After the invasion of French Indochina by Japanese Imperial Forces in 1940 the United States halted all shipments to Japan of airplane parts, machine tools, and aviation gas in hopes of curbing any further advancement in Indochina. With this having no effect on the Japanese intentions of advancement, in 1941 president Roosevelt issued an embargo of oil shipment to Japan and moved the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in hopes of discouraging further incursions. Instead the Japanese considered it a severe provocation.
At 6:00 AM Wednesday November 26, 1941 Hittokapu Bay was a bustle as a Japanese task force of six aircraft carriers set sail to rendezvous with their escort of destroyers, cruisers, tankers, and submarines. Under the leadership of Admiral Yamamoto, their destination was a point north of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Their purpose, if they remained undetected and a peace pact with the United States hadn’t been reached, attack Pearl Harbor and cripple the Pacific Fleet.
It was Yamamoto’s intent that the attack take place after an official Declaration of War had been delivered, but this was not to be. Due to the length of the message and the time it took to transcribe it, notification wasn’t given till after the attack began. In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941 the first wave of 183 aircraft was launched in three groups. The first group was to target battleships and aircraft carriers, the second Ford Island and Wheeler Field, the third aircraft at Ford Island, Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Barber’s Point, and Kaneohe. The aircraft were detected by a radar training post and the message was relayed to a newly assigned officer at the Intercept Center. The message however failed to include the size of the formation and it was assumed to be a Flight of six B 17s arriving from the mainland. Other warnings from U.S. aircraft and ships off the harbor entrance were garbled and never confirmed.
At 7:48 AM Hawaiian Time men aboard the U.S ships awoke to the sound of alarms, bombs exploding, and gunfire. The message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill.” , was sent out by a totally unprepared Patrol Wing Two. Ammunition lockers were locked, aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip to deter sabotage, and the guns unmanned. The second wave of 171 aircraft arrived shortly after the first. This wave was also divided into three groups. One was to attack Kāneʻohe, the rest Pearl Harbor proper. They arrived almost simultaneously from several directions creating pure chaos.
Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over, and 2,008 sailors were killed, 710 others wounded; 218 soldiers and airmen (who were part of the Army) were killed, 364 wounded; 109 marines were killed, 69 wounded; and 68 civilians were killed, 35 wounded. In total, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded during the attack. Nearly half the American casualties were a result of the USS Arizona’s forward magazine exploding. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. There were 188 American aircraft destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 on the ground. The Japanese losses were, 29 aircraft, 55 airmen, nine submariners and 74 aircraft damaged.
A third wave was part of the original plan but due to the increase in American response between the first and second waves, the whereabouts of the American carriers unknown, darkness and bad weather setting in, , Vice Admiral Nagumo decided to break off the attack and head home. A decision Admiral Yamamoto stated as being “regretful” later. The decision not to launch the third attack wave to finish the devastation in the harbor area, along with the outrage of the American people would prove to be the downfall of the Japanese war machine.
December 7th will mark the 73rd anniversary of the attack. Four of the nine surviving members of the U.S.S. Arizona will be attending the annual ceremony held at the memorial where the Arizona went down. We salute these men for their courage and steadfast dedication to their fallen comrades.
There will be ceremonies held across the country by various Veterans groups. We hope you will be able to attend one to show your gratitude for their service.