Today is a day off for most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Oahu, like any other peacetime Sunday. A few anomalies break the calm of an otherwise placid early morning, but they fail to bring the force to its feet.

6:45 a.m.: The U.S. destroyer Ward sinks a small, unidentified submarine in restricted waters off Pearl Harbor. The incident is treated as routine.

7:02 a.m.: A radar operator on Oahu reports an approaching swarm of “probably more than 50” planes. The sighting is mistaken for a scheduled influx of 12 B-17s from California.

7:53 a.m.: The Japanese air-attack leader sends out the coded radio signal to ra, to ra, to ra: Attack—surprise achieved. The first wave, 183 planes, shakes Oahu abruptly awake.

First wave, 7:51 to 8:30 a.m.: Explosions first rip through airfields around the island. By 8:30 bullets, bombs, and torpedoes from Japanese planes have ravaged eight battleships, sinking three. Arizona, in particular, catches a bomb in an ammunition magazine. The resulting firebomb splits the ship in two, killing 1,177 U.S. sailors.

Second wave, 8:55 to just before 10 a.m.: A hundred and sixty-seven planes give the ships and surrounding airfields another beating, sinking one more battleship, the escaping Nevada, which beaches itself rather than block the channel between Pearl Harbor and the Pacific.

10 a.m.: The attack is over. In two hours the Japanese have sunk or disabled 21 U.S. ships, disabled three-quarters of the U.S. military planes in Hawaii, and killed 2,403 civilians and service people. U.S. forces have taken out 29 planes, less than 10 percent of the attack force.

Aftermath: While the U.S. is stung mightily, the Pearl Harbor raid is not a total victory for the Japanese. None of the Pacific Fleet’s all-important aircraft carriers were in port on December 7. Also, the attack neglected repair facilities—all but three of the damaged warships were soon back in service. And rather than deliver the hoped-for demoralizing, divisive blow to the American people, Japan has largely united a nation against it.


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The U.S. battleship Arizona sinking fast after explosives ignite one of its ammunition magazines

Photograph from Corbis





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