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

Annie Fox: Pearl Harbor’s First Female Purple Heart Recipient

By: Mark Loproto

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The Ill-Fated Captain of the USS Arizona

By: Mark Loproto

The USS Arizona (BB-39) suffered a fate on December 7th, 1941 that would make her one of the most iconic battleships of all time. During the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor,... Read More

Pacific Aviation Museum: Programs for Kids

By: Mark Loproto

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Cornelia Fort and World War II

By: Mark Loproto

For Cornelia Clark Fort, as for most other Americans, December 7th, 1941 began as a quiet Sunday morning. It started out as an otherwise normal day as she embarked on... Read More

History of Pearl Harbor: The West Loch Disaster

By: Mark Loproto

On December 7th, 1941, the naval base at Pearl Harbor suffered its first large-scale tragedy. At 0755, a fleet of Japanese fighters and bombers swooped in on the harbor and... Read More

The Technologies of Pearl Harbor

By: Mark Loproto

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By: Mark Loproto

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Pearl Harbor Lead Pilot’s Change of Heart

By: Mark Loproto

An event like Pearl Harbor is sure to leave a mark on everybody, including those who perpetrated the heinous deed that left over 2,400 Americans dead. As Japan entered Hawaiian... Read More

JRS-1 and The Daring Flight of Wesley Hoyt Ruth

By: Mark Loproto

Everybody had their jobs. For Wesley Hoyt Ruth, on December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese started bombing the Pearl Harbor, his job was of the utmost importance: locate the Japanese... Read More

Heroes of the Harbor: John S. Harper

By: Mark Loproto

Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Navy men like John Harper were simply doing their jobs. They woke up, got dressed, and engaged in their daily activities just like... Read More

The Mind Behind Pearl Harbor

By: Mark Loproto

War with the United States was inevitable. Though the Americans refused to pick up arms and join the battle, it would only be so long before they were drawn in... Read More

The Warning That Went Unheeded

By: Mark Loproto

At around 4 a.m. on the morning of the 7th, George E. Elliott, Jr. was manning new radar equipment, a state-of-the-art SCR-270, on the northern tip of Oahu at Kahuku... Read More

Pearl Harbor Artifacts

By: Mark Loproto

Relics of events long since past are found all over the world, reminders of conflicts that left their mark on the lands they were fought across. Considering how relatively recently... Read More

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

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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