On this day in 1941, “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” The surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, that morning at 7:48 am is also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, and led to the United States’ entry into World War 2.
Long on the rolls of Japan’s war planners, the Asian empire intended the attack as a preventative action to keep the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions they planned in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the US. Over the next seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the US-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft, including fighters, level and dive bombers, and torpedo bombers in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. All eight US Navy battleships were damaged, with four sunk. All but the USS Arizona were later raised, and six were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one mine-layer. 188 US aircraft were also destroyed.
There were numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action by Japan, but the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations were still ongoing, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” Because the attack happened without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was later judged in the Tokyo Trials to be a war crime.
Precisely six months after Pearl Harbor, the US would make headway in avenging the attack on Pearl with an epic battle presaging Japan’s eventual and total defeat. The Battle of Midway spanned four days; at the end of a vicious naval aviation engagement in which the surface ships never made visual contact, the mighty Imperial Japanese Navy had lost four aircraft carriers, nearly 250 aircraft and more than 3,000 personnel. In contrast, US losses amounted to the carrier USS Yorktown, destroyer USS Hammann and 307 combat dead. With seamanship and air power buoyed by brilliance, bravery and dumb luck, the clash is seen as the Pacific turning point toward Japan’s eventual capitulation a bloody and arduous 38 months later.
And here the lesson endeth.