Pearl Harbor was a naval base located in Hawaii (the homeport of the Pacific Fleet). It was considered by most a wonderful “home away from home” for the men who preserved America’s interests abroad. Even though Europe was involved in a bitter world war, in the Pacific, there were no signs of trouble. During this time, Great Britain was at war with Germany and Italy, Japan’s allies. The United States attempted to aid Great Britain in every way possible which in turn caused Japan to grow vociferous towards the United States. Japanese anger also focused on the embargos which the United States had placed on American exports to Japan. Above all, Pearl Harbor stood athwart Japan’s path-a navy which Japanese admirals thought capable of menacing their nation’s existence. Because of this grudge held against the U.S., Japan named this situation: Taiheyo-no-gan (“Cancer of the Pacific”). Even though there was “bad-blood” between the U.S. and Japan, the Japanese preferred to try the hand of diplomacy before they unsheltered the sword. To negotiate their differences, in November 1940, Tokyo selected an ambassador, Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura, who was liked and respected by both Americans and Japanese. On January 7th, 1941, Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet, sat at his desk aboard the Nagato as he prepared his most dreaded task, initiating a war against the United States by a surprise attack on its Pacific Fleet. Yamamoto was one of the few Japanese men who wanted to avoid a war with the U.S. for the fact he knew that the U.S. was surely gain victory in a war with Japan. He expressed this lack of faith in a meeting with Konyoe in Tokyo by stating, ”If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year.
The Triparite Pact has been concluded, and we cannot help it. Now that the situation has come to this pass, I hope you will endeavor to avoid a Japanese-American war.” In spite of Yamamoto’s outlook, he continued to plan the attack. After several months of careful planning, Yamamoto decided that it would be best to engage war with the U.S. Navy by moving the scene of action to waters near the Hawaiian Islands. This way the enemy would be forced to do battle in a way that the Japanese fleet could overcome their opponent.
Eventually Yamamoto had a plan. He envisioned a task force made up primarily of aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers, to deliver an annihilating aerial strike against the U.S. Fleet in Pearl Harbor. But to carry the war to the very threshold of the enemy’s power, he must catch his foe’s unaware. In a meeting between Yamamoto, Admiral Takijir Onishi, chief of staff of the Eleventh Air Fleet, and Commander Kosei Maeda, and expert on aerial torpedo warfare, Koasei Maeda made a suggestion of a torpedo attack against Pearl Harbor. This tasks seemed nearly impossible to Yamamoto and Onishi considering the fact that the base was too shallow. They believed that it would take a technical miracle to achieve a torpedo battle. Finally after close thought, it was decided that 2 merchant ships should precede the tasks force, 1 at an angle to the port, the other to starboard. These vessels would serve as the eyes of the fleet and as decoys. To increase security, they decided the route to Hawaii should be the one providing the best chance for surprise.
December 7th, 1941
At 7:30 A.M. Yamamoto’s 2 battleships, 2 cruisers, and 11 smaller ships were ordered to begin the attack on Pearl Harbor. At 0615 hours the first wave of Japanese aircraft was spotted at a station in Opana. They were led down to the western coast of Oahu by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida. By 0750 hours Fuchida could see Pearl Harbor where at that moment he gave the order to attack. From endlessly repeated practice and meticulous study of maps and models of Pearl Harbor, every Japanese pilot knew exactly what to do. While the squadrons of dive- bombers split up into sections which were to swoop simultaneously on the several army, navy, and marine airfields, the high level bombers settled onto their pre-arranged approach course, bomb aimers adjusting their sites, and the torpedo-bombers began the long downward slant to their torpedo launching positions abreast the battleships. A few minutes before 0800 hours, to the scream of vertically plummeting planes, bombs began to burst among the aircraft drawn up, wingtip to wingtip in parade ground perfection on the various airfields.
Simultaneously the duty watch abroad the ships in “Battleship Row” saw the torpedo-bombers dip low to launch their torpedoes and watched the thin pencil line of the tracks heading for their helpless, immobile hulls. Moored together in the harbor were five battleships- West Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, and California-were rent open by torpedo hits in the first few minutes. Only the Maryland, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania escaped torpedo damage. Other ships torpedoed were the old target battleship Utah, and the light land cruisers Raleigh and Helena. Nevertheless, although to the shudder and shock of underwater explosions was soon added the riding whine of dive- bombers and the shriek and shattering detonation of bombs from then and from high-flying bombers, the American crews, for the most part, went into action with speed and efficiency, shooting down several of their attackers. Damage control parties worked manfully to minimize the consequences of flooded compartments, counter flooding to keep the foundering ships on an even keel, restoring electric and water power and communications, fighting the fires. Meanwhile, however, high up above the smoke and confusion, hardly able at first to credit the total absence of any fighter opposition, and any inconvenienced by the sparse gunfighter directed at them, Fuchida’s high level bombers were calmly selecting their targets and aiming will cool precision. An armor-piercing bomb sliced through the 5 inches of armor of a turret in the Tennessee to burst inside it; another plunged down through the several decks to explode in the forward magazine of the Arizona, which blew up. Both the Maryland and the California were hit with devastating effect. When a lull occurred at 0825 hours, as the first wave of Japanese aircraft retired, almost every US aircraft at the air bases was damaged or destroyed, the West Virginia was sinking and on fire, the Arizona had settled on the bottom with more than a thousand of her crew fatally trapped below. The Oklahoma had capsized and settled on the bottom with her keel above water; the Tennessee, with a turret destroyed by and armor-piercing bomb, was badly on fire; and the California had received damage that was eventually to sink her, in spite all efforts of her crew. Elsewhere, all that was visible of the Utah was her upturned keel. The Raleigh, deep in the water from flooding, and counter-flooding, was being kept upright only by her mooring wires. While all this had been taking place, at least one Japanese midget submarine succeeded in penetrating the harbor, passing through the gate in the boom defenses which had carelessly left open after the entry of two minesweeper at 0458 hours. During a lull in the air attacks this submarine was sighted just as it was firing a torpedo at the seaplane tender Curtis.
The torpedo missed and exploded harmlessly against the shore, as did the second one. The submarine was attacked by the destroyer Monaghan and sunk by depth charges. Of the other 3 midgets launched from their parent submarines, 2 were lost without a trace; the third after running on a reef and being fired at by the destroyer Helm, was finally beached and her crew taken prisoner. The parent submarines and the 11 other large boats of the Advanced Expeditionary Force achieved nothing. The second wave of Japanese aircraft-54 bombers, 80 dive-bombers, and 36 fighters led by Lieutenant Commander Shimazaki of the aircraft-carrier Zuikaku- had taken off an hour after the first wave.
They were met by a more efficient defense and thus achieved much less. In the breathing space between the 2 attacks, ammunition supply for the US anti-aircraft guns had been replenished, gun crews reorganized, and reinforced; and a number of the Japanese dive-bombers were shot down. Nevertheless, they succeeded in damaging the Pennsylvania, wrecking 2 destroyers which were sharing the dry-dock with her, blowing up another destroyer in the floating dock, and forcing the Nevada-feeling her way towards the harbor entrance through the billowing clouds of black smoke from burning ships- to beach herself. Meanwhile the high-level bombers were able to make undisturbed practice and wreak further damage on the already shattered and burning US ships. At 1000 hours it was suddenly all over. The rumble of retrieving aircraft engines died away leaving a strange silence except for the crackle of the burning ships, the hissing of water hoses and the desperate shouts of men fighting the fires. For the loss of only nine fighters, 15 dive-bombers, and 5 torpedo-bombers out of the 384 planes engaged, the Japanese navy had succeeded in putting out of action the entire battleship force of the US Pacific Fleet.
After the attack, Fuchida and his men had sunk, capsized, or damaged in varying degrees a total of 18 warships- eight battleships, three light cruisers, three destroyers, and four auxiliary craft. The U.S. ”Navy’s air arm had lost eighty-seven aircraft of all types. The Japanese also destroyed 77 aircraft of Major General Frederick L. Martin’s Hawaiian Department of the U.S. Army. An additional 128 aircraft had been damaged; however 80 percent of these were later salvaged. Worst of all 2,403 personnel of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and civilians had been killed, were listed as missing or died later of wounds, while those wounded but not killed totaled 1,178. On the other hand, the Japanese lost 29 aircraft, one large submarine, and five midget undersea craft. On the morning of December 8th, 1941, President Theodore Roosevelt prepared his speech that was to be given to joint session of Congress in the chamber of the House of Representatives at 12:30 P.M. Then he called for a declaration of war for this “unprovoked and dastardly attack.” Thirty-three minutes later, Congress passed a resolution declaring that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan still set out to capture and seize power over neighboring islands and countries. After an astounding 6 months a triumph, Japan was halted. In May, 1942, two Japanese invasion forces set out for Port Moresby in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands farther south. The group bound for the Solomon Islands met no difficulties but the group bound for New Guinea was intercepted by American carriers Lexington and Yorktown. The American sank the Japanese ship, Shoho, in ten minutes, a record for war. The next day, Japanese pilots found the Americans and Lexington. Torn by torpedoes, battered by bombs, and listing, she was nevertheless when a series of internal explosions gave her death blows. This continuance of naval actions is known as the Battle of Coral Sea. Admiral Yamamoto had grown tired and decided to destroy the remnant of the American Pacific Fleet. He gathered a powerful fleet of 162 ships, which was divided into a large and small force. Against Yamamoto’s ships were 76 American ships. On June 4th, American patrol planes found the enemy carriers and were destroyed by torpedo-bombers and dive-bombers from the American carrier decks. Unfortunately the Japanese changed their course, and won the Battle of Midway and, perhaps, even the war. But only some days later, American dive bombers found both carriers and destroyed the enemy by torpedoes. On July 21st, 1945, the Japanese ambassador made a formal announcement to bring the war to an end. After 4 years of war, with the Americans gaining victories over Japan in Guadalcanal, the Kwajalein Atoll, Tinian, Guam, the Philippine Sea, New Britain, the Leyte Gulf, Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the war had finally came to an end.
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