Armed Hostilities

The History of Attack on Pearl Harbor

The year was 1941, the Second World War was already in progress the Japanese army was in need of resources like oil and raw materials to continue its conquest and the western powers were anticipating military moves from the Japanese for the control of resource rich areas to continue fueling their aggression. It was a big defining moment in history when the Japanese forces attacked the Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The events that followed this attack were all due to this incident. The attack was aimed at crippling the United States ability to challenge the move of Japanese forces towards the south in their quest for territories which were rich in resources useful for the war.

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The attack was so intense and sudden that in a single stroke the Unites states navy power was crippled and at the same time pushing United States into the Second World War in a weak state.

All western powers had halted trade and commercial relations with the Japanese after witnessing the extent of destruction being inflicted by the Japanese army, so a plan was laid down by the Japanese to capture the oil and resource rich East Indies and Southeast Asia and it was in knowledge of all the parties that a war in the pacific was definitely on the cards.

It was late November 1941, the US diplomatic mission was expecting an attack on the resource rich areas but what they did not expect was a full scale strike on the united states territory. The Pearl Harbor naval base could be accessed by an aircraft carrier force and such a force was dispatched by the Japanese forces towards Pearl Harbor.

Coming to an earlier point in time, precisely May 1940, the fundamental part of the navy fleet of USA was shifted to Pearl Harbor, it had long been under the development as a major base for navy with all the required infrastructure facilities. The place had vast docking and mooring areas for ships and even the biggest war fleets, including a berthing area called the “Battleship row”. The problem was that the available facilities were still not near enough the required level to support a whole fleet and the area opening up to the sea was very narrow which was a very big security threat. On the other hand the facilities for the forces were not adequate they did not have adequate training areas and other similar facilities available which was due to the large number of forces located in the area, the influx of supplies was very slow resulting in a very low spirit and morale for the forces situated in the area. But in 1941 the area underwent massive expansion and increase in level of available facilities to address all the problems, more forces were brought out to make the area secure and the defense stronger but not all problems were fixed as they required a huge amount of resources and time.

The Pearl Harbor base was identified by both the USA and Japan as an area which could be a potential target in case of war but it was assumed that in case war breaks out the Japanese navy will have other pressing issues to deal with and even if their was any attempt to attack pearl harbor the intelligence network will be able to warn the US forces well in advance hence such an attack will be unlikely, the same conclusion was also reached by the Japanese high command and so the issue had subsided, But when Japan became desperate for resources to fuel its conquest the potential for neutralizing Pearl Harbor base was reconsidered by the Japanese Navy. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and his staff reached to the conclusion that with adequate amount of force, technology and secrecy such an attack can be successful and it is a serious option. Shokaku, Zuikaku, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu were all the frontline air craft carriers of the Japanese navy , all these ships along with 420 embarked planes were assigned to this attack, it was the biggest naval force ever assembled and it was under the leadership of vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the vice admiral was a very prudent and experienced officer, he was under the directives that if the Japanese plans get discovered or the negotiations are a success then he should abort the plan of attack.

In a veil of secrecy on 26th November 1941 the Japanese attack fleet embarked on the mission, it was the dawn of 7th December 1941 the Japanese fleet had managed to reach within 300 miles of their destination for attack without being discovered and so the first wave with 180 planes was dispatched and a second wave of similar size was prepared to lift off.

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The planes were in the air and their most important target were the battleships present at “Battleship row”. USS Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Tennessee, Arizona, West Virginia were the seven battleships present in the “Battleship row” area and all seven of these ships were put out of action by the Japanese assault on the “Battleship row”. Five out of these 7 battleships were repaired by the US forces in the coming months but the other two never saw any action. All in all the Japanese were sure of absolute superiority in this area of the ocean.

Apart from the initial wave of attack on “Battleship row” two other areas were of prime interest to the Japanese and they wished to eliminate the threats in these areas at the start of the onslaught, long 1010 Dock at the Navy Yard, and the fixed moorings on the western side of Ford Island, these areas were expected to be holding battleships and it was significant for the Japanese forces to neutralize any ships present in the area which was one of the fundamental objective of their mission. The site was holding a training ship called the “Utah” and a light cruiser as well. Utah was struck by the bombers and it sunk promptly after getting hit and 60 sailors lost their lives along with the ship. Along with Utah was USS Raleigh which was also a target of the bombers, it did suffer a hit from the bombers but its crew managed to save it from capsizing and after repairs ranging over a year it returned to active duty. Sea plane tender Curtis situated at the west of Ford Island also saw some damage when it was hit by a crashing bomber and a torpedo but was rescued by the destroyer Monaghan which struck and drowned the enemy submarine.

The initial wave of Japanese bombers had not given too much attention to the navy yard dry dock area but the second wave was far more focused and centered on this area , this time around the bombers managed to wreck three destroyers and also were able to cause damage to the battleship USS Pennsylvania. The bombs and ammunition present in the US battleships further elevated the extent of the damage caused as they exploded after getting ht by the Japanese bombers. The complete attention of the Japanese bombers was on destroying the ships which was the prime reason that the industrial facilities of the area did not suffer any major damage and were mostly left untouched.

Another area which was given a lot of priority by the Japanese was the wrecking and destruction of the airfields and the Oahu airbase in the area, as it was he concern that if any Us aircraft are allowed to get into the air they could cause damage to the Japanese fleet and so it was one of the tasks assigned to the bombers to make sure they destroyed all the available air craft and air fields ensuring that the Americans were not able to get any aircraft in the air. After the first air wave targeted the air fields and the base, the second air attack wave was also focused in keeping the air combat ability of the Americans suppressed and a major part of all airbases in the area were severely damaged, the planes at these bases were mostly destroyed and the bombing of Japanese planes on the barracks of the air men resulted in casualties of many air men as well. These bases were home to several combat planes, sea patrols and squadrons and most of these bases suffered very brutal attacks on them leaving their operational capabilities one third of their strengths before the attack had begun.

About 2400 Americans had lost their lives in this brazen attack by the Japanese, and immediately after this attack the Japanese eliminated most of the American forces present in the Philippines, the Japanese army forces came ashore in Malaya.

Interestingly it’s a little known fact that the first shot was fired in this confrontation by the USS Ward, it was assigned to the patrolling of the area near the sea opening, a patrol plane and a minesweeper vessel reported spotting a periscope near the area and they marked the area for Ward, later ward approached the area and fired shots, afterwards reporting sinking a submarine. As it was expected that submarine activity may increase in the area in event of a war but a full scale air attack was something that was not expected at all, the incident did not cause any alarm although it had occurred an hour before the actual assault began, the submarine was one of the midgets trying to enter the pearl Harbor to be a part of the attack.

When the attack was over, it was very clear that it was one of the most massive blows that could have been delivered to the US, about five major warships were sinking, three destroyers had been destroyed, a mine layer, two cruisers were severely damaged and they required urgent repairs. The army and navy presence and strength around Hawaii had been significantly diminished, they were undergoing a sense of defeat and being defenseless.

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It was fortunate that the Japanese had limited objectives and resources which forced them to leave most of the infrastructure unharmed and it was used to start a recovery mission and start the rebuilding and repair efforts, hence began one of the largest salvage operations in the history.

As soon as the attack subsided the US forces attempted to locate the Japanese attack fleet but they were unable to do so, many vessels, destroyers, patrols, aircrafts left to join the search for the Japanese but most of the search was being done in the southern area whereas the Japanese were using the north as their route of exit from the location.

It was the 8th of December 1941, when President Roosevelt made an address to the congress asking for a declaration of war against Japan, Americans all over the country were already flocking at army recruitment centers trying to enlist themselves for the upcoming battles, within a matter of days Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. After the attack various officials and fleets visited pearl harbor and what they saw was the horror and destruction which had left the whole area a disaster zone, there was intense anger against the sneak attack by the Japanese and Americans were uniting with their allies to stop the Japanese from committing similar atrocities in other places.

Up till six months after the Pearl Harbor attack Japanese forces faced little or no resistance at all as they continued their aggression causing death and destruction to whatever came in their way. Then in the month of May, 1942 the trend started shifting towards the allies, the Japanese faced massive resistance and the resulting battles left the Japanese fighting power greatly diminished. The battles were brutal and relentless and gradually Japanese came on the receiving end of their own medicine and the Americans were able to make the Japanese experience the same kind of destruction and horror which was experienced at Pearl Harbor. Looking at the kind of onslaught the Japanese were waging against the various countries a logical thing would have been to seek a compromise but in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack it was impossible for the allies to think along the lines of compromise, any power capable of such acts needed to be brought to justice and neutralized and so the job was completed.


Carl Smith, Adam Hook, Jim Laurier, “Pearl Harbor 1941: The Day of Infamy”, Published by Osprey Publishing, 1999, Web.

Hilary Conroy, Harry Wray, “Pearl Harbor Reexamined: Prologue to the Pacific War”, Published by University of Hawaii Press, 1990, Web.

Michael Slackman, “Target: Pearl Harbor”, Published by University of Hawaii Press, 1991.

Naval historical Center, “Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941”, Online Library, 2001, Web.

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