December 7, 1941 was a warm and sunny morning for the US troops serving at Pearl Harbor. Softball teams were on the beach warming up while wives & children, fresh from seaside church services, joined their husbands and fathers to watch the game. But the great majority of servicemen were still in their skivvies or eating breakfast in the mess halls.
They had no way of knowing that on that same morning, the naval fleet and air forces from the Empire of Japan had been speeding across the ocean towards America’s Pacific military base, where, lined up, side-by-side, across the docks and waterfront, the majority of its naval might was neatly presented and poised for obliteration.
The carnage began at 7:48am. The Japs had spaced the two waves of their devastating attack on the harbor and Hickman Airfield forty-five minutes apart. They also hit airfield at Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Bellows Field, Ewa Field, Shofield Barracks and Kaneohe Naval Air Station. There were 8 of 9 battleships in port that day–effectively, all the battleships of the US Pacific fleet, but for one, the USS Colorado, which had been previously ordered to Puget Sound Naval Yard after an intensive series of training exercises that had concluded on June 25th.
Seven of the eight ships were lined up on Battleship Row. Ultimately, all eight were either sunk or damaged. In total, 11 other ships were sunk, 188 planes were destroyed, 2,343 servicemen were killed, 1,272 were wounded and 960 went missing. 68 civilians were killed and 35 were wounded.
Casualties on the Jap side included the loss of or capture of 65 men while 28 planes were shot down and 5 midget submarines were sunk. The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war during his Day of Infamy Speech excerpted below:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
Three days after Roosevelt gave his speech, on December 11th, the US also declared war on Germany and Italy after they had previously declared war and the Greatest Generation was an official player in World War II.
Emboldened by its cowardly attack upon Pearl Harbor, Japan would go on to stage a second assault on Oahu three months later on March 4, 1942. While the plan was audacious, it was plagued by errors and foul weather. Despite the failure of the attack, it would cause changes to US naval strategy that would remain in place throughout the war.
A surprise attack (Doolittle Raid/Operation K) on Tokyo was subsequently executed on April 18, 1942. While the results yielded little damage, the raid was a very effective morale booster for Americans. Its national pride affronted by the raid, the Japanese exacted its anger on the villagers in Quzhou, Zhejiang province in China who had helped rescue American pilots, 51 airmen in all, after its suicide mission.
Four years later, as a direct result of Japan’s surprise attack on our country, the United States made the decision to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9, 1945, respectively, and effectively ended the war.
Japan officially surrendered a week later and Victory over Japan (VJ Day) is remembered annually each August 14th.