The Pearl Harbor Attack

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Pearl Harbor was a United States naval base during the World War II. It was at this time that the Japanese empire was beginning to spread quickly and threatening the west and the territories they had colonized (Lassieur, 26). The Japanese called this event the Hawaii operation. This was a surprise military attack that took place on December 7th 1941 and was intended as a preventive action to keep the USA pacific fleet from interfering with Japans military operations planned in south Asia against the west.  The attack was a shock to the American people and led to the direct entry of the USA into the World War II away from the clandestine involvement backing Britain (Davenport, 10).

Events leading to the attack

The United States was partially getting involved in the world war two by helping Britain who had Japan and other socialist states as rivals. In September 1940, The U.S. placed an embargo on Japan by prohibiting exports of steel, scrap iron, and aviation fuel to Japan, after Japan had taken over French Indochina (Davenport, 13). The Japanese then signed a neutrality treaty with the USSR in early 1941 to help prevent an attack from that direction in event of a war with Britain or the U.S. while continuing the attempt expanding further in Southeast Asia. At the end of July 1941, Japan occupied southern Indochina which prompted the U.S.A, Britain and the Netherlands to freeze its assets. This made it impossible for Japan to buy oil, which would cripple its army at the time rendering its navy and air force completely useless.

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With the USSR seemingly on the verge of defeat by the western powers, Japan took the opportunity to try to take the oil resources of Southeast Asia where the United States wanted to stop Japanese expansion but were not willing to go to war to stop it.  The U.S.A demanded that Japan withdraws from Indochina they would, however, have settled for a nonviolent withdrawal and a promise not to take more territory.  Japan pursued two simultaneous courses aimed at trying to get the oil embargo lifted on terms that would still let them take the territory they wanted but their attempts were futile as the United States stood their ground (Lassieur, 32).
On mid-October 1941, Japans General Tojo Hideki secretly set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept a settlement without war. This was followed by military advice to devise a war plan. The plan proposed to attack to Burma, Malaya, the East Indies and the Philippines and established a defensive perimeter in the central and southwest Asia. This was meant to provoke the U.S. into declaring war but they were not to be willing to fight. Their greatest point of concern was that the U.S. Pacific Fleet, based in Pearl Harbor on which the Japanese navy resolved to cripple by a surprise air attack as insurance.
The attack

On late November 1941, the Japanese striking force of six aircraft carriers departed northern Japan on their way to northwest Hawaii in the preparation for the attack on the Hawaii harbor. The plan was to use a total of 408 aircraft where 360 were on the attack waves and 48 on combat air patrol. The first wave was to be the preliminary attack while the second one was to wind up whatever was remaining. The first wave was to contain the many weapons that would attack the naval ships, mainly the specially adapted aerial torpedoes which designed with an anti-roll mechanism and a rudder extension that let them operate in shallow water within very short time. The aircrews were to target battleships and aircraft carriers or cruisers and destroyers. Dive bombs were to be used to attack ground targets. Jet fighters in the first wave were to destroy as many parked crafts as possible during the first wave to cripple US chances of a counter attack and they were to refuel if they ran out of gas and go back to war immediately.  Before the attack commenced, two aircraft were sent to scout over Oahu and report any enemy fleet composition and four others were ordered to scout the territory between Japanese carrier forces to prevent a surprise attack.

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The Japanese were ready to make real their threat on the beautiful Hawaii Island and on a Sunday morning of December 7th 194, the Japanese launched the first wave at the Opana point close to the islands northern post which was not yet operational as it was still in training mode (Lassieur, 54). The U.S. army detected it and called in a warning. The post was not fully operational making it a very vulnerable point and although the operator reported a target, the newly appointed Lieutenant Kermit Taylor assumed it was the scheduled arrival of the six B-17 bombers and while the operators had noticed the formation was larger than usual they neglected to tell Tyler of its size while on the other hand, He could not tell them of the B-17s for security reasons (Hoyt, 28). The Japanese brought down Several U.S. aircraft as the first wave moved towards land, and one at least radioed a somewhat incoherent warning to ships off the harbor while Other warnings from ships off the harbor entrance were still being processed or awaiting confirmation when the attacks began although it is not clear whether any warnings would have had much effect even if they had been interpreted correctly. The men on board awoke to sounds of alarms and bombs exploding gunfire prompting then to run to the general quarter stations half naked. The famous message “Air raid pearl harbor this is not a drill” was sent to the headquarters. The defenders were much unprepared as lockers were locked and fighter planes parked wingtip to wingtip. The second wave consisting 1717 planes followed suit commanded by Lieutenant Shimazaki. The planes were divided into three groups were to attack the rest of Pearl Harbor. The separate attacks arrived at their targets almost simultaneously (Hoyt, 42). The attack on Pearl Harbor lasted two long hours,   Over 3,500 Americans were killed and damaged and sank 18 ships including 8 battleships of the contentious pacific fleet. Over 350 aircraft were damaged or completely destroyed this was done in two waves. This attack on Pearl Harbor saw the USA actively enter the World War II which ended on a rather bad note with a nuclear bomb dropped on two Japan cities (Hoyt, 47).


The Pearl Harbor attack was the beginning of the end of world war two and a worldwide ban of the use on nuclear weapons after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. All these events marked turning points various issues that caused tensions in the world.

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