The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Ships and Aircraft
What led up to that Day in Infamy?
War itself generally makes little sense, but the attack on Pearl Harbor has always sparked the imagination.
3,500 Americans were killed or wounded in the attack on December 7, 1941.
Before The Attack
September 1940. The U.S. placed an embargo on Japan by
prohibiting exports of steel, scrap iron, and aviation fuel to
Japan, due to Japan's takeover of northern French Indochina.
April 1941. The Japanese signed a neutrality treaty with the
Soviet Union to help prevent an attack from that direction if
they were to go to war with Britain or the U.S. while taking a
bigger bite out of Southeast Asia.
June 1941 through the end of July 1941. Japan occupied southern Indochina. Two
days later, the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands froze
Japanese assets. This prevented Japan from buying oil, which
would, in time, cripple its army and make its navy and air force
Toward the end of 1941. With the Soviets seemingly on the verge of defeat by the Axis powers,
Japan seized the opportunity to try to take the oil resources of Southeast Asia.
The U.S. wanted to stop Japanese expansion but the American people were not willing to go to war to stop it.
The U.S. demanded that Japan withdraw from China and Indochina,
but would have settled for a token withdrawal and a promise not to take more territory.
Prior to December 1941, Japan pursued two simultaneous courses:
try to get the oil embargo lifted on terms that would still let them take the territory they wanted,
and ... to prepare for war.
After becoming Japan's premier in mid-October, General Tojo Hideki
See Books about Tojo
secretly set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept a settlement without war.
The Japanese military was asked to devise a war plan.
They proposed to sweep into Burma, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Philippines,
in addition to establishing a defensive perimeter in the central and southwest Pacific.
They expected the U.S. to
declare war but not to be willing to fight long or hard enough
to win. Their greatest concern was that the U.S. Pacific Fleet,
based in Pearl Harbor could foil their plans. As insurance, the
Japanese navy undertook to cripple the Pacific Fleet by a
surprise air attack.
See Books about Japanese Plans
The U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and knew an attack
was imminent. A warning had been sent from Washington, but it
arrived too late.
Early warning radar was new technology. Japanese planes were
spotted by radar before the attack, but they were assumed to be
a flight of American B-17s due in from the West Coast.
Read the eyewitness account
On December 7th 1941, on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning on a beautiful Hawaiian island,
the first wave of Japanese airplanes left 6 aircraft carriers and struck Pearl Harbor a few minutes
before 8 AM local time.
See Map of Pearl Harbor
In two waves of terror lasting two long hours, they killed or wounded
over 3,500 Americans and sank or badly damaged 18 ships - including all 8 battleships of the
Pacific Fleet - and over 350 destroyed or damaged aircraft. At
least 1,177 lives were lost when the Battleship U.S.S. Arizona
More about the Arizona
exploded and subsequently sank.
Read books by Survivors
Read accounts from the people who were there.
However, they did not sink any of our Pacific aircraft carriers and they
left most of the fuel that was needed to win the war in the Pacific.
In one stroke, the Japanese navy scored a brilliant success—and assured their ultimate defeat.
The Japanese attack brought the U.S. into the war on December 8—and brought it in the war
determined to fight to the finish.
Casualty List - 2,500 dead - sorted by ship/location
The Wall Street Journal (1941) on Pearl Harbor
Reprints of op-ed material from Dec. 8, 1941
Doris (Dorie) Miller
The Ship's Cook famous for firing a 50 caliber Browning
anti-aircraft machine gun at Japanese planes. Later
awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, on board the USS Enterprise.