75 years ago, on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise air strike against the United States naval base Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii. This attack catalyzed World War II and claimed the lives of more than 2,000 American military personnel including sailors, marines, soldiers, and airmen, as well as civilians. Here’s a brief history of what transpired at Pearl Harbor and what it meant for America and for the world.
The Attack on Pearl Harbor
The first wave of the Pearl Harbor attacks took place at 7:48 A.M, and was composed of 183 planes split into three groups. The second wave of the attack was made of 171 planes, also split into groups. Each group of planes included bombers armed with a wide selection of torpedoes and general-purpose bombs. Some groups targeted American battleships and aircraft carriers while others targeted aircraft on Ford Island and Wheeler Field (islets within the Pearl Harbor area) as well as Hickam Field, Barber’s Point, and Kaneohe.
Damage and Casualties of Pearl Harbor
The attack lasted ninety minutes from start to finish, and left a total of 2,403 Americans dead, wounding 1,178. The Japanese planes sunk 8 American ships, five of which were the battleships USS Arizona, Nevada, California, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. U.S. cruisers were also hit and destroyed, including the Helena and the Oglala. Cassin and Downes, two naval destroyers, were also demolished. As for American aircraft, 188 of the 402 planes on base were destroyed while 159 were badly damaged, the majority of them having never left the ground. Military vessels were not the only ones targeted by the Japanese. Tragically, three civilian planes were also shot down by the Japanese fighters.
The Political Climate of the Time of World War II
Even before the attacks on Pearl Harbor, relations between Japan and the United States were tense. The Japanese military intended the attack to be preemptive; they thought it would prevent the United States from intervening in their conflicts with the United Kingdom and other nations in Southeast Asia. It took place before any state of war between the United States and Japan was declared; consequently, all the military personnel that were killed were non-combatants.
It’s believed that Japanese Admiral Yamamoto intended to warn the United States of peace negotiation failures before the attack took place. However, word of these failed negotiations did not reach the United States government in time for the military to adequately defend itself. By the time the news was transcribed from a transmission to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, it was too late for those at Pearl Harbor. On December 8, the day after the attack, Japan officially declared war on a reeling United States.
In addition to those in Oahu, Japan conducted similar attacks on American-held territories in the Philippines, on Wake Island, and in Guam of the Mariana Islands. These offenses took place within the days following the attacks in Hawaii, though they did not have the psychological impact on the United States as did those at Pearl Harbor.
The attack on Pearl Harbor brought Japan and the United States into a second world war, which culminated in the United States dropping two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It was a controversial and revolutionary offensive strike that destroyed millions of lives and finally forced Japan’s surrender to the United States on Saturday, September 2. September 2 is now known in America and parts of Europe as V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day.
The United States and Japan Today
Despite their brutal history, the United States and Japan are strong allies today. The attack on Pearl Harbor is remembered and honored by veterans and non-veterans across America and holds a sacred place in American history. Some who experienced the attack first-hand are still alive today; their stories of courage and survival are inspiring and humbling to all who hear them. Though relations with Japan have thankfully made a turn for the better, we at Low VA Rates will never forget those who perished in the Oahu attacks. We thank all our World War II veterans for their selfless defense of American freedom, and we honor the lives lost 75 years ago today in Hawaii. You can show your appreciation for our nation’s veterans by reaching out and thanking them for their incredible service, particularly on this day, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.