Attack on Pearl Harbor
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
In Jun 1940, US President Franklin Roosevelt moved the American Pacific Fleet from San Diego, California on the west coast of the United States to Pearl Harbor in the Territory of Hawaii as a response to Japan's aggression toward China, followed by the embargo of vital raw materials to the newly industrialized Japan. Meant to coerce Japan to back off from her aggressive policies toward her neighbors, these moves instead tempted Japan to escalate the situation. The advancing of the Pacific Fleet was viewed as the most current of a long series of insults on Japanese pride, while the embargo only tempted the Japanese to secure South Pacific islands rich with oil, rubber, tin, and tungsten for themselves.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, whose personal opinion was against a war with the United States, was tasked with constructing the very war plan. He was confident that he could engineer a devastating attack on the US Navy, but he also believed that unless Japan had a way to march her armies straight to Washington, it was not wise to engage in war with US for an extended period of time due to the vast US industrial potential. In Oct 1941, the Japanese naval general staff gave final approval to Yamamoto's general plan of attack. In Nov 1941, Yamamoto added Pearl Harbor to the list of targets. Yamamoto's strike plan for Pearl Harbor, with contribution from Commander Minoru Genda, involved six fleet carriers, thus making it the largest carrier strike in history. The plan called for multiple waves of attack, systematically targeting and destroying specific ships, airfields, aircraft, and drydocks. In order to effectively use torpedoes in the shallow harbor, the torpedoes were fitted with fins so that they would run closer to the water's surface without diving into the mud. Yamamoto assigned the task of attacking Pearl Harbor to Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. A total of 24 vessels supported the six aircraft carriers in its journey from Hitokappu Bay in the Kurile Islands in northern Japan toward Hawaii via a northern route on 26 Nov 1941.
In the basement of the Pacific Fleet headquarters building in Hawaii, Joseph Rochefort and his intelligence team had been tasked with keeping an eye on the disposition of Japanese warships for months, with much of the information sourced from intercepted radio messages. Events such as the Japanese changing warship call signs twice in a short period of time, the increased level of radio message encryption, and the sudden disappearance of at least four fleet carriers from US knowledge (his team had mistakenly placed one or two Japanese carriers in the Marshall Islands) made him suspicious of Japanese intentions. While he faithfully reported his findings, which all pointed to war, to Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet Admiral Husband Kimmel on a daily basis, he also noted his sentiment, one that was shared by most others at Pearl Harbor and Washington, that Pearl Harbor was safe from Japanese attacks for the time being. Vice Admiral William Pye, the commanding officer of the Battle Fleet, was among those who expected war to break out in Asia rather than in Hawaii, thus there was no need to send his battleships out to sea to avoid being caught in an air attack.
When the Japanese fleet departed from the Kurile Islands, Nagumo had ordered any non-Japanese vessel that came in contact with the strike fleet to be quickly destroyed before they could send out any warning. On 5 Dec 1941, the Japanese fleet came across Russian transport Uritsky, carrying US-built M2 medium tanks and other war materials, sailing toward Vladivostok, Russia. All guns of the Japanese fleet were trained on the transport, but Nagumo, reneging on his previous order, chose to let Uritsky go, for he knew the top officials at Tokyo wished to maintain the non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Japan. It was never proven, but some sources indicated that the Uritsky did indeed radio Soviet authorities of the finding, and the Soviets notified the Japanese fleet that if Uritsky was to be spared, the Soviet Union would not report the incident to anyone, namely, the United States. Had this exchange really taken place, it appeared that both sides held their ends of the bargain; Uritsky arrived at Vladivostok safely, while the Japanese fleet sailed otherwise undetected across the northern Pacific. Some speculated that the Soviet silence might be due to Moscow's wish for the United States to enter the war, thus putting direct pressure on Germany while keeping the Japanese occupied.
On 7 Dec 1941, the first contact of the battle was made by United States Coast Guard ship Condor at 0350 hours less than 2 miles southwest of the Pearl Harbor entrance buoys. After receiving visual warning from Condor at 0357 hours, destroyer USS Ward began patrolling the harbor entrance. At 0637 hours, Ward sighted the periscope of a Japanese submarine. Ward attacked the area with depth charges as destroyer USS Monaghan set sail to join her in the submarine hunt. At 0740 hours, a telephone call was made to Kimmel's office, reporting the submarine contact, but nothing material came out of that report.
A few minutes before 0800 hours, the Japanese aircraft arrived over Hawaii. When the large cloud appeared on the radar screen, the US Navy radar crew dutifully called in this finding, but the radar men were told by US Army officers that they were probably seeing a group of B-17 bombers scheduled to arrive later on this day. At 0755 hours, the now-well-known message "ENEMY AIR RAID - NOT DRILL" was sent from the Navy Yard Signal Tower as the incoming aircraft began dropping their bomb load.
The first targets were air fields. Dive bombers dropped bombs (mainly incendiary) and strafed Hickam Field and the Naval Air Station on Ford Island. Many American aircraft were caught on the ground. At 0758 hours, "AIR RAID, PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NOT DRILL!" was broadcast to all ships in the area. At about the same time, another group of aircraft attacked the battleships moored on the south side of Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. The torpedoes and bombs hit with precision, detonating USS Arizona's forward ammunition magazine, engulfing the ship in a fierce ball of fire. Anti-aircraft gunfire commenced very quickly after Japanese aircraft were sighted, while larger caliber weapons took anywhere from three to seven minutes before they began firing.
Between 0825 hours and 0840 hours, Japanese aircraft continued to dominate the skies over Pearl Harbor, although bombing activities largely ceased.
At 0840 hours, 30 Japanese high level bombers appeared, mostly still targeting battleships, along with 18 dive bombers. Damage from this second wave of attack was reported as "serious".
With careful planning on part of Yamamoto and his staff, and perfect execution of Nagumo and his air command, the surprised Americans suffered greatly as few larger warships escaped unharmed. Battleship USS West Virginia sank very quickly, and battleship USS Oklahoma capsized before sinking. The bomb hit suffered by USS Arizona at 0810 hours would take the lives of 1,000 sailors. Battleships USS California, USS Maryland, USS Tennessee, and USS Nevada all suffered various degrees of damage during the raid. At 0830 hours, Nevada attempted to get underway, but realized if she was sunk at the harbor opening she would block the harbor entrance, thus she was ultimately beached at nearby Hospital Point.
By 0940 hours, most Japanese aircraft had left the vicinity, but American anti-aircraft fire continued to fire at any sign of hostile movement; tense atmosphere led to a few friendly fire incidents where US fighters that finally got a chance to take off were shot down. By 1000 hours, the skies over Pearl Harbor were clear. Final tally revealed that five of eight battleships at Pearl Harbor were sinking, sunk, disabled, or heavily damaged. A total of 21 US ships were sunk. 188 aircraft were destroyed, and 159 were damaged. Over 2,400 American were killed (this figure includes civilian deaths of 68 caused by friendly fire, killed by US anti-aircraft shells that landed in the city of Honolulu). The Japanese suffered only 29 aircraft shot down and 5 midget submarines sunk.
While the attack was devastating, the US Navy would later realize that it could have been worse. While Vice Admiral Pye's decision to keep the battleships in port meant they were sitting ducks for the Japanese air attack, had he sailed the warships out of the harbor, there would have been a possibility that they would be attacked at sea, and the ships would be forever lost instead of merely sinking in shallow waters and allowed the possibility of refloating. US fleet carriers, all of which would play critical roles in later chapters of the war, were far from Pearl Harbor, thus removed from harm.
Immediately after the attack, the Americans made an attempt to launch a counterattack against the Japanese fleet. Mistaking that the Japanese had attacked from the south, USS Enterprise was ordered to sail in that direction to intercept. Naturally, the US carrier found nothing and returned empty-handed. Many historians speculated, however, that had she been sent in the right direction, she would be no match for the powerful Japanese fleet and would probably be sunk.
Staying on the theme of counterfactual history, there were criticisms against Nagumo for not launching a third strike on Pearl Harbor to destroy port facilities and fuel stores, for doing so would eliminate Pearl Harbor as a viable naval base, thus forcing the US Navy to fall back to bases on the west coast of the United States. Had Nagumo actually launched a third wave of attack, Japanese doctrine dictated that the warships that had survived the first two waves of attacks to be targeted, thus making this criticism invalid.
On the diplomatic side, Japan was supposed to declare war on the United States precisely 30 minutes before the attack started. However, due to decryption difficulties, the Japanese embassy was not able to deliver the message until the attack had already started. Making the most out of the situation, President Roosevelt announced to the American public that the attack was a sneak attack, thus able to rally the previously isolationist country to fully participate in war in order to seek revenge.
Admiral Kimmel and his US Army counterpart Lieutenant General Walter Short were made the scapegoats, shouldering the blame for the devastation. Nine investigations were conducted, finding Kimmel and Short guilty of dereliction of duty. Their names would not be cleared by the United States Senate until 1999, after both of them had passed away, but the Department of Defense continued to place blame on Kimmel and Short.
7-13 Dec 1941
During the Pearl Harbor attack planning, Japanese naval leadership designated the Hawaiian island of Niihau as the designated location to land damaged aircraft that could not fly back to their carriers. A submarine was to be dispatched to pick up any downed pilots on that island. It was thought that the island was uninhabited when in fact it had a small population of 136.
On 7 Dec 1941, Japanese Navy pilot Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi from carrier Hiryu, who had taken part in the second wave of the Pearl Harbor attack, crash-landed his damaged A6M2 Zero fighter on Niihau. When he came down, he was merely 20 feet from resident Hawila Kaleohano who was completely unaware of neither international politics between Japan and United States nor the Pearl Harbor attack that had just taken place. He took Nishikaichi's pistol and documents, and then helped him out of the damaged aircraft. Nishikaichi was treated with a party in the late afternoon, as he was a rare guest on this remote island. Meanwhile, the islanders sent for first-generation Japanese-American Ishimatsu Shintani to act as translator; Shintani was aware of the attack, and only exchanged a few words with Nishikaichi before leaving. The islands then sent for Yoshio Harada and his wife Irene, both second-generation Japanese-Americans. The Haradas were not aware of the attack beforehand, and Nishikaichi shared the news; the Haradas decided not to translate that portion to the islanders to prevent panic or anger. Nishikaichi asked Kaleohano to return the documents that Kaleohano had taken from him previously, but Kaleohano refused.
Later in the evening of 7 Dec, the islanders learned of the attack via radio, and only at this time Harada shared what Nishikaichi had told him earlier regarding the attack. The islanders decided that on the next day, when the island's owner Aylmer Robinson would have arrived for his weekly visit, Robinson would escort Nishikaichi to the proper authorities. On the next day, Robinson failed to arrive to the surprise of the islanders, nor did he visit in the following few days; unbeknownst to them, a ban on boat traffic had been implemented due to the state of war. Nishikaichi had stayed with the Haradas during those days (with guards outside the residence).
At 1600 hours on 12 Dec, Shintani approached Kaleohano on behalf of Nishikaichi with $200 in cash, asking to purchase Nishikaichi's documents. Kaleohano rejected the offer. Yoshio Harada and Nishikaichi, without waiting for Shintani's return, attacked the lone guard outside of the house as Irene Harada played music with a loud volume to cover up any noise of struggle. They retrieved a shotgun and Nishikaichi's pistol from a warehouse, and then locked the guard in the same warehouse building. Harada and Nishikaichi went to Kaleohano's house to demand the papers; they could not find Kaleohano, who had saw them coming, with weapons, and decided to hide in the outhouse. After a few minutes, Harada and Nishikaichi gave up looking for Kaleohano, and headed for the downed plane. It was when Kaleohano decided it was his chance to flee. As he made a dash, he was discovered by Harada and Nishikaichi, who yelled "Stop! Stop!" and fired a warning shot, and Kaleohano kept running, and got away. Kaleohano reached the village and warned of the situation, joined shortly by the guard who had escaped the warehouse. The islands evacuated the village. Kaleohano, who still had possession of the documents at the time, gave the documents to a relative for safekeeping before setting out on a ten-hour paddling trip by boat to the nearby island of Kauai to see Robinson. Meanwhile, Nishikaichi reached his aircraft, made contact with the Japanese Navy, and then proceeded to set the aircraft on fire to avoid its capture by American authorities. At 0300 hours on 13 Dec, Harada and Nishikaichi burned down Kaleohano's house, hoping that the documents that Nishikaichi desperately tried to recover were hidden somewhere inside.
At Kauai, Robinson was already hinted of trouble on Niihau when other islanders tried to signal him with lanterns and reflectors, but he was denied visit the island due to the ban on boat travel.
After day break on 13 Dec 1941, Harada and Nishikaichi kidnapped islander Beni Kanahele and his wife Ella. They kept Ella Kanahele as hostage, and ordered Beni Kanahele to bring back Kaleohano. Kanahele, who knew Kaleohano had already left the island, pretended to make a search. When he returned in failure, Harada said that Nishikaichi would kill Ella, along with others from the village, if Kaleohano was not found. During that conversation, Kanahele attacked Harada and Nishikaichi. Kanahele grabbed the shotgun, and Nishikaichi attempted to retrieve his pistol from his boot, but Ella grabbed his arm and slowed him down. Pushing Ella aside, Beni Kanahele shot Nishikaichi three times with the shotgun, then picked him up and threw him against a wall. To ensure his death, Ella Kanahele bashed Nishikaichi with a rock, followed by Beni Kanahele's slashing of Nishikaichi's throat. Witnessing the attack, Harada grabbed the shotgun that Kanahele had just set aside, shooting and killing himself.
On 13 Dec, Kaleohano's party reached Kauai, and brought back Robinson and military authorities. Irene Harada and Shintani were taken into custody. Irene Harada was imprisoned for 31 months, having released in Jun 1944. Shintani was sent to an internment camp in the continental United States, but returned to Niihau after the war.
Elliot Carlson, Joe Rochefort's War
Dan van der Vat, The Pacific Campaign
Armchair Reader World War II
United States Army
United States Navy Naval History and Heritage Command
United States Navy Report of Japanese Raid on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor Interactive Map
Attack on Pearl Harbor Timeline
|31 Mar 1941||Husband Kimmel and Walter Short received a report noting the weakness of the base at Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii to surprise air attacks.|
|26 Jul 1941||US Navy Admiral Husband Kimmel ordered long range air patrols to be conducted from various Pacific Ocean bases in case Japan reacted aggressively against US President Franklin Roosevelt's executive order to freeze Japanese assets.|
|29 Jul 1941||Joseph Rochefort reported to US Navy Admiral Husband Kimmel that the Japanese fleet detected outside of Japanese home waters were heading back to Japan, thus there was no immediate threat of an aggressive Japanese response to Franklin Roosevelt's decision to freeze Japanese assets.|
|5 Sep 1941||Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team detected sudden increase in Japanese naval radio traffic.|
|8 Sep 1941||Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team detected increased radio traffic between carriers and land bases, and interpreted it as the Japanese Navy conducting fitting out operations of carriers with new air groups.|
|9 Sep 1941||Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team in US Territory of Hawaii noticed carrier Akagi was using new call signs in her radio communications.|
|27 Sep 1941||Joseph Rochefort warned US commanders at Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii that the Japanese communication codes were being changed.|
|28 Sep 1941||Joseph Rochefort warned US commanders at Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii that the recent Japanese Navy communications changes might mean the preparation of a large exercise or another major action.|
|17 Oct 1941||Harold Stark informed Husband Kimmel that in his personal opinion that while he expected Japan to take action some time in the near future, an attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii was not likely.|
|1 Nov 1941||On this date, Japan time, the Combined Fleet Order No. 1 was issued for additional radio communications to be generated to make US cryptanalytic efforts more difficult. Meanwhile, on the other side of the international date line, Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team of the US Navy in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii reported that all Japanese Navy call signs had changed.|
|3 Nov 1941||Chief of the Japanese Naval General Staff Admiral Osami Nagano approved the draft plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii. On the other side of the international date line, Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team of the US Navy in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii was realizing that the Japanese were inflating the amount of radio traffic.|
|5 Nov 1941||Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team in US Territory of Hawaii detected improvements in security of Japanese naval communications and the recall of some of the merchant ships back to home waters.|
|6 Nov 1941||Joseph Rochefort's cryptanalytic team in US Territory of Hawaii continued to encounter a great deal of dummy radio traffic being sent by the Japanese Navy.|
|11 Nov 1941||Ten Japanese submarines departed from Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan for Kwajalein of the Marshall Islands, where they would proceed for US Territory of Hawaii.|
|13 Nov 1941||Japanese Admiral Yamamoto gathered his commanders at Iwakuni air base at Yamaguchi, Japan to discuss Pearl Harbor tactics.|
|16 Nov 1941||Obsolete Japanese battleship Settsu began to sail around the Inland Sea in Japan to generate fake radio communication messages at different ports.|
|17 Nov 1941||Japanese Navy Admiral Yamamoto revealed the Pearl Harbor attack plan to the naval leadership.|
|18 Nov 1941||Five large Japanese carrier submarines, each containing midget submarines, departed from Kure Naval Base, Japan for Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii. Meanwhile, Joseph Rochefort's US Navy cryptanalytic team reported no Japanese carrier movement.|
|21 Nov 1941||Joseph Rochefort's US Navy cryptanalytic team in Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii detected the arrival of a Japanese submarine squadron in the Marshall Islands.|
|22 Nov 1941||US Navy issued Task Force Ultrasecret Operation Order 1: warships were to proceed to Hawaiian waters in secrecy, with mission to conduct pre-emptive strikes on any potential threats against Hawaii.|
|23 Nov 1941||Japanese carriers made a rendezvous at Hitokappu Bay, Kurile Islands, Japan in preparation for the Pearl Harbor attack. On the other side of the international date line, Joseph Rochefort reported to his superiors that his cryptanalytic team had detected a Japanese submarine squadron moving into the Marshall Islands.|
|26 Nov 1941||The Japanese carrier fleet departed Hitokappu Bay, Kurile Islands, Japan for Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii. At Pearl Harbor, Joseph Rochefort sent a report for his superiors that his cryptanalytic team had detected Japanese fleet movements and that the Japanese warships were seemingly staging for actions in the South Pacific.|
|27 Nov 1941||American radio intelligence analysts stationed in the Philippine Islands reported their suspicion that, contrary to the findings of their counterparts in the Hawaiian Islands, the Japanese warships detected to have been recently moved into the Marshall Islands were likely to take actions eastward rather than southward. Also, they concluded that main Japanese carrier force was still at Sasebo, Japan rather than in the Marshall Islands.|
|1 Dec 1941||Radio messages sent from Sasebo, Japan using outdated call signs tricked US Navy cryptanalysts in US Territory of Hawaii into believing that carrier Akagi was still in home waters. Later on the same day, the cryptanalysts realized that all Japanese warships' call signs had changed.|
|2 Dec 1941||Japanese carrier fleet refueled in the North Pacific at 42 degrees north and 170 degrees east; at 2000 hours, the code "Niitaka Yama Noboru 1208" was issued, indicating that the attack on Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii was to be launched on 8 Dec 1941 Tokyo time, 7 Dec on the other side of the international date line. Meanwhile, at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel was briefed of the disposition of the Japanese fleet, with the whereabouts of Carrier Division 1 and Carrier Division 2 (four fleet carriers total) not known; the best American guess was that they were at Kure, Japan. Finally, at Honolulu, Hawaii, Consul-General Nagao Kita was asked to provide a report regarding the presence of any barrage balloons or torpedo nets.|
|3 Dec 1941||The Japanese carrier fleet tasked with the Pearl Harbor attack turned south after refueling on the previous day, approaching the Hawaii Islands with increased speed. At Pearl Harbor, the American intelligence report on the location of Japanese Navy warships had "no information on submarines or carriers". Elsewhere in Hawaii, Consul-General Nagao Kita received orders to burn code ciphers and important papers; this was noticed by the Americans, who also received intelligence that several Japanese embassies around the world were doing the same.|
|4 Dec 1941||Schedule of Pearl Harbor attack was transmitted to the Japanese submarine fleet along with the latest intelligence and weather information.|
|5 Dec 1941||Japanese submarines surrounded Hawaii Islands.|
|6 Dec 1941||Japanese carrier fleet reached the rendezvous point at 34 degrees north, 158 degrees west, and then began a high speed approach for Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii. At the same time, the 30 Japanese submarines in the Hawaii area began to tighten the ring around the islands; I-74 spotted USS Lexington, but no action was taken. At Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel told a reporter from the news agency Christian Science Monitor that the chance of a war in the Pacific Ocean involving the United States was slim. Nearby, Vice Admiral William Pye told Kimmel (via intelligence officer Edwin Layton) that war with Japan was inevitable, although Pearl Harbor was not a likely target, thus there was no need to send the battleships out to sea as a precaution. Finally, at Honolulu, Hawaii, Consul-General Nagao Kita sent a cable to Japan that he observed no barrage balloons over Pearl Harbor and he did not believe there were torpedo nets around the battleships.|
|7 Dec 1941||Operation Z: 360 Japanese carrier aircraft (104 bombers, 135 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, and 81 fighters) attacked Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii, sinking or damaging 8 battleships, 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers, 1 anti-aircraft training ship, 1 minelayer; destroying 188 aircraft; and killing 2,459 (57 of which were civilian) and wounding 1,282 (35 of which were civilian). The Japanese lost only 29 aircraft and 5 midget submarines; 55 were killed and 10 were wounded.|
|10 Dec 1941||Aircraft from USS Enterprise sank Japanese submarine I-70 in Hawaiian waters.|
|11 Dec 1941||US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox arrived at Hawaii to personally assess the damage inflicted on 7 Dec 1941 by the Japanese. Meanwhile, Japanese submarine I-9 shelled the unarmed US freighter Lahaina about 800 miles northeast of Honolulu.|
|13 Dec 1941||Niihau Incident: Downed Japanese pilot attempted to recover sensitive documents seized from him by Niihau islanders; two of the islanders attacked and killed the pilot.|
|14 Dec 1941||Japanese submarine shelled Kahului and Maui, US Territory of Hawaii.|
|15 Dec 1941||Japanese submarine I-22 shelled Johnston Island, destroying a 1,200-gallon oil tank; another submarine, I-1, shelled Kahului, Maui, Hawaii Islands.|
|18 Dec 1941||At Honolulu, US Territory of Hawaii, the Roberts Commission began investigating the American preparations prior to the Pearl Harbor attack.|
|30 Dec 1941||Japanese submarine I-1 shelled Hilo, US Territory of Hawaii.|
|31 Dec 1941||Japanese submarines shell Hawaiian Islands of Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii.|
|10 Jan 1942||The Roberts Commission completed its investigation work at Honolulu, US Territory of Hawaii and departed for Washington DC, United States.|
|20 Jul 1944||The US Army formed the Pearl Harbor Board to analyze the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, US Territory of Hawaii of 7 Dec 1941.|
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944