Pearl Harbor Attack

July 18, 2011
by Randy Miller

When was the Pearl Harbor Attack?

The Pearl Harbor attack was the morning of December 7th, 1941.

Who Attacked Pearl Harbor?

Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan.

Why was Pearl Harbor Attacked?

The why of the attack is a bit more complicated. A short answer is that the Japanese felt that as an axis power that they would eventually go to war with the United States in the Pacific Ocean. By attacking and disabling the Pacific Fleet of the United States, which was stationed at Pearl Harbor, they hoped to cripple the pacific fleet and the moral of the United States bringing her into submission and a peace treaty favorable to Japan.

To understand the attack in more detail one must look back to 1931. The Japanese invaded Manchuria and established a puppet state called Manchukuo and sent colonists to settle the land. This colony was successful for the Japanese and in 1937, Japan broadened its invasion by bombing Chinese cities and civilians.  Nanking is a famous example of the Japanese slaughter in China. Over 100,000 Chinese were killed during what is called the Raping of Nanking.

The United States criticized Japanese aggression in the region, but did not take any action during the 1930s. The United States at this time lacked the military power to challenge the Japanese aggression in East Asia. However, the United States had the economic power to challenge Japan.  That power would not be used until the 1940s after Japan was encouraged by Hitler's conquests and began invading the Dutch East indies, Malaya, and French Indochina.

Japan’s growing threat of domination in Asia pressured President Roosevelt to move the Pacific Fleet from California to Hawai‘i in 1940. Following that move, the US placed embargos on exports of aviation gasoline and premium grade metals. Japan responded by signing a treaty with Germany and Italy called the Tripartite Pact. This pact would mean the US would be forced into a two-front war with all three if it attacks any of these axis powers.  Japan hoped that it would be a deterrent from the US moving further toward war.

In early 1941, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Mr. Nomura discussed peace in the Pacific.  However, the Japanese continued to send troops into southern Indochina. This resulted in a freeze on a US freeze of all exports to Japan.

Both the Japanese government and the US attempted to negotiate an end to the embargo and avoid going to war. As the negotiations were unsuccessfully taking place in Washington, Germany was pressuring Japan to fulfil its obligation to force the Americans into a war in the Pacific.

Eventually Japan agreed to stop further expansion, but refused to end its occupation of China. This proposal was “unthinkable” to Secretary of State Cordell Hull and he refused. The United States needed more time to prepare the Pacific Fleet as it was inferior in late 1941.  FDR pressed for more negotiations to delay war.

However, the Japanese War Minister General Hideki Tojo was already preparing for war. He was not going to wait. Tojo stated to the Japanese privy council that “a policy of patience and perseverance was tantamount to self-annihilation.” He and the other Japanese leaders agreed to a deadline to the talks.  The deadline passed and the Japanese attacked.

The Pearl Harbor Attack

On November 26, 1941 the First Carrier Striking Force departed Japan on its way to the planned attack launch point 230 miles north of Oahu.  The plan required them to travel undetected for 13 days on a northern route to Oahu. The Fleet arrived on December 7th just before 6:00 AM.  Then the attack began.

Read More Details about the Attack

Aftermath of the Attack

With 64 killed, the Japanese losses were minimal. The American losses were shocking 2,390 military casualties with  1,177 on the USS Arizona and 68 civilians dead.  Every battleship was badly damaged or destroyed. Most of the major ships at Pearl Harbor sustained some damage, but only three (USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and the USS Utah) were unable to return to battle.

The Pearl Harbor attack proved the effectiveness of air craft carriers. As a result, the crippling of the battleships meant little from a military perspective since the Pacific Fleet's air craft carriers were untouched. This meant that Yamamoto's work at Pearl Harbor was incomplete and he needed to draw the Pacific Fleet into battle.

Read More about the Aftermath

Who Was involved in the Pearl Harbor Attack?



United States

  • Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was the naval commander
  • Lieutenant-General Walter C. Short was the Army commander
  • Cordell Hull was the Secretary of State under FDR
  • General George C. Marshall was the chief of staff
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the President of the United States

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