The US Navy's Recovery After Pearl Harbor

May 05, 2017

There’s a reason Japan set its sights on Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t just to send a message to the United States, to show that it wouldn’t stand by while the Americans placed an embargo on the country’s trade. It was a preemptive maneuver to try and diminish the usefulness of the US Navy in the Pacific. Though the Imperial Japanese Navy was a formidable opponent for the US, it didn’t have the strength it would need to enter into a head-to-head conflict. They needed to take out a few key players, like the eight battleships neatly lined up at Pearl Harbor.

Though Japan had found a viable means of crippling the American naval force and had pulled off its mission virtually flawlessly, the United States fleet came into World War II full force, the damage of Pearl Harbor far from permanent.

To assist in the Pacific, the United States only had three aircraft carriers – the USS Lexington, Enterprise, and Saratoga – compared to Japan’s six. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American battleship fleet was diminished greatly, with two vessels lost completely and the rest taken out of commission, some for a number of years.

Even despite these losses and setbacks, the US Navy was able to take on—and eventually dominate—the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

After Pearl Harbor

Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war did prove difficult for the American Navy. Japan’s forces proved too persistent and was seemingly unstoppable for the US, even with the assistance of Britain, China, Australia, and the Netherlands. Ironically built from steel imported from the United States, Japan’s naval force controlled the Pacific for the first 90 days after Pearl Harbor.

Japanese Carrier Hiryu just before sinking June 5, 1942

It seemed impossible to push back against this impressive fleet, but all of that changed exactly six months after the assault in Oahu. From June 4th to June 7th, a battle was fought in the Midway Atoll, pitting Japan’s powerful fleet against that of the United States, which had yet to show its strength. With no battleships available, the US turned to heavy cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and aircraft to take on Japan’s estimated four carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and 12 destroyers.

When the battle ended and the United States took the Midway Atoll, Japan had suffered the loss of 3,057 men and all four of its carriers. It was the first victory for the US Navy and it proved to be a turning point in the war.

Though Japan had attempted to completely cripple the US Navy on December 7th, 1941, it had ultimately failed at the long-term goal. Though Japan continued to fight hard, they were met with a newly-revitalized American force that wasn’t going to give up the fight for dominance in the Pacific.

Ultimately, the attack on Pearl Harbor failed to knock the US Navy out of the war for long and, six months later, the tide began to shift in the Allies' favor.

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