When most servicemen stationed at Pearl Harbor and around Oahu woke up on the morning of December 7th, 1941, they did so expecting a quiet Sunday. Those who were just ending their shifts were eager to start a little rest and relaxation with their loved ones, or just some free time off their vessels.
The sun was still creeping up when aircraft bearing the insignia of the Imperial Japanese Navy came into sight of the men on the decks of the battleships lined up at Battleship Row. The pilots flew dangerously low to the harbor—so close that their faces were clearly visible—and it didn’t take long for the purpose of their arrival to be known.
At 0755, the Japanese commenced their attack on Pearl Harbor, each torpedo strike and bomb drop intended to completely disable the United States Navy. Shocked at what was unfolding over the American territory, the men in uniform sprang into action. Even those who had just ended their shifts turned back and returned to provide assistance in any way possible.
Aboard the ships stuck on Battleship Row, brave men scrambled to hit back against the attackers. Dozens of Japanese aircraft swooped in, impeded by little more than the sporadic fire from anti-aircraft guns. Just as the Americans began striking back against the Japanese assault, the first wave of attackers left. At approximately 0840, it seemed the attack had ended and the vessels that were still seaworthy could break out of the harbor and get to a more advantageous position should the Japanese planes return.
Unfortunately, the second strike force soon swooped in and continued the ruthless attack on the mostly-defenseless harbor. Having been attacked on a Sunday, the Pearl Harbor and nearby air bases were ill-prepared. Many of the active servicemen were on weekend leave, the aircraft present at Hickam and Wheeler airfields weren’t prepared for battle, and the men simply weren’t in a mindset that had them prepped and ready for action.
Knowing the United States would be taken completely off-guard, the Imperial Japanese Navy struck and delivered waves of devastation.
The Four Years After Pearl Harbor
After the second Japanese attack wave returned to their aircraft carriers waiting in the Pacific, the naval base finally had the opportunity to assess the damage. In the days that followed, it was determined that over 2,400 Americans perished in the attack, and two battleships were deemed irreparable.
In response to Japan’s surprise assault, President Franklin Roosevelt appealed to Congress to declare war on Japan. His request was immediately granted and for the next four years, the United States was engaged with Japan in a bloody war in the Pacific. In the months after the declaration of war, Japan held its ground in the Pacific, beating back any attempt from the Allied fleets to reclaim island territories.
Then, the United States stonewalled Japan at the Battle of Midway. From then, the tides of the war shifted and the Imperial Japanese Navy never fully recovered. By September of 1945, the Japanese were forced to surrender, and the Pacific war that started with a two-hour surprise attack was finally ended.