On December 7th, 1941, a Japanese carrier aircraft force comprised of fighters, high-degree bombers, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers launched an assault on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, as well as other US military facilities in Hawaii. However, they obtained complete surprise with five American battleships, three cruisers, as well as three destroyers sunk while 188 US aircraft got destroyed with the majority of them being on the ground. Although Japanese losses summed up to 29 aircraft, as well as the five inadequate midget submarines intended for participating in the assault, this was a brilliant premeditated victory for Japan. Two in-flight assault waves, totaling 353 aircraft, were launched from six Japanese aircraft carriers under the command of Commander Mitsuo Fuchida. The strike’s goal was to safeguard Imperial Japan’s progress into the Dutch East Indies and Malaya, which had natural riches like rubber and oil, by neutralizing the United States Pacific Fleet. Although the Japanese were successful in carrying out the assault, possibly weakening American control of the Pacific, their victory was short-lived. The next day, America declared war on Japan, launching the United States into World War II (Shelley & David 10).
The Western countries, led by the United States, had placed economic sanctions on Japan in response to its invasion of China, obstructing Japanese military activities. As a consequence, Japan began diplomatic talks with the United States in an attempt to break the stalemate while also planning an assault on Pearl Harbor. To reach from its core to where the aircraft carriers planned to launch their planes towards Hawaii, the majority of the Japanese fleet had to travel at least 4000 miles. On December 7, shortly before 8 a.m., these aircraft arrived. Five of Pearl Harbor’s eight battleships were destroyed or sunk within a short period of time, while the others were severely damaged. Although the USS Arizona was the most well-known loss, a number of other ships and most Hawaii-based warplanes were also lost, resulting in the deaths of 2388 Americans (Sakata 23).
There are various reasons as to why Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor including (Lord):
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned all scrap iron, steel, and oil shipments to Japan in response to the Japanese invasion of China. As a result, Japan’s oil supply was reduced by more than 90%. Their economy, as well as their military, were weakened by this economic isolation;
- America has not yet joined the Second World War because it was still recovering from the depression brought on by the First World War. However, America’s naval forces remained the most powerful. According to this perspective, the Japanese navy was almost as powerful as the American fleet. With the passage of time, America became more interested in entering the conflict. Because the Japanese were anticipating a full-fledged naval war with America, they decided to strike first by attacking Pearl Harbor;
- Assumptions included the notion that the Japanese wanted to become a naval superpower while also destroying any competitors, which included American and British naval convoys;
- The United States intended Japan to abandon northern Indo-China;
- Opposition from the US on Japanese expansion, together with Japan demands considering that they were not got by diplomacy;
- The Japanese were eager on expanding their empire thereby making a decision between giving in or going to war along with the United States;
- The Japanese wanted the US to consent to their spreading out into Asia;
- Pearl Harbor happened to be the residence of the U.S. Pacific Fleet; therefore Japan did not intend the U.S. within the war since at that time; the greatest Naval force belonged to the United States of America. They made a given conclusion that with the destruction of the Pacific Fleet; Americans would be demoralized thereby lacking the morale to fight;
- The Japanese had a perception that they were capable of defeating the United States; therefore, they convinced themselves that a wrecking attack was capable of disheartening the Americans, while, at the same time, leading to cracks within the fabric of the American society thereby threatening its stability;
Although the spotting of the primary wave of Japanese bombers was on the radar, it got confused for a fleet of U.S. B-17s, thereby leading to the first confusion, as well as a relatively slow response. This led to the damaging of all the eight American battleships found at Pearl Harbor, while four of them sunk. However, six of them got repaired and then used for the impending battle. Japanese losses did not succeed in causing a dent within their numbers since 64 got killed, with only one getting captured (Lassieur 33).
Results of the Pearl Harbor Attack
The Pearl Harbor attack had a number of consequences; the American attitudes were a substantial contribution to the victory of the Japanese. US military authorities assumed that the looming threats concerning an attack on Pearl Harbor were not serious by perceiving the harbor as being immune to air instigated torpedo strikes owing to its shallow waters. None of the American torpedo at that time was capable of accomplishing a feat comparable to that of the Japanese. In fact, there was the establishment of latest torpedoes by Japan for utilization in precisely these situations yet Americans disregarded what information they had concerned this in spite of the British having illustrated that air attacks beside such a harbor was plausible, in their attack on the Italian convoy at Taranto on November 11, 1940. The repercussions of Taranto underwent intense study in Japan compared to the United States. Considering prevailing American view, there was relatively little concentration given to the likelihood of such an attack within the Pearl Harbor (Hill 31).
On the other hand, American intelligence concerning Japanese intentions clearly revealed that Japan was progressing towards war through the United States through the issuing of a warning to America forces surrounding the Pacific. However, there was a failure in ranking Pearl Harbor amongst the most feasible targets. The long Japanese note communicated to their embassy in Washington on the exact day of the attack, officially breaking diplomatic contacts with the US, was, in fact, interpreted by American cryptographers, not less than four hours prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor started; however, bureaucratic inertia deferred transmission of caution to Hawaii till after the attack had already taken place (Smith 44).
The local army, along with navy commanders refused to take extreme precautions against an attack taking place on their facilities due to the prevailing attitudes, as well as the lack of intelligence pointing purposely to Pearl Harbor as a goal of the attack. There was greater concern given to the possibility of sabotage, rather than to the risk of an air attack, as a result, aircraft got parked closely along the runways. Therefore, there was a failure in deploying torpedo nets around the capital ships while only skeleton crews were readily accessible for manning the ships, as well as antiaircraft defenses since it was a Sunday and the majority of the officers, along with sailors were onshore. This led to the dismissal of both commanders following the attack, due to the negative results their decisions had on the performance of American military throughout the attack. In the ultimate hours leading up to the attack, there were additional warning signs noted by local units while disregarding command authorities (Hoyt 47).
Around 0630, a US demolisher sighted what was perceived as being a submarine periscope thereby attacking what was one of the midget submarines going to Pearl Harbor. Nonetheless, there was ignoring of the report of this occurrence considering that such actions happened to be fairly common, while in most cases, turned to be erroneous. Although half an hour later, one of radar stations’ operators on the island of Oahu stated detecting various unidentified aircraft coming near, the junior officer responsible took no action since he presumed that the aircraft belonged to America. To their surprise, this was the first wave of the Japanese striking force headed for Pearl Harbor. Whereas the litany of American mistakes appeared to be extensive, the consequences of the surprise attack seemed far worse at the time compared to the description given later. All three aircraft carriers serving up together with the Pacific Fleet happened to be away from Pearl Harbor during the attack thereby surviving unscratched. Japanese hopes of immobilizing the whole US Pacific Fleet ended up getting dashed. Apart from that, fueling, as well as repairing facilities at Pearl Harbor remained undamaged (Horn 52).
Admiral Nagumo, who happened to be the commander of the Japanese task force, made a decision against instigating a third strike, aimed at the center infrastructure since he dreaded that American submarines, along with aircraft were capable of discovering his fleet thereby counterattacking. Nagumo reputedly asserted that this would be a long war with ships needed later; according to him, the attack had attained its aim of crippling the American convoy (Davenport 66).
Admiral Yamamoto, who was the Japanese Navy’s Commander-in-Chief, did not anticipate the attack as providing Japan with more than a transitory advantage. According to his estimate, the best Japan was hoping for through attacking first would be nearly six months, at the time which it would have military superiority within the Pacific theater. He believed that by then, the United States was capable of recovering and claiming the initiative. On the other hand, the Japanese political-military leadership had the perception that, that would be enough time for gaining control over the natural resources they sought and created a firm defensive edge for their Pacific empire. They were hoping that the prospect of a prolonged and costly war within the Pacific, particularly at a time when the larger part of Europe was already entangled in war, would persuade Americans to accepting Japanese dominion in Asia. A day into the attack, Britain, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, together with London put Free French, along with Yugoslavian governments into exile while a number of South American countries, as well as the United States declaring war on Japan (Arnold & Robert 79).
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- Shelley Tanaka, David Craig. Attack on Pearl Harbor: the true story of the day America entered World War II. Oklahoma: Scholastic, 2002.