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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pearl Harbor- Day of Infamy

On Sunday, December 7, 1941 the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor by surprise and brought the United States of America into World War II.
The events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor started a decade earlier. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria, which until then was part of China. Japan marched to expand its empire and in 1937 began the campaign to conquer China. The United States had political and economical interest in China and East Asia, as a response we sent financial aid to China and started strengthening its military power in the Pacific. In September of 1940 Hitler created the Tripartite Pact, mutual military assistance between Japan, Germany, and Italy (already allied with Germany since the 1939 “Pact of Steel”). These three nations formed what would become known as the Axis 1. By July of 1941 peace talks were breaking down and the western powers responded by placing an embargo on shipments of oil and other raw material to Japan. A country that was poor in natural resources, America supplied 80% of Japan’s oil. The Japanese government viewed the embargo as a threat to the survival of the nation. Japan responded by seizing the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, a move they thought would certainly lead to war with the United States. Within that year Japan occupied all of Indochina. War with Japan was becoming inevitable. Eighteen months earlier Franklin D. Roosevelt as a deterrent transferred the United States Pacific fleet to Pearl Harbor.
Knowing the threat that the Pacific Fleet posed to Japan, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, developed a plan for a surprise attack to immobilize the US Navy before the start of war.

Admiral Yamamoto’s plan would require great aerial power, planning and training, and most importantly surprise. Admiral Yamamoto would put together one of the most powerful Attack Forces ever assembled. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo would command the task force assigned to attack Pearl Harbor. This attack force would consist of 6 aircraft carriers with over 420 planes supported by a group of fast battleships, cruisers, destroyers, as well as tankers to fuel the ships on the journey. A separate group of an Advance Expeditionary Force of large submarines was sent ahead to scout Hawaii and sink any American warships that escaped the carrier force. In the spring of 1941 Admiral Yamamoto began training for the special tactics that would be used in the attack. That same year in October the naval general staff gave final approval for Yamamoto’s plan.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

November 26, 1941
Vice Admiral Nagumo’s fleet under the greatest secrecy departed Tankran Bay in the Kurile Islands for Pearl Harbor. By dawn of December 7 Vice Admiral Nagumo and the Japanese attack force were 200 miles north of Oahu.

December 7, 1941
3:42 am
On patrol less then 2 miles from the entrance of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Minesweeper Condor spots something in the water. Fifty yards off the port bow the officer of the deck spots a periscope from a sub.
The Condor sends a blinker message to the destroyer Ward “Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed 9 knots 2.

6:00 am
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida leads the Japanese air attack and at 6:00 am a first attack wave heads south to Pearl Harbor. The first attack wave is of over 180 aircraft, including torpedo planes, high-level bombers, dive-bombers and fighters. By using a Honolulu radio station’s music as a guiding beam, Japanese pilots reconfirm their navigation. When the first attack group had taken off, a second attack wave of similar size, but with more dive bombers and no torpedo planes, was brought up from the carriers' hangar decks and sent off into the emerging morning light. Near Oahu's southern shore 2

6:45 am
The first shots of what would become war with Japan started when the US destroyer Ward moves in for the kill on a Japanese submarine. The captain of the Ward, Lt. William W. Outerbridge orders his men to commence firing. The first shot misses, the second strikes the submarine at the waterline sinking it.

7:40 am
Achieving complete surprise, the first wave of the Japanese aircraft attack arrives on Oahu. At 7:49 Commander Mitsuo Fuchida orders his telegraph operator to tap Tora, Tora, Tora: Attack, surprise achieved. Around 7:55 dive-bombers hitting airfields, including those on Ford Island, started the attack. The Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam were all bombed and strafed as other elements of the attacking force began their assaults on the ships moored in Pearl Harbor. The purpose of the simultaneous attacks was to destroy the American planes before they could rise to intercept the Japanese 3
The battle ships around Ford Island and “Battleship Row” were targeted. Within minutes the attack had damaged and sank several Ships adjacent to Ford Island. The USS West Virginia, USS Oklahoma, and USS Arizona all sank. The USS Arizona suffered the greatest lost of any ship that day. An armor-piercing bomb hit the ship igniting its forward ammunition magazine. On the Arizona alone 1,177 crewmen lost their life. The USS California, USS Nevada, USS Tennessee, and USS Maryland all suffered damage.

8:54 am
The second wave of 78 dive-bombers, 35 fighters, and 54 high-altitude bombers arrives and attack. The attack targets at the Navy yard dry dock, the battleship Pennsylvania and 3 destroyers are bombed. The USS Nevada was retargeted in her attempt to move out to sea.

10:00 am
The attacks end and the Japanese planes start heading back to their aircraft carriers. Japanese pilots urged for a third strike to hit gasoline tankers and other facilities that would later help America win the war. The Japanese commanders view the attack as a success and decided against a third strike and at 1 pm order the attack force to return home to Japan.

In the end over 2,400 military personnel and 68 civilians were killed in the attacks. There were over 1,100 wounded military personnel and civilians. Our forces suffered 188 aircrafts destroyed and 159 damaged. Twenty-one ships were sunk or damaged in the Pacific Fleet. The Japanese loss was minimal, only losing 29 plans, 5 midget subs and 65 servicemen killed or wounded.
The Japanese succeeded in ending the debate in America to remain out of the conflict or not. On December 8, 1941 President Roosevelt delivered a speech to congress in which he declared December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy”, and America officially enters into World War II.

1. Veranov, Michael (editor), McGeoch, Angus, (1997). “The Third Reich At War. Bristol: Siena
2. Multimedia Map and Time Line, The Discovery Channel Website. Retrieved December 7, 2007 from http://plasma.nationalgeographic.com/pearlharbor/
3. The Pearl Harbor Attack. Naval Historical Center Website, Department of the Navy. From the website http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq66-1.htm

The Third Reich At War

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