On December 7, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the US Naval Base Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, using bombers, torpedo bombers and midget submarines. On December 8, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech, also known as the “Infamy Speech” to the American citizens, informing them that this happened while the US was in the midst of talks to keep peace. That same day, America entered into World War II.
On the southern end of Oahu, Pearl Harbor held a 22,000 acre naval base. Admiral Husband E. Kimmel of the Navy and Lt. General Walter C. Short of the Army were in command of the fleet and troops on the ground, respectively. The majority of the Pacific area’s military commands were headquartered there because of growing apprehensions regarding an aggressive Japanese presence.
Since Emperor Hirohito’s Japan wanted to expand in territory and power like some European countries, it needed natural resources, like the oil, aluminum, etc. found in The Netherlands East Indies. Standing in opposition to Japanese conquest of what Japan’s leaders termed “the Southern Resource Area” was the United States of America. Already, in retaliation for Japan forcing the Vichy French government in French Indochina (Vietnam) to all Japanese warplanes to base there, the US, Great Britain and The Netherlands had initiated a total embargo of oil and scrap metal to Japan. Unless a new source of oil was opened, the Imperial Japanese Navy would be in drydock within a year and Japanese industries would grind to a halt in 12–18 months.
A plan was developed to cripple the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor to allow time for Japan to seize the resource areas it needed and fortify them to the point that retaking them would cost more lives than the Imperial High Command thought Americans would be willing to pay. The Pearl Harbor attack plan was conceived by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the IJN. Yamamoto had studied in the United States. He knew his nation lacked the ability to defeat the much larger, resource- and industry-rich country and he did not share the opinion of many officers that Americans were too weak-willed to fight, but his vociferous arguments against going to war with America were overruled by the High Command.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, which was influenced by a successful British attack that used carrier aircraft against an Italian fleet at Taranto, Italy, the previous year, was essentially a last best-hope for Japanese success in the Pacific.
Early in the morning on December 7, more than 350 Japanese planes attacked about 33 American ships on orders of Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo. America sustained a loss of nearly 170 aircraft destroyed and 160 damaged that morning, as well as three ships destroyed and 16 damaged. Three thousand seven hundred Americans lost their lives, including 68 civilians. The cost to the Japanese was 29 aircraft, five midget submarines, and 130 service personnel, all but one of whom was killed in action.