1. Americans Fired the First Shot Before the Pearl Harbor Attack
The first of many Pearl Harbor facts many people don’t realize is that on the morning of December 7th, 1941, the Wickes-class destroyer USS Ward attacked and sank a Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarine near the entrance to the harbor, making it not only the first shot fired on that day, but the first official American shots in the War. The minesweeper Condor spotted the Japanese sub’s periscope above the water, which alerted the crew of the Ward, who opened fire on the intruder. Unfortunately, the reports from the Ward were discounted and disbelieved by Navy brass. Something they’d pay dearly for. The ship’s crew didn’t get confirmation that they’d sunk the submarine for over 60 years.
2. The Attack on Pearl Harbor Lasted for Only One Hour and Fifteen Minutes
Coming in from all directions, the defenders had no idea which direction they should fire. Wave after wave, Japanese planes arrived, targeting airstrips, ships, buildings, and storage areas.
Dive bombers, fighters, torpedo bombers, and high-level bombers blanketed the sky, dropping their deadly payloads across the island of Oahu. The two waves of aircraft enacted a heavy toll on their targets, namely battleship row.
- The Pearl Harbor attack began at 7:55 am HST on Sunday morning.
- Japanese aircraft were launched from the Japanese fleet north of Hawaii, consisting of:
- 67 Ships – 6 heavy aircraft carriers, two heavy cruisers, 35 submarines, two light cruisers, nine oilers, two battleships, 11 destroyers
- 353 Aircraft – 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive-bombers, 79 fighters
3. The Attack on Pearl Harbor Led to the US Entering World War II
With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. could no longer avoid an active fight. On December 8, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress to approve his declaration of war. The US declared war on Japan on December 8th.
Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. More than two years after the start of the conflict, the United States finally entered World War II.
4. Japanese Submarines Were Supposed to Play a Major Role in the Attack
The Japanese forces had planned to use their submarines for a number of different tasks before, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack. Before the Japanese bombers and fighter planes arrived from their aircraft carriers to the north, these submarines were to scout to penetrate the harbor’s defenses. Once the attack from the air started, they were to release their torpedoes at prime targets and escape back out of the channel.
After the attack, these submarines were to station themselves in pre-designated spots on the islands to pick up any pilots who couldn’t make it back to their carriers due to fuel or mechanical issues. One such pilot landed on Niihau (a small Hawaiian island near Kauai). Unfortunately for that Japanese pilot, his submarine had long left its position, stranding him there.
5. The Surprise Attack Did Not Destroy the Entire American Pacific Fleet
In the surprise attack on ‘Battleship Row’ on December 7th, the Arizona and Oklahoma were damaged beyond repair by bombs or torpedo hits; most ships returned to service. Of the 2,026 American sailors and marines killed in the attack, 1,606 had been aboard these two ships.
Three more battleships (the California, West Virginia, and Nevada) sank upright in the shallow water of the harbor. They were salvaged, and while many vessels did not return to the battlefield for several years, most suffered repairable damage. The Battleship Missouri is now anchored there.
6. The USS Arizona Memorial & Battleship Missouri Are “Bookends” To The War
These two mighty naval battleships proudly served the United States for many decades, anchored near each other in the harbor. Battleship Arizona, resting below the gentle waves of the harbor, where it blew up and sank during the attack on the “date which will live in infamy.” This attack started the USA’s formal entry into World War II.
Battleship Missouri represents the end of the war. This mighty ship, launched in 1944, participated in the shelling of Iwo Jima and Okinawa before sailing into Tokyo Bay to host the formal surrender of Japan. They signed at a small table on her teak decks with sailors and marines witnessing the proceedings.
7. Veterans Can Be Laid to Rest at Pearl Harbor
A remarkable USS Arizona fact that honors the survivors is that they have the option to join their lost comrades and make the ship their final resting place. Crew members who served on board the USS Arizona during the attack may choose to have their ashes deposited by divers beneath one of sunken Arizona’s gun turrets.
Brothers Serving Together
Roughly 44 Arizona survivors have chosen this option. Other military survivors can choose to have their ashes scattered wherever their ship was located during the attacks. The last person to be interred in the ship was in 2019.
Yes, the Battleship Arizona had 23 sets of brothers. There were 37 different families in pairs or trios for a total of 77 men. Only 15 of them survived, which was devastating. This policy was changed due to the tragic events of this day, but many brothers still served together throughout the war nonetheless.
8. Pearl Harbor was Attacked to Protect the Invasion of “Southern Resource Area”
By the time the first Japanese bomber appeared over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, tensions between Japan and the United States had been mounting for the better part of a decade, making war seem inevitable. Japanʻs naval forces depended on the United States to supply natural and industrial resources (namely, oil), without which its forces would be significantly impaired. This led Japan to target Southeast Asia, which is rich in minerals and oil. While they knew that such an invasion would lead to war against America, Japan decided to destroy America’s Pacific Fleet to prevent American interference in its plan to access countries’ resources in Southeast Asia, which Japan called the “Southern Resource Area.”
9. Japan Could Have Inflicted Greater Damage If They Targeted Different Areas
Japan concentrated on just destroying the battleships of the US Navy as it thought that the Pacific fleet battles would be decided on them. This proved to be wrong.
Had Japan focused the attack beyond the fleet and targeted navy repair yards, oil tank farms, submarine bases, and old headquarters building, it could have inflicted far greater damage. Because the plan was made to focus on battleships, American aircraft carriers were untouched by the attack (they were out at sea). This led to America being able to rebuild quickly for the war on Japan and ultimately reverse the Japanese advance after the setbacks of early 1942.
Admiral Hara Tadaichi summed up the Japanese result by saying, “We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.”
10. The USS Arizona Still Leaks Fuel
The day before the attacks, the USS Arizona took on a full load of fuel, nearly 1.5 million gallons. Much of that fuel helped ignite the explosion and subsequent fires that destroyed the ships, but amazingly, some fuel continues to seep out of the wreckage.
According to the History Channel, the Arizona “continues to spill up to 9 quarts of oil into the harbor each day.” This adds to the emotional gravity of this memorial and those visiting often refer to this phenomenon as the “tears of the Arizona” or “black tears.”
11. 30 Days After the Pearl Harbor Attack 134,000 Americans Enlisted in the Military
The attack on Pearl Harbor created a wave of patriotism and outrage. Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, 50 million of 132 million Americans were employed in the war effort working for the government. This mass industrialism allowed the US Navy to build all sorts of boats quickly, including 77 Gato class submarines (USS Bowfin) that were built between 1940 and 1944.
12. A Book Inspired The Japanese War Plan
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto conceived the Pearl Harbor attack, and Captain Minoru Genda planned it. Two things inspired Yamamoto’s Pearl Harbor idea: a prophetic book and a historic attack. The Great Pacific War was written in 1925 by Hector Bywater, a British naval authority. It was a realistic account of a clash between the United States and Japan that began with the Japanese destruction of the U.S. fleet and proceeded to a Japanese attack on Guam and the Philippines. When Britain’s Royal Air Force successfully attacked the Italian fleet at Taranto on November 11, 1940, Yamamoto was convinced that Bywater’s fiction could become a reality.
13. Operation K – The Second Attack On Oahu
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor a second time on March 4th, 1942, in what they called Operation K. They used two 4 engine naval flying boats, nicknamed “Emily” by the allies. It was somewhat like America’s PBY but much larger. They could carry one ton of bombs and had a crew of 10. Also known as the flying porcupine, it had five 20mm cannons and four machine guns in turrets and blisters. This time radar saw them coming, and just after midnight, air defense dispatched fighters to patrol Pearl Harbor. Unable to see the target due to cloudy weather, one aircraft dropped bombs on a remote hillside and the other into the ocean.
14. Japan is Now One of America’s Strongest Allies
While most people can tell you that the Japanese were responsible for the attacks, not everyone realizes that the Japanese now visit the memorial in droves.
Japan, now one of America’s strongest allies, is the largest source of international tourists to the state of Hawaii. Japanese visitors pay their respects at National Memorial just as Americans do.
Are you interested in learning more? Read this post about the things we donʻt think you know.