Pearl Harbor was seen by the Japanese military as the U.S. readying itself for a potential conflict between the two countries.
Preliminary planning for an attack on Pearl Harbor to protect the move into the "Southern Resource Area" (the Japanese term for the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia generally) had begun in very early 1941, under the auspices of Admiral Yamamoto, then commanding Japan's Combined Fleet. He won assent to formal planning and training for an attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff only after much contention with Naval Headquarters, including a threat to resign his command. Full-scale planning was underway by early spring 1941, primarily by Captain Minoru Genda. Over the next several months, pilots trained, equipment was adapted, and intelligence collected. Despite these preparations, actual approval of the attack plan was not issued by Emperor Hirohito until November 5, after the third of four Imperial Conferences to consider the matter. Final authorization was not given by the emperor until December 1, after a majority of Japanese leaders advised him the "Hull Note" would "destroy the fruits of the China incident, endanger Manchukuo and undermine Japanese control of Korea." By late 1941 U.S. Pacific bases and facilities had been placed on alert on multiple occasions, with hostilities between the U.S. and Japan expected by many observers. U.S. officials doubted Pearl Harbor would be the first target in any war with Japan, instead expecting the Philippines to be attacked first due to the threat it posed to sea lanes to the south and the erroneous belief that Japan was not capable of mounting more than one major naval operation at a time.
The attack had several major aims. First, it was supposed to destroy American fleet units, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies. Second, it was a means to buy time for Japan to consolidate her position and increase her naval strength, before the shipbuilding of the Vinson-Walsh Act erased any chance of victory. Finally, it was intended as a blow against American morale, which might discourage further fighting and enable Japan to conquer Southeast Asia without interference.
Making battleships the main target was a means of striking at morale, since they were the prestige ships of any navy at the time. Because both Japanese and American strategic thinking and doctrine was derived from the work of Captain Alfred Mahan, which held battleships were decisive in naval warfare, it was also a means of striking at the fighting power of the Pacific Fleet; if it succeeded, it meant the ultimate Pacific battle ("decisive battle", in Japanese Navy thinking), which would inevitably be fought by battleships, would be postponed, if not prevented entirely. With that in mind, Yamamoto intended the Pacific Fleet should be sought and attacked "wherever it might be found in the Pacific". A 14 November 1941 tabletop exercise suggested alert defenders could sink two carriers and damage two more, even with providential weather, which amounted to all the strength Naval General Staff had wanted to allocate to the operation. Japanese planners also knew that attacking the US Pacific fleet while it was at anchor in Pearl Harbor carried two distinct disadvantages: the targeted ships would be in very shallow water, meaning that it would be relatively easy to salvage and possibly repair them; and most of the crews would survive the attack, since many would be on shore leave or would be rescued from the harbor. Despite these concerns, Yamamoto pressed ahead.
Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war also meant other targets in the harbor, especially the Navy Yard, oil tank farms, and Submarine Base, could safely be ignored, since the war would be over before the influence of these facilities would be felt.
Approach and Attack ¹
On November 26, 1941, a Japanese task force (the Striking Force) of six aircraft carriers departed northern Japan en route to a position to northwest of Hawaii, intending to launch its aircraft to attack Pearl Harbor. In all, 408 aircraft were intended to be used: 360 for the two attack waves, 48 on defensive combat air patrol (CAP), including nine fighters from the first wave.
The first wave was to be the primary attack, while the second wave was to finish whatever tasks remained. The first wave contained the bulk of the weapons to attack capital ships, mainly specially adapted Type 91 aerial torpedoes which were designed with an anti-roll mechanism and a rudder extension that let them operate in shallow water. The aircrews were ordered to select the highest value targets (battleships and aircraft carriers) or, if either were not present, any other high value ships (cruisers and destroyers). Dive bombers were to attack ground targets. Fighters were ordered to strafe and destroy as many parked aircraft as possible to ensure they did not get into the air to counterattack the bombers, especially in the first wave. When the fighters' fuel got low they were to refuel at the aircraft carriers and return to combat. Fighters were to serve CAP duties where needed, especially over US airfields.
Before the attack commenced, two reconnaissance aircraft launched from cruisers were sent to scout over Oahu and report on enemy fleet composition and location. Another four scout planes patrolled the area between the Kido Butai and Niihau, in order to prevent the task force from being caught by a surprise counterattack.
Fleet submarines I-16, I-18, I-20, I-22, and I-24 each embarked a Type A midget submarine for transport to the waters off Oahu. The five I-boats left Kure Naval District on November 25, 1941, coming to 10 nm (19 km) off the mouth of Pearl Harbor and launched their charges, at about 01:00 December 7. At 03:42 Hawaiian Time, the minesweeper USS Condor spotted a midget submarine periscope southwest of the Pearl Harbor entrance buoy and alerted destroyer USS Ward. That midget probably entered Pearl Harbor, but USS Ward sank another at 06:37 in the first American shots fired in World War II. A midget on the north side of Ford Island missed USS Curtiss with her first torpedo and missed the attacking USS Monaghan with her other one before being sunk by USS Monaghan at 08:43.
A third midget submarine grounded twice, once outside the harbor entrance and again on the east side of Oahu, where it was captured on December 8. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki swam ashore and became the first Japanese prisoner of war. A fourth had been damaged by a depth charge attack and abandoned by its crew before it could fire its torpedoes. A United States Naval Institute analysis of photographs from the attack conducted in 1999 indicated a midget may have successfully fired a torpedo into USS West Virginia. Japanese forces received a radio communications from a midget submarine at 00:41 December 8 claiming damage to one or more large war vessels inside Pearl Harbor. That submarine's final disposition is unknown but it did not return to its carrier sub.
Japanese Declaration of War ¹
While the attack ultimately took place before a formal declaration of war by Japan, Admiral Yamamoto originally stipulated the attack should not commence until thirty minutes after Japan had informed the United States he considered the peace negotiations at an end. In this way, the Japanese tried both to uphold the conventions of war as well as achieving surprise. Despite these intentions, the attack had already begun when the 5,000-word notification was delivered. Tokyo transmitted the message to the Japanese embassy (in two blocks), which ultimately took too long transcribing the message to deliver it in time, while U.S. code breakers had already deciphered and translated most of it hours before the Japanese embassy was scheduled to deliver it. While sometimes described as a declaration of war, "this dispatch neither declared war nor severed diplomatic relations". The declaration of war was printed in the front page of Japan's newspapers in the evening edition on December 8.
First Wave ¹
The first attack wave of 183 planes was launched north of Oahu, commanded by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida. Six planes failed to launch due to technical difficulties. It included:
1st Group (targets: battleships and aircraft carriers)
As the first wave approached Oahu a U.S. Army SCR-270 radar at Opana Point near the island's northern tip (a post not yet operational, having been in training mode for months) detected them and called in a warning. Although the operators reported a target echo larger than anything they had ever seen, an untrained officer at the new and only partially activated Intercept Center, Lieutenant Kermit A. Tyler, presumed the scheduled arrival of six Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers was the source. The direction from which the aircraft were coming was close (only a few degrees separated the two inbound courses), while the operators had never seen a formation as large on radar; they neglected to tell Tyler of its size, while Tyler, for security reasons, could not tell them the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were due (even though it was widely known).
Several U.S. aircraft were shot down as the first wave approached land, and one at least radioed a somewhat incoherent warning. Other warnings from ships off the harbor entrance were still being processed or awaiting confirmation when the attacking planes began bombing and strafing. Nevertheless it is not clear any warnings would have had much effect even if they had been interpreted correctly and much more promptly. The results the Japanese achieved in the Philippines were essentially the same as at Pearl Harbor, though MacArthur had almost nine hours warning that the Japanese had already attacked at Pearl and specific orders to commence operations before they actually struck his command.
The air portion of the attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time (3:18 a.m. December 8 Japanese Standard Time, as kept by ships of the Kido Butai), with the attack on Kaneohe. A total of 353 Japanese planes in two waves reached Oahu. Slow, vulnerable torpedo bombers led the first wave, exploiting the first moments of surprise to attack the most important ships present (the battleships), while dive bombers attacked U.S. air bases across Oahu, starting with Hickam Field, the largest, and Wheeler Field, the main U.S. Army Air Force fighter base. The 171 planes in the second wave attacked the Air Corps' Bellows Field near Kaneohe on the windward side of the island, and Ford Island. The only aerial opposition came from a handful of Curtiss P-36 Hawks, Curtiss P-40 Warhawks and some Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers from the carrier USS Enterprise.
Men aboard U.S. ships awoke to the sounds of alarms, bombs exploding, and gunfire, prompting bleary-eyed men into dressing as they ran to General Quarters stations. (The famous message, "Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not drill.", was sent from the headquarters of Patrol Wing Two, the first senior Hawaiian command to respond.) The defenders were very unprepared. Ammunition lockers were locked, aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip in the open to deter sabotage, guns unmanned (none of the Navy's 5"/38s, only a quarter of its machine guns, and only four of 31 Army batteries got in action). Despite this and low alert status, many American military personnel responded effectively during the battle. Ensign Joe Taussig got his ship, USS Nevada, underway from dead cold during the attack. One of the destroyers, USS Aylwin, got underway with only four officers aboard, all Ensigns, none with more than a year's sea duty; she operated at sea for four days before her commanding officer managed to get aboard. Captain Mervyn Bennion, commanding USS West Virginia (Kimmel's flagship), led his men until he was cut down by fragments from a bomb hit to USS Tennessee, moored alongside.
Gallantry was widespread. In all, 14 officers and sailors were awarded the Medal of Honor. A special military award, the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal, was later authorized for all military veterans of the attack.
Second Wave Composition ¹
The second wave consisted of 171 planes: 54 Nakajima B5N Kate's, 81 Aichi D3A Val's, and 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero's, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki. Four planes failed to launch because of technical difficulties. This wave and its targets comprised:
1st Group - 54 Nakajima B5N Kate's armed with 550 lb (249 kg) and 132 lb (60 kg) general purpose bombs.
The second wave was divided into three groups. One was tasked to attack Kane‘ohe, the rest Pearl Harbor proper. The separate sections arrived at the attack point almost simultaneously, from several directions.
Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. 2,386 Americans died (55 were civilians, most killed by unexploded American anti-aircraft shells landing in civilian areas), a further 1,139 wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships.
Of the American fatalities, nearly half of the total were due to the explosion of the USS Arizona's forward magazine after it was hit by a modified 40 cm (16 in.) shell.
Already damaged by a torpedo and on fire forward, USS Nevada attempted to exit the harbor. She was targeted by many Japanese bombers as she got under way, sustaining more hits from 250 lb (113 kg) bombs, and she was deliberately beached to avoid blocking the harbor entrance.
USS California was hit by two bombs and two torpedoes. The crew might have kept her afloat, but were ordered to abandon ship just as they were raising power for the pumps. Burning oil from USS Arizona and USS West Virginia drifted down on her, and probably made the situation look worse than it was. The disarmed target ship USS Utah was holed twice by torpedoes. USS West Virginia was hit by seven torpedoes, the seventh tearing away her rudder. USS Oklahoma was hit by four torpedoes, the last two above her belt armor, which caused her to capsize. USS Maryland was hit by two of the converted 40 cm shells, but neither caused serious damage.
Although the Japanese concentrated on battleships (the largest vessels present), they did not ignore other targets. The light cruiser USS Helena was torpedoed, and the concussion from the blast capsized the neighboring minelayer USS Oglala. Two destroyers in dry dock, USS Cassin and USS Downes were destroyed when bombs penetrated their fuel bunkers. The leaking fuel caught fire; flooding the dry dock in an effort to fight fire made the burning oil rise, and both were burned out. USS Cassin slipped from her keel blocks and rolled against USS Downes. The light cruiser USS Raleigh was holed by a torpedo. The light cruiser USS Honolulu was damaged but remained in service. The repair vessel USS Vestal, moored alongside USS Arizona, was heavily damaged and beached. The seaplane tender USS Curtiss was also damaged. The destroyer USS Shaw was badly damaged when two bombs penetrated her forward magazine.Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 of them on the ground. Almost none were actually ready to take off to defend the base. Of 33 Consolidated PBY Catalina's in Hawaii, 24 were destroyed, and six others damaged beyond repair. (The three on patrol returned undamaged.) Friendly fire brought down some U.S. planes on top of that, including five from an inbound flight from USS Enterprise. Japanese attacks on barracks killed additional personnel.
Fifty-five Japanese airmen and nine submariners were killed in the action, and one was captured. Of Japan's 414 available planes, 29 were lost during the battle (nine in the first attack wave, 20 in the second), with another 74 damaged by antiaircraft fire from the ground.
Possible Third Wave ¹
Several Japanese junior officers, including Mitsuo Fuchida and Minoru Genda, the chief architect of the attack, urged Nagumo to carry out a third strike in order to destroy as much of Pearl Harbor's fuel and torpedo storage, maintenance, and dry dock facilities as possible. Military historians have suggested the destruction of these would have hampered the U.S. Pacific Fleet far more seriously than loss of its battleships. If they had been wiped out, "serious American operations in the Pacific would have been postponed for more than a year"; according to American Admiral Chester Nimitz, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, "it would have prolonged the war another two years." Nagumo, however, decided to withdraw for several reasons:
American anti-aircraft performance had improved considerably during the second strike, and two thirds of Japan's losses were incurred during the second wave. Nagumo felt if he launched a third strike, he would be risking three quarters of the Combined Fleet's strength to wipe out the remaining targets (which included the facilities) while suffering higher aircraft losses.
The location of the American carriers remained unknown. In addition, the Admiral was concerned his force was now within range of American land-based bombers. Nagumo was uncertain whether the U.S. had enough surviving planes remaining on Hawaii to launch an attack against his carriers.
A third wave would have required substantial preparation and turnaround time, and would have meant returning planes would have had to land at night. At the time, only the Royal Navy had developed night carrier techniques, so this was a substantial risk.
The task force's fuel situation did not permit him to remain in waters north of Pearl Harbor much longer, since he was at the very limits of logistical support. To do so risked running unacceptably low on fuel, perhaps even having to abandon destroyers en route home.
He believed the second strike had essentially satisfied the main objective of his mission - the neutralization of the Pacific Fleet - and did not wish to risk further losses. Moreover, it was Japanese Navy practice to prefer the conservation of strength over the total destruction of the enemy.
At a conference aboard Yamato the following morning, Yamamoto initially supported Nagumo. In retrospect, sparing the vital dockyards, maintenance shops, and oil depots meant the U.S. could respond relatively quickly to Japanese activities in the Pacific. Yamamoto later regretted Nagumo's decision to withdraw and categorically stated it had been a great mistake not to order a third strike.
After a systematic search for survivors, formal salvage operations began. Captain Homer N. Wallin, Material Officer for Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was immediately retained to lead salvage operations.
Around Pearl Harbor, divers from the Navy (shore and tenders), the Naval Shipyard, and civilian contractors (Pacific Bridge and others) began work on the ships which could be refloated. They patched holes, cleared debris, and pumped water out of ships. Navy divers worked inside the damaged ships. Within six months, five battleships and two cruisers were patched or refloated so they could be sent to shipyards in Pearl and on the mainland for extensive repair.
Intensive salvage operations continued for another year, a total of some 20,000 hours under water. USS Oklahoma, while successfully raised, was never repaired. USS Arizona and the target ship USS Utah were too heavily damaged for salvage, though much of their armament and equipment was removed and put to use aboard other vessels. Today, the two hulks remain where they were sunk, with USS Arizona becoming a war memorial.
In the wake of the attack, 16 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Crosses, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Stars were awarded to the American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat at Pearl Harbor.
In Europe, Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy subsequently declared war on the United States immediately after they began operations against a fellow Axis member, with Hitler stating in a delivered speech: “The fact that the Japanese Government, which has been negotiating for years with this man [Franklin D. Roosevelt], has at last become tired of being mocked by him in such an unworthy way, fills us all, the German people, and all other decent people in the world, with deep satisfaction ... Germany and Italy have been finally compelled, in view of this, and in loyalty to the Tripartite Pact, to carry on the struggle against the U.S.A. and England jointly and side by side with Japan for the defense and thus for the maintenance of the liberty and independence of their nations and empires ... As a consequence of the further extension of President Roosevelt's policy, which is aimed at unrestricted world domination and dictatorship, the U.S.A. together with England have not hesitated from using any means to dispute the rights of the German, Italian and Japanese nations to the basis of their natural existence ... Not only because we are the ally of Japan, but also because Germany and Italy have enough insight and strength to comprehend that, in these historic times, the existence or non-existence of the nations, is being decided perhaps forever.”
Though the attack inflicted large-scale destruction on US vessels and aircraft, it did not affect Pearl Harbor's fuel storage, maintenance, submarine, and intelligence facilities.
The attack was an initial shock to all the Allies in the Pacific Theater. Further losses compounded the alarming setback. Three days later, the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk off the coast of Malaya, causing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later to recollect "In all the war I never received a more direct shock. As I turned and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked".
Fortunately for the United States, the American aircraft carriers were untouched by the Japanese attack, otherwise the Pacific Fleet's ability to conduct offensive operations would have been crippled for a year or so (given no diversions from the Atlantic Fleet). As it was, the elimination of the battleships left the U.S. Navy with no choice but rely on its aircraft carriers and submarines - the very weapons with which the U.S. Navy halted and eventually reversed the Japanese advance. Five of the eight battleships were repaired and returned to service, but their slow speed limited their deployment, serving mainly in shore bombardment roles. A major flaw of Japanese strategic thinking was a belief the ultimate Pacific battle would be fought by battleships, in keeping with the doctrine of Captain Alfred Mahan. As a result, Yamamoto (and his successors) hoarded battleships for a "decisive battle" that never happened.
Ultimately, targets not on Genda's list, such as the submarine base and the old headquarters building, proved more important than any battleship. It was submarines that immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy's heavy ships and brought Japan's economy to a standstill by crippling the transportation of oil and raw materials. Also, the basement of the Old Administration Building was the home of the cryptanalytic unit which contributed significantly to the Midway ambush and the Submarine Force's success.
One further consequence of the attacks on Pearl Harbor was that Japanese American residents and citizens were relocated to Japanese American internment camps. Within hours of the attack, hundreds of Japanese American leaders were rounded up and brought to high-security camps. Later, over 110,000 Japanese Americans, including United States citizens, were removed from their homes and transferred to internment camps.
Strategic Implications ¹
Admiral Hara Tadaichi summed up the Japanese result by saying, "We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war."
While the attack accomplished its intended objective, it turned out to be largely unnecessary. Unbeknownst to Isoroku Yamamoto, who conceived the original plan, the U.S. Navy had decided as far back as 1935 to abandon 'charging' across the Pacific towards the Philippines in response to an outbreak of war (in keeping with the evolution of Plan Orange). The U.S. instead adopted "Plan Dog" in 1940, which emphasized keeping the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) out of the eastern Pacific and away from the shipping lanes to Australia while the U.S. concentrated on defeating Nazi Germany.
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