Pearl Harbor History: Why Did Japan Attack? Eyewitness Accounts, Casualty List, Background
What Happened? 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 completely useless.
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 secretly set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept a settlement without war. See Books about Tojo
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 exploded and subsequently sank. More about the Arizona
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.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT’S
Speech to the U.S. Congress on December 8th, 1941 (as delivered)
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – 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.
The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The People of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the People when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our People – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941 a state of War has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.