Before the Attack
While Pearl Harbor is most known for the attack that occurred on December 7th, 1941, it has always had an interesting history. At one time there were abundant pearls, shark gods and was nicknamed the “island of attraction”.
The English ship Butterworth, under Captain William Brown, entered Honolulu Harbor in 1793. Captain Cook passed it on his famous voyage in 1778 because there was coral at the entrance of the harbor. The coral rock was blasted away in 1902 and sand a rock was dredged to allow large vessels to enter the locks.
The violent interference with the harbor was said to upset the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau and Hawaiians soon predicted trouble. Many tragic incidents followed as work continued in Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese Attack
Despite a submarine spotted at 3:42am at the mouth of Pearl Harbor and despite the 7:10am call to HQ about the planes on the radar, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise. Japanese forces struck ground targets at Wheeler field: aircraft, hangars, base buildings. They knew that as soon as they torpedoed the ships, Americans would retaliate. Without airfields or planes, retaliation would be minimized.
After the Attack
There was a staggering 2,390 casualties from 44 states, Washington DC, Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Canada. The Japanese had 64 killed. The US Pacific Fleet had 21 ships sunk or heavily damaged with 164 aircraft lost and 159 damaged. The attack was seen as a victory for Japan.
Admiral Yamamoto was right when he said that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor awakened a sleeping giant. Americans became united against a common enemy. Now that American lives had been lost, the country could no longer remain isolationist.
Commanders in Pearl Harbor History
Admiral in command of the Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleets was Isoroku Yamamoto. Yamamoto had lived in the United States and was educated at Harvard University. Although he knew the industrial capacities of the United States, he planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was the naval commander at Pearl Harbor during the attack. He was not happy with the land and air defense arrangements of Pearl Harbor and Hawaii. He made sure his feelings were known, but Washington did little to improve the situation.
Lt. General Walter C. Short commanded the army in Hawaii, which at the time of the attack was responsible for land and air defense. While these commanders did not have an open rivalry, both Short and Kimmel were competing for allocations in order to defend their bases.
The American public wanted to find fault in the aftermath of the attack. The obvious answer was the commanders at the time of the attack. They spent their lives being blamed for the US failures at Pearl Harbor only to be exonerated posthumously by the senate in 1999. Whether information was intentionally withheld from them or not is the most controversial question in Pearl Harbor history.