7 December 1941 is the date of one of the most significant events of the twentieth century – the surprise attack by Japanese forces, directed by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. It triggered the entry of the United States into World War Two and set the scene for the war in the Pacific – a conflict that would rage for nearly another four years.
The attack began just before 8 am and consisted of more than 350 Japanese naval aircraft launched from six aircraft carriers. Included in this force were torpedo and conventional bombers together with a fighter escort, all of which targeted the US fleet of battleships and destroyers, lying at anchor around Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbour.
Attacking in two waves, the Japanese caught the US Navy by surprise, and
in apocalyptic scenes scored numerous direct hits with bombs and torpedoes that devastated the fleet. 2,403 Americans were killed, four battleships sunk, four others heavily damaged and 188 US aircraft destroyed.
The attack was launched before a declaration of war was made, leading the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe it as:
“A date which will live in infamy”.
He stated further that:
“I believe 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 very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again”.
The United States Government, boosted with virtually unanimous domestic support, declared war against Japan soon after, followed by similar declarations against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
Although Pearl Harbour was a short-term victory for Japan, Admiral Yamamoto was later reported to have written:
I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.
Image: The battleship USS Arizona heeling over sharply after receiving four direct hits from Japanese bombers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.