Today, December 7, is the 75th anniversary of the attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, in 1941. The attack came as a profound shock to the American people and led directly to the American entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. Domestic support for non-interventionism, which had been fading since the Fall of France in 1940, disappeared. Clandestine support of the United Kingdom (e.g., the Neutrality Patrol) was replaced by active alliance. Subsequent operations by the U.S. prompted Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to declare war on the U.S. on December 11, which was reciprocated by the U.S. the same day.
Japan intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan planned in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Over the next seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Japanese troops invaded also Thailand from Indochina with landings south of Bangkok and at various points along the Kra Peninsula. Despite fierce fighting in southern Thailand, the resistance lasted only a matter of hours before ending in a ceasefire.
The attack on Pearl Harbor commenced at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time. The base was attacked by 353 Imperial Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. 2,008 sailors were killed and 710 others wounded; 218 soldiers and airmen (who were part of the Army until the independent U.S. Air Force was formed in 1947) were killed and 364 wounded; 109 marines were killed and 69 wounded; and 68 civilians were killed and 35 wounded. In total, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. All of the Americans killed or wounded during the attack were non-combatants, given the fact there was no state of war when the attack occurred.
Of the American fatalities, nearly half were due to the explosion of USS Arizona‘s forward magazine after it was hit by a modified 16-inch (40-centimeter) shell. Already damaged by a torpedo and on fire amidships, USS Nevada attempted to exit the harbor. She was targeted by many Japanese bombers as she got under way and sustained more hits from 250-pound (113 kilogram) bombs, which started further fires. She was deliberately beached to avoid blocking the harbor entrance. USS California was hit by two bombs and two torpedoes. The crew might have kept her afloat, but were ordered to abandon ship just as they were raising power for the pumps. Burning oil from USS Arizona and USS West Virginia drifted down on her, and probably made the situation look worse than it was. The disarmed target ship USS Utah was holed twice by torpedoes. USS West Virginia was hit by seven torpedoes, the seventh tearing away her rudder. USS Oklahoma was hit by four torpedoes, the last two above her belt armor, which caused her to capsize. USS Maryland was hit by two of the converted 40 cm shells, but neither caused serious damage.
Although the Japanese concentrated on battleships (the largest vessels present), they did not ignore other targets. The light cruiser USS Helena was torpedoed, and the concussion from the blast capsized the neighboring minelayer USS Oglala. Two destroyers in dry dock, USS Cassin and USS Downes were destroyed when bombs penetrated their fuel bunkers. The leaking fuel caught fire; flooding the dry dock in an effort to fight the fire made the burning oil rise, and both were burned out. USS Cassin slipped from her keel blocks and rolled against USS Downes. The light cruiser USS Raleigh was holed by a torpedo. The light cruiser USS Honolulu was damaged, but remained in service. The repair vessel Vestal, moored alongside USS Arizona, was heavily damaged and beached. The seaplane tender USS Curtiss was also damaged. The destroyer USS Shaw was badly damaged when two bombs penetrated her forward magazine.
Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 of them on the ground. Almost none were actually ready to take off to defend the base. Eight Army Air Forces pilots managed to get airborne during the attack and six were credited with downing at least one Japanese aircraft during the attack. Of 33 PBYs in Hawaii, 24 were destroyed, and six others damaged beyond repair. The three on patrol returned undamaged. Friendly fire brought down some U.S. planes on top of that, including five from an inbound flight from USS Enterprise. Japanese attacks on barracks killed additional personnel. At the time of the attack, nine civilian aircraft were flying in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor. Of these, three were shot down.
Fifty-five Japanese airmen and nine submariners were killed in the attack, and one was captured. Of Japan’s 414 available planes, 29 were lost during the battle (nine in the first attack wave, 20 in the second), with another 74 damaged by antiaircraft fire from the ground.
After a systematic search for survivors, formal salvage operations began. Captain Homer N. Wallin, Material Officer for Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was immediately ordered to lead salvage operations. “Within a short time I was relieved of all other duties and ordered to full time work as Fleet Salvage Officer”.
Around Pearl Harbor, divers from the Navy (shore and tenders), the Naval Shipyard, and civilian contractors (Pacific Bridge and others) began work on the ships that could be refloated. They patched holes, cleared debris, and pumped water out of ships. Navy divers worked inside the damaged ships. Within six months, five battleships and two cruisers were patched or refloated so they could be sent to shipyards in Pearl Harbor and on the mainland for extensive repair.
Intensive salvage operations continued for another year, a total of some 20,000 man-hours under water. USS Oklahoma, while successfully raised, was never repaired, and capsized while under tow to the mainland in 1947. USS Arizona and the target ship USS Utah were too heavily damaged for salvage, though much of their armament and equipment was removed and put to use aboard other vessels. Today, the two hulks remain where they were sunk, with USS Arizona becoming a war memorial.
In the wake of the attack, 15 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Stars, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Star Medals were awarded to the American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat at Pearl Harbor. Additionally, a special military award, the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal, was later authorized for all military veterans of the attack.
The day after the attack, Roosevelt delivered his famous Infamy Speech to a Joint Session of Congress, calling for a formal declaration of war on the Empire of Japan. Congress obliged his request less than an hour later. On December 11, Germany and Italy, honoring their commitments under the Tripartite Pact, declared war on the United States. The pact was an earlier agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan which had the principal objective of limiting U.S. intervention in any conflicts involving the three nations. Congress issued a declaration of war against Germany and Italy later that same day. The United Kingdom actually declared war on Japan nine hours before the U.S. did, partially due to Japanese attacks on Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong, and partially due to Winston Churchill’s promise to declare war “within the hour” of a Japanese attack on the United States.
The attack was an initial shock to all the Allies in the Pacific Theater. Further losses compounded the alarming setback. Japan attacked the Philippines hours later (because of the time difference, it was December 8 in the Philippines). Only three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk off the coast of Malaya, causing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill later to recollect “In all the war I never received a more direct shock. As I turned and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American capital ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor who were hastening back to California. Over this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked”.
Throughout the war, Pearl Harbor was frequently used in American propaganda. Americans rallied together, ready to prove to Japan, Germany, and the rest of the world, how strong their resolve was to defend their home. The day after the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
It was not long before Americans around the country began writing the Post Office Department and the White House requesting stamps representing America’s dedication to winning the war.
The selected design for the stamp was based on a poster by artist Mark O’Dea picturing the American eagle. When he received the early designs, President Roosevelt liked the stamp, but suggested that the eagle have very little engraving, to make it stand out from the background.
Scott #905 was issued on July 4, 1942, the anniversary of American independence, in Washington, DC. Printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the rotary press, the 3-cent violet stamp was perforated 11×10½. The quantity printed was 20,642,793,310.
Surprisingly, when the stamp was issued, it received such negative criticism, many speculated it would be removed from sale and reissued. The problem with the design lay in the direction of the eagle’s gaze and arrows. Historically, depictions of the American eagle in wartime pictured the eagle facing the same direction his arrows pointed, so that both the eagle and weapons are directed toward their objectives. Some have speculated that President Roosevelt realized this, and deliberately accepted the printed design, so that the weapons point toward the enemy while the eagle looks the other way, toward peace.
Despite criticisms over the design, the Win the War stamp was one of the most commonly used 3¢ stamps during the war, and was often sent on mail to U.S. soldiers fighting overseas.
President Franklin Roosevelt was instrumental in the design and issuance of U.S. #905. Introduced to stamp collecting at a young age by his mother, Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned to his collection throughout his life to relax and unwind.
Elected President four times, Roosevelt served in the nation’s highest office longer than any other chief executive – 12 years. During those 12 years, Roosevelt shared his love of stamps with the nation, personally approving each of more than 200 stamp designs. He suggested topics, rejected others, and even designed some himself. It was his aim to use stamps not just to send mail but also to educate Americans about our history. And as he reluctantly entered America into World War II, he saw these stamps as an outlet to raise spirits and bring hope.
One further consequence of the attack on Pearl Harbor and its aftermath (notably the Niihau Incident) was that Japanese American residents and citizens were relocated to nearby internment camps. Within hours of the attack, hundreds of Japanese American leaders were rounded up and brought to high-security camps such as Sand Island at the mouth of Honolulu harbor and Kilauea Military Camp on the island of Hawaii. Eventually, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, nearly all who lived on the West Coast, were forced into interior camps, but in Hawaii, where the 150,000-plus Japanese Americans composed over one-third of the population, only 1,200 to 1,800 were interned.
The attack also had international consequences. The Canadian province of British Columbia, bordering the Pacific Ocean, had long had a large population of Japanese immigrants. Pre-war tensions were exacerbated by the Pearl Harbor attack, leading to a reaction from the Government of Canada. On February 24, 1942, Order-in-Council P.C. no. 1486 was passed under the War Measures Act allowing for the forced removal of any and all Canadians of Japanese descent from British Columbia, as well as the prohibiting from them returning to the province. On March 4, regulations under the Act were adopted to evacuate Japanese-Canadians. As a result, 12,000 were interned in interior camps, 2,000 were sent to road camps and another 2,000 were forced to work in the prairies at sugar beet farms.
Admiral Hara Tadaichi summed up the Japanese result by saying, “We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.” While the attack accomplished its intended objective, it turned out to be largely unnecessary. Unbeknownst to Yamamoto, who conceived the original plan, the U.S. Navy had decided as far back as 1935 to abandon ‘charging’ across the Pacific towards the Philippines in response to an outbreak of war (in keeping with the evolution of Plan Orange). The U.S. instead adopted “Plan Dog” in 1940, which emphasized keeping the Imperial Japanese Navy out of the eastern Pacific and away from the shipping lanes to Australia, while the U.S. concentrated on defeating Nazi Germany.
Fortunately for the United States, the American aircraft carriers were untouched by the Japanese attack; otherwise the Pacific Fleet’s ability to conduct offensive operations would have been crippled for a year or more (given no diversions from the Atlantic Fleet). As it was, the elimination of the battleships left the U.S. Navy with no choice but to rely on its aircraft carriers and submarines — the very weapons with which the U.S. Navy halted and eventually reversed the Japanese advance. While six of the eight battleships were repaired and returned to service, their relatively low speed and high fuel consumption limited their deployment, and they served mainly in shore bombardment roles (their only major action being the Battle of Surigao Strait). A major flaw of Japanese strategic thinking was a belief that the ultimate Pacific battle would be fought by battleships, in keeping with the doctrine of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. As a result, Yamamoto (and his successors) hoarded battleships for a “decisive battle” that never happened.
The Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war meant that they neglected Pearl Harbor’s navy repair yards, oil tank farms, submarine base, and old headquarters building. All of these targets were omitted from Genda’s list, yet they proved more important than any battleship to the American war efforts in the Pacific. The survival of the repair shops and fuel depots allowed Pearl Harbor to maintain logistical support to the U.S. Navy’s operations, such as the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway. It was submarines that immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy’s heavy ships and brought Japan’s economy to a virtual standstill by crippling the transportation of oil and raw materials: by the end of 1942, import of raw materials was cut to half of what it had been, “to a disastrous ten million tons”, while oil import “was almost completely stopped”. Lastly, the basement of the Old Administration Building was the home of the cryptanalytic unit which contributed significantly to the Midway ambush and the Submarine Force’s success.
Today, the USS Arizona Memorial on the island of Oahu honors the dead. Visitors to the memorial reach it via boats from the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The memorial was designed by Alfred Preis, and has a sagging center but strong and vigorous ends, expressing “initial defeat and ultimate victory”. It commemorates all lives lost on December 7, 1941. Although December 7 is known as Pearl Harbor Day, it is not a federal holiday in the United States. The nation does however pay homage remembering the thousands injured and killed when attacked by the Japanese in 1941. Ceremonies are held annually at Pearl Harbor itself, attended each year by some of the ever-dwindling number of elderly veterans who were there on the morning of the attack. Schools and other establishments in some places around the country lower the American flag to half-staff out of respect. The naval vessel where the war ended on September 2, 1945 — the last U.S. Navy battleship ever built, USS Missouri — is now a museum ship moored in Pearl Harbor, with its bow barely 1,000 feet (300 meters) southwest of the Arizona memorial.