Japan had long held a stance to incorporate much of the Pacific ring into a sphere of influence for its future. The mainland was short on natural resources but not on desire. Conquering territories in this sphere could provide the burgeoning empire with a diplomatic advantage in the near-future and help develop the island into a major world player - all this to be accomplished well before any nation could mobilize its war-making capabilities.
Colonial dominance in the area was weakening - as were their respective regional navies - with each passing decade since the close of World War 1 and the moment of opportunity was the here and now. The only real threat would be America and its Pacific Fleet centralized on the Hawaiian Islands, in particular, Pearl Harbor.
Japan's occupation of part of French Indo-China was greeted with an oil embargo by the Americans, British and Netherlands. Regardless, the Japanese Empire continued on its conquest binge and began expedient campaigns over lesser foes and the stage was more or less set for an ultimate showdown.
Before the assault on Pearl, the Japanese had worked hard at developing the tools for the Imperial Japanese Navy to get the job done. World treaties be damned so the Navy was gifted ships built to specifications beyond those imposed on the world's navies after World War 1. Aircraft were now attached to floating carrier ships and made just as lethal as their land counterparts. Weaponry was technologically advanced for the day - from new torpedo systems to deadlier drop bombs - man had always had a penchant for finding new ways to kill himself.
A large Japanese fleet, complete with six carriers loading some 450 aircraft, set sail from Japan towards Hawaii. Reconnaissance aircraft were sent ahead and reported nothing of note with the exception that the Pacific Fleet was in the harbor going about business as usual. Japanese diplomats were sent to Washington with a formal declaration of war, this to be delivered at a specific time in the day.
The Americans, now certain that an attack was imminent, tried desperately to communicate the finding to its associates in Hawaii. Unfortunately, the news arrived too late. Though detected on radar, the large Japanese aerial formation - having launched from their carriers - was disregarded by Army personal on the Hawaiian mainland as an incoming flight of friendly B-17s from the 'States. The Japanese has achieved total and complete surprise on the calm, beautiful morning of December 7th, 1941. "Tora, Tora, Tora" was the Japanese battle cry of the moment.
Instead of the calculated attack plan trained for by the Japanese airmen, the sight of the Harbor, in all its morning glory, was too much and the aircraft dove on in - ahead of schedule and all at one. The first wave attacked at 7:55AM, concentrating fire on "Battleship Row", taking American sailors and civilians by complete surprise, while putting the six airfields out of commission. Bombs, torpedoes, machine gun and cannon fire erupted from every angle and billowing black smoke choked the air. Spilt oil did its job along the Harbor waters. Many died before they knew what had transpired.
The USS West Virginia was first to go with seven torpedoes in her side. USS Arizona was next, a 1,760lb bomb piercing her decks and igniting a magazine. Five torpedoes reached the USS Oklahoma while two reached the USS California. A single torpedo hit the USS Nevada, which managed to move until hit by the second wave of Japanese strikers. The USS Maryland and the USS Tennessee were the only two to escape the turkey shoot while the USS Shaw lit up in a devastatingly fantastic display.
The second wave swooped in at 9:00AM, facing more of a resistance than the first wave but the damage was done. The only thing that ended the attack was a lack of visible targets and the fear that the Japanese warplanners had of how close the American carriers might be.
In the end, eight total battleships were put out of commission, either bombed or torpedoed - some multiple times - and strafed by machine gun and cannon fire for good measure. Hawaii's airfields lay in ruin and, with them, some 200 American aircraft were destroyed or damaged - just two managed to get airborne in the fighting. 2,403 lives were lost, of these 2,335 were servicemen and women and 1,104 of these went down with the USS Arizona. 1,178 people were reported wounded and 68 civilians were killed. Through it all, the Japanese lost just 29 aircraft and several midget submarines.
Despite the grand losses on the American side, several items of note transpired in their favor - perhaps not immediately considered, but important to the long-run: The oil tanks on the Hawaiian Islands were left untouched and her dockyard facilities lay largely intact while her submarine base was surprisingly not targeted. Add to this the fact that the all-important carrier fleet - with their mobile reach and onboard fighters and bombers - was not in the harbor at the time of the attack. The USS Enterprise and USS Lexington were out at sea on supply runs for the United States Marine Corps while the USS Saratoga was safely away at port in San Diego.
Perhaps the greatest of these note lay in the immeasurable resolve (and red-eyed vengeance) erupting from every American - patriotically lining up to serve their wounded Land of Lady Liberty. The attack resulted in the declaration of war on the Empire of Japan by the United States and Great Britain the following day, to which Germany and Italy declared war on the United States days later. A great irony of the day was in the formal declaration of war delivered by Japanese diplomats to Washington - coming after the attack on Pearl Harbor had all but finished.
One of the greatest American speeches was born from the ashes of Pearl, as was one of her greatest memorials - President Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech and the untouched memorial of the USS Arizona, still sitting on the harbor floor today, her men having paid the terrible price.
Vengeance would be swift and terrible, resulting the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki some years later and subsequently the ultimate dismantling of the Japanese Empire in whole. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (17) entries in the Timeline of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7th, 1941). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.