Facts From Pearl Harbor: Before, During, And After The Attack

The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was devastating and completely unexpected. The day was filled with shock and sadness along with heroic acts and unforeseen consequences that have reverberated for years. While many people know the main history surrounding the surprise military strike on the harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, there are some facts you may not be aware of about the tragic attack.

Learn about the fates of the sunken battleships, the famous singer who contributed to the popular Pearl Harbor memorial, and what some survivors asked family members to do with their ashes after their deaths. There’s also an uplifting tale about an unlikely friendship that formed many years after the attack.

This Is What Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida Meant When He Yelled ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’

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Roger Viollet via Getty Images
Roger Viollet via Getty Images

When flying over Pearl Harbor, Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida called out, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” a code word that meant the attack was coming as a complete surprise. Tora also means tiger and is an abbreviation of the words “totsugeki raigeki,” which means “lightning attack.”

In 1970, directors Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda and Richard Fleischer made the film Tora! Tora! Tora! which showed both the Japanese and American viewpoints of the incident. The movie was a huge hit in Japan. Some of the footage from the film was featured in a 1981 TV episode of Magnum P.I.

The USS Arizona Is Still Leaking Oil

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Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The USS Arizona battleship was built by the Navy in the mid-1910s. It remained stateside during WW1 and was used for training exercises between wars. It was moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940 as a deterrent to Japanese imperialism. The battleship burned for two and a half days after it was bombed by the Japanese.

It was holding about 1.5 million of “Bunker-C” oil. While some of that oil also burned, it’s unclear how much, and it’s believed 500,000 gallons remained in the hull. Part of the wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, and nine quarts of oil surfaces from the ship every day.

Over 2,400 Americans Died, But Only 64 Japanese Perished

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Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, a total of 2,335 military personnel were killed. That included a total of 2,008 navy personnel, 109 marines, and 218 army men. A total of 1,177 crew members on the USS Arizona died. Sixty-eight civilians were also killed (making a total of 2,403 Americans killed in the conflict).

As for the wounded, there were a total of 1,143: there were 710 from the navy, 69 from the marines, 364 from the army, and 103 civilians. The Japanese fared much better, and they lost only 64 men during the attack.

23 Sets Of Brothers Died On The USS Arizona As Did A Father & Son

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7Three Lions/Getty Images
7Three Lions/Getty Images

During the attack, there were 37 pairs or trios of brothers (a total of 77 men) assigned to the USS Arizona. Sixty-two of them were killed, including 23 sets of brothers. Only one pair of brothers — Kenneth and Russell Warriner — survived the bombing. Kenneth was in San Diego at flight school, and Russell was badly wounded.

The only father and son pair on the ship, Thomas and William Free, died in action. Following the attack, U.S. officials tried to discourage family members from serving on the same ship in order to avoid a similar fate.

The Japanese Chose A Sunday Morning Attack For A Specific Reason

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Photo by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images
Photo by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m. The entire attack lasted less than two hours and ended at 9:45 a.m. They chose to bomb Pearl Harbor on a Sunday because they thought they could catch the Americans a little off guard on the weekend when they tend to relax.

During the attack, many of the American servicemen were still wearing their pajamas or were eating their breakfasts in the mess halls, so the Japanese did appear to attack them when they were less alert.

Americans Identified The Attackers By The ‘Meatballs’ On Their Planes

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Photo by MPI/Getty Images
Photo by MPI/Getty Images

The Japanese included the image of a large red circle — the Rising sun — on the sides of their planes. American servicemen were easily able to identify their attackers due to these “meatball” graphics. The Japanese attacked the airfields at Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, Bellows Field, Ewa Field, Schoefield Barracks, and Kaneohe Naval Air Station.

The Japanese left repair facilities such as the submarine base and fuel and storage areas alone. They only attacked the ships at Pearl Harbor Naval base. The main target was U.S. aircraft carriers, but they were not at the base.

Most Of The Sunken Battleships Were Recovered

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Photo by Keystone/Getty Images
Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

The Japanese targeted eight battleships when they attacked Pearl Harbor, and all but two were resurrected and returned to the Navy’s fleet. Even the USS West Virginia and USS California, which completely sunk, were reused.

Today, you can still see some of the bullet holes and damage from the attack at some of the military facilities in Oahu, such as Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, and Hickam Army Air Field. The decision to keep these scars was made to remind people about that fateful day and to keep the military standing strong.

Some Survivors Chose The USS Arizona As Their Final Resting Place

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Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

The Navy understands that those who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor felt a strong connection to the USS Arizona. As a result, since 1982 the Navy has allowed survivors to be interred in the ship’s wreckage after they die. The servicemen are given a full military funeral at the battleship’s memorial, and their cremated remains are placed under one of the ship’s gun turrets by a diver.

Over 30 survivors have selected the USS Arizona as their final resting place. Those who served on the ship prior to the attack have also chosen to have their ashes scattered above the wreck site.

A Baby Girl’s Remains Are Entombed Within The USS Utah’s Sunken Hull

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

One of the crew members on the USS Utah brought an urn onto the ship that contained his daughter’s ashes. He left the urn in his locker with the aim of scattering her remains at sea. The December 7 attack changed his plans. A total of 64 men died on the ship, and many of their bodies are still entombed in its hull.

The infant girl died at birth, but she was never forgotten. In 2003, she was given a proper funeral at the USS Utah Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

Navy Sailor Chief Watertender Peter Tomich Saved His Crew & Sacrificed Himself

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STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

When the Japanese torpedoed the USS Utah, Chief Watertender Peter Tomich was inside the boiler room and ordered his crew to abandon ship. After he helped them escape, he secured the boilers by himself, preventing a possible explosion and potentially saving many lives. The USS Utah sank a few minutes later, and Tomich died.

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, but the Navy couldn’t find any of his family members. Sixty-five years later in 2006 it was finally claimed by a relative at a ceremony in Croatia. Pictured above is Admiral Harry Ulrich presenting the Medal of Honor to a family member of Tomich’s.

Doris Miller Was The First African American To Be Awarded The Navy Cross For His Bravery

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Bettmann/contributor Getty Images
Bettmann/contributor Getty Images

Doris Miller served on the USS West Virginia as a cook and mess worker, a role he was given due to his skin color. Once shooting started on Dec. 7, he helped move injured men to safety. He also passed ammunition to the crew, eventually manning one of the machine guns even though he wasn’t trained to use it.

“It wasn’t hard,” he later recalled. “I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine…I think I got one of those Jap planes.” He became the first African American to earn the Navy Cross. He died in 1943 while serving on the escort carrier Liscome Bay when it was torpedoed.

Civilian George Walters Helped Protect The USS Pennsylvania Using A Huge Crane

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US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images
US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images

George Walters was working in the dockyard when the Japanese attacked. He moved his enormous rolling crane near the dry-docked battleship USS Pennsylvania to shield the ship from low-flying bombers and fighters. He also attempted to hit some of the planes with his crane.

Initially, the gunners on the Pennsylvania were perplexed by his actions until they realized Walters had a great view point on top of his 50-foot cab on the crane. They ended up working together to strike back at the enemy planes. Walters then got a concussion when a Japanese bomb exploded on the dock. He is credited for helping to save the Pennsylvania.

Five American Pilots Managed To Get Airborne To Attack The Enemy, But One Was Denied The Medal Of Honor

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Bettmann/contributor Getty Images
Bettmann/contributor Getty Images

After the Japanese started attacking, five Army Air Corps pilots were able to get into their planes and go after the enemy in the air. It’s unclear how many planes each of these five men shot down, but pilots Ken Taylor and George Welch took out at least seven of the 29 Japanese aircraft that American guns took down.

Taylor and Welch heard gunfire on the morning of December 7 and asked the base to arm and fuel their P-40s. Following the attack, it was recommended that Welch be given the Medal of Honor. However, his commanding officer said Welch had gotten into his plane without orders so he was denied the honor.

The Americans Captured A Submariner, The Very First Japanese POW Of WW2

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The Americans managed to kill 64 Japanese during the attack. They also captured the very first Japanese POW of World War II. Submariner Kazuo Sakamaki’s mission was to attack ships in his midget-class sub. However, his sub was disabled, and his attempt to blow it up failed.

He dove into the water to investigate the problem and passed out. He floated to the surface and ended up on the shore where he was captured by the Americans. He spent time in a POW camp until the war ended. He ended up working for Toyota and died in 1990.

Some American Planes Were Shot Down Due To Friendly Fire

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the confusion and chaos that erupted following the attack, some American aircraft was shot down by friendly fire. A few American planes returned to Pearl Harbor from unrelated missions and were mistaken for the enemy because forces on the ground didn’t realize they were American.

In addition, Japanese formations were very dense, and the few American aircraft that showed up were hard to distinguish during the attack. Anti-aircraft guns targeted the Japanese fighters but inevitably struck down some of their own by accident.

Hitler Did Not Know About The Proposed Strike On Pearl Harbor

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Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone/Getty Images

While President Roosevelt indicated that the Japanese were following German orders when they attacked Pearl Harbor, Hitler and his military were not informed in advance of the strike. Germany signed the Tripartite Pact with Japan and Italy in 1940, which obligated the country to go to war only if America attacked Japan (not the other way around).

However, the Germans secretly agreed to support the Japanese if they went to war with the United States, regardless of how it was initiated. Hitler made the first declaration of war on Dec. 11, and the U.S. Congress responded with a unanimous declaration of war against Germany and Italy.

Elvis Presley Is Partially Responsible For The Memorial, Which Was Officially Dedicated In 1962

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The USS Arizona sank in less than 40 feet of water, and its superstructure and main armament were salvaged and reused. However, the gun turrets and remains of over 1,000 crewmen were left submerged. There were plans to construct a memorial as early as 1949, but legislation to create one wasn’t passed until 1958

Both the public sector and private donors contributed to a fund to build the memorial. In 1961, Elvis Presley, who spent two years in the Army, played at a benefit concert at Pearl Harbor’s Block Arena and raised more than $50,000 for the project. It accounted for more than 10 percent of the memorial’s final cost.

Today, Hawaii’s Economy Is Dependent On The Large Number Of Japanese Who Visit Pearl Harbor & Other Sites

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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

An estimated 1.5 million tourists visit Pearl Harbor every year to pay their respects to those lost in the attack. And while the Japanese were to blame for much of the carnage, many of them visit the memorial every year.

Overall, the largest percentage of international tourists in Hawaii are the Japanese. They visit Pearl Harbor as well as other sites in the state. In fact, the state’s economy is largely dependent on Japanese visitors. Today, Japan and the United States are strong allies.

A Japanese Pilot & Marine Bugler Became Friends Years Later

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MPI/Getty Images
MPI/Getty Images

Dive bomber Zenji Abe was filled with remorse and shame after he learned the Americans were not warned about the attack, so he created the Japan Friends of Pearl Harbor initiative, which gathered up all the airmen to sign a letter of apology. Then Abe and several others visited Pearl Harbor for an anniversary event.

Initially, no one spoke to the group. Then a Marine bugler named Richard Fiske, who had survived Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima, became friends with Abe despite being bitter for many years. They arranged it so every year Fiske would take roses donated by Abe and play American and Japanese taps at Pearl Harbor.

The Pearls In Pearl Harbor Became Nearly Extinct In The 1900s

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US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images
US Navy/Interim Archives/Getty Images

Today, most of Pearl Harbor and nearby land is a US naval base. Many years ago the Hawaiians called Pearl Harbor “Pu’uloa” and valued the area for the food that oysters provided, not the pearls. The Hawaiians made decorative bowls and fish hooks from the oyster shells. In the 1800s, immigrants discovered the bivalve mollusks in the bay, and that’s when the area became known as Pearl Harbor.

The island’s King Kamehameha soon began harvesting pearls to meet foreign demand, but by the 1840s the area was a victim of deforestation and over grazing. By the early 20th century oysters all but disappeared.

The Japanese Were Well Prepared For The Attack

Well Trained
Therese Verdun/Twitter
Therese Verdun/Twitter

The Japanese needed the attack to be as effective and devastating as possible, so they began planning the mission a full year in advance. They had exact plans for just about any scenario even though they knew they would most likely be taking the Americans by surprise.

On top of training, they made numerous other modifications on their weapons such as adding wooden fins onto their aerial torpedoes. This allowed them to be extremely effective in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Went To Harvard

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto attended Harvard University before serving as Japan’s naval attaché in Washington. During his time in the United States, he grew to learn that the United States had far more resources than Japan and that Japan could never win a head-on war.

When planning the attack on Pearl Harbor, he took this all into consideration. He came to the conclusion that a well-planned attack on the United State’s navy would put their fleet out of commission for at least a year.

The United States Was Almost Warned

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Culture Club/Getty Images

Prior to the attack, the Japanese Foreign Ministry had plans to declare war on the United States. They wanted to do this in order to avoid breaking international law. However, they were stopped by the Japanese military because they didn’t want to risk compromising the attack.

If they had ended up declaring war, the chances are that the United States would have been more than prepared for any kind of attack. Most likely, the bombing of Pearl Harbor wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

The Japanese Forces Were Overlooked

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Fotosearch/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the United States officials responsible for keeping their eye on things overlooked the Japanese forces that were clearly preparing for war. One of the biggest warning signs that was missed was an intercepted Japanese message on December 6, asking about where the ships would be located in Pearl Harbor.

Another crucial piece of information that wasn’t brought to the government’s attention was a radar sighting of a large group of airplanes that were headed towards Oahu on the morning of December 7.

The Japanese Made A Critical Mistake

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Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

According to a 2016 article written by retired U.S. Navy Commander Alan D. Zimm, the Japanese made a massive mistake shortly before the attack. Apparently, the captain leading the attack, Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, unnecessarily shot off two flares, an indicator to the other pilots that they had not taken the Americans by surprise.

Because of this tactical mess-up, it resulted in the Japanese resorting to more conservative tactics. If this hadn’t happened, it’s likely that the Japanese would have inflicted far more damage than they did.

The Attack Came In Waves

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Bettmann/Getty Images

To the dismay of the United States, the attack came in waves, not all just once. This was a carefully developed plan by the Japanese. In total, the attack had two separate waves. The first wave of the attack included 180 Japanese aircraft comprised of torpedo planes, dive bombers, high-level bombers, and fighters.

The second was a similar size except there were more dive bombers and no torpedo planes. By the time the attack had ended, a whole two hours had passed.

The Japanese Went Airborne Only A Few Hundred Miles From Hawaii

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VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

In preparation for the attack, a force of six aircraft carriers and 420 planes set sail from Hitokappu Bay in the Kurile Islands off the coast of Japan. They then sailed more than 3,500 miles to their destination just 230 miles from the island of Oahu.

To accomplish this without the United States catching onto their plan, they sailed without any radar or reconnaissance planes. The plan worked, and they were able to get as close as they needed to Pearl harbor.

In The End, They Failed In Their Ultimate Goal

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Essentially, Japan’s entire goal during the attack on Pearl Harbor was to disable the United State’s fleet. In order to do this, they would need to take out the United State’s extremely valuable aircraft carriers. But although they damaged and sank numerous ships and took thousands of American lives, they didn’t harm a single aircraft carrier.

This is because none of the aircraft carriers were in Pearl Harbor at the time. If they had accomplished their objective, they would have made it so the United States couldn’t get their ships out to sea, and would no longer have the ability to repair or refuel ships.

Pearl Harbor Wasn’t The Only Attack

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

While the Japanese launched a successful two waves, they had plans to launch a third. However, they backed out and decided to head back to the aircraft carries. This is most likely because they were running on fuel. Unfortunately, the attacks didn’t stop there.

Although Pearl Harbor was the most destructive and memorable, the next day there were three more attacks. The Japanese launched attacks on the United States bases located in the Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island. Of course, Pearl Harbor was hit the hardest.

Pearl Harbor Was Not A Reaction To The Hull Note

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Bettmann/Getty Images

On November 26, 1941, the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, delivered a note to Japan. Some consider it as an ultimatum, but in reality, it about the normalization of relations and required the Japanese to withdraw their troops from China and Indochina.

Some believe that the attack on Pearl Harbor was Japan’s response to the note when in actuality, the plans for the attack were already well underway. They had already begun to get into position on November 17, before setting sail for Oahu on November 26.

Not All Japanese Admirals Were On Board With The Attack

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Bettman/Getty Images

Although the operation was organized and executed by Admiral Yamamoto, his plan wasn’t widely accepted by everyone. For instance, Admiral Nagano, the chief of the Naval General Staff, opposed the plan entirely. He believed that it was an extremely risky idea and didn’t think that they had enough air power to successfully complete the operation.

His biggest fear, however, was risking all of Japan’s aircraft carriers so far away from Japan when they already had planned attacks against Malaya and the Philippines. Yamamoto threatened to resign if he wasn’t given control of all the carriers and got his wish.

Submarines Were Part Of The Japanese Original Plans

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Before the air attack, around 25 submarines were positioned around the Hawaiian Islands. Their mission was to destroy any ships that may have made it out during the air attack. In the end, the submarines did essentially nothing except for damage an American carrier near Hawaii the January after the attack.

Yet only five submarines attempted to enter the harbor and failed, with an American destroyer sinking one of the subs an hour and 15 minutes before the air attack. The sinking of this submarine almost cost the Japanese their element of surprise.

The United States Established A Hawaiian Currency

Hawaii Overprinted Notes
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Pinterest

After the attack, there was a very real fear that the Japanese may not be fully done with Hawaii. There was paranoia that they would come back in an attempt to seize the islands. if they did so, they would have access to a great deal of American currency, which they could then use advance their war efforts.

The military governor of Hawaii, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, took charge and on December 25, 1942, all Hawaii residents were required to trade in their money for new Hawaii overprinted notes. So, in the case Japan took the islands, the money would be useless.

The USS Nevada Tried To Get Out Of The Harbor

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Before the attack had started, the USS Nevada wasn’t docked. So, during the commotion of the fighting, Nevada left its berth in Battleship Row and made a break for it to the harbor. Fighting off attacks the entire time, it was eventually hit by numerous torpedoes and bombs.

The battleship was eventually beached on Hospital Point before it could get any further. Before becoming beached, the men on board managed to shoot down three planes, including the first plane to hit them with a torpedo.

Canada Technically Declared War First

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Bettmann/Getty Images

Japan invaded Hong Kong on the morning of December 8, 1941. With Hawaii’s timezone being 18 hours behind, this means that war between Canada and Japan was already underway as British, Indian, and Canadian forces were already fighting the Japanese before Pearl Harbor.

Because Japan invaded Hong Kong and attacked Pearl Harbor, Prime Minister Mackenzie King was quick to declare war on Japan. This was only a matter of hours before President Roosevelt declared war himself.

FDR’s Speech Was Only Seven Minutes Long

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Bettmann/Getty Images

Known as the Infamy Speech for all of the emotions that it evoked, it only ran for a brief seven minutes. To make his speech as effective as possible President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose his words carefully and made the United States the subject of the speech so everyone felt directly attacked.

For example, instead of saying “Japan attacked the United States,” he said, “The United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and airforces of the Empire of Japan.” This was one of the many tactics he used to rally the American public.

It Led To The Internment Of Almost All Japanese In The United States

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Throughout World War II, many Japanese Americans were forced out of their homes, relocated, and incarcerated in concentration camps on the west coast of the country. It is estimated that between 110,000 and 120,000 of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and placed in these camps.

Sixty-two percent of the internees were legal United States citizens, but it didn’t matter. President Roosevelt gave the order to deport and incarcerate Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066, just two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

An Entire Military Band Was Killed

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Universal History Archive/Getty Images

The attack on Pearl Harbor was the only documented instance in American history in which an entire military band was killed in action. That morning, all of U.S. Navy Band Unit 22 was killed on the deck of the USS Arizona while preparing to play the morning flag-raising ceremony.

The band was comprised of 21 musicians who all launched into action to defend the ship but to no avail. The ship was quickly hit four times by Japanese missiles.

Pearl Habor Has Since Been Considered A War Crime

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Bettmann/Getty Images

By definition, a war crime is an attempt to violate laws and customs applicable during armed conflict. Unsurprisingly, the attack was deemed a war crime by the International Military Tribunal. This came about after the analysis of some documents showed that the Japanese deliberately attempted to cripple US forces in a pre-planned nature.

In the end, Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, Minister of the Navy Shigetaro Shimada, and Chief of Naval General Staff Osami Nagano were all charged with crimes against peace and murder.

Japan And The United States Were Already On The Verge Of War

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Bettmann/Getty Images

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, tensions between the United States and Japan were extremely high. Not long before, the United States had condemned Japan for slowly edging into Chinese territory.

They imposed a trade embargo against Japan, holding back on the oil that the United States once traded with Japan which they heavily relied on, creating a significant issue. Furthermore, in 1937, a United States gunboat had been sunk by the Japanese Imperial Navy on the Yangtze River.