The forward magazines of USS Arizona (BB-39) explode after she was hit by a Japanese bomb, 7 December 1941.Frame clipped from a color motion picture taken from on board USS Solace (AH-5).Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
The United States of America had been very clear on its position regarding Japanese aggression in Manchuria - Get out. Now. The U.S. (with the U.K.) had imposed a boycott of scrap metal and oil on the Japanese, too. Japan saw one method to deal with the issue. Even while they entered into negotiations, they were planning to attack.
That attack came early in the morning on December 7, 1941. Unfortunately, although the attacking planes were spotted on radar, that system was new, and the planes were thought to be a flight of B-17s due in that day. The radar operator reported the contacts, but was told, "Don't worry about it."
The first wave of planes hit at 7:53 a.m., with Japanese midget subs also on the attack. Just a little over an hour later, the second wave of planes hit. And an hour after that, it was over. At least, the immediate attack was over. By the time the Japanese planes were gone, they had left inconceivable death and destruction in their wake, and turned a harbor in paradise into a war zone - literally.
"I was about three quarters of the way to the first platform on the mast when it seemed as though a bomb struck our quarterdeck. I could hear shrapnel or fragments whistling past me. As I reached the first platform, I saw Second Lieutenant Simonson lying on his back with blood on his shirt front. I bent over him and taking him by the shoulders asked if there was anything I could do. He was dead, or so nearly so that speech was impossible. Seeing there was nothing I could do for the Lieutenant, I continued to my battle station." -- Marine Cpl. E.C. Nightingale, aboard the USS Arizona
2,403 were dead. Nearly 200 American planes were destroyed, and 8 battleships were destroyed or damaged. But Japan had missed the opportunity to hit what they wanted to - the aircraft carriers they saw as the U.S.' most dangerous assets. The Lexington, the Saratoga, and the Enterprise were all away when the attack came. And the U.S., largely reluctant to enter into the conflict raging in Europe, knew one thing - we were at war.
The Americans got a few small pieces of luck in the midst of all the chaos. The fuel oil storage, right next to the harbor, was unscathed. This was, in part, due to the fact that in those days, they were painted an aqua color that made them appear to be pools of water from the air. The submarines were also undamaged.
"With a quick glance to the right, I noticed the Arizona was a mass of flames and one of the AA guns was blasting away. Just about that time a plane was passing by very low and close. I saw the pilot looking over the Arizona, and as he pulled up, I noticed the red ball on the wing. Yes, I could have hit it with a stone if I had one to throw." -- Paul P. Urdzik, aboard the USS Vestal
But Japan had also seriously underestimated the Americans. Most of the Japanese command, many of whom had been educated in the States, believed the Americans would be unable to mobilize for a year or two - unable to replace what had been lost - and by then, Japan would have secured its interests in Asia. They believed they had rendered the Americans powerless to stop them.
They were wrong.
There has been a great deal of discussion in the decades since about what contributed to the attack. If the planes hadn't been parked the way they were. If the sailors hadn't been given a day off after the music competition. If we'd recognized the radar blips for what they were... In hindsight, it's easy to criticize, easy to blame, easy to divert attention from what matters - thousands of American heroes died that day, in an attack that shattered American innocence, and reminded them that war wasn't always far away - it could come right into one's front yard. The outrage, the horror, the undeniable need to strike back, would only be rivaled one other time in American history - on a sunny September morning in 2001.
"The first Japanese plane flew over us about 0755 and banked to the right toward Battleship Row. Just prior to this pass, we had heard large explosions coming from Ford Island. We did observe planes in the air, and to a man questioned the Army flying on Sunday. Very unusual to say the least.
By the time a second plane made a pass, we were at General Quarters, and one of our gunners was fortunate enough to get a direct hit off our starboard quarter. The plane went up in one large ball of fire, and immediately dropped into the water." -- Roy Cella, aboard the USS Sumner
One day after the attacks, this is what Americans heard from their President:
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 Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the 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 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. 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 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.Always will we 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 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 very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.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 unbounded 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 seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941
Fifteen ships were named in honor of Sailors, to pay tribute to the heroism they displayed that horrible day.
USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Photographed by Lieutenant Commander Tracy D. Connors, USN (Retired), June 1987.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.
Links for more information:
VIDEO: Pearl Harbor, as It Was Told 66 Years Ago
Attack At Pearl Harbor, 1941
Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 (U.S. Navy website)
Pearl Harbor: Remembered
Pearl Harbor Attack, 1941
December 7, 1941 - Japanese Bomb Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
Remembering Pearl Harbor
FDR's "Day of Infamy" Speech
USS Arizona (BB-39)
Air Raid Pearl Harbor
My Story: Pearl Harbor Battleship Row
Days of Infamy: December 7 and 9/11
USS Utah (BB31/AG16)
Pearl Harbor Attack, 1941
Pearl Harbor Documents
Naval Institute: Pearl Harbor
Ginger's Diary (account of a 17-year-old American girl living at Hickam Field, Hawaii, at the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing)
Pearl Harbor Survivors Association
The Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings
USS West Virginia (BB-48)@
TIME Magazine: The Attack on Pearl Harbor
Naval History Magazine: Pearl Harbor - Attack from Below
Japanese Navy Ships -- Midget Submarines
USS California (BB-44)
National Geographic: Expedition Pearl Harbor
The Day After Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor Operations
USS Oklahoma (BB-37)
What the Chaplains Were Doing at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941
Imperial War Museum: Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial
Labels: Pearl Harbor