Rutgers University The Attack on Pearl Harbor A Comprehensive Essay Brian Foley LTJG LaVopa Maritime Strategies and Affairs 15 April 2013 The Attack on Pearl Harbor The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the worst attacks took the United States by surprise. 7 December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt claimed it to be “a date which will live in infamy. ” On that day, hundreds of Japanese fighters and dive bombers swarmed over the island, destroying ships, air planes, and other assets. After that day, over 2,300 Americans had been killed, 12 ships were sunk, and 160 aircraft were destroyed.
The attack took the entire country by surprise, especially Pearl Harbor base; which expected nothing to happen on that lazy Sunday morning (“The Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor”). In this paper, I will talk about what events led up to Japan’s attack on the U. S. , what occurred and how the attack happened, and what were the effects on the U. S. Navy after the attack occurred. To understand the attack on Pearl Harbor, first we must look at the events leading up to the attack. In the early 1930s, Japan started its conquest to take China. In 1931, Japan conquered Manchuria, challenging America’s “Open Door” policy. LaVopa) In 1937, Japan continued its campaign to take the rest of China. In 1940, the Japanese ally Nazi Germany and join the axis powers. A year later, they take over Indochina. In the process of expansion in China, a U. S. Gunboat, the USS Panay, was attacked by Japanese aircraft while on patrol in the Chinese sea. President Roosevelt wanted to pin this as a reason to go to war, but the Japanese sent an apology, payed for all of the damages, and then promised to protect American Nationals; leaving Roosevelt with no way to declare war on Japan. Events) Tensions rise with Japan and the U. S. , when President Roosevelt asks congress to for $500 million to increase America’s defense. Roosevelt did this because he believed that Germany was a threat to the U. S. , but the Japanese saw this as a threat because they saw this build-up of defense forces as a direct threat to their Empire, because the U. S. is the only country in the pacific that could threaten their interests of expansion. (Events) Because of this threat, Japan starts developing war plans on how to deal with the U. S. , much like the U. S. ’ war plan orange.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto takes command of the Japanese fleet, he was chosen as admiral because he had lived in America for a few years, and knew how Americans behave, and what type of people we were. Yamamoto knew that Japan’s current war plan of conducting one huge naval battle against the U. S. would not work. “He needed a new plan which would remove the threat of the U. S. intervention from his flank. ” (Events) Yamamoto later devises a plan to destroy the U. S. Navy in Hawaii, and then hopefully crush the morals of the American people, thereby effectively scaring the U. S. out of the war.
As Japan continues its expansion over East Asia, the U. S. was alarmed as the Japanese threatened political and economic interests. President Roosevelt wants to stop the Japanese expansion, and knowing that Japan does not have the resources it needs to continue its campaign, he enacts a trade embargo of oil; a commodity that Japan desperately needs to continue its expansion. Japan took these trade embargoes as a threat to their nation’s survival. Japanese leaders then decided they would have to seize the oil rich territories of Southeast Asia, despite that this move would surely lead to war with the U. S.
This is what forced Japan to enact the plan Yamamoto devised, they had to defeat the U. S. pacific navy so they would be able to obtain the resource rich territories in Southeast Asia. “The Japanese believed that they were being pushed into a corner by Roosevelt and felt that they must act to protect the Empire. ” (Events) This demonstrates the use of the Navy as an instrument of foreign policy. Japan wanted to acquire Southeast Asia, but was deterred by the U. S. Navy in the pacific. In the spring of 1941, the Japanese began training their pilots in special tactics just for the attack on Pearl Harbor. The key elements in Yamamoto’s plans were meticulous preparation, the achievement of surprise, and the use of aircraft carriers and naval aviation on an unprecedented scale. ” (Department) In October 1941, the naval general staff finally granted approval to Yamamoto’s plan. His attack force consisted of six heavy aircraft carriers along with 24 other supporting vessels. As well as a submarine force to sink any ships trying to escape from Pearl Harbor during the attack. As much as the Japanese tried to keep their plans a secret, U. S. Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C.
Grew, found out about the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor, but no one at Washington took him seriously. If they had, the attack on Pearl Harbor could have been avoided. Most of the senior military experts believed that the attack would happen elsewhere, such as Manila in the Philippine islands. Because they knew that an attack somewhere in the pacific would be imminent, the U. S. started building up defenses around Hawaii and other pacific assets. During this time period U. S. intelligence continues to monitor Japanese secret messages. “American scientists had developed a machine, code named ‘Magic” which gave U.
S. intelligence officers the ability to read Japanese secret message traffic. ‘Magic’ provided all types of high quality information but because of preconceived ideas in Washington some data was not followed up on and important pieces of the pre-attack puzzle were missed. ” (Events) This shows the failure of communication between the U. S. Navy and congress. The Army also had its own intelligence office, but the Navy and the Army did not share any information with each other. They were operating each on their own, further complicating the situation of miscommunication they were in.
To make matters even worse, Japan sends its diplomat to Washington to seek out a diplomatic solution to the problem. Only this was a ploy to create smoke and mirrors to distract the U. S. from the plans that were taking place in the Pacific. (Events) At 0600 on the morning of 7 December, the Japanese launch 181 planes consisting of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, horizontal bombers and fighters. (Department) At 0700, an Army radar operator spots the first wave of approaching Japanese planes. He passes on the information, but the officers of whom it was relayed to did not consider it anything out of the rdinary, and instead mistook it for American planes that were scheduled to land later in the morning. The Japanese aircrews achieve a complete surprise when they drop their payloads on the American ships and military installations. The Japanese’s strategy was to attack the airfields on the island at the same as the ships. This way they would give the Americans no chance to get in their planes and intercept them. The primary targets were the 8 battleships in the harbor, 7 of them being in battleship row. The damage to these ships was horrendous. The USS West Virginia sunk almost immediately.
The USS Oklahoma capsized and then sank. The USS Arizona exploded in one of the biggest fireballs at Pearl Harbor, after the forward ammunition magazine was ignited from a bomb, sending parts of the ship over 300 feet into the air. (Remembering) The USS California, USS Maryland, USS Tennessee, and USS Nevada also suffered different degrees of damage over the course of the raid. The attack ended shortly before 1000, less than two hours after it started. The American forces at Pearl Harbor suffered heavy losses. 21 of the ships in the pacific fleet were either sunk or damaged.
There were 188 destroyed aircraft, and 159 damaged. And the total number of American lives lost was 2,403. The Japanese losses were very light in comparison to the U. S. Only 29 of their planes did not make it back to the carriers. Although the success of the Japanese attack was overwhelming, they still failed their mission of what they intentionally went there for: to destroy the American aircraft carriers and disable the Pacific fleet. The carriers were not there because they were sent to supply the Midway and the Wake islands with aircraft.
The Japanese also failed to destroy the shore side facilities at Pearl Harbor, those of which would be later used to repair all but three of the ships sunk after the attack. One of the most important failures was the demoralizing of the American people. It had the opposite effect that Yamamoto had intended. It caused shock and anger, which brought the unification of the American opinion into total commitment for victory in World War II. (Department) Ultimately, the major effects of the attack on Pearl Harbor were the transition of the capital ship from battle ships to aircraft carriers.
Because nearly all battleships were disabled, the aircraft carrier became the new capital ship. Making the Navy realize how much of a valuable asset these ships are to the fleet. This effect can still be seen today, as the leading strike force in the ocean is no other than the carrier strike force. Pearl Harbor will always be remembered as “a day of infamy” and its effects will be seen in the Navy for decades to come. Works Cited Department of Defense. 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemorative Committee. Pearl Harbor: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Chronicle, “A Grateful Nation Remembers” 1941-1991. Washington: The Committee, 1991. Events Leading to the Japanese Attack of Pearl Harbor Hawaii. ” World History International: World History Essays From Prehistory To The Present. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. “The Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor. ” America’s Story from America’s Library. N. p. , n. d. Web. 14 Apr. 2013. LaVopa , Anthony. “The US Navy in the Pacific, 1941-1945. ” Maritime Strategies and Affairs. Rutgers University, The State University of New Jersey. Hardenburgh, Piscataway . 13 Mar. 2013. Class lecture. “Remembering Pearl Harbor – National Geographic Education. ” Teachers Homepage – National Geographic Education. N. p. , n. d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.