Pearl Harbor Bombing

The Pearl Harbor bombing on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, began at 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941 by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The surprise attack brought the United States into World War II.

Japan's primary target – US aircraft carriers.

Pearl Harbor Bombing Timeline

At 3:42 a.m. the USS Condor, a coastal minesweeper, sends a message to the destroyer USS Ward that a submarine has been spotted just outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

6:10 a.m. – The first wave of Japanese planes take off from their aircraft carriers about 230 miles north of Hawaii.

6:45 a.m. – The USS Ward fires upon and drops depth charges on a submarine.

6:53 a.m. – The USS Ward reports this action to the Naval Headquarters at Pearl Harbor. Response is delayed due to security procedures and recent reports of false submarine sightings. The Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, waits for verification.

7:02 a.m. – From the Army’s Opana Radar Station on the north end of Oahu, Privates Joseph Lockhard and George Elliott see a large number of planes on their radar, moving toward Oahu. Opana’s radar is one of six and relatively new to the island. It is also the only one in operation at the time.

7:20 a.m. – The Japanese force is approximately 70 miles from Oahu. Privates Lockhard and Elliott are told to not worry about their radar sighting. The radio network operations center believes they have spotted B-17 Flying Fortress bombers coming in from California.

7:33 a.m. – After decoding a Japanese message, President Franklin Roosevelt and General George Marshall believe the Japanese may attack and try to warn the US Army Commander in Hawaii, Lt. General Walter Short. Due to atmospheric conditions, the message must be sent by commercial telegraph and doesn’t arrive until 11:45 a.m.

7:55 a.m. – The Pearl Harbor bombing begins with the Japanese force of 183 fighter, bomber, and torpedo planes. With the intent to destroy the US warplanes, their bombers attack Wheeler Field and Hickam Field to take out our air power. Torpedo planes attack Pearl Harbor at the same time planning to destroy the US aircraft carriers and battleships. US battleships take their toll - the USS Arizona is hit by a torpedo. The battleship Nevada is hit. The USS West Virginia is hit by at least six torpedoes. Torpedoes hit the USS California and she settles to the bottom of the harbor. The USS Oklahoma, having been hit by torpedoes, rolls over.

8:10 a.m. – The USS Arizona is hit by a bomber. The bomb hits her forward deck, detonating the ammunition magazine. This violent blast sunk her, although parts of her structure remained above water. She burned for two days. Of the 1,400 crewmen on board, 1,177 lost their lives.

9:00 a.m. – The Pearl Harbor bombing continues when the second wave of Japanese war planes began their attack.

Read and listen to President Roosevelt's Day of Infamy Speech.

When the Pearl Harbor bombing was over, 2, 403 U.S. military and civilians had been killed and 1,178 more wounded or injured.

Of the over 90 warships in the harbor, 21 were sunk or heavily damaged (according to the Naval History & Heritage Command, the official history program of the Department of the Navy). That included eight (8) battleships USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia; three (3) cruisers - USS Helena, USS Honolulu, USS Raleigh; four (4) destroyers - USS Cassin, USS Downes, USS Helm, USS Shaw; one (1) seaplane tender USS Curtiss ; a target ship – the former battleship USS Utah; a repair ship - USS Vestal; a minelayer - USS Oglala; a tug - USS Sotoyomo; and a floating drydock.

As for the battleships, the Arizona sunk and the Oklahoma capsized, both total losses. The California and West Virginia both sunk, were raised and repaired. The Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania were all damaged and repaired. The other ships were all repaired except for the Utah which capsized and sunk.

What about the aircraft carriers? The United States had three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers. Fortunately for us, none of them were in the harbor. The USS Enterprise was returning from Wake Island and about 200 miles west of Oahu. The USS Lexington was on its way to Midway Island. Lastly, the USS Saratoga had just arrived in San Diego, California on her way to Pearl Harbor.

In addition, the US military aircraft took a tremendous beating in the Pearl Harbor bombing. Japan wanted to blunt any aerial combat which would interfere with their attack. The airfields attacked were Wheeler Army Airfield, the Army’s main fighter base; Hickam Army Airfield where many men lost their lives when Japan bombed their barracks; Bellows Field; US Navy and Marine Corps airfields at Ford Island, Ewa, and Kanoehe Bay.

With the surprise of the Pearl Harbor bombing, the Japanese were able to destroy 188 planes and damage another 159. Most being hit before they had a chance to get off the ground.

In the end, 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded in this attack on December 7, 1941.

Why did the Japanese attack? Tensions between the two countries had been high for a number of years. Japan began expanding into China leading to war starting in 1937. Japan refused to leave China and was also seeking natural resources such as oil and rubber when it began its expansion into southeast Asia. The United States placed an embargo on Japan in an attempt to halt these expansionist activities.

The year before the Pearl Harbor bombing, the United States Fleet had transferred from San Diego, California to Pearl Harbor, becoming the United States Pacific Fleet. According to testimonies during hearings in 1945-1946 before the 79th Congress looking into the attack, Admiral James Richardson had the same question of his superior, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark, in 1940. The reply from Admiral Stark was “You are there because of the deterrent effect which it is thought your presence may have on the Japs going into the East Indies.”

Japan viewed this action as preparations for war. They believed they had to neutralize US presence in the Pacific. And even though the United States thought that hostilities could erupt between the two countries, US officials did not think Pearl Harbor would be the target.

Also, in 1940 Japan had signed a mutual defense pact with Germany and Italy. On the other side, President Roosevelt had tried to keep us out of the war taking place in Europe. However, the US signed the Lend-Lease Act in 1941 wherein we provided war materials to the United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China, France, and other Allied nations in return for strategic military bases.

Once the Japanese had attacked us, the United States declared war on Japan. With that, Germany and Italy declared war on the US because of the pact they had with Japan.

On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his Day of Infamy Speech.

The United States had abruptly and painfully entered World War II.


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