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December 7, 1941 – The Day of Infamy

Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor against US naval and air force, stationed on Hawaii, was the cause of war between two superpowers, making WWII a global conflict.

Japanese military aspirations were not something new on that day. Overpopulated, resource-poor, industrial bonanza, Japan has taken numerous steps to expand its empire through the whole of Asia including the Pacific ocean.

After victory in the Russo-Japanese war, 1904-1905, the balance of power in Asia was shifted in the Japanese favor. Nothing could stop Japan to establish dominance there, preferably Korea and Manchuria, resource-rich territories. But, it drew attention to all western powers, considering it as a new challenge and a rival.

Chinese mainland was a primary objective, but for a secure sphere of influence and protected empire, Japan had to plan dominance in the pacific ocean. American annexation of Hawaii and the Phillippines made that attempt not an easy task to achieve. Clouds of war possibility were noticeable since 1920, enhanced with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931., and the second Sino-Japanese war in 1937. Several incidents, like USS Panay, The Nanking Massacre, The Allison incident, did not help calm the tensions down. Some polls in the US made clear that war with Japan is a very possible outcome, more than half of participants have thought so.

After the invasion of French Indochina, in 1940., The US has stopped delivering war equipment to Japan, followed by an oil embargo in July 1940.

There were attempts to make the situation better, offers for the withdrawal of Japanese troops from China were negotiated. Later on, it became clear that the Japanese side was just stalling and buying time for war preparations against the US.

Which goals should Japan accomplish? Elimination of Pacific fleet, making Pacific ocean threat-free for further military actions.

On November 26, 1941, the Japanese task force – Striking Force, with six aircraft carriers ( Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Zuikaku, Shokaku), followed by a massive fleet of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and other escort vessels, left port in Kuril islands and headed to Hawaii islands. In total radio silence, Striking Force has succeeded to come into the vicinity of Hawaii unnoticed. There were some minor mistakes on both sides, but the attack has started without alerting US forces on the islands.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto wanted Japan to declare war 30 minutes before the attack, but strange situation development has occurred in message processing, so Japan officially entered the war without a declaration.

The airplane attack was planned in two waves (360 torpedo and dive bomber planes), followed by combat air patrol (48 Zero fighter planes).

Submarines were included in the attack, also. Primary target battleships, later on, any other vessel in port. Japanese war planners were convinced that war against the US would be the war of battleships, but they were wrong. Also, the attack failed to destroy infrastructure and logistic support facilities.

At 07:48 am, the first torpedo plane has attacked its target. They were the slowest ones, using the element of surprise to compensate for lack of speed. Two waves of attack had very effective results, 21 ships were sunk or heavily damaged, 2403 killed and 1143 were wounded, of the 402 American aircraft, 188 were destroyed and 159 were damaged. Japanese had 55 airmen and 9 submariners killed in the attack, 29 planes were lost and 74 were damaged in AA fire. Fortunately for the US, aircraft carriers were at deep sea, on exercises.

Not long after the attack, news about Japanese aggression came in the US. On December 8, 1941., at 12:30 p.m., FDR made a speech – The Day of Infamy speech, in front of the US Congress. After the speech, US Congress has declared war against Japan, with only one vote against the declaration. 81% of the US population were tuning in to listen to radio broadcasts. A new feeling of unity spread up among the American people, patriotic sentiment was overwhelming in every part of the US. The gigantic war machine was initialized with well-known consequences.

Admiral Hara Tadaichi summed up the Japanese result by saying:” We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.”