Japan Commits Harikiri at Pearl Harbor
|A Japanese bomber, its diving flaps down, was photographed by a U.S. Navy photographer as the plane approached its Pearl Harbor objective on December 7.|
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 was the most unnecessary and fateful military action in modern military history. By bringing the United States into the war, it incited an unconquerable foe of the Axis powers and sealed their fate. Japan had become more and more warlike during the 1930s. It made no bones about this, and appeared to be anticipating, if not outright savoring, an attack upon the United States throughout that period.
|Japan was on the march long before Pearl Harbor|
The below anime, "Evil Mickey Attacks Japan," apparently was made by the Japanese in 1934 and projected war between the two countries in 1936.
Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and continued its expansion into China for the remainder of the decade, with the war officially declared in 1937. While Japan earned scorn from the rest of the world for the brutality of its army, the Western powers remained aloof except for one instance: an undeclared border war between Japan and the Soviet Union. Having taken possession of Manchuria, the Japanese military decided to continue north into the Soviet Union. They attemped at the Battle of Lake Khasan in 1938 and the battles along the Khalkin Gol River to do this through their puppet state Manchukuo. The Soviets controlled Mongolia. The whole conflict arose over a dispute of less than ten miles about the precise location of the border between the two puppet states.
|Japanese infantry on the march at Nomonhan, Manchua, 1939|
On 11 May 1939, Mongolian units entered the disputed area, and Manchukuoan troops responded. The Mongolians returned in force a couple of days later. The Japanese then sent some more troops, and the Mongolians retreated. The Mongolians returned in larger force, and a battle took place on 28 May which wiped out the Japanese force. After that, the undeclared war was on. Soviet Comcor Georgy Zhukov arrived on 5 June 1939.
The local Japanese forces acted without orders from Japan and attacked again. Zhukov gathered his forces and encircled the Japanese, winning the battle by 31 August 1939. A cease-fire was signed in Moscow, and the Japanese stopped looking north for easy conquests.
|Midget Japanese submarine beached at Bellows Field, Hawaii, after the attack on Pearl Harbor of Dec. 7, 1941. photo and caption credit - National Archives and Records Administration Public Domain Photographs|
Headquarters in Japan instead turned south. Knowing that the British and the Dutch, who were the main European powers in the Pacific, were preoccupied by their ally Germany, they saw Indonesia and Singapore as easy pickings.
US President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress had been imposing sanctions on Japan in order to induce them to leave Vichy French Indo-China (China apparently being of less concern for some reason). The politics of that era were odd, to say the least.
|Uncle Sam blocking the flow of an oil pump to a Japan. The U.S. ceased oil exports to Japan in the summer of 1941, after Japanese invaded French Indochina. Cartoon by Willard Wetmore Combes.|
This seriously affected Japanese oil supplies, so they decided to fight the Americans as well.
|Japanese bombers taking off from the Japanese carrier fleet to bomb Pearl Harbor|
After extensive preparation and espionage on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, which was in plain view from nearby hills, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sent a six-carrier fleet ("Kido Butai") under Admiral Chuichi Nagumo to Hawaii by a northern route far away from normal trade traffic.
They left on 26 November 1941, and while they proceeded eastward the Japanese diplomats continued to negotiate.
A declaration of war was prepared, but the military leaders (aside from Yamamoto, who had been to the United States and knew its power) did not really want to tell the U.S. about Japanese intentions until after the attack. In the event, for a variety of reasons, an ambiguous declaration of war was not delivered until shortly afterwards. The attack, of course, was not ambiguous at all.
|December 7, 1941: Eight miles from Pearl Harbor, shrapnel from a Japanese bomb riddled this car and killed three civilians in the attack. Two of the victims can be seen in the front seat. The Navy reported there was no nearby military objective.|
After parking off the north coast of Oahu and not hearing any kind of recall signal (he himself operating under complete radio silence), Admiral Nagumo sent in a first wave of 183 aircraft, led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida. It was one of the fateful moves in world history, and also one of the most counter-productive and self-destructive.
|Commander Fuchida. He coordinated the attack from his plane and took pictures of Pearl Harbor as it blew up. He also was involved in the Japanese investigation of Hiroshima four years later and ultimately regretted his participation in the war.|
The first wave targeted battleships and aircraft carriers. In the event, the US carriers were out to sea south of Oahu and none were involved in the attack aside from a few of their fleet aircraft that arrived over Oahu late in the affair. There were, however, many battleships and smaller ships tied up along Ford Island at Pearl Harbor in "battleship row." The Japanese pounced.
|Battleship row is clearly visible in this shot, with Ford Island behind the ships|
The U.S. military had a primitive SCR-270 radar set up at Opana Point. It detected the Japanese planes with some clarity, but the system was still in training mode and regarded as little more than a toy. The operators, Privates George Elliot Jr. and Joseph Lockard, called headquarters about the unexpected radar signal to the north, but their inexperienced commander, Lieutenant Kermit A. Tyler, disregarded it. He knew that a flight of six B-17 bombers was due from the mainland right about then and within a few degrees of where the privates spotted the radar signal, so, when the two privates did not tell Tyler how many planes they saw, he figured it was the scheduled bombers and did not pass along a warning. He was wrong.
|A Japanese torpedo bomber fished out of the mud of Pearl Harbor. This gives a great idea of how big the planes were.|
Tyler was later cleared of any wrong-doing and served with honor until 1961. He had been given a unique opportunity to affect the course of world history - and blew it. Or, looking at it another way, Tyler did affect world history - but not quite in the way he might have liked at the time. That must have been an awful burden to carry, but there were many to blame for the steady march by the United States into World War II. Tyler passed away in 2010.
|Aerial photograph, taken by a Japanese pilot (perhaps Fuchida), of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese bomber in lower-right foreground. That appears to be taken from the north side of Ford Island, with Battleship Row on the other side.|
The Japanese strike force swept in from the north and shot down some U.S. planes, including a low-flying tourist plane. Warnings of strange submarines around the harbor entrance had been received all morning, but aside from sending some ships out to look for them, these warnings were not taken to mean much.
|Ford Island burning|
The bombers arrived at 7:48 a.m. local time, which to them - the task force having maintained Japanese time throughout the journey - was equivalent to 3:18 a.m.
|View from Pier 1010, note the capsized ship in the foreground|
The first attacks were against Kaneohe, led in by the slow torpedo bombers carrying specially designed shallow-running torpedoes. Dive bombers peeled off and strafed airfields Hickham Field and Wheeler Field.
|A Navy photographer captures the explosion of USS Shaw, 7 December 1941.|
Antiaircraft fire did down a few of the Japanese planes - if ammunition could be found for all the guns on the ships, the concentrated antiaircraft firepower could have claimed a lot more.
Part of the lore of Pearl Harbor, though, is that it was locked away pursuant to peacetime regulations. In addition, the average sailor had little experience actually shooting anyone down, and simple procedural things such as leading a moving plane usually took more than a few surprised minutes to learn.
A few American P-40 Warhawks and P-36 Hawks got airborne, but most were destroyed on the ground. They had been parked tightly together for fear of sabotage and thus made easy targets. The large flying boats made easy targets.
|With the fires raging nearby, sailors try to turn a PBY-5 Catalina patrol bombers to get it airborne. Most of them were bombed and strafed before they could escape.|
A few of the American ships were able to get under way, but most were sitting quietly at their moorings throughout the attack.
|Smoke pouring from the U.S. California. The ship in the center appears to be picking up survivors.|
A second wave of 171 planes went in shortly afterwards. Most of the planes attacked the battleships again, with a one of the three groups again hitting the airfields and Kaneohe. A third wave was planned, but Admiral Nagumo decided, based on reports from his pilots, that it was pointless and cancelled it.
|Anti-aircraft bursts and the burning Arizona dominate this dramatic shot of the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December 1941.|
Among other things, several more of his planes had been shot down during the second wave than during the first, and he was beginning to feel nervous about a counter-strike. By cancelling the third strike, he left intact huge fuel storage tanks that formed the basis of the U.S. recovery in the years ahead.
According to American Admiral Chester Nimitz, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, this oversight enabled a quick U.S. recovery and shortened the war by two years. However, Nagumo had accomplished his objective, and he figured there was no reason to take any more risks. An invasion, which some Japanese officers had recommended, was really the proper follow-on, but that was never in the plan.
|A pre-war shot of the U.S.S. Arizona in the East River of New York, approaching the Brooklyn Navy Yard|
The most famous ship sunk by the Japanese attack was the U.S.S. Arizona. The Arizona was a modified World War I-era super dreadnought of the Pennsylvania class. After a torpedo hit it, the ship was ablaze but afloat. Several more bombs hit it without too much impact. However, one bomb (actually a modified 410-mm (16.1 inch) armor-piercing shell) fell on its forward magazine and blew everything up. This killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board at the time, half of the total 2,403 killed (and 68 civilians). A memorial now stands over the carcass of the ship, which was stripped of armament and other salvageable items during the war.
|Hawaii, Oahu, Pearl Harbor, Aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Missouri. Ford Island is to the left, Honolulu off to the right.|
For the cost of 29 aircraft, 5 midget submarines and 64 men killed, the Japanese sank 4 battleships (2 later recovered), damaged 3 other battleships and forced one to ground, and destroyed 188 U.S. aircraft (almost all on the ground). The American military lost 2,403 killed and 1,178 wounded.
|Pearl Harbor after the attack. It took several years to clean up the wreckage.|
Numerous smaller American ships were sunk or damaged, and there was extensive damage to airfields and other shore-based installations. However, the port was back in operation immediately after the attack.
|An early headline and summary|
First reports of the attack were, as usual, only partially correct. As the above headline shows, the only things the newsmen got right was that Japan had attacked Hawaii. Otherwise, the vast majority of everything else in bold letters was either absolutely or partially incorrect, right down to the supposed occupation of Wake Island, which held out for another two weeks.
|Newsroom in Washington, D.C. running for the telephones after being briefed on the strike.|
A state of war existed from the moment of the Japanese attack, but President Roosevelt did not declare war until the next day, December 8, 1941. He gave a speech which is known as the "day of infamy" speech, with the word "infamy" pencilled in by his own hand in place of the much less evocative "world history."
|Final draft of the most famous speech of the 20th Century|
The verdict of history is that the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor was a tragic, pointless mistake and criminal act. It brought the United States into the war when that might not have happened otherwise. The Japanese were under no compulsion to attack anyone at all, much less the United States, Great Britain (at Hong Kong), and the Dutch (who still had a large fleet in the Pacific under Admiral Doorman) all at once. It was a case of fatal overconfidence. Doing so sealed the fate of the Axis powers and led to their destruction in less than four years.
|Headlines in newspapers (here, in San Francisco on 8 December) were full of scary yarns calculated to scare and excite people - but without an ounce of truth. Similar baseless stories circulated after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.|
One final point is worth making: the U.S. Navy ships sunk were old and, by contemporary standards, virtually obsolete as strategic weapons. The World War II war at sea was dominated by aircraft carriers. Battleships, while extremely handy at times, did not determine the outcome and themselves were vulnerable to air and submarine attack. They would have been of little value until two years later, when U.S. air power was dominant and the Allies were invading island after island, giving the battleships' big guns some marginal usefulness in softening up the landing beaches and providing anti-aircraft support. By then, some battleships had been salvaged from the Pearl Harbor mud and could participate anyway. In addition, the numerous American planes shot down and demolished on the ground were older types soon to be replaced regardless of their destruction, and bombed shore facilities, by and large, were quickly replaced. Even giving them the benefit of all doubt, the Japanese accomplished next to nothing by attacking Pearl Harbor, killing all those people and thereby ensuring their own later annihilation.
But they did unite an entire continent against them. So they had that going for them.
Color Shots of the Pearl Harbor Attack
The vivid colour photographs below were taken from various sources, many of them are stills from colour footage while others are kodachrome photographs. They show the thick black choking smoke and the raging fires which took hold of ships and shore installations.
The photographs show the hangers of the US Naval Air Station at Wheeler Field ablaze with wrecked aircraft strewn across the runway and the flames from USS Arizona. There are desperate efforts of sailors to quell fires and escape stricken vessels, rescue attempts, and guys in the water. Some of the details, of course, can be difficult to see.
It is tempting to believe that these have been colorized recently. However, there was plenty of color film available in 1941. My understanding is that these are original color, not something added later, but no guarantees. Some of these shots are familiar in black and white from numerous reproductions in non-color publications, but they take on a whole other resonance in color.
TIMELINE OF 7 December 1941 PEARL HARBOR ATTACKNovember 26 1941, a Japanese strike force, code name Kido Butai, departs Japan for Hawaii, with orders to attack Pearl Harbor and to maintain radio silence. It takes a northerly route not used by merchant ships to avoid detection.
Saturday, December 6, Washington DC: U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes a final appeal to the Emperor of Japan for peace. There is no reply. Late this same day, the U.S. code-breaking service begins intercepting a 14-part Japanese message and deciphers the first 13 parts, passing them on to the President and Secretary of State. The Americans believe a Japanese attack is imminent, most likely somewhere in Southeast Asia.
Sunday, December 7, Washington DC: The last, 14th part of the Japanese message, stating that diplomatic relations with the U.S. are to be broken off, reaches Washington in the morning and is decoded at approximately 9 a.m. About an hour later, another Japanese message is intercepted. It instructs the Japanese embassy to deliver the previous message to the Americans at 1 p.m. The Americans realize this time corresponds with early morning time in Pearl Harbor, which is several hours behind. The War Department then sends out an alert but uses a commercial telegraph because radio contact with Hawaii is temporarily broken. Delays prevent the alert from arriving at headquarters in Oahu until noontime (Hawaii time), four hours after the attack has already begun.
Islands of Hawaii, near Oahu, first light: The Japanese attack force under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of six carriers with 423 planes, is about to attack. At 6 a.m., the first attack wave of 183 Japanese planes takes off from the carriers located 230 miles north of Oahu and heads for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. United States Naval patrols identify 'suspicious' craft - the Japanese have sent midget submarines in for observation purposes - near the harbor entrance, but treat it as a fairly normal incident.
Pearl Harbor, 7:02AM: Two Army operators at Oahu’s northern shore radar station detect the Japanese air attack approaching and contact junior officer Kermit Tyler, who disregards their reports, thinking they are American B-17 planes which are expected in from the U.S. west coast.
Near Oahu, 7:15AM: A second attack wave of 167 planes takes off from the Japanese carriers and heads for Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor is not on a state on high alert. Senior commanders have concluded, based on available intelligence, there is no reason to believe an attack is imminent. Aircraft are therefore left parked wingtip to wingtip on airfields, anti-aircraft guns are unmanned with many ammunition boxes kept locked in accordance with peacetime regulations. And since it is Sunday morning, many officers and crewmen are leisurely ashore or still asleep in their bunks.
7:53AM: The first Japanese assault wave, with 51 ‘Val’ dive bombers, 40 ‘Kate’ torpedo bombers, 50 high level bombers and 43 ‘Zero’ fighters, commences the attack.
The first attack wave targets airfields and battleships; The second targets secondary ships and shipyard facilities. The air raid lasts until 9:45 a.m. Eight battleships are damaged, with five sunk. Three light cruisers, three destroyers and three smaller vessels are lost along with 188 aircraft. The Japanese lose 27 planes and five midget submarines which had attempted to penetrate the inner harbor.
Despite this apparent success, the prime targets—Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers Lexington, Enterprise, and Saratoga—escape damage, along with the base fuel tanks. After recovering all surviving aircraft, Admiral Nagumo decides that launching a third attack wave is not worth the risk and likely casualties and heads west.
The casualty list for the US includes 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians killed, with 1178 wounded. Included in that tally are the 1,104 men aboard the battleship USS Arizona who were killed after a 1760-pound air bomb penetrated the forward magazine, causing catastrophic explosions. If the men weren’t dead from the explosions, they suffocate slowly under the water.
In Washington: Various delays prevent the JaPBYpanese diplomats from presenting their war message to Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, until 2:30 p.m. Washington time. At the same point in time, Hull has just begun to read the first reports on the air raid at Pearl Harbor.
Monday, December 8: The United States and Britain declare war on Japan.
Thursday, December 11: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States, uniting the European and Southeast Asian wars into one gigantic global conflict. The US immediately responds with pro forma declarations of war.