Attack on Pearl Harbor
During the 1930's Japan was having a difficult time with its economy. The country decided to invade and take over neighboring countries to capture their import markets. In 1937, Japan invaded China. The United States responded by placing trade sanctions on Japan. They prevented Japan from importing oil and other necessary products. Japan didn't like that. For many months, Japanese ambassadors were in Washington, D. C. trying to get together on an agreement, but nothing happened.
The United States did not think that Japan would start a war. The distance from the United States was too far. They thought that possibly Japan would attack some islands in the Pacific belonging to European countries.
At that time, nearly the entire United States Pacific fleet of battleships was stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Japanese decided that if they could wipe out that fleet, the United States would not be able to stop their further takeover of countries in Asia. Plans for the attack began in January, 1941.
On December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a. m, Japanese airplanes began dropping bombs on the battleships in Pearl Harbor. They also hit the airfields where several hundred airplanes were stationed. They chose a Sunday morning when the service men would not be as alert. Many were still in their pajamas or eating breakfast. They had no warning.
First, bombs were dropped on the USS Arizona. It sank with over 1000 men killed. The USS Oklahoma turned over and sank with over 400 men dead. The attack lasted 110 minutes. By the end of that attack, every one of the 8 battleships had suffered great damage. More than 300 airplanes were destroyed as well as the airfields.
However, by that time in history, battleships were no longer the most important type of warship for the United States. Aircraft carriers were much more valuable. It so happened that none of the carriers was at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. Also, 6 of the 8 battleships were later repaired and used again. The bombs didn't destroy the oil storage tanks or the repair shops or shipyards. So, the United States was able to recover more quickly than the enemy thought.
On December 8, 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt declared was on Japan. The Congress supported him. Two allies of Japan, Italy and Germany, declared war on the United States 3 days later. The United States approved a war against them. Now the United States had joined World War II which had begun in Europe in 1939.
The Japanese Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was in charge of the attack on Pearl Harbor. His fleet of aircraft was made up of 353 planes. The Japanese also used 5 midget submarines which secretly entered the harbor and released torpedoes against the battleships. Four of these were destroyed by the United States. The Japanese lost 65 men and 28 planes. Many of these planes were suicide bombers. Men who thought it was great to die for their country crashed their planes into the battleship decks.
The United States service men identified the Japanese planes by seeing the 'meatballs', the red suns, on the planes. The red circle, the rising sun, was the Japanese symbol.
Today, a floating national monument sits on top of the hull of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
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