Pearl Harbor Terms to Know

December 11, 2017

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating chapter in American history, and as it recedes farther back in time it becomes ever more important to know what happened on that fateful morning. To gain a fuller understanding of the tragic events of Dec. 7, 1941, it's helpful to know the following Pearl Harbor terms.

Aircraft Carrier

USS Enterprise (CV-6)

Though no American aircraft carriers were present at the time of the attack, the Imperial Japanese Navy's attack force was launched from their six carriers: Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku. These large vessels serve as water-based flight decks and aircraft facilities. When Japan launched the two attack waves, all three of the American carriers—the USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga (CV-3)—were away at sea.





Massive, armored warships, eight of the US Navy's battleships became the focus of the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the onslaught, the USS Arizona (BB-39), USS California (BB-44), USS Maryland (BB-46), USS Nevada (BB-36), USS Oklahoma (BB-37), USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), USS Tennessee (BB-43), and the USS West Virginia (BB-48) were all targeted by the Japanese attackers. These large and heavily armored warships were phased out after World War II.

Zero Fighter

Japan’s staple fighter of World War II, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero was prominent in the Pearl Harbor attack, and at the start of World War II was the most dangerous fighter plane in the skies. On December 7, 1941, Zeros were also used to strafe American ground facilities such as airfields.


A ban on trade of specific products with a country. The attack on Pearl Harbor was ultimately a response to the American embargo on trade with Japan meant to halt their continued expansion into Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Tripartite Pact

pearl harbor terms

Tripartite Pact propaganda poster

When the United States declared war on Japan in response to their attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany and Italy immediately declared war on the United States. This was in accordance with the Tripartite Pact between the Axis and Japan. Tripartite refers to something shared by three parties and in this case, was an agreement made between Germany, Italy, and Japan that stated if one nation went to war, the others would follow.







Used to describe United States foreign policy prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. An isolationist nation may enter into alliances with other nations, but will avoid becoming involved in armed conflict. This policy came to an immediate end with the Pearl Harbor attack.

Thunder Fish, Type 91 Torpedo

As the Japanese planned to attack the ships of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, they needed to find a way around a torpedo’s typical launching pattern. Typical torpedoes would dive too deep and strike the bottom of the harbor, never hitting their intended target. In response, the Type 91 Torpedo, or the Thunder Fish, was designed. The modified fin allowed the torpedo to level out in shallower depths.


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