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Attack on Pearl Harbor Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 5/5/2014

Though the surprise assault on Pearl was a success in itself, the overall mission had failed as the American aircraft carriers were not in the harbor at the time of the attack.

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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.


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There are a total of 17 Attack on Pearl Harbor Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1941
Wednesday
November 26th

The Japanese naval fleet leaves home port and heads to Hawaii.

1941
Saturday
December 6th

American President Franklin Roosevelt sends a final peace appeal to the Empire of Japan to which there is no answer.

1941
Saturday
December 6th

American codebreakers begin tracking down a multi-part message - made up of 14 total components. Only the first 13 are actually deciphered, each being passed on to the President and the Secretary of State.

1941
Saturday
December 6th

An attack against America is now deemed imminent though the consensus being that it will occur against interests somehwere in Southeast Asia.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At 9AM, the final Japanese message is broken down. It essentially directs its Washington envoy to break off diplomatic relations with America.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At approximately 10AM, a follow-up message is intercepted - meant for the Japanese diplomats in Washington - to delay handling of the previous message to the Americans until 1PM. The Americans now understand that an attack is imminent and the target is the US Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

It is discovered that communication lines from Washington to Hawaii are down for the moment, forcing the US War Department to use a commercial telegraph service to warn forces on the Hawaiian Islands.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

The Imperial Japanese Navy attack commences with their assault. The force is made up of 423 aircraft and converges on the Hawaiian Islands.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At 6:00AM, the first wave of 183 Japanese Navy aircraft takes off from their carriers, just north of Oahu, to make the 230 mile trek. The target is the US Pacific Fleet.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At 7:02AM, the Japanese attack wave is located on American radar by two US Army personnel who bring it to the attention of a junior officer. The officer, expecting a flight of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses to arrive that day, disregards the alert.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At approximately 7:15AM, the second wave of 167 Japanese Navy planes takes off from their carriers towards Pearl.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At 7:53AM, complete surprise by the Japanese Navy and the first wave begins their initial strike. This force is made up of 50 medium bombers, 43 A6M Zero fighters and 40 Kate torpedo bombers. Targets are the battleships hunkered down in the harbor and airfields used by the USAAF.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

The second wave of Japanese Navy aircraft swoops in attacking targets of opportunity including auxiliary ships in the harbor and the all-important harbor facilities.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

The attack on Pearl Harbor is over at 9:45AM. Over 2,400 people are killed and a further 1,178 are wounded. More die in the ensuing days while 1,104 sailors eventually perish within the hull of the battleship USS Arizona, its magazine stores ignited by a single Japanese bomb.

1941
Sunday
December 7th

At 2:30PM Eastern Time, the Japanese diplomats in Washington finally visit with US Secretary of State Cordell Hull. With them is the Japanese declaration of war.

1941
Monday
December 8th

The United States, along with Britain, formally declare war on the Empire of Japan.

1941
Thursday
December 11th

As expected, Germany and Italy side with Japan and officially declare war on the United States