December 8th 1941, President Roosevelt appears before congress and loudly declares:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan”
His impassioned speech leads to the congressional approval of a declaration of war between the United States and Japan; America had finally entered the ring, and it was an action that would alter the course of history.
What, though, had led the United States to war? A nation that appeared to have learned its lesson from the Great War and valued isolation from European quarrels.
At 7.55am Hawaii time the day before, on an idyllic morning on America’s great Pacific paradise, Japanese dive bombers marauded out from cloud cover and began a relentless onslaught upon the US fleet stationed in harbour.
Over 350 aircraft would ferociously hack their way through American shipping and strategic positions across the island, with thousands dead and a critical blow struck deep into the heart of American naval power.
The incoming aircraft had been detected by ground radar, but in a twist of fate a squadron of B-17 bombers were expected that very morning. Radar operators were subsequently ordered to ignore their discovery; thus the fox was allowed to enter the coup.
The attack would render a large portion of the US fleet useless. Five out of eight battleships were destroyed during the assault, along with three destroyers and a myriad of other vessels and aircraft damaged.
Over 2,400 personnel were killed and a further 1,200+ wounded. Yet, despite the element of surprise and devastating initial losses, American personnel on the ground staged a valiant defence of the island (many of the casualties were sustained during fighting) and downed over 30 Japanese aircraft.
Sailors, airmen, cooks and nurses, all played their part in saving lives and held their ground in the face of overwhelming air power.
With the dust still settling on Pearl Harbour, the realisation of what could have been set in. America was on its knees but it was not defeated.
Japan’s great gamble had one fatal flaw; They failed to eliminate US aircraft carriers. Out at sea these vessels would form the staple element of America’s fight back in the Pacific, and the sailors and airmen of these vessels would have their revenge at Midway and across the western Pacific.
For a world gripped by bloody conflict, Pearl Harbour still shocked many. The sudden nature of this attack prompted America into action, and their apparent naivety in the face of a developing global conflict had cost them; they could not avoid this fight.
The administration had concerns of an impending attack in the weeks preceding Pearl Harbour, for diplomatic negotiations had deteriorated. Nothing had been done about their concerns however, and with sailors still floating lifeless in the harbour, pain and panic quickly turned to anger.
The coming years would see the United States take the fight to Japan and their fascist allies in Europe. Allied with Great Britain and the USSR, the axis powers would be driven from North Africa, Italy, the Philippines and South East Asia.
American industry would fuel the war efforts of their allies, and when all is said and done, the United States will become the world’s greatest superpower.