Aerial photograph, looking east, with Hickam Army Air Field in center and
Honolulu beyond, 13 October 1941.
The Pearl Harbor Navy Yard is in the left-center, and Ford Island is at
the far left.
Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland.
The road to
war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930s when
differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan
conquered Manchuria, which until then had been part of China. In 1937
Japan began a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to conquer the
rest of China. In 1940, the Japanese government allied their country with
Nazi Germany in the Axis Alliance, and, in the following year, occupied
all of Indochina.
The United States, which had important political and economic interests in
East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The U.S. increased
military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of
strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment
of oil and other raw materials to Japan.
Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these
steps, especially the embargo on oil as a threat to the nation's survival.
Japan's leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich
territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly
result in war with the United States.
The problem with the plan was the danger posed by the U.S. Pacific Fleet
based at Pearl Harbor. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese
fleet, devised a plan to immobilize the U.S. fleet at the outset of the
war with a surprise attack.
The key elements in Yamamoto's plans were meticulous preparation, the
achievement of surprise, and the use of aircraft carriers and naval
aviation on an unprecedented scale. In the spring of 1941, Japanese
carrier pilots began training in the special tactics called for by the
Pearl Harbor attack plan.
In October 1941 the naval general staff gave final approval to Yamamoto's
plan, which called for the formation of an attack force commanded by Vice
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. It centered around 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.
Nagumo's fleet assembled in the remote anchorage of Tankan Bay in the
Kurile Islands and departed in strictest secrecy for Hawaii on 26 November
1941. The ships' route crossed the North Pacific and avoided normal
shipping lanes. At dawn 7 December 1941, the Japanese task force had
approached undetected to a point slightly more than 200 miles north of
Oahu. At this time the U.S. carriers were not at Pearl Harbor. On 28
November, Admiral Kimmel sent USS Enterprise under Rear Admiral
Willliam Halsey to deliver Marine Corps fighter planes to Wake Island. On
4 December Enterprisedelivered the aircraft and on December 7 the
task force was on its way back to Pearl Harbor. On 5 December, Admiral
Kimmel sent the USS Lexington with a task force under Rear Admiral
Newton to deliver 25 scout bombers to Midway Island. The last Pacific
carrier, USS Saratoga, had left Pearl Harbor for upkeep and repairs
on the West Coast.
At 6:00 a.m. on 7 December, the six Japanese carriers launched a first
wave of 181 planes composed of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, horizontal
bombers and fighters. Even as they winged south, some elements of U.S.
forces on Oahu realized there was something different about this Sunday
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 aircrews achieved complete surprise when they hit American
ships and military installations on Oahu shortly before 8:00 a.m. They
attacked 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 as other elements of the attacking
force began their assaults on the ships moored in Pearl Harbor. The
purpose of the simultaneous attacks was to destroy the American planes
before they could rise to intercept the Japanese.
up "Battleship Row" on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese attack.
USS Arizona (BB-39) is in the center, burning furiously. To the
left of her are USS Tennessee (BB-43) and the sunken USS West
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection
Of the more than 90 ships at anchor 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.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships
moored on both sides of Ford Island. View looks about east, with the
supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center
A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford
Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left):
Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia),
(torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California.
On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers
and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane
tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed,
and Utah is listing sharply to port.
Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and
over the Navy Yard at right.
Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was
reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.
There was a short lull in the fury of the attack at about 8:30 a.m. At
that time the USS Nevada (BB-36), 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 USS Nevada (BB-36) 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: the battleships USS
(BB-39), USS California(BB-44), USS Maryland (BB-46), USS
(BB-36), USS Oklahoma (BB-37), USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), USS
Tennessee (BB-43) and USS West Virginia (BB-48); cruisers
USS Helena (CL-50), USS Honolulu (CL-48) and USS Raleigh
(CL-7); the destroyers USS Cassin(DD-372), USS Downes
(DD-375), USS Helm (DD-388) and USS Shaw (DD-373); seaplane
tender USS Curtiss(AV-4); target ship (ex-battleship) USS Utah
(AG-16); repair ship USS Vestal (AR-4); minelayer USS Oglala
(CM-4); tug USS Sotoyomo (YT-9); and Floating Drydock Number 2.
Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged, the majority hit
before the had a chance to take off. American dead numbered 2,403. That
figure included 68 civilians, most of them killed by improperly fused
anti-aircraft shells landing in Honolulu. There were 1,178 military and
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 it was not complete. They
failed to damage any American aircraft carriers, which by a stroke of
luck, had been absent from the harbor. They neglected to damage the
shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which played an
important role in the Allied victory in World War II. American
technological skill raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or
damaged at Pearl Harbor (the USS Arizona(BB-39) considered too
badly damaged to be salvaged, the USS Oklahoma(BB-37) raised and
considered too old to be worth repairing, and the obsolete USS Utah
(AG-16) considered not worth the effort). Most importantly, the shock and
anger caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a divided
nation and was translated into a wholehearted commitment to victory in
World War II.
Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December
Japanese Forces in the Pearl Harbor Attack
The Pearl Harbor naval base was recognized by both the Japanese and the
United States Navies as a potential target for hostile carrier air power.
The U.S. Navy had even explored the issue during some of its interwar
"Fleet Problems". However, its distance from Japan and shallow harbor, the
certainty that Japan's navy would have many other pressing needs for its
aircraft carriers in the event of war, and a belief that intelligence
would provide warning persuaded senior U.S. officers that the prospect of
an attack on Pearl Harbor could be safely discounted.
During the interwar period,
the Japanese had reached similar conclusions. However, their pressing need
for secure flanks during the planned offensive into Southeast Asia and the
East Indies spurred the dynamic commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet,
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to revisit the issue. His staff found that the
assault was feasible, given the greater capabilities of newer aircraft
types, modifications to aerial torpedoes, a high level of communications
security and a reasonable level of good luck. Japan's feelings of
desperation helped Yamamoto persuade the Naval high command and Government
to undertake the venture should war become inevitable, as appeared
increasingly likely during October and November 1941.
Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take
off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly Shokaku) to attack Pearl
Harbor during the morning of 7 December 1941. Plane in the foreground is a
This is probably the launch of the second attack wave.
The original photograph was captured on Attu in 1943.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection
All six of Japan's
first-line aircraft carriers, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and
Zuikaku, were assigned to the mission. With over 420 embarked planes,
these ships constituted by far the most powerful carrier task force ever
assembled. Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, an experienced, cautious officer,
would command the operation. His Pearl Harbor Striking Force also included
fast battleships, cruisers and destroyers, with tankers to fuel the ships
during their passage across the Pacific. An Advance Expeditionary Force of
large submarines, five of them carrying midget submarines, was sent to
scout around Hawaii, dispatch the midgets into Pearl Harbor to attack
ships there, and torpedo American warships that might escape to sea.
Under the greatest secrecy,
Nagumo took his ships to sea on 26 November 1941, with orders to abort the
mission if he was discovered, or should diplomacy work an unanticipated
miracle. Before dawn on the 7th of December, undiscovered and with
diplomatic prospects firmly at an end, the Pearl Harbor Striking Force was
less than three-hundred miles north of Pearl Harbor. A first attack wave
of over 180 aircraft, including torpedo planes, high-level bombers, dive
bombers and fighters, was launched in the darkness and flew off to the
south. When first group had taken off, a second attack wave of similar
size, but with more dive bombers and no torpedo planes, was brought up
from the carriers' hangar decks and sent off into the emerging morning
light. Near Oahu's southern shore, the five midget submarines had already
cast loose from their "mother" subs and were trying to make their way into
Pearl Harbor's narrow entrance channel.
Pearl Harbor Attack, 7
On 7 December 1941, the three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were USS
(CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga (CV-3).
Enterprise: On 28
November 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel sent TF-8, consisting of
Enterprise, the heavy cruisers Northampton (CA-26), Chester
Salt Lake City (CA-24) and nine destroyers under Vice Admiral
William F. Halsey, Jr., to ferry 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of Marine
Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211 to Wake Island. Upon completion of the mission
on 4 December, TF-8 set course to return to Pearl Harbor. Dawn on 7
December 1941 found TF-8 about 215 miles west of Oahu.
Lexington: On 5
December 1941, TF-12, formed around Lexington, under the command of
Rear Admiral John H. Newton, sailed from Pearl to ferry 18 Vought SB2U-3
Vindicators of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 231 to Midway Island. Dawn on
7 December 1941 found Lexington, heavy cruisers Chicago
(CA-29), Portland (CA-33), and Astoria (CA-34), and five
destroyers about 500 miles southeast of Midway. The outbreak of
hostilities resulted in cancellation of the mission and VMSB-231 was
retained on board [they would ultimately fly to Midway from Hickam Field
on 21 December].
Saratoga, having recently completed an overhaul at the Puget Sound
Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, reached NAS San Diego [North Island]
late in the forenoon watch on 7 December. She was to embark her air group,
as well as Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 221 and a cargo of miscellaneous
airplanes to ferry to Pearl Harbor.
Ranger (CV-4) and Wasp (CV-7), along with the aircraft escort
vessel Long Island (AVG-1), were in the Atlantic Fleet; Hornet
(CV-8), commissioned in late October 1941, had yet to carry out her
shakedown. Yorktown would be the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to be
transferred to the Pacific, sailing on 16 December 1941.
at Pearl Harbor, 0800 7 December 1941
The commissioned U.S. Navy
ships and non-commissioned district craft (both self-propelled and
non-self-propelled) in the list below are sorted by type and hull number.
Pearl Harbor is defined as the area inside the nets guarding the harbor
Ships marked with an
asterisk (*) were within twelve miles of the island of Oahu but were not
actually within Pearl Harbor proper. Locations of those ships are
indicated. Ships marked with a number symbol (#) were sunk or destroyed
during the Pearl Harbor attack. All of these were later raised and rebuilt
except for Arizona, Oklahoma, and Utah. Oklahoma was raised but not
The U.S. carriers were not
at Pearl Harbor. On 28 November, Admiral Kimmel sent USS Enterprise under
Rear Admiral Willliam Halsey to deliver Marine Corps fighter planes to
Wake Island. On 4 December Enterprise delivered the aircraft and on
December 7 the task force was on its way back to Pearl Harbor. On 5
December, Admiral Kimmel sent the USS Lexington with a task force under
Rear Admiral Newton to deliver 25 scout bombers to Midway Island. The last
Pacific carrier, USS Saratoga, had left Pearl Harbor for upkeep and
repairs on the West Coast.
Battleships (BB) Pennsylvania (BB-38) (in Dry Dock No.1)
# Arizona (BB-39)
# Oklahoma (BB-37)
# California (BB-44)
# West Virginia (BB-48)
Heavy Cruisers (CA) New Orleans (CA-32)
San Francisco (CA-38)
Light Cruisers (CL) Raleigh (CL-7)
St. Louis (CL-49)
Destroyers (DD) Allen (DD-66)
* Ward (DD-139) (patrolling Channel entrance to Pearl Harbor)
Monaghan (DD-354) (preparing to get underway to aid Ward)
Cassin (DD-372) (in Dry Dock No.1)
Shaw (DD-373) (in floating drydock YFD 2)
Downes (DD-375) (in Dry Dock No.1)
Helm (DD-388) (underway, nearing West Loch)
Ralph Talbot (DD-390)
Submarines (SS) Narwhal (SS-167)
Minelayer (CM) # Oglala (CM-4)
Minesweepers (AM) Turkey (AM-13)
Coastal Minesweepers (AMc)
Light Minelayers (DM)
High Speed Minesweepers (DMS)
Gunboat (PG) Sacramento (PG-19)
Destroyer Tenders (AD)
Seaplane Tenders (AV) Curtiss (AV-4)
Seaplane Tenders (Small) (AVP)
Swan (AVP-7) (on Marine Railway)
Seaplane Tenders (Destroyer) (AVD)
Ammunition Ship (AE) Pyro (AE-1) (at Naval Ammunition Depot, West Loch)
Oilers (AO) Ramapo (AO-12)
Repair Ships (AR)
Base Repair Ship (ARb)
Data compiled from The
British Antarctic Study, NASA, Environment Canada, UNEP, EPA and
other sources as stated and credited Researched by Charles
Welch-Updated daily This Website is a project of the The Ozooe Hole