Pearl Harbor — December 7, 1941
Seventy-four years ago today, on the morning of December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States, without warning and without a declaration of war, in a surprise naval strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a profound shock to the American people and led directly to America’s entry into World War II.
The Japanese killed 2,403 American servicemen, injured 1,178 others, sank two U.S. Navy battleships and damaged five others, as well as three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer, and 347 aircraft.
Within hours of the attack, Canada declared war on Japan, the first Western nation to do so. The day after the attack, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his famous “Day of Infamy” speech to a Joint Session of Congress, calling for a formal declaration of war on the Empire of Japan. Congress did so within the hour. The United Kingdom declared war on Japan nine hours before the United States, in part because of Winston Churchill’s promise to declare war “within the hour” of an attack on America.
Fifteen Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Stars, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Star Medals were awarded to American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat at Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese Strike Force consisted of six aircraft carriers — Akagi ( “Red Castle”), Kaga ( ), Sōryū ( “Green Dragon”), Hiryū ( “Flying Dragon”), Shōkaku ( “Soaring Crane”), and Zuikaku ( “Auspicious Crane”). These ships and their battle group had departed Saeki Bay, Hiroshima, on November 17, 1941, loaded with torpedoes specially designed for use in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. The Japanese fleet sailed under radio silence, following a course across the north-central Pacific to avoid commercial shipping lanes, en route to its strike position 230 nautical miles northwest of Oahu, Hawaii.
The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor occurred because of major communication failures among branches of the U.S. armed services and departments of the U.S. government. There was no meaningful plan for the defense of Hawaii prior to the Japanese surprise attack.
Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, four of the six Japanese aircraft carriers that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack — Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū — were sunk by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Midway, June 3-7, 1942. The loss of these four carriers at Midway, with their aircraft and veteran pilots, was a crucial strategic defeat for Japan and contributed significantly to Japan’s ultimate defeat in the Pacific war.
Shōkaku, the fifth Japanese aircraft carrier that participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, was sunk by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19-20, 1944, and Zuikaku, the last of the six, was sunk in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 23-26, 1944.
Anchors Away, U.S. Navy — Semper Fi, U.S. Marines