69 years ago now, on December 7th 1941, the Japanese carried out the most ferocious attack on US naval vessels in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, one of the most infamous incidents in US military history. Meticulously thought out and perfectly carried through, this despicable raid had the sole aim of disabling US Naval forces to further Japanese expansion ambitions. Before this dastardly event, the USA was not involved in WWII, but that immediately changed.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had chosen Pearl Harbor as a base for the US Fleet in 1939, possibly to deter Japanese aggression. The deciding factor was undoubtedly the endless war Japan had been fighting against China since 1937, which appeared stalemated. Japan was in desperate need of commodities that were being denied to them. Western powers, in support of China, effectively stopped trading with Japan in July 1941.
Faced with such draconian measures, the Japanese focused on the East Indies and Southeast Asia, both rich in oil and raw materials, so conflict in the Pacific region became simply a matter of time. As 1941 drew to a close, peace negotiations between the warring parties were coming to an end, but all eyes were on an expected assault eastwards by Japanese forces, targeting Malaya, the Philippines and the East Indies. Japan was certainly expected to expand aggressively, but what happened was a complete shock.
The high command in the Japanese military were well aware of the threat posed by US naval power, and Pearl Harbor was, they knew, reachable by an aircraft carrier strike force. In the most outrageous show of force imaginable, the Japanese top brass secretly assembled and dispatched a convoy with more destructive air power than had ever been assembled in one pace before.
Shortly before eight in the morning of December 7th, 1941, this arial armada struck, and before any defence could be organized, five of the eight battleships in harbor were sunk or sinking, the other three all damaged. None of the US fighter aircraft on Hawaii made it off the ground, and as even more ships were sunk or damaged, almost 2,500 US servicemen had perished. Within a short time Japanese planes decimated US air power in the Philippines, and a Japanese Army had invaded Malaya.
The US was fortunate in one sense, because the real targets of the Pearl harbor attack were not there when it occurred. The Japanese high command had desperately wanted to knock out US aircraft carriers, and their failure to do so would prove very costly in the end. Japanese military successes had only been gained by avoiding diplomatic formalities, behavior which caused uproar amonst the US public.
Where opinion about entry into the fighting of WWII had been very divided, the shock and horror of Pearl Harbour galvanized the nation into one determined frame of mind, and battle was going to be joined with gusto. The ferocity of the US response really knocked the Japanese for six, the June, 1942 Battle of Midway inflicting massive damage on Japanese abilities for further strikes. After that, the victory over them was only a matter of time, but even 69 years on, US memories are still sharp. Pearl harbor was a tragedy the world should never forget.