Pearl Harbor Day: A day that will live in infamy

By Zena Sultana-Babao The surprise was complete.

At 7:53 AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese fighter planes attacked the U. S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It targeted airfields and battleships. The second wave at 8:55 AM targeted ships and shipyard facilities. An hour later, it was all over. At 1:00 PM, the carriers that launched the planes were heading back home to Japan.

Behind them they left chaos: 2,403 American servicemen and civilians dead, 1,178 wounded, 188 planes destroyed, 8 battleships sunk, damaged or destroyed, and the American Pacific Fleet in ruins.

It was a day that will live in infamy!

The battleships moored along “Battleship Row” were the primary targets of the first wave of attack. Three prime targets, the U.S. Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers Lexington, Enterprise and Saratoga, were luckily not in the harbor and thus escaped damage.

Ten minutes after the beginning of the attack, a 1,760-pound aerial bomb penetrated the forward magazine of the battleship USS Arizona causing catastrophic explosions. Within minutes, she sunk to the bottom of the sea, taking 1,300 lives with her.

Now the USS Arizona is a museum and serves as both a tomb for most of the crew, and a memorial to the events of that day. One of those who raised the most money for the construction of the memorial was the late Elvis Presley. The observation structure spans the ship’s hulk. The first thing that you see inside is the ship’s bell; in the middle are viewing ports; while at the far end is a marble wall inset with the names of the deceased crew members in bronze letters.

News of the “sneak attack” was broadcasted to the American public via radio bulletins, and many popular Sunday afternoon entertainment programs were interrupted. The news sent shockwaves across the nation, resulting in a tremendous influx of young volunteers into the U.S. Armed Forces.

The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor was one of the great defining moments in American history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the U.S. Navy’s capacity to stop the Japanese Empire’s southward expansion. America, unprepared and considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant.

Imperial Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who conceived, designed and promoted the Pearl Harbor attack, cautioned against it. But he was overruled by his superiors. Upon completion of the attack, he was quoted as saying, “We have awakened a sleeping giant and have instilled in him a terrible resolve.”

Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, another attack of more devastating consequence for America occurred in the Philippines, 4,500 miles to the west of Hawaii. At 12:35 PM, one hundred ninety-six Japanese navy fighter planes crippled the largest force of American B-17 four-engine bombers and decimated their protective P-40 interceptors located in the Clark and Iba (Zambales) Naval Air Bases.

This sudden blow allowed the Japanese to rule the skies over the Philippines, removing the only effective barrier that stood between them and their conquest of Southeast Asia. Aside from the Philippines, the Japanese forces also attacked the U.S. military bases in Malaya, Hongkong, Guam, and the Wake and Midway Islands.

The attack by the Japanese against the United States military installations in 1941 has been called “one of the blackest days in American military history.”

In his speech before the U.S. Congress the day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. He said in part: “Yesterday, December 7, 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.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. 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 determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.”

From the following account of Pearl Harbor Day as published in the pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica, we learn a little more of the background info that led to the attack:

The surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii, by the Japanese, precipitated the entry of the United States into World War II. The attack climaxed a decade of worsening relations between the United States and an increasingly expansionist and militaristic Japan.

Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 and its subsequent alliance with the Axis powers (Germany and Italy) in 1940 prompted the United States to respond by freezing Japanese assets in the United States and declaring an embargo on petroleum shipments and other vital war materials to Japan.

Though Japan continued to negotiate with the United States up to the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, the government of Prime Minister Tojo Hideki decided on war. Admiral Yamamoto, the commander in chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet, had planned the attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet with great care.

Once the U.S. fleet was out of action, the way for the unhindered Japanese conquest of all of Southeast Asia, the Indonesian Archipelago, and the South Pacific, would be open. On November 23, 1941, a Japanese fleet under Vice Adm. Nagumo Chuichi and including six aircraft carriers, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, and 11 destroyers, sailed to a point some 275 miles north of Hawaii. From there, a total of about 360 planes were launched.

The first Japanese dive bomber appeared over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 AM (local time). It was followed by a first wave of nearly 200 aircraft, including torpedo planes, bombers, and fighters. The reconnaissance at Pearl Harbor had been lax; a U.S. army private who noticed a large flight of planes on his radar screen was told to ignore them, since a flight of B-57s from the United States was expected at that time.

The anchored ships in the harbor made perfect targets for the Japanese bombers, and since it was Sunday morning (a time chosen by the Japanese for maximum surprise) they were not fully manned. The U.S. Navy usually observes Holiday routine on a Sunday, so most of the sailors and Marines were still asleep. Only those who were on duty were up and about.

The Japanese torpedo planes, especially, hit the U.S. battleships with deadly effect. The Arizona, California, and West Virginia were sunk, and the Oklahoma capsized. A second wave of planes swept over Pearl Harbor about 45 minutes later, inflicting heavy damage of the battleships Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania (which was in dry dock). Ten other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 140 aircraft were destroyed.

The rest, as the say, is history.

Source - Asian Journal



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