Unannounced and later declared a war crime, December 7, 1941, was proclaimed by President Roosevelt to be “a date which will live in infamy.” 77 years later, the attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most well-known events of World War II.

Out of the blue

It was a clear morning with relatively few clouds in the sky, most of them gathered over the mountains of Oahu. The islands white sand beaches were brilliant in the early morning light. At 7:55 AM, about an hour after sunrise, bombs shook the ground and plumes of smoke rose from the Earth around the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor.

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Panic spread quickly over the island as information was kept quiet while the military sorted out what was happening and what to tell the civilians. Meanwhile, bombs continued to fall on the island.

Initial reactions

Highways out of the harbor were immediately flooded with rushing traffic as people fled the area and all Navy personnel and civil defense workers, except women, were mobilized at once. Schools closed and hospitals bustled with an influx of people who had been injured in the attack. Civilians were ordered off the streets. Some flocked to the top of Punchbowl Crater and looked out over the harbor to see planes dotting the sky.

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The first official reports were released to the public at 9 AM, announcing that “Oahu is under a sporadic air raid,” and civilians are ordered to stay off the streets until further notice.” Later announcements stated that Japan’s Rising Sun emblem was seen on the wings of the planes that attacked the shores.

Historical notes

Six Japanese aircraft carriers launched 353 Imperial planes in two waves. Fighters as well as level, dive, and torpedo bombers swarmed the island and attacked the US Naval base located just eight miles northwest of Honolulu. All of the US battleships in the harbor were damaged, and four of the eight were sunk.

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In the attack, 188 US aircraft were destroyed. 2,403 Americans were killed, and 1,178 more were wounded in the attack. Japanese forces lost only 64 servicemen. Though most of the ships were raised after the attack, the USS Arizona remains submerged today as a memorial.