By July 1941, in order to build empire in Asia, Japan had completed their occupation of French Indochina and turned their sights to Thailand, Burma and the Philippines, in order to cut off supply lines of China. Concerned over Japan’s ambitions, the US, Netherlands and Great Britain froze Japanese assets in their countries and imposed stringent economic restrictions. Japan moved forward with war plans. They believed the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was their only threat and set out to neutralize the fleet by means of a surprise air attack.
The first warning Hawaii received that Japan might attack the US was sent by the Navy to its fleet commanders on October 16, 1941, which was ignored. There was also an assumption in Washington that Japan had no seaborne aircraft capable of catching the Army’s B-24 bombers. They further believed that Japan had overextended their military in other regions and could not concentrate their military forces for a large scale strategic offensive in the Pacific.
On 7th December 1941, the Japanese began their air attack. The first wave arrived over Pearl Harbor at approximately 7:45 a.m. The Japanese initially hit the airfields, destroying many aircrafts located on the southern tip of Ford Island. Moments thereafter, torpedo planes attacked hitting the USS Helena, USS Utah, USS Raleigh, USS California, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma and West Virginia. Additional bombs were dropped on “Battleship Row”, hitting several ships. The USS Arizona received a death blow followed by a huge explosion. The second wave of planes further attacked some of the ships already hit, further destroying the Navy Yard. The battleship Pennsylvania and three destroyers were bombed in dry dock. Other bombers went after the Nevada, which had left her berth and was trying to get to sea. Anti-aircraft gunfire met these ships, causing losses which were far greater than those of the first attack wave.
All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. The day after the assault, America finally joined World War II.