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10 Interesting Facts about Pearl Harbor

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Japan was actually involved in peace talks with the United States when it launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. There had been growing tensions between the two countries since the 1920s.

The Japanese wanted to secure their dominance in the Asian Pacific Region with a devastating series of attacks against the United States and British Navy in Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Here are 10 interesting facts about Peart Harbor you might not know.

10 Interesting Facts about Pearl Harbor

1. The Attack on Pearl Harbor Began 12 Days Earlier on November 25 1941

facts about pearl harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii took place on December 7, 1941. This surprise attack by the Japanese on the United States Navy ships and facilities at Pearl Harbor was devastating and resulted in the United States entering into World War 2.

When we look deeper into Pearl Harbor, we see that the attack actually began 12 days earlier when five boats from the Japanese forces launched on November 25, 1941.

These boats contained midget submarines that would be used during the attack by launching from their carrier vessels approximately 10 nautical miles, or 12 miles, from Pearl Harbor.

pearl harbor ship

Two days later, and 11 days before the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, the Japanese Imperial Navy embarked with six aircraft carriers from Japan heading towards a position northwest of Hawaii.

It was November 26 1941 and the six Japanese aircraft carriers carried an assault force which included over 400 aircraft.

The Japanese attack was to be conducted in two waves: the first wave of aircraft was to target the main ships in Pearl Harbor and also to destroy any of the United States aircraft which were on the ground.

This strategy was intended to prevent these aircraft from taking to the air and defending the naval base from the Japanese attack.

2. The Japanese Launched 353 Aircraft During the Attack on Pearl Harbor


When the Japanese embarked from Japan they had a total of 408 aircraft on six aircraft carriers. Their intent was to devastate the entire naval base at Pearl Harbor.

As mentioned earlier, the Japanese strategy was to launch their aircraft in two waves. The first wave was intended to be 360 planes, and the second wave was to be 48 planes.

However, at the time of the battle, the plans changed and the first wave of aircraft was 183 planes in three groups, with the second wave of aircraft totaling 171 planes.

This was a surprise attack. Can you imagine being a United States naval officer and seeing 183 Japanese planes on the horizon heading towards your base? The sheer size of the force shows that the Japanese strategy was intended to destroy ships and intimidate the United States forces.

pearl harbor

The first wave of aircraft launched from the Japanese aircraft carriers was intended to devastate the important ships and also the aircraft on the ground. The second wave of aircraft launched from the Japanese carriers was intended as a defensive combat air patrol or CAP.

This second wave would also include fighters from the first wave who had returned after their bombing missions.

The aircraft in the first wave had specially designed torpedoes that could be launched from the aircraft to the water. These aerial torpedoes had special modifications which allowed them to operate in the shallow water of Pearl Harbor.

Clearly, the Japanese were preparing a massive attack, with special weapons tailored to cause as much damage as possible to the US Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor.

3. Six of the Eight Ships Sunk in Pearl Harbor Were Fixed and Used in WW2


One of the surprising Pearl Harbor facts is that while the Japanese attack was massive, it was somewhat short-sighted. The Japanese managed to sink eight battleships, which were the premier fighting vessels of the United States Navy.

However, because the ships were sunk in the relatively shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, they were easily raised and returned to service.

Of the eight ships sunk in Pearl Harbor, six were raised and put back into service. These included USS West Virginia, USS California, Nevada, USS Tennessee, USS Maryland, and USS Pennsylvania. The Arizona and The Oklahoma, however, did not make it back into service.

Pearl Harbor facts show that USS Arizona was left to rest on the seafloor in Pearl Harbor and is now a United States war memorial.

Some of the ships were put back into service as soon as a few months after the attack. Pearl Harbor facts show that the armaments were salvaged from the two ships that could not be put back into service.

Although the attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow, the United States was able to quickly get back up on its feet.

pearl harbor list of those who died

In addition, Pearl Harbor facts show that the Japanese did not attack important communications and operations facilities at the Pearl Harbor base.

Historians believe the Japanese thought their victory would be so swift after the attack on Pearl Harbor that they would not have to fear the use of these facilities against them.

The Japanese were also aware that there were no aircraft carriers present at Pearl Harbor, yet continued with the attack.

All of these Pearl Harbor facts show that the Japanese Imperial Navy was trying to capitalize on the surprise element of the attack, but did not time its onslaught effectively enough, or deliver a blow devastating enough, to have the intended effect.

4. 2,403 Americans Were Killed in the Attack on Pearl Harbor


When we look at Pearl Harbor facts, some of the saddest facts about Pearl Harbor involve the numbers of dead and wounded. For the United States, 2,403 Americans were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack, and another 1,178 were wounded. Of those killed, 68 were civilians, and 35 civilians were wounded.

The Japanese intended to intimidate the United States with their attack on Pearl Harbor and to discourage them from entering World War 2. The attack actually had the opposite effect.

The United States public was hesitant about entering World War 2 prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The next day on December 8, 1941, President Franklin D Roosevelt declared war on Japan with the galvanized support of the American public behind him.

pearl harbor name plaques and palm tree

Pearl Harbor facts show that three days later, on December 11, 1941, Italy and Germany declared war on the United States. The United States immediately responded by declaring war on Italy and Germany.

Instead of preventing the United States from entering World War 2, the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in the United States joining the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific within four days of the attack.

5. Japan Tried to Declare War on the U.S. 30 Minutes before Pearl Harbor


One of the amazing Pearl Harbor facts is that although Japan had planned a surprise attack, they wanted to break peace negotiations with the United States prior to the attack so that they would not violate the conventions of war.

Looking further into the conflict between the United States and Japan, we see that tensions dated back to at least the 1920s. The conflict between the two nations began to heat up in the 1930s when Japan invaded China.

The United States was supporting China in its war against Japan. The Second Sino-Japanese war was one of a few background conflicts between Japan, China, Russia, Germany, and Western Powers over dominance in the Asian Pacific region.

While American, British and Dutch colonies were being established in the Asian Pacific region, the Empire of Japan was increasing its power.

Pearl Harbor facts show that before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan, and the United States were at the negotiation table, trying to find a way towards peace and to balance their interests for growth in the Asian Pacific region. The Japanese decided that the United States was standing in its way of controlling the Asian Pacific region.

The Empire of Japan was no longer interested in negotiation or sharing a balance of power, but instead wanted complete dominance of the Asian Pacific region.

The Japanese did not want to break the conventions of war so they planned to end peace negotiations with the United States 30 minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, this did not go as planned.

The Japanese issued a lengthy letter proclaiming an end to peace negotiations and implying war, although not clearly stating a declaration of war against the United States. The Japanese hoped to get the timing exactly right so that this letter would be received 30 minutes prior to the attack commencing on Pearl Harbor.

However, they did not consider the amount of time it would take the ambassador in Washington, D.C. to transcribe the letter.

The letter was delivered, but it was too late – the attack on Pearl Harbor had already occurred. The United States had intercepted and deciphered the code in the message that contained the long letter; however, it was not a clear declaration of war and there was no indication of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Later, the attack on Pearl Harbor would be considered a war crime because of the civilians who were killed, and because the United States and Japan were technically in peaceful negotiations at the time of the attack.

6. Japan Attacked the Philippines Hours after the Attack on Pearl Harbor


The attack on Pearl Harbor was not the only attack by the Japanese on United States forces that day. Referred to by President Franklin D Roosevelt as “a date that will live in infamy” for the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor, there was also a large-scale attack on United States Naval Forces in the Philippines.

The goal of these coordinated attacks was to devastate the entire United States fleet in the Pacific. The Empire of Japan wanted complete dominance in the Asian Pacific region and it wanted to eliminate any threats from Western Powers.

In addition to the attacks on United States forces in Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Japan also attacked the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Pearl Harbor facts show that the attack on the Philippines occurred only hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the forces in the Philippines had some advance notice, it wasn’t clear from the reports they were receiving whether the United States was at war with Japan.

Some people thought the reports about an attack on Pearl Harbor were a hoax intended at testing the readiness of the forces.

While the United States was able to mobilize some forces in response, it was not an orderly or coordinated counterattack and the United States naval base in the Philippines was completely devastated.

At the end of this series of attacks, the Japanese were the dominant naval force in the Pacific. They had achieved their goal, but it would be a short-term victory, and they never attacked the United States aircraft carriers that would play a deciding role in the United States victory in World War 2.

7. 90 Minutes after It Began, the Attack on Pearl Harbor Was Over

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Pearl Harbor facts show that it was a swift attack. The Japanese aircraft began their attack at 7:48 A.M. with their first wave. By 9:18 A.M. the Japanese aircraft had completed their second wave and the Japanese mini-submarines returned to their carrier vessels.

The Japanese considered a third wave of aircraft to eliminate the communications and operations facilities that were not targeted in the first and second waves. Pearl Harbor facts show that there was debate among the Japanese commanders as to whether or not a third wave should be launched.

After great debate, the Japanese followed their policy of maintaining naval strength over an overwhelming victory. They did not want to suffer any great losses in the attack.

They feared they would lose more aircraft as they went nearly untouched on the first wave, and it was on the second wave that the Americans were able to begin a counterattack.

8. Pearl Harbor Resulted in 15 Medals of Honor, 51 Naval Crosses and 53 Silver Stars


Although the United States forces were not able to mount a sizable counterattack in time, they were able to inflict some casualties on the Japanese forces. Despite over 300 United States aircraft being damaged, eight pilots were able to take to the air, and six American pilots shot down Japanese aircraft.

Based on Pearl Harbor attack facts, we learn that some naval officers were able to use the armaments on the ships, and some anti-aircraft gunners were able to get to their posts. In total, 29 Japanese planes were shot down; nine planes in the first wave, and 20 planes in the second. Another 74 planes were damaged by the anti-aircraft guns.

One of the most unfortunate Pearl Harbor facts is that some American aircraft were shot down by friendly fire. The Japanese attack occurred so rapidly that it created a degree of chaos on the ground.

pearl harbor building

Some American planes returning from unrelated missions were shot down, as forces on the ground thought they were part of the surprise attack.

The formations were also very dense, meaning the few American aircraft were caught in a cloud of Japanese planes. When anti-aircraft guns targeted the waves of Japanese fighters, United States planes in the thick of the action were hit by accident.

9. The USS Arizona Is Now an Underwater Memorial at Pearl Harbor


One battleship was not raised after it sunk – the USS Arizona. It was heavily bombarded during the attack on Pearl Harbor and the munitions were hit, resulting in a massive explosion tearing through the ship. Sadly, 1,177 people died on the USS Arizona when it was hit by four armor-piercing bombs.

On May 30, 1962, the USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated. The memorial is an underwater installation that goes across the ship’s hull. At the time it was sunk, the USS Arizona was over 26 years old. It was first launched on June 19, 1915.

10. Three Civilian Aircraft Were Shot Down During the Attack on Pearl Harbor


Some of the saddest and most shocking facts include the number of civilian casualties during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The sky over Pearl Harbor on December 7 1941 must have been a cloud of planes.

There were multiple waves of Japanese fighters launching their attacks, plus the typical air traffic in Hawaii, and the counterattacks launched by the United States.

Our Pearl Harbor facts have already shown that American planes were shot down by friendly fire as a result of this chaotic and crowded airspace. There were also six civilian aircraft flying in the air over Pearl Harbor during the 90-minute attack. Half of these planes’ people were shot down, carrying innocent people.

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Monday 18th of October 2021

My father was on a Navy ship to the South of Hawaii when the attack happened. They were told to leave the area and ended up in Australia. He seldom talked about the war. As there was some PTSD going on. I still have his “P” coat and some of the medals. He served on both fronts and received a Purple Heart. Found a cassette tape of him telling his WW2 experiences to my mother...Wow!

Amanda O'Brien

Monday 18th of October 2021

Thank you so much for sharing this information about your father. How amazing to have him speaking about his own experiences on tape.


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