The Beginning of World War II
Sunday mornings were a time of leisure for many U.S. military personnel at Pearl Harbor. Many were either still asleep, in mess halls eating breakfast, or getting ready for church on the morning of December 7, 1941. They were completely unaware that an attack was imminent. Then the explosions started. The loud booms, pillars of smoke, and low-flying enemy aircraft shocked many into the realization that this was not a training exercise; Pearl Harbor was really under attack. Despite the surprise, many acted quickly. Within five minutes of the beginning of the attack, several gunners had reached their anti-aircraft guns and were trying to shoot down the Japanese planes. At 8:00 a.m., Admiral Husband Kimmel, in charge of Pearl Harbor, sent out a hurried dispatch to all in the U.S. naval fleet, "AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL."
As the Japanese planes reached the airfields, they found many of the American fighter planes lined up along the airstrips, wingtip to wingtip, making easy targets. The Japanese strafed and bombed the planes, hangers, and other buildings located near the airfields, including dormitories and mess halls. By the time the U.S. military personnel at the airfields realized what was happening, there was little they could do. The Japanese were extremely successful at destroying most of the U.S. aircraft. A few individuals picked up guns and shot at the invading planes. A handful of U.S. fighter pilots were able to get their planes off the ground, only to find themselves vastly outnumbered in the air. Still, they were able to shoot down a few Japanese planes.
By 9:45 a.m., just under two hours after the attack had begun, the Japanese planes left Pearl Harbor and headed back to their aircraft carriers. The attack on Pearl Harbor was over. All Japanese planes had returned to their aircraft carriers by 12:14 p.m. and just an hour later, the Japanese attack force began their long journey homeward.
In just under two hours, the Japanese had sunk four U.S. battleships (Arizona, California, Oklahoma, and West Virginia). The Nevada was beached and the other three battleships at Pearl Harbor received considerable damage. Also damaged were three light cruisers, four destroyers, one minelayer, one target ship, and four auxiliaries. Of the U.S. aircraft, the Japanese managed to destroy 188 and damage an additional 159. The death toll among Americans was quite high. A total of 2,335 servicemen were killed and 1,143 were wounded. Sixty-eight civilians were also killed and 35 were wounded. Nearly half of the servicemen that were killed were on board the Arizona when it exploded. All this damage was done by the Japanese, who suffered very few losses themselves -- just 29 aircraft and five midget subs.