Pearl Harbor History

Before the Attack

While Pearl Harbor is most known for the attack that occurred on December 7th, 1941, it has always had an interesting history. At one time there were abundant pearls, shark gods and was nicknamed the “island of attraction”.

The English ship Butterworth, under Captain William Brown, entered Honolulu Harbor in 1793. Captain Cook passed it on his famous voyage in 1778 because there was coral at the entrance of the harbor. The coral rock was blasted away in 1902 and sand a rock was dredged to allow large vessels to enter the locks.

The violent interference with the harbor was said to upset the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau and Hawaiians soon predicted trouble. Many tragic incidents followed as work continued in Pearl Harbor.

Read More about the History of Pearl Harbor before the attack

The Japanese Attack

Despite a submarine spotted at 3:42am at the mouth of Pearl Harbor and despite the 7:10am call to HQ about the planes on the radar, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise. Japanese forces struck ground targets at Wheeler field: aircraft, hangars, base buildings. They knew that as soon as they torpedoed the ships, Americans would retaliate. Without airfields or planes, retaliation would be minimized.

Read More about the Pearl Harbor Attack

After the Attack

There was a staggering 2,390 casualties from 44 states, Washington DC, Guam, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Canada. The Japanese had 64 killed. The US Pacific Fleet had 21 ships sunk or heavily damaged with 164 aircraft lost and 159 damaged. The attack was seen as a victory for Japan.

Admiral Yamamoto was right when he said that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor awakened a sleeping giant. Americans became united against a common enemy. Now that American lives had been lost, the country could no longer remain isolationist.

Read More about what happened After the Attack

Commanders in Pearl Harbor History

Admiral in command of the Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleets was Isoroku Yamamoto. Yamamoto had lived in the United States and was educated at Harvard University. Although he knew the industrial capacities of the United States, he planned the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Read more about Admiral Yamamoto

Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was the naval commander at Pearl Harbor during the attack. He was not happy with the land and air defense arrangements of Pearl Harbor and Hawaii. He made sure his feelings were known, but Washington did little to improve the situation.

Lt. General Walter C. Short commanded the army in Hawaii, which at the time of the attack was responsible for land and air defense. While these commanders did not have an open rivalry, both Short and Kimmel were competing for allocations in order to defend their bases.

The American public wanted to find fault in the aftermath of the attack. The obvious answer was the commanders at the time of the attack. They spent their lives being blamed for the US failures at Pearl Harbor only to be exonerated posthumously by the senate in 1999. Whether information was intentionally withheld from them or not is the most controversial question in Pearl Harbor history.

Read more about the people involved at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor's Oil Tank: What Could Have Been

By: Alison

It's one, two, three strikes you're out at the old ballgame, and at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a third strike might have meant "you're out" for the U.S.... Read More

Lieutenant-General Walter C. Short and Pearl Harbor

By: Daniel Garcia

Many historians feel conflicted when discussing Lieutenant-General Walter C. Short. He was the man in charge of Pearl Harbor's defense, and on December 7, 1941, his career abruptly ended as Japanese... Read More

Wheeler Army Airfield: Then and Now

By: Daniel Garcia

When the Japanese made their plans to bomb Pearl Harbor, they planned to go after more than just the harbor itself. .They had three other targets in mind: Hickman Airfield, Ford... Read More

New Photos of PBY Flying Boat sunk before Pearl Harbor Attack

By: Daniel Garcia

Before Pearl Harbor was attacked, other military installations on Oahu were hit. The bombers were specifically targeting aircraft in order to prevent American forces from getting airborne and fighting back.... Read More

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Quotes

By: Bruce D.

The most famous Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto Quote about the sleeping giant may not even have been said by him. "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping... Read More

Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

By: Bruce Danforth

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor for a few reasons. The reason for the attack and the goal of the attack are not the same. The Reason Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor Japan had... Read More

The End of WWII on the Battleship Missouri

By: Bruce D.

Sitting at Pearl Harbor, as we approach the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender that marked the end of WWII, we reflect on the two days that changed the world forever.... Read More

Emperor Hirohito Radio Address on August 15, 1945

By: Bruce D.

The following is a translation of Emperor Hirohito's radio address from August 15, 1945 accepting the Allies terms of surrender. The language that he spoke in was very difficult for... Read More

Washington DC Lady's reaction to Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941

By: Bruce D.

We are very lucky that the United States Library of Congress had the foresight to conduct "Man on the Street" Interviews" after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They recorded over... Read More

USS Maryland at Pearl Harbor

By: Bruce D.

The USS Maryland does not get the same attention as the other battleships that were at Pearl Harbor. Perhaps because she sustained minimal damage or because she only lost 4... Read More