We know the basic story of December 7th, 1941. On a quiet Sunday morning, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu. A look at a timeline of the attack paints a bigger picture of those involved and the sequence of events that culminated in the United States entering World War II.
Though the first signs of attack didn’t occur until 0740 hours, the events surrounding Pearl Harbor were well underway hours before the first bomb struck.
December 7, 1941
0342 Hours – A Japanese submarine is spotted off the harbor. The minesweeper USS Condor makes the initial observation. Officers aboard the vessel take note of a periscope and relay the message to the destroyer USS Ward.
0645 Hours – With the information from the Condor, the Ward seeks out what was believed to be a miniature sub. Eventually, the sub is found and sunk by the Ward, under the command of Lt. William W. Outerbridge. This marks the first casualty of Pearl Harbor.
0702 Hours – Incoming Japanese fighters are first observed by the Army’s Opana Mobile Radar Station on Oahu. A call is made to Fort Shafter from the station warning of an unusual reading on the radar but the operator is told to wait for a commanding officer to call back.
0715 Hours – Admiral Husband E. Kimmel is advised of the Japanese mini-sub but is hesitant to act, believing it to be another of many false reports of submarines in the area. Kimmel decides to wait for verification, one of several fatal mistakes made that morning.
0720 Hours – Fort Shafter responds to Opana’s radar report. Believing the large blip to be US B-17 Flying Fortress bombers scheduled to arrive that morning from California, the lieutenant who calls Opana simply tells the operator, “Don’t worry about it.”
0733 Hours – The first sign of Japan’s intent to engage the United States wasn’t the first bomb that was dropped. American code breakers decipher a Japanese code and learn that Japanese negotiators were advised to cease talking with US officials. General George C. Marshall considers this a sign of war and attempts to warn the forces in Hawaii. Forced to communicate via commercial telegraph, the message would come too late.
0753 Hours – Japanese commander Mitsuo Fuchida signals to his ship, “to ra, to ra, to ra,” indicating that total surprise has been achieved.
0755 Hours – The first sighting of Japanese fighters by Commander Logan C. Ramsey on Ford Island. Noticing a low-flying plane, Logan initially believes it to be a US pilot but then notices a bomb being dropped. “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT A DRILL” is transmitted via telegraph from Ford Island. The first bombs strike Wheeler and Hickam.
0810 Hours – The USS Arizona is the first battleship to be hit. An armor-piercing bomb proves to be fatal. Over 1,100 crewmen are killed in the explosion.
0819 Hours – The Arizona begins to sink to the bottom of the harbor.
As we’ve learned through eyewitness accounts and official histories of the attack, the next five hours are chaos for the men stationed at Pearl Harbor. Though they fought back as hard as they could, over 2,400 servicemen died. It didn’t take long for America to respond.
December 8, 1941
1310 Hours – The United States declares war on Japan. The Senate vote is unanimous, and the House of Representatives counts only one vote against.
1610 Hours – President Roosevelt signs the Declaration of War on the Empire of Japan.