Everyone knows about Pearl Harbor, whether through film or high school history, it is remembered as the day that spurred America into action and changed the tide of World War II. Less well-known are the particulars, the details of one of most significant days in United States history. If the finer points of this historic day interest you, read on.
The original aim of the Japanese attack was restoring their war resources. The Allied powers in Europe forced a trade embargo on Japan, ceasing any delivery of scrap metal and oil, vital to their machines of war. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto authored a plan to immobilize US Pacific forces by attacking Hawaii, buying the Japanese enough time to gather key resources before refortifying Japan for the inevitable retaliation. Despite Yamamoto’s own reticence of attacking such a powerful country as the United States, the plan was put into action.
The huge B5N2 Japanese attack bombers’ torpedoes were outfitted with wooden fins to propel them through the relatively shallow harbor. Each bomb weighed 1847 pounds with a 452-pound warhead. The bombers also carried a 30 caliber machine gun on the tail to shoot at targets as they made their bombing runs. There was a second type of bomber, the diminutive Aichi D3A1, which carried bombs specifically made for land targets such as runways and airbases.
The attack was not executed flawlessly. According to historian Alan D. Zimm, there were multiple miscommunications between the Japanese pilots. Contingency plans were made for whether U.S troops were aware of the attack or not, based on a flare system. One for U.S troops unaware, two if the ambush was lost. Because of cloud cover that day, the flares were misinterpreted and Japanese planes attacked at random with both plans undertaken at the same time. Despite the immense destruction, Pearl Harbor could have been a much more severe blow if not for this confusion.
Despite being taken by surprise, the U.S troops quickly put the anti-aircraft guns mounted on their ships to use. Unfortunately, much of the required ammunition was under lock and key. During the attack, a few P-36 and P-40 American fighter pilots were able to mount a counterattack and take down a few of the Japanese planes. Most of these kills were credited to the anti-aircraft guns, although one plane was taken down by small arms fire from Fort Shafter. The Japanese also utilized midget submarines. The efficacy of these submarines is considered minimal, and one submarine’s crewman was among the earliest prisoners of war.
The final tally was egregiously in the Japanese favor with 3,700 Americans lost, including 50 to 60 civilians. The Japanese only lost 50 men in the surprise attack. While Pearl Harbor was a loss for the United States military, it created a seismic shift in the course of World War II. Prior to the attack, the United States had taken a stance of isolationism, electing not to enter the war in Europe. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, which President Franklin Roosevelt called a “date that will live in infamy,” America was finally dragged into the fray. As they say, the rest is history.