History Department Highlights December 7, 1941

Sixty-nine years ago yesterday was Japan’s retaliation on U.S. soil.

Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was the catalyst to the United States’ involvement in World War Two.

Penn Manor social studies teacher Dan Myers said it is important and necessary to teach students about the attack.

“It was one of the most significant events in U.S. history,” said Myers.  “It was the event that actually brought us into the war.  We wanted to stay out.”

Leading up to “Operation Z,” Japan’s secret name for the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt imposed an embargo on Japan’s oil exports in July of 1941 after their efforts to further expand into French Indochina.

Over the next several months, pilots were trained, equipment was amended, and intelligence was collected by Japan.  Japan’s Emperor Hirohito never approved attack efforts until November 5 and final authorization was not given until December 1.  By this time, the U.S. knew something fishy was up with Japan and put U.S. Pacific bases and facilities under alert.

Pearl Harbor bellowed with smoke as the Japanese take advantage of their unknown attack. Photo by eitsfan.com

But the U.S. underestimated Japan’s naval power to follow-through with more than one operation at a time due to their objective to attack the Philippines.  Thus, Pearl Harbor wasn’t known as Japan’s main target and the attack soon astonished America.

Japan intended to destroy American fleet units, in return delaying America’s efforts to fight back and end their domination of expansion.

They also wanted to buy time for them to recuperate and increase their naval strength.  Most of all, Japan wanted to drown American morale.

Japan’s game plan consisted of 408 aircraft in all; 360 for the two attack waves and 48 on defensive combat air patrol including nine fighters from the first wave.

The first wave’s mission was to demolish every possible armament with the second wave to finish off whatever was left.  Japan sent two disguised aircraft out before the planned strike and had another four patrolling the area between their carrier force and Niihau to halt any counterattacks.

Japan originally wanted to inform the U.S. it was ending all peace negotiations 30 minutes before the attack, but the message was never delivered.

Finally, on December 7, 1941, at 7:48 Hawaiian time, the first wave soared over Oahu like a vast flock of birds releasing complete mayhem on Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor burning from Japanese surprise attack. Photo by pagotan.com

Thousands awoke to the sounds of alarms, gunfire, screams and exploding bombs.

“Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not drill.”, were the words screamed from the headquarters of Patrol Wing Two, the first senior Hawaiian command to respond.

The attack was equivalent to a toddler in a ring versus a UFC fighter.  The United States was caught completely off guard and had no means of readiness for a counterattack.

Japan wreaked havoc for a total of 90 minutes, killing 2,386 Americans and wounding 1,139.  Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged.  Of 33 PBYs, American flying boats, in Hawaii, 24 were destroyed, and six others damaged beyond repair.

On the other hand, there were only 64 Japanese casualties along with one being captured.  Of Japan’s 414 available planes, 29 were lost during the battle with another 74 damaged by antiaircraft fire from the ground.

Upon the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, 15 Medals of Honor, 51 Navy Crosses, 53 Silver Crosses, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Stars were awarded to the American servicemen who distinguished themselves in combat at Pearl Harbor.

A special military award, the Pearl Harbor Commemorative medal, was later authorized for all military veterans of the attack.

Penn Manor’s own chorus will travel to Hawaii in 2011 to perform at the 70th anniversary of the attack.

Senior Jere Vital said, “I thought the surprise attack was vicious.  This event shows a trend through history where attacking heavily populated areas using planes as a weapon foreshadowed events such as 9/11.”

By Cree Bleacher