Pearl Harbor: Summary of the attack of December 7, 1941

Pearl Harbor is home to a US naval base on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. On December 7, 1941, a surprise attack was orchestrated by Japan. Shortly after, the United States entered the war.

The Battle of Pearl Harbor takes place on Sunday, December 7, 1941. The military base was bombarded by surprise twice in the morning: at 7:30 a.m., then at 8:30 a.m. The Japanese deploy their naval air fleet against the American naval base. The suddenness of the attack killed 2,400 Americans and injured more than 1,100. On the side of the Japanese forces, there are only 64 deaths. Among the major events of the 20th century, the attack on Pearl Harbor is considered one of the most significant in the history of the United States and justifies its involvement in the Second World War.

Why did the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor?

During World War II, Japan was part of the Axis forces. Therefore, the country is an ally of Germany and Italy. Faced with the Japanese occupation of Chinese territory and its expansionist ambitions, the United States formed an alliance with China. In addition to freezing Japan’s financial credits, President Roosevelt created an embargo on raw materials, such as oil, destined for the Japanese archipelago. This reaction has a noticeable impact on the armament of the Japanese military forces. Despite attempts at negotiation, the two countries are sticking to their positions. Preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor are entrusted to Commander-in-Chief Isoroku Yamamoto, himself placed under the orders of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. 

When and how did the attack on Pearl Harbor take place?

The attack on Pearl Harbor takes place on Sunday, December 7, 1941. The deployment of Japanese forces takes place at night, off the coast. The first observations on reconnaissance devices are made between 4am and 6am. Under Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the first wave consisted of 183 aircraft. At 7 a.m., the devices are noticed by the operators, but no alert is given. Between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., the first bombings took place. They are coordinated with submarine attacks on the American fleet. The second wave occurs between 8:30 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. It involves 167 Japanese aircraft. It is led by Lieutenant Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki. Within two hours, the American army was taken by surprise. She deplores the substantial human and material losses. Despite the American anti-aircraft defenses at work, the Japanese naval air fleet was almost intact. It counts the loss of 29 planes and 5 submarines.

Where is the port of Pearl Harbor?

The port of Pearl Harbor is located on the island of Oahu, within the Hawaiian archipelago.. It was a port specializing in the culture and trade of pearl oysters until the end of the 19th century. The harbor nestles in a shallow bay. In 1884, the United States made it a naval base. This decision comes after the signing of the reciprocity treaty with the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1875. In return, the Hawaiian state is authorized to export sugar exclusively to the United States, without having to pay duties. customs. For the American armed forces, Pearl Harbor is a strategic site which reveals its importance during the Spanish-American war of 1898. In 1908, Pearl Harbor also becomes a shipyard. The main objective of the military base is to establish the American presence in the Pacific and to develop its air forces. It also aims to stem the expansionism of the Empire of Japan. After exercises and military simulations, General Harry Yarnell warns against a potential attack on the island of Oahu, particularly exposed and vulnerable to the enemy, from 1932.

How many people died at Pearl Harbor?

On the side of the United States, there are 2,403 dead and 1,178 injured. Slightly less than half of the deaths, or 1,177 dead, were due to the loss of the battleship USS Arizona, which burned for three days. There are also the destruction of 188 planes and 3 American ships. Variable damage was observed on 11 other boats and about 130 planes. For the Japanese empire, the losses are limited to 64 deaths in their ranks. Four Japanese midget submarines are sunk. Another is captured by the US Army. As far as the Japanese Air Force is concerned, 29 planes are destroyed.

What are the consequences of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the war alongside the Allied forces, including France, the United Kingdom and Canada. President Roosevelt signs the declaration of war on December 11, 1941. Seven months later, the Allies initiate the Manhattan Project which leads to the creation of the atomic bomb. This weapon gave rise to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively on August 6 and 9, 1945, leading to the surrender and then the collapse of the Japanese empire. The attack on Pearl Harbor also marks the start of the Pacific War which lasts nearly four years, until September 2, 1945. An American commission of inquiry takes place in December 1941 and highlights the negligence and shortcomings of the base officers in office that day. Until July 1946, six other commissions take place. There is also a special commission.

Is the Pearl Harbor movie close to reality?

Directed by Michael Bay and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer in 2001, the film Pearl Harbor retraces the historic attack on Pearl Harbor from the point of view of the American protagonists of the naval base. The cast of the film is made up of Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Jennifer Garner, among others, not to mention Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Alec Baldwin. Over the course of the three-hour program, the story also evokes other significant events of the Second World War such as the Battle of Britain and the Doolittle Raid (bombing of Japan). With nearly $450 million generated at the worldwide box office, Pearl Harbor was an indisputable commercial success. On the part of specialists as well as the public, the criticisms are on the other hand more mixed.

Some specialists even define it as a “propaganda film”. In addition to the Manichean tone of the subject, this is due to several historical approximations. One thinks of the attack on hospitals which did not take place in the same way, of Roosevelt’s exaggerated state of health or even of inconsistencies in the military hierarchy. We can also mention anachronisms in equipment and vehicles, such as the use of aircraft carrier catapults that did not exist at the time. Similarly, there are time shortcuts to make the Battle of Britain coincide with the main plot. If it is entertaining and spectacular, Pearl Harbor is therefore relatively far from the real facts.

Can we visit Pearl Harbor today?

For the purpose of commemoration, it is possible to visit the memorial and historical sites of Pearl Harbor. From Honolulu, it takes half a day to complete an excursion that includes a visit to Battleship Row and the National Monument. The latter offers many exhibitions dedicated to the Second World War. Thereafter, the trip includes a stop at the USS Arizona Memorial. Accessible by boat, it was built above the wreckage of the battleship. Note that the Pearl Harbor naval base is still in operation. It is basically a military port that provides maintenance services and trains military personnel. It accommodates submarines as well as surface ships. Since 1964, Naval Station Pearl Harbor has been recognized as a National Historic Site.

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