Attack on Pearl Harbor, 1941

USS Nevada on fire, but underway, on 7 December. She was the only battleship to get underway during the attack. Photo in the collection of the US National Archives.

Location Peral Harbor, Territory of Hawaii
Year
1941
AD/BC
AD
History

With US embargoes on oil and scrap metal threatening to stall their expansion in China, Japanese planners had to look to other was to obtain these vital resources. However, in order to have a free hand in the Pacific, the US Navy would need to be neutralized. Plans began to make a surprise attack against the US Pacific Fleet at it's home base of Pearl Harbor. Special torpedoes were developed for use in the shallow waters of the anchorage, and the Japanese were further emboldened by the British success against the Italians at Taranto in November, 1940, an attack which would greatly resemble their own. Japanese diplomats continued negotiations as the Japanese First Carrier Striking Force headed for Hawaii in late November, 1941, with Japan's six best carriers. Additionally, the attack would be supported by twenty-three submarines, several of which were carrying midget submarines which would try to enter the harbor. On Sunday, 7 December, the Japanese launched their attack. At the insistence of Admiral Yamamoto, it was supposed to be preceded by a declaration of war, but communications difficulties on the part of the Japanese prevented this. Instead, the only warnings the Americans had were a destroyer sighting and attacking one of the midget subs off the harbor entrance, and a radar contact that was dismissed as friendly. 183 Japanese aircraft hit Pearl Harbor as the base was beginning to stir, inflicting heavy damage on the ships in the anchorage, and the airfields on the island. One of the most devastating results was the loss of the battleship USS Arizona, which exploded with the loss of 1,177 of her crew. A second wave struck the base with 171 aircraft, focusing more on the airfields. Unprepared, the Americans fought back as best they could, and managed to down twenty-seven Japanese aircraft, and none of the midget subs survived the attack. Some 2,335 American servicemen were killed in the attack, as well as sixty-eight civilians. Most of the ships in the harbor were damaged, with several complete losses, but most would be put back into service and get their chance at vengeance later in the War. Critically, while the battle was a tactical victory for the Japanese, it was a strategic defeat. None of the American carriers were present during the attack, which would prove decisive during the battles to come in 1942. Additionally, the Japanese neglected to target the submarine base, the repair facilities, or the oil storage tanks, meaning these would be immediately available for use in repairing the fleet, and taking the war to Japan.