Photo: U.S. Navy



Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack. Photo taken

in eastern direction approximately, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island

(center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and tilting) alongside Maryland, and California.

On the left are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed and Utah is tilting sharply to port.

Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. U.S. Navy planes on the seaplane ramp are on fire.

The Japanese attack on the American base at

Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941,

is one of the decisive milestones of the Second

World War and of the entire twentieth century. It

was the catharsis of a long-standing crisis in Japanese–American relations and brought the United States into the World War 2. United States as a

global economic and military power had until then

kept aloof from the war in Europe, even they were

preparing for it and supporting their future allies.

War between Japan and the United States was a threat that both countries

had been preparing for since the 1920s. Japan had viewed the expansion

of American spheres of influence in the Pacific since the 1890s with concern. In the First World War, Japan sided with the Allied Powers, and it was

also one of the reasons why Germany lost its colonies in Asia. However,

the Japanese government itself saw the path to international power in

colonial expansion, which it saw as unacceptable in other states.

Tensions between Japan and the U.S. escalated in 1931 after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and increased during the war in China in the

following decade. In 1940, Japan seized French Indochina in an attempt

to impose an embargo on all imports into China, including war supplies

heading from the US. This move prompted the United States to impose a

retaliatory embargo on Japan's oil exports, leading the Japanese to estimate that its supplies would last less than two years. For some time,

Japan had been planning the conquest of the “Southern Resource Area”

in order to join the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” that Japan

wanted to create.

The strategic target of the attack was the Philippines, which was an U.S.

protectorate at the time. Part of the plan was a preemptive attack on Pearl

Harbor that would neutralize the US naval forces in the Pacific.

Planning an attack

Preparations for the attack on Pearl Harbor began by Admiral Isoroku

Yamamoto in early 1941. As a former military attaché in Washington, he

had reservations about war with the US, but when preparations for the

attack were about to begin, he took them personally. He eventually won

the approval of the Navy High Command by, among other things, threatening to resign. From the summer of 1941, the attack was codenamed



Operation Z, but had other names too.

During 1941, the Japanese gathered intelligence in Hawaii using their own

network and Abwehr agents. Although the U.S. closed the Hawaiian consulates belonging to Italy and Germany during the summer, the Japanese

consulate was not closed for fear of increasing tensions with Tokyo. The

latter was a key source for tracking the movements of vessels and US

troops in planning the attack.

Yamamoto had studied the British raid on the Taranto base and even sent

a research team to Italy for this purpose. Yamamoto, together with Rear

Admiral Kusaka and Commander Minoru Genda, planned the attack using

aircraft carriers whose planes were to strike with a surprise attack in the

early morning hours. Because of the shallow waters in the harbor, the

Japanese were forced to adjust the torpedoes and practice dropping them

under these specific conditions. The Navy used Kagoshima Harbor with its

mountain range surroundings as a training area similar to Hawaii.

The landing and occupation of the Hawaiian Islands was also considered,

but this idea was abandoned by the Japanese because of the current involvement of Army units in China, the planned deployment in the Philippines and other areas in the southwest direction.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was approved in the summer of 1941 at the Imperial Conference. The authorization for the attack was given at a second

Imperial Conference provided a satisfactory outcome for Japan was not

achieved in diplomatic negotiations with the United States. Following the

so-called Hull Note, the order to attack was given on December 1, 1941.

However, Emperor Hirohito hesitated until the last moment to issue it.

Japanese naval aviators

The crews of Aichi D3A bombers, Nakajima B5N bombers and A6M2 fighter pilots understood that they were preparing for a major military encounter during the training of attacks on the port target. However, they estimated the target differently. Many of them assumed it would be an attack

on a Russian base, as tensions between Japan and Russia over fishing

issues were rising at the time. Others expected an attack on American

bases in the Aleutians. Some, however, correctly guessed Pearl Harbor.

The crews of the B5N bombers were a little uncomfortable with the dark

paint on the upper surfaces of their machines before the attack. Others

found it ominous when they saw training torpedoes with red paint on their

warheads being swapped for combat torpedoes with black paint before

the formation sailed.

After the crews had been told the target of the attack, the officers on some

ships had to assure their subordinates that the plan was in accord with

the position of the naval command. This was to prevent rumors that might have spread in connection with several coup attempts that Japan had

suffered in the past decade. And it was also necessary to emphasize that

the plan was prepared in concert between the Army and Navy leadership,

INFO Eduard - December 2021