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Attack on Pearl Harbor (Page 2)

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Picture of a burned B-17 airplane at Hickam Field after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

A burned B-17C aircraft rests near Hangar Number Five, Hickam Field, following the attack by Japanese aircraft. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (December 7, 1941)

(Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

The Attack on the Airfields

Attacking the U.S. aircraft on Oahu was an essential component of the Japanese attack plan. If the Japanese were successful in destroying a large portion of the U.S. airplanes, then they could proceed unhindered in the skies above Pearl Harbor. Plus, a counter-attack against the Japanese attack force would be much more unlikely.

Thus, a portion of the first wave of Japanese planes that arrived over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. were ordered to target the airfields that surrounded Pearl Harbor.

As the Japanese planes reached the airfields, they found many of the American fighter planes lined up along the airstrips, wingtip to wingtip, making easy targets. The Japanese strafed and bombed the planes, hangers, and other buildings located near the airfields, including dormitories and mess halls.

By the time the U.S. military personnel at the airfields realized what was happening, there was little they could do. The Japanese were extremely successful at destroying most of the U.S. aircraft. A few individuals picked up guns and shot at the invading planes.

A handful of U.S. fighter pilots were able to get their planes off the ground, only to find themselves vastly outnumbered in the air. Still, they were able to shoot down a few Japanese planes.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor Is Over

By 9:45 a.m., just under two hours after the attack had begun, the Japanese planes left Pearl Harbor and headed back to their aircraft carriers. The attack on Pearl Harbor was over.

All Japanese planes had returned to their aircraft carriers by 12:14 p.m. and just an hour later, the Japanese attack force began their long journey homeward.

The Damage Done

In just under two hours, the Japanese had sunk four U.S. battleships (Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and West Virginia). The Nevada was beached and the other three battleships at Pearl Harbor received considerable damage.

Also damaged were three light cruisers, four destroyers, one minelayer, one target ship, and four auxiliaries.

Of the U.S. aircraft, the Japanese managed to destroy 188 and damage an additional 159.

The death toll among Americans was quite high. A total of 2,335 servicemen were killed and 1,143 were wounded. Sixty-eight civilians were also killed and 35 were wounded. Nearly half of the servicemen that were killed were on board the Arizona when it exploded.

All this damage was done by the Japanese, who suffered very few losses themselves -- just 29 aircraft and five midget subs.

The United States Enters World War II

The news of the attack on Pearl Harbor quickly spread throughout the United States. The public was shocked and outraged. They wanted to strike back. It was time to join World War II.

At 12:30 p.m. on the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave an address to Congress in which he declared that December 7, 1941 was "a date that will live in infamy." At the end of the speech, Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. With only one dissenting vote (by Representative Jeannette Rankin from Montana), Congress declared war, officially bringing the United States into World War II.

* The 21 ships that were either sunk or damaged include: all eight battleships (Arizona, California, Nevada, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee), three light cruisers (Helena, Honolulu, and Raleigh), three destroyers (Cassin, Downes, and Shaw), one target ship (Utah), and four auxiliaries (Curtiss, Sotoyoma, Vestal, and Floating Drydock Number 2). The destroyer Helm, which was damaged but remained operational, is also included in this count.

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