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World War II
Pearl Harbor: Day of Infamy
  Pearl Harbor
December 7, 1941: It was a fateful day, the start of World War II for the United States, and a turning point in our history.

Pearl Harbor, on the Island of O'ahu, Hawaii, (then a territory of the United States) was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Navy, at approximately 8:00 a.m., Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The surprise attack was conceived by Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, with a strking force of 353 Japanese aircraft led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida. The attack was launched from six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by 24 supporting vessels. A separate group of submarines was to sink any American warships which escaped the Japanese carrier force. The goal: Cripple U.S. naval might in the Pacific, allowing Japan to seize control of the area.

At dawn on December 7, the Japanese task force reached a point slightly more than 200 miles north of Oahu. At 6:00 a.m., the six carriers launched a first wave of 181 planes composed of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, horizontal bombers and fighters. Even as they flew south, some elements of U.S. forces on Oahu realized there was something different about this Sunday morning. In the hours before dawn, U.S. Navy vessels spotted an unidentified submarine periscope near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. It was attacked and reported sunk by the destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) and a patrol plane.

At 7:00 a.m., an alert operator of an Army radar station at Opana spotted the approaching first wave of the attack force. The officers to whom those reports were relayed did not consider them significant enough to take action. The report of the submarine sinking was handled routinely, and the radar sighting was passed off as an approaching group of American planes due to arrive that morning.

The Japanese aircraft achieved complete surprise when they hit American ships and military installations on Oahu shortly before 8:00 a.m., attacking military airfields at the same time they hit the fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor. The Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam were all bombed and strafed. The purpose of the simultaneous attacks was to destroy the American planes before they could rise to intercept the Japanese.

Of the 100 ships in Pearl Harbor, the primary targets were the eight battleships anchored there. Seven were moored on Battleship Row along the southeast shore of Ford Island while the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) lay in drydock across the channel. Within the first minutes of the attack all the battleships adjacent to Ford Island had taken bomb and/or torpedo hits. The USS West Virginia (BB-48) sank quickly. The USS Oklahoma (BB-37) turned turtle and sank. At about 8:10 a.m., the USS Arizona (BB-39) was mortally wounded by an armorpiercing bomb which ignited the ship's forward ammunition magazine. The resulting explosion and fire killed 1,177 crewmen, the greatest loss of life on any ship that day and about half the total number of Americans killed. The USS California (BB-44), USS Maryland (BB-46), USS Tennessee (BB-43) and USS Nevada (BB-36) also suffered varying degrees of damage in the first half hour of the raid.

There was a short lull in attack at about 8:30 a.m. At that time the USS Nevada, despite her wounds, managed to get underway and move down the channel toward the open sea. Before she could clear the harbor, a second wave of 170 Japanese planes, launched 30 minutes after the first, appeared over the harbor. They concentrated their attacks on the moving battleship, hoping to sink her in the channel and block the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor. On orders from the harbor control tower, the Nevada beached herself at Hospital Point and the channel remained clear.

When the attack ended shortly before 10:00 a.m., less than two hours after it began, the American forces has paid a fearful price. Twenty-one ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged. Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged, the majority hit before they had a chance to take off. There were a total of 2,403 American casualties, including 68 civilians, most of them killed by improperly fused anti-aircraft shells landing in Honolulu. There were 1,178 military and civilian wounded.

Japanese losses were comparatively light. Twenty-nine planes, less than 10 percent of the attacking force, failed to return to their carriers. The Japanese success was overwhelming, but not complete; as fate would have it, U.S. aircraft carriers that were to be primary targets in the attack were absent from the harbor. The Japanese also failed to damage the Pearl Harbor Naval Base's shoreside facilities; these facilities played an important role in the Allied victory in World War II.

Eventually, all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor were repaired: the USS Arizona (too badly damaged to be salvaged), the USS Oklahoma (raised but considered to be too old to be worth repairing), and the USS Utah (also considered obsolete). Most importantly, the shock and anger caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a divided nation and was translated into a wholehearted American commitment to victory in World War II.
Special Features

USS Arizona Memorial
Tribute is dedicated to the warship which was lost at Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor Movie
Spotlight on the blockbuster movie chronicling the Japanese attack.

Nevada's Heroic Run - Read about the attack as experienced by this battleship's crew.

Rear Adm. Isaac C. Kidd Sr.
Read a tribute to one of the USS Arizona casualties.


Related Links

National Geographic Special: Pearl Harbor
Features multimedia presentations and survivor stories.

Essential Pearl Harbor
Join debates about that fateful day, read eyewitness accounts, and view animated maps of the attack.

Pearl Harbor Remembered
Get a complete overview of the attack, and link to survivor organizations.

The Coast Guard in Hawaii: Dec. 7, 1941
Read an account of the Coast Guard's heroic actions during the attack.

Pearl Harbor Survivors Association
Organization of Pearl Harbor veterans presents news, a history and membership information.

Pearl Harbor Attacked
Listen to FDR's famous speech following the attack, contribute to discussions, and find related stores and links.

The Pearl Harbor Attack Hearings

Reference center features the Congressional hearings and investigations following the attack.

World War II
Find an overview of the war, and links to helpful resources.

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