Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and sailors aboard USS Pearl Harbor stand in formation during a 70th anniversary commemoration ceremony of the attack on Pearl Harbor here Dec. 7.
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Pearl Harbor 80th Anniversary: What happened in 1941 and why did Japan attack Hawaii? Photos and Facts from the Infamous WWII Attack

On Tuesday, 7 December the United States mark the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, when the Japanese military launched a surprise offensive on a naval base on Hawaii.

The attack took place on 7 December 1941 and it served to reshape the story of World War Two. The US military had become increasingly focused on the ongoing warfare in Europe and had underestimated the threat posed by Japan, a member of the Axis powers alongside Germany.

There were 2335 service members and 68 civilians for a total of 2403 people killed during the Pearl Harbor attack who are remembered on Pearl Harbor Day each year. (There were 1178 wounded.) Of those, almost 1/2 or 1177 died when Arizona blew up.

Here are some key facts about the attack.

1. AMERICANS FIRED THE FIRST SHOT BEFORE THE PEARL HARBOR ATTACK

The first of many Pearl Harbor facts, some new information discovered in the last year or so, is that on the morning of December 7th, 1941, the Wickes-class destroyer USS Ward attacked and sank a Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarine near the entrance to the harbor, making it not only the first shot fired on that day, but the first official American shots in the War. The Japanese sub’s periscope was spotted above the water by the minesweeper Condor, which alerted the crew of the Ward, who opened fire on the intruder.

2. THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR LASTED FOR ABOUT TWO HOURS

Coming in from all directions, the defenders had no idea which direction they should fire. Wave-after-wave, Japanese planes arrived targeting airstrips, ships, buildings, and storage areas.

Dive bombers, fighters, torpedo bombers, and high-level bombers blanketed the sky, dropping their deadly payloads across the island of Oahu. The two waves of aircraft enacted a heavy toll on their targets, namely battleship row.

  • The Pearl Harbor attack began at 7:55 am HST on Sunday morning.
  • Japanese aircraft were launched from the Japanese fleet, north of Hawaii, consisting of:
    • 65 Ships – 4 heavy aircraft carriers, 2 heavy cruisers, 35 submarines, 2 light cruisers, 9 oilers, 2 battleships, 11 destroyers
    • 353 Aircraft – 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive-bombers, 79 fighters

3. THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR LED TO US ENTERING WORLD WAR II

On December 8, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress approved Roosevelt’s declaration of war. The US declared war on Japan.

Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. More than two years after the start of the conflict, the United States had finally entered World War II.

4. JAPANESE SUBMARINES WERE SUPPOSED TO PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN THE ATTACK

The Japanese forces had planned to use their submarines for a number of different tasks before, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack. Before the Japanese bombers and fighter planes arrived from their aircraft carriers to the north, these submarines were to scout to penetrate the harbor’s defenses. Once the attack from the air started, they were to release their torpedos at prime targets and escape back out the channel.

After the attack, these submarines were to station themselves in pre-designated spots of the islands to pick up any pilots who couldn’t make it back to their carriers due to fuel or mechanical issues. One such pilot landed on Niihau (a small Hawaiian island near Kauai). Unfortunately for that Japanese pilot, his submarine had long left its position, stranding him there.

5. THE SURPRISE ATTACK DID NOT DESTROY THE ENTIRE AMERICAN PACIFIC FLEET

In the surprise attack on ‘Battleship Row’ on December 7th, the Arizona and Oklahoma were damaged beyond repair by bombs or torpedo hits; most ships returned to service. Of the 2,026 American sailors and marines killed in the attack, 1,606 had been aboard these two ships.

Three more battleships (the California, West Virginia, and Nevada) sank upright in the shallow water of the harbor. They were salvaged, and while many vessels did not return to the battlefield for several years, most suffered repairable damage. The Battleship Missouri is now anchored there.

6. ARIZONA MEMORIAL & BATTLESHIP MISSOURI ARE BOOKENDS TO THE WAR

These two mighty naval battleships served the United States proudly for many decades stand, anchored near each other in the harbor. Battleship Arizona, resting below the gentle waves of the harbor, where it blew up and sank during the attack on the “date which will live in infamy.” This attack started the USA’s formal entry into World War II.

Battleship Missouri represents the end of the war. This mighty ship, launched in 1944, participated in the shelling of Iwo Jima and Okinawa before sailing into Tokyo Bay to host the formal surrender of Japan. They signed at a small table on her teak decks with sailors and marines witnessing the proceedings.

7. PEARL HARBOR WAS ATTACKED TO PROTECT THE INVASION OF SOUTHERN RESOURCE AREA

Japanʻs naval forces depended on the United States to supply natural and industrial resources (namely, oil), without which its forces would be significantly impaired. This led Japan to target Southeast Asia, rich in minerals and oil. While they knew that such an invasion would lead to war against America, Japan decided to destroy America’s Pacific Fleet to prevent American interference in its plan to access countries’ resources in Southeast Asia, which Japan called “Southern Resource Area.”

8. JAPAN COULD HAVE INFLICTED GREATER DAMAGE IF THEY TARGETED DIFFERENT AREAS

Japan concentrated on just destroying battleships of the US Navy as it thought that the Pacific fleet battles would be decided on them. This proved to be wrong.

Had Japan-focused the attack beyond the fleet and targeted navy repair yards, oil tank farms, submarine base, and old headquarters building it could have inflicted far greater damage. Because the plan was made to focus on battleships, American aircraft carriers were untouched by the attack (they were out at sea). This led to America being able to rebuild quickly for the war on Japan and ultimately reverse the Japanese advance after the setbacks of early 1942.

Admiral Hara Tadaichi summed up the Japanese result by saying, “We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.”

9. THE USS ARIZONA STILL LEAKS FUEL

The day before the attacks, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel, nearly 1.5 million gallons. Much of that fuel helped ignite the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ships, but amazingly, some fuel continues to seep out of the wreckage.

According to the History Channel, the Arizona “continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day.” This adds to the emotional gravity of this memorial and those visiting often refer to this phenomenon as the “tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”

10. 30 DAYS AFTER ATTACK 134,000 AMERICANS ENLIST IN THE MILITARY

The attack on Pearl Harbor created a wave of patriotism and outrage. Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, 50 million of 132 million Americans were employed in the war effort working for the government. This made the country the largest socialist democracy in the world. This mass industrialism allowed the US Navy to build all sorts of boats quickly, including 77 Gato class submarines (USS Bowfin) that were built between 1940 and 1944.

11. A BOOK INSPIRED THE JAPANESE WAR PLAN

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto conceived the Pearl Harbor attack, and Captain Minoru Genda planned it. Two things inspired Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor idea: a prophetic book and a historic attack. The Great Pacific War was written in 1925 by Hector Bywater, a British naval authority. It was a realistic account of a clash between the United States and Japan that began with the Japanese destruction of the U.S. fleet and proceeded to a Japanese attack on Guam and the Philippines. When Britain’s Royal Air Force successfully attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940, Yamamoto was convinced that Bywater’s fiction could become a reality.

12. OPERATION K – THE SECOND ATTACK ON OAHU

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor a second time on March 4th, 1942, in what they called Operation K. They used two 4 engine naval flying boats, nicknamed “Emily” by the allies. It was somewhat like America’s PBY but much larger. They could carry 1 ton of bombs and had a crew of 10. Also known as the flying porcupine, it had five 20mm cannons and four machine guns in turrets and blisters. This time radar saw them coming, and just after midnight, air defense dispatched fighters to patrol over Pearl Harbor. Unable to see the target due to cloudy weather, one aircraft dropped bombs on a remote hillside and the other into the ocean.

13. THIRTY-EIGHT SETS OF BROTHERS WERE ON THE DOOMED USS ARIZONA.

Nearly all the American vessels that were hit during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack were later repaired, but the USS Arizona wasn’t so lucky. The 608-foot Pennsylvania-class battleship went under after an ammunition magazine exploded. Some 1177 marines and sailors perished aboard the Arizona. Altogether, there were 38 sets of brothers, representing a total of 79 men, on the battleship at the time. Within that group, 63 individual men were killed.

14. ELVIS PRESLEY HELPED RAISE MONEY FOR THE USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL FUND.

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the building of a USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. Three years later, the king of rock ‘n roll put on a benefit concert to raise money for the project. Presley sang “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and 13 other classic songs before a roaring crowd of around 5000 fans in Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena. The big event raked in over $64,000 and created public interest in the memorial—which was officially dedicated in 1962.

15. JAPAN IS NOW ONE OF AMERICA’S STRONGEST ALLIES

While most people can tell you that the Japanese were responsible for the attacks, not everyone realizes that the Japanese now visit the memorial in droves.

Japan, now one of America’s strongest allies, is the largest source of international tourists to the state of Hawaii. Japanese visitors pay their respects at National Memorial just as Americans do.

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