Picture yourself as a crew member on one of the naval ships in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1944 before complete destruction began. It’s a perfectly calm Sunday; everyone’s going about their own duties in a peaceful manner. Suddenly in the sky dozens of fighter pilots zoom overhead. Crew members have zero time to react to the planes as they begin to fire and drop bombs in the harbor. The initial surprise and confusion of the attack prevents any actions of defense. This attack on Pearl Harbor and all the pain and panic it caused for the US, will forever be remember as one of peril and devastation.
In the 1940’s war erupted in Europe and parts of Asia. The US had initially planned to stay out of the war as long as they possibly could. America’s economy was weak from WWI efforts and Americans weren’t looking to get involved right away (Bachrach, Deborah, 12). Instead the US took a more safe approach by aiding Allied powers in Europe with weapons, ammunition and overall supplies. When US became aware that Japan had joined Hitler and the Axis powers they immediately ended trade and blocked many of their trading routes (Encyclopedia WWII, 81-82).
While taking action overseas America still had no intent of joining the war and encouraged non-violence (Rosenberg, About. com). Even though the US only did what they thought was necessary because of recent Japanese actions. The Japanese didn’t feel the same way as they did. Aggravated Japanese military officials began a plot to attack the US. It took months for the Japanese to decide on their plan and where they would attack. Japan and Admiral Yamamoto Isuroku decided on a surprise attack that consisted of a very organized sneaky approach (82-84). Isuroku the man in-charge of planning pleaded with Japanese officials for weeks.
Convincing them that retaliation was needed. When approved planning began (84). They planned to sneak; 6 aircraft carriers, 9 destroyers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 2 submarines across the Pacific. (Bachrach, Deborah Pearl Harbor, 35). Their destination would be Pearl Harbor and they planned to station within about 90 minutes of Oahu (pearlharbor. org). Once in position for attack the Japanese Planned to release 3 waves of attacks on the Harbor. Main targets for destruction were the naval aircraft carriers, next were the battleships and airfields (on the day aircraft carriers were out at sea).
The real-time attack would be under the command of Admiral Naguma (Encyclopedia WWII, 86). Even though Japan thought there plan was flawless. They nearly avoided many speed bumps. Around the time of tensions between the US and Japan the US had created a secret message interceptor. Which if not terminated would have most-likely prepared the US for the attack. Because of paranoia of war the US terminated the interceptor program. These actions further helping the Japanese keep their attack a secret and undetected (pearlharbor. org). The first wave of attacks began at 7:48 a. . Hawaiian time consisting of 183 aircrafts (all sources).
Thirty minutes before attack Japan claims they sent a message stating that peace negotiations were over between the two countries (Rosenberg, about. com/Pearl Harbor). Loses for the US were much worse during the first than second because of surprise. Two-thirds of losses came from the first wave. The fighter planes bombed all 8 battleships in the harbor. They also blew up all airfields in the area giving the US no air defense for 2nd wave (erikanderson. net/pearlharbor).
The USS Arizona was blown up into flames and was sunk other ships were damaged none as bad as the Arizona. Despite complete surprise brave crew members on ships managed to get on guns and take down several planes flying overhead (Encyclopedia, 87). The most destruction to the ships in the harbor came from the suicide fighter pilots. Most intended for the USS Arizona. The USS Arizona also accounted for more than half of the casualties in both waves because of the 2,000 plus people on board (Encyclopedia WWII, 88). The destruction the first wave did was devastating and had the island in panic.
After the attack people in Oahu still didn’t understand what exactly had happened (all sources). Many men and women were immediately rushed to the hospital. Of the American fatalities, nearly half of the totals were due to the explosion of the USS Arizona (88). At 8:00 am Admiral Husband W Kimmel sent out an emergency dispatch that the US was under attack by the Japanese (pearlharbor. org). The second wave which didn’t come long after the first ended started at 8:54 am. In an attempt to cripple the US naval fleet even more, the Japanese sent 170 more planes toward Oahu (pearlharbor. rg). This attack was sent to finish off whatever was still floating in the Harbor. Even though the 2nd wave didn’t do nearly as much damage as the first, it still managed to do a surplus amount of extra damage (ph. org). The second wave was divided into three groups. One was tasked to attack Kaneohe, the rest Pearl Harbor proper. The separate sections arrived at the attack point almost simultaneously from several directions (Encyclopedia WWII, 90). Despite this low alert status, many American military personnel responded effectively during the battle.
The crew members of ships and pilots on land all made efforts to make a difference during the second wave. They managed to kill sixty men and capture one. Even though the American death toll was much greater the response they made was very impressive while dealing with complete and utter surprise. Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over (Rosenberg, About. com). The attack was over, but much was loss and damaged and many left wounded. After the fact 2,386 Americans died and 1,139 left wounded. Also 50 – 60 civilians were killed from anti-aircraft shells landing in populated areas.
Eighteen ships were sunk or beached, including five battleships and one blown up (the USS Arizona) (Pearlharbor. org). Battleships damaged; the Arizona exploded, Oklahoma was capsized along with 429 people dead, West Virginia was sunk along with 106 dead, California was sunk along with 100 dead, Nevada was beached along with 60 dead, Tennessee was hit by two bombs but remained afloat along with 5 dead, Maryland hit by 2 bombs remained afloat along with 4 dead, and The Pennsylvania hit by one bomb remained afloat with 9 dead (Bachrach, Pearl harbor, 36-38).
Also 178 aircrafts were destroyed in the bombing of the airfields (WWII encyclopedia, 89). Ten days after the attack Admiral Husband W. Kimmel was relieved of his duty as Commander of the naval fleet in Oahu. The reason was, because government officials believed that Kimmel didn’t take the right actions in preparing for upcoming attacks. He later went to testify against explaining that enough information was not presented to him to make the right calls (90). After all the death and destruction the US realized that they had many chances to prevent the attack from becoming.
For example, Kimmel knew that an attack was evident just not where the attack would be at. Despite his knowledge of that he still let the day be a relaxed Sunday instead of having men station prepared for attack. Also the government and high officials didn’t take enough initiative in the fact that they and seriously angered the Japanese with their recent actions (erikandeson. net/pearlharbor). More or less the attack could have been defended or much rather stopped if initiative had been taken at the time.
The day was a terrible day in American history and is the biggest death toll on American soil by foreign attack in that time period (Bachrach, Deborah, Pearl Harbor, 45). As said by Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, “a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. ”(All sources) Ultimately the attack at Pearl Harbor was one of tragedy and unwelcoming surprise. Since the attack there have been only a few events in American history that have cause as much panic and despair.
As a matter of fact to this day is known as one of the worse attacks on American soil by a foreign enemy, which pulled an unwilling nation into unwanted war. Even though the Japanese succeeded with their plan at Pearl Harbor, the response from the US was much greater than they expected. Their plans to cripple the US Naval fleet ended the war for them very disturbingly. In all the hate this event caused in the end it pulled America in to do the war and out of the great depression. All the men who lost their lives in this attack died an honorable death. December 7, 1944 is a day will live in infamy.
Courtney from Study Moose
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