The Bombing of Pearl Harbour

By Norma Coates

ph_clip_image002In September 1940 the United States placed a restriction on Japan by not allowing exports of steel, scrap iron, and aviation fuel to Japan, due to Japan’s takeover of northern French Indochina April 1941. The Japanese signed a neutrality treaty with the Soviet Union to help prevent an attack from that direction if they were to go to war with Britain or the United States while taking a bigger bit of Southeast Asia June 1941 through the end of July 1941. Japan occupied southern Indochina. Two days later, the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands froze Japanese assets. This prevented Japan from buying oil, which would, in time, cripple its army and make its navy and air force completely useless.

Toward the end of 1941. With the Soviets seemingly on the edge of defeat by the Axis powers, Japan seized the opportunity to try to take the oil resources of Southeast Asia. The U.S. wanted to stop Japanese growth but the American people were not willing to go to war to stop it.  The U.S. demanded that Japan withdraw from China and Indochina, but would have settled for a token withdrawal and a promise not to take more territory.
Prior to December 1941, Japan pursued two simultaneous courses: try to get the oil restriction lifted on terms that would still let them take the territory they wanted, and … to prepare for war. After becoming Japan’s premier in mid-October, General Tojo Hideki secretly set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept a settlement without war.

Given America’s opposition to their war in China, Japanese leaders assumed the U.S. would oppose their attacks on the Dutch. U.S. military forces stationed in the Philippines and based out of Pearl Harbour posed too great a threat to be left alone. Therefore Japan decided to begin their Pacific War with a powerful blow at Pearl Harbour, followed by attacks on American forces in the Philippines and elsewhere. Japan harboured similar fears of British involvement, and also launched attacks on British forces at Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaya. By 1941 many people had died because of the fighting and other horrors of The World War. Until Pearl Harbour the Americans had stayed out of it but after Pearl Harbour this changed.

The U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and knew an attack was imminent. A warning had been sent from Washington, but it arrived too late.

Early warning radar was new technology.  Japanese planes were spotted by radar before the attack, but they were assumed to be a flight of American B-17s due in from the West Coast.

The Pearl Harbour air-strike was an act of ruthless, machine-like destruction: never before had air power virtually wiped out an enemy fleet in one action. The attack on Pearl Harbour (called the Hawaii Operation or Operation Z by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, and the Battle of Pearl Harbour by some Americans) was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941. On December 7th 1941, on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning on a beautiful Hawaiian island, the first wave of Japanese airplanes left 6 aircraft carriers and struck Pearl Harbour a few minutes before 8 AM local time.
In two waves of terror lasting two long hours, they killed or wounded over 3,500 Americans and sank or badly damaged 18 ships – including all 8 battleships of the Pacific Fleet – and over 350 destroyed or damaged aircraft.  At least 1,177 lives were lost when the Battleship U.S.S. exploded and subsequently sank. This became known as ‘day of infamy’ ; The martyrdom of the American battle fleet: the forward bridge super structure collapses forwards on the blazing hull of the Arizona, which sank upright to the bottom with more than 1,000 of her crew trapped below decks with no hope of escape.

The attack on Pearl Harbour caused great damage, sinking several powerful battleships, but the top prize, America’s Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, were not in port at the time. Japan damaged the U.S. Navy, but did not cripple it. What they did do was make America extremely angry and thirsting for revenge and vengeance on their new enemies. This began the four-year Pacific War portion of World War Two between the U.S. and Japan.

The Japanese lost 29 planes over Oahu, one large submarine (on 10 December), and all five of the midget submarines. Their personnel losses (according to Japanese sources) were 55 airmen, nine crewmen on the midget submarines, and an unknown number on the large submarines. The Japanese carrier task force sailed away undetected and unscathed.

On 8 December 1941, within less than an hour after a stirring, six-minute address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a special joint session of Congress voted, with only one dissenter, that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan, and empowered the President to wage war with all the resources of the country. Americans lined up at recruiting stations and any isolationist feelings were suppressed. As the extent of the disaster at Pearl Harbour became known, there was intense anger against the Japanese but also bewilderment at how such a sneak attack could succeed. After the war investigations tried to find someone to blame. Four days after Pearl Harbour, December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Congress, this time without a dissenting vote, immediately recognized the existence of a state of war with Germany and Italy, and also rescinded an article of the Selective Service Act prohibiting the use of American armed forces beyond the Western Hemisphere While Pearl Harbour was a great Japanese military success, it fully awakened the United States to the dangers of the Axis fascist dictatorships. With cries of “Remember December 7th” the complete recruitment of the U.S. and its entry into World War II on the Allied side came immediately after Pearl Harbour. The destruction and unconditional surrender of Italy, Germany and Japan followed in turn. By September 1945 all the leaders of the Axis countries were dead or in Allied military prisons.

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour the United States kept primarily to itself. The war was not on their soil therefore they did not want to get involved. At least not beyond the expenses of sending military and financial aid to Allied forces.
They had the population and resources to make a difference and increase the Allied armies enough to make a difference in the war. The bombing of Pearl Harbour was the act of war that brought the US into WWII on the side of the allies against the Axis powers, Japan, Germany and Italy. But mostly it allowed the US to pursue the Pacific war by itself against Japan and supported the U.S warships and fleet for the duration of the conflict. For one, the military started to believe in the value of the newly developed radar installation. Before then, they didn’t have much confidence, but the radar operator had seen a rather large indication of incoming aircraft and blamed it on birds instead of the possibility of the Japanese invasion.
[8] Over-all Japanese losses, however, were slight in comparison: ‘for the loss of only nine fighters, 15 dive-bombers, and five torpedo-bombers, the Japanese navy had succeeded in putting out of action the entire battleship force of the US Pacific Fleet’.

While the U.S supported Britain & France with the U.S Atlantic Fleet, very few of those two countries warships came to the Pacific to support the U.S
The immediate effect of the bombing of pearl harbours was the disarm of the last of Japan’s Pacific arena enemies.
France and the Netherlands were occupied by Germany and in no condition to help their huge colonies in Southeast Asia. Britain had its hands full defending North Africa and the British Isles from Germany, so it too could lend only nominal aid to its sizable Far East colonies. That left only the USA which maintained the Pearl Harbour fleet to defend not just the west coast of the USA, but the large American colonial empire in Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Wake Island.
[9] By destroying the main fighting power of the USA Pacific fleet at Pearl, the Japanese were given free reign for about a year in the Pacific. They ran a brilliant campaign and conquered vast territories.
Unfortunately for them the second phase of the war was not as successful. Pearl Harbour may have been a military disaster for the USA but it also unified the nation behind the war effort. The US fleet was quickly rebuilt and with the aggressive US Marine Corp as infantry, the two military arms counterattacked. A series of devastating military failures ensued for Japan, culminating in the surrender of the home islands in 1945.

Pearl Harbour is a symbol of what many consider the ultimate betrayal of one country towards another, a sneak attack and many deaths. Whether the U.S knew of the attack is now irrelevant as it is done and gone. The U.S hold Pearl Harbour also as a symbol of sacrifice as many Navy and Marine personnel are still entombed in the USS Arizona and is visited by many thousands of tourist each year to pay their respects to the dead. The U.S subsequently used the first Atomic bombs on Japan, hitting both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It absolutely led to the successful conclusion of the war, but also ushered in the unfortunate age of nuclear weapons, something that now threatens all of us.

Sunday, December 7, 1941, was, as President Roosevelt said, [10] “a date which will live in infamy.” On 8 December 1941, within less than an hour after a stirring, six-minute address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a special joint session of Congress voted, with only one dissenter, that a state of war existed between the United States and Japan, and empowered the President to wage war with all the resources of the country. Americans lined up at recruiting stations and any isolationist feelings were suppressed. As the extent of the disaster at Pearl Harbour became known, there was intense anger against the Japanese but also bewilderment at how such a sneak attack could succeed. After the war investigations tried to find someone to blame. Four days after Pearl Harbour, December 11, 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Congress, this time without a dissenting vote, immediately recognized the existence of a state of war with Germany and Italy, and also rescinded an article of the Selective Service Act prohibiting the use of American armed forces beyond the Western Hemisphere While Pearl Harbour was a great Japanese military success, it fully awakened the United States to the dangers of the Axis fascist dictatorships. With cries of “Remember December 7th” the complete recruitment of the U.S. and its entry into World War II on the Allied side came immediately after Pearl Harbour. The destruction and unconditional surrender of Italy, Germany and Japan followed in turn. By September 1945 all the leaders of the Axis countries were dead or in Allied military prisons. [11] WW2 ended by the dropping of the A bombs on Japan during August 1945. I was involved in the last battle against the Japanese on the Island of Okinawa located only 300 miles from Japan.