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Remembering Pearl Harbor: History

Pearl Harbor Timeline
December 7, 1941
  0342 hours The minesweeper Condor is on patrol less than two miles (3.2 kilometers) off the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The officer of the deck sees something “about fifty yards [45 meters] ahead off the port bow.” He asks a sailor what he makes of the object. “That’s a periscope, sir,” the sailor replies. “And there aren’t supposed to be any subs in the area.”

The Condor sends a blinker-light message to the destroyer Ward: “Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed 9 knots.”
  0610 hours Already in flight, Comdr. Mitsuo Fuchida, who will lead the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor, sees the Japanese aircraft carriers rocking on a choppy sea. As the carriers pitch and roll, waves crash across on the flight decks. Crewmen cling to the aircraft to keep them from going over the side.

The carriers turn into the wind, and the first wave of planes—183 fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes—roar into the sky. Pilots reconfirm their navigation by using a Honolulu radio station’s music as a guiding beam.
  0645 hours The U.S. destroyer Ward, which had not been able to find the midget submarine reported by the minesweeper Condor, moves in for the kill. The Ward’s captain, Lt. William W. Outerbridge, has been in command for only two days. He orders men to commence firing. The first shot misses. The second strikes the submarine at the waterline.

The submarine heels over and appears “to slow and sink.” The Ward assures the sinking by dropping “a full pattern of depth charges.”
  0653 hours From the Ward to the 14th Naval Headquarters, at Pearl Harbor Naval Station: “We have dropped depth charges upon sub operating in defensive sea area.” Then, almost immediately, a second, more detailed message: “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area.”

The Ward’s captain believes that the message will show superiors that the destroyer had not just responded to a submarine sighting but actually had “shot at something.”
  0702 hours The Army’s Opana Mobile Radar Station is one of six radar stations on Oahu. Radar is a new defense tool in Hawaii; the system has been in operation for less than a month.

One of the two privates on duty looks at the radar oscilloscope and can’t believe his eyes. He asks his buddy to take a look—and he confirms the sighting: 50 or more aircraft on a bearing for Oahu. The privates call the Fort Shafter information center, the hub of the radar network.
  0715 hours The Ward had sent out its message—that it had attacked an unidentified sub—in code. At headquarters, code clerks decode the message, then routinely put it in “paraphrase” so there will not be an exact paper copy that might aid an enemy code breaker.

The message gradually makes its way to the top: Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet. Because there had been so many “false reports of submarines” recently, Kimmel decides to “wait for verification of the report.”
  0720 hours An Army lieutenant who is in training at the radio-network operations center at Fort Shafter gets the Opana radar station report: “the biggest sightings” the radar operator had ever seen. By now the planes are about 70 miles (113 kilometers) away. The lieutenant believes that the radar had picked up a flight of U.S. B-17 Flying Fortress bombers heading from California to Hawaii. For security reasons, he cannot tell this to the radar operators. All he says is, “Well, don’t worry about it.”
  0733 hours U.S. code breakers, though stymied by Japanese naval codes, have cracked the Japanese diplomatic code. From a Tokyo-to-Washington message, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gen. George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, learn that Japanese negotiators in Washington have been told to break off talks. Believing this may mean war, Marshall sends a warning to Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, commander of U.S. Army forces in Hawaii.

Because atmospheric static blacks out communications with Hawaii, Marshall’s message goes via commercial telegraph. (It will reach Short’s headquarters at 1145 hours. He will not see it until about 1500 hours.)
  0740 hours Planes of the first wave take off from the Japanese carriers—49 high-altitude bombers, 51 dive-bombers, 40 torpedo planes, 43 fighters. They fly through clouds, wondering if Pearl Harbor will be visible.

Then, as they near Oahu, the attack commander hears a Honolulu weather report: “clouds mostly over the mountains. Visibility good.” The clouds break. The fliers see “a long white line of coast”—Oahu’s Kakuku Point.
  0749 hours Air-attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida, looking down on Pearl Harbor, sees no aircraft carriers, which the Japanese hoped to destroy and thus thwart U.S. retaliation. He orders his telegraph operator to tap out to, to, to: attack. Then other taps: to ra, to ra, to ra: attack, surprise achieved.

Though not meant to have a double meaning, to ra is read by some Japanese pilots as tora—tiger. And according to a Japanese saying, “A tiger goes out 1,000 ri [2,000 miles/3,218 kilometers] and returns without fail.”
  0755 hours At the Command Center on Ford Island, Comdr. Logan C. Ramsey looks out a window to see a low-flying plane. A reckless U.S. pilot, he thinks. Then he sees “something black fall out of that plane” and realizes it’s a bomb.

Ramsey runs to a radio room and orders the telegraph operators to send out an uncoded message to every ship and base: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL

The coordinated attack begins as dive-bombers strike the Army Air Forces’ Wheeler Field, north of Pearl Harbor, and Hickam Field, near Ford Island’s Battleship Row. The Japanese, wanting control of the air, hope to destroy American warplanes on the ground.

Most U.S. planes have been parked wingtip-to-wingtip in neat rows to make it easy to guard them against sabotage. Most are destroyed.
  0800 hours As part of a U.S. plan to bolster the Pacific forces, 12 B-17 Flying Fortresses have been ordered to the Philippines. The first stop is Oahu. Unaware that Japan is attacking Oahu, they prepare to land.

Because they are unarmed—to save weight—the B-17s can only dodge Japanese fighters and U.S. antiaircraft gunfire. Most manage to land intact-one touching down on a golf course.
  0810 hours An armor-piercing bomb, dropped by a high-altitude bomber, pierces the forward deck of the Arizona, setting off more than a million pounds (450,000 kilograms) of gunpowder, creating a huge fireball, and killing 1,177 men.

A sailor on the torpedoed battleship Nevada sees the Arizona “jump at least 15 or 20 feet [5 or 6 meters] upward in the water and sort of break in two.” In nine minutes the Arizona is on the bottom.
  0817 hours Through the flames and smoke, the destroyer Helm speeds to the open sea.

As the Helm leaves the channel, a lookout spots a Japanese sub snagged on a reef. The Helm “turned hard right toward enemy submarine,” shoots—and misses. The two-person sub breaks free and submerges. But it snags again. Trying to escape the foundering sub, one crewman drowns. The other is washed ashore—and becomes the United States’ first World War II prisoner of war.
  0839 hours As the destroyer Monaghan tries to “get out of that damn harbor as fast as possible,” a nearby U.S. ship signals that it has sighted a submarine. The Monaghan heads for the sub at top speed, hits it with gunfire, then rams it and drops depth charges. The charges are so close that when they explode, the blasts lift the Monaghan out of the water but do not damage her.

The sinking midget submarine has managed to fire a torpedo. But it does not hit anything.
  0850 hours The Nevada gets her steam up in 45 minutes and, with antiaircraft guns blazing, heads for the open sea. A sailor sees her U.S. flag flying in the smoke and thinks of the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Japanese planes of the second wave bomb her, hoping that by sinking her in the narrow channel she will bottle up the fleet. Rather than risk that, she deliberately grounds herself off Hospital Point.
  0854 hours The second wave—35 fighters, 78 dive-bombers, and 54 high-altitude bombers—meets heavy antiaircraft fire. Bombers attack the navy yard dry dock and hit the battleship Pennsylvania. Another bomber hits oil tanks between the destroyers Cassin and Downes. Onboard ammunition explodes, and the Cassin rolls off her blocks and into the Downes.

Bombs hit the light cruiser Raleigh, which had been torpedoed in the first wave. Crewmen jettison gear to keep her from capsizing.
  0930 hours A bomb blows off the bow of the destroyer Shaw; pieces of the ship rain down half a mile (.8 kilometer) away. A photo of the spectacular explosion becomes one of the best known images of December 7, 1941. Repair workers are on the job immediately. The Shaw eventually gets a new bow and is back in action by July 1942.

Except for the Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma, every ship sunk or damaged on December 7 will sail again.
  1000 hours Japanese fighters do not have homing devices or radar. They rendezvous with bombers off Oahu and follow them back to the carriers.

Of the 29 Japanese planes lost, antiaircraft guns probably shot down 15.

Exultant Japanese pilots urge a third strike. If the gasoline tanks at Pearl Harbor are hit, they reason, the Pacific Fleet will be out of action for weeks. But superiors, saying the attack has been successful, rule out a third strike. One reason: the whereabouts of the U.S. carriers is still unknown.
  1030 hours From the ships and airfields come the wounded—some horribly burned, others riddled by bullets and shrapnel. At some hospitals casualties are laid out on lawns. Medics convert barracks, dining halls, and schools into temporary hospitals.

For many severely wounded and dying men, all nurses can do is give them morphine. They then put a lipstick M on their foreheads to indicate the painkilling drug. Trucks become ambulances and hearses. The death toll eventually reaches 2,390.
  1300 hours The Pearl Harbor strike force turns for home.

In the 44 months of war that will follow, the U.S. Navy will sink every one of the Japanese aircraft carriers, battleships, and cruisers in this strike force. And when Japan signs the surrender document on September 2, 1945, among the U.S. warships in Tokyo Bay will be a victim of the attack, the U.S.S. West Virginia.

December 8, 1941
  1220 hours A heavily guarded black limousine pulled up to the south entrance of the U.S. Capitol. President Franklin D. Roosevelt got out of the car and entered the Capitol, assisted by his son Captain James Roosevelt, who wore the uniform of the U.S. Marines. The chamber of the House of Representatives was jammed with members of both houses of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, official guests, and onlookers in the galleries.
  1229 hours The President, still on his son’s arm, entered the Chamber of the House, was introduced briefly by Speaker Sam Rayburn, and received a thunderous ovation. For the past nine years, Republicans had shown little enthusiasm toward the President when he addressed a Joint Session of Congress. This time, the Republicans joined in, signifying the nation’s sudden unity.

Solemnly, he began his speech requesting a declaration of war: “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.”

Listen to Roosevelt’s Address to the Nation.

Listen to Roosevelt’s Declaration of War.

  1300 hours The Senate unanimously adopted a resolution declaring war on Japan. At 1:10 p.m. the House voted for war, 388 to 1. The single dissenting vote was cast by Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who had also voted against a declaration of war in 1917.

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