Pearl Harbor was not the first time a country underestimated the Japanese; the Russo-Japanese War was

Dec. 7, 1941

The USS Arizona explodes and sinks in the first wave of attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Seventy-five years ago, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a devastating surprise attack against U.S. air and naval forces at Pearl Harbor.

Many Americans today believe the attack was totally unexpected.

However, Japan began aggressively expanding at the turn of the century. A small island, it wanted the natural resources of its Pacific neighbors.

The U.S. sought to contain Japanese expansion first through diplomacy, then with sanctions and later with embargoes. But Japan increased its military activity and relations between the two countries steadily unraveled.

Even though the U.S. anticipated war with Japan, officials did not believe the Japanese could attack Pearl Harbor. Japan was convinced war was inevitable and hoped to wipe out the Pacific Fleet.

Japanese officers after battling Russians at Port Arthur, Manchuria. Japanese destroyers mounted a surprise night attack against Russian ships anchored in the harbor.


Japan defeats Russia in the Russo-Japanese War and becomes a world power. It seizes territory in southern Manchuria.


Japan annexes Korea.

Italian troops watch Japanese soldiers enter Shanghai in 1916.


Japan allies with Russia, Britain and France against Germany in World War I and takes German territories in the Pacific.


U.S. enters World War I and signs pact with Japan to improve relations.


“The Great Pacific War,” a futuristic novel about a war between the U.S. and Japan in 1931, is published by Hector Bywater, a British military journalist. In it, the Japanese launch surprise attacks against the Philippines, Guam and the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor.

Isoroku Yamamoto is a Japanese naval attache in Washington, D.C., when the book is reviewed on the front page of the New York Times. Though no official link between the two has been found, Yamamoto will later mastermind the real Pearl Harbor attack.


Japan invades Manchuria, sets up puppet regime. Military extremists in Japan gain political power.

The USS Lexington took part in the 1932 war game.


The U.S. Navy conducts Grand Joint Army and Navy Exercise 4, a war game in which U.S. aircraft carriers launch 152 planes a half-hour before dawn about 40 miles north of Oahu. The attackers catch the defenders by surprise.


The USS Arizona is featured in the 1934 James Cagney movie “Here Comes the Navy.” Parts of it are filmed aboard the ship with sailors as extras. One of Cagney’s co-stars is Gloria Stuart, who will play Old Rose DeWitt Bukater in the 1997 James Cameron movie “Titanic.”


Military extremists try and fail to overthrow the Japanese government, which was struggling with Japan’s flailing economy since the world stock market crash. Military officers and conservatives press for expansion in Asia as a Japanese right.

Japan and Germany sign the Anti-Comintern Pact on Nov. 25, an alliance against the Soviet Union.

A bloodied child cries in the ruins of a railway station in Shanghai, China, after a Japanese bombing in 1937.


Japan invades China. In December, atrocities against civilians are reported, a reign of terror known as the Rape of Nanking.


U.S. Navy conducts Fleet Problem XIX, a war game that tests Pearl Harbor defenses against an air assault. An aircraft carrier 100 miles north of Oahu launches its aircraft at 4:50 a.m. The planes successfully attack Ford Island and Hickam and Wheeler airfields.

Isoroku Yamamoto


Japan occupies Hainan Island on south China coast in February. Isoroku Yamamoto, now an admiral, takes command of the Imperial Navy.

World War II starts with German invasion of Poland in September. U.S. halts exports of aviation fuel to Japan in December.

Representatives from Germany, Japan and Italy sign the alliance.


U.S. shifts Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor from San Diego in May. The move is not official until February 1941.

In September, Japan occupies the French colony of Indochina. In retaliation, the U.S. imposes trade sanctions and an embargo against Japan.

On Sept. 27, Japan, Germany and Italy sign the Tripartite Pact, an alliance against Britain and France.

The Italian battleship Conte di Cavour on the Taranto harbor floor.

In November, British carrier-based airplanes bomb Italian navy ships at Taranto harbor in the Mediterranean in a night attack. One battleship is sunk and two more are damaged. The Japanese secretly study the attack.

Joseph Grew


In January, Yamamoto consults his officers about the feasibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

On Jan. 27, Joseph Grew, U.S. ambassador to Japan, cables Washington that he’s heard rumors that Japan is planning a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Washington disagrees, believing the Japanese will attack the Philippines first if war starts.

Husband Kimmel

On Feb. 1, Admiral Husband Kimmel is named commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He’s given a copy of the ambassador’s warning, along with a military intelligence analysis discounting it.

On March 31, two U.S. air-defense officers at Pearl Harbor offer a report saying a Japanese air attack on the island would probably be launched at dawn, from carriers less than 300 nautical miles away. The attack would take place before war is officially declared, the Martin-Bellinger report predicts.

On July 26, Japan occupies southern Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia).

In retaliation, the U.S. imposes oil embargo and freezes Japanese assets on July 28. British and Dutch East Indies do the same.

On Nov. 26, unknown to the U.S., Japan’s carrier strike force leaves Hitokappu Bay (now Kasatka Bay in the Kuril Islands) and heads for Pearl Harbor. The force is joined by Japanese submarines enroute.

On Dec. 6, President Roosevelt sends peace appeal to Japan, which does not respond.

A Japanese Kate torpedo-bomber attacks Pearl Harbor.

On Dec. 7, the attack on Pearl Harbor begins. Japanese aircraft carriers, positioned 220 miles north of Oahu, launch planes at 6:05 a.m. in the first of two attack waves.

At 7:02 a.m., U.S. operators at the Opana radar site on northern Oahu report a large number of incoming aircraft. The planes are believed to be a group of U.S. B-17 Flying Fortresses flying in from California and the sighting is ignored.

Investigators learn later that too little information was exchanged in the radar report. The number of aircraft detected is not disclosed to the commanding officer, and the officer does not tell the operators how many B-17s are expected.

The officer knows that KGMB, a Honolulu radio station, has been broadcasting music all night. The B-17s are using the radio signal as a directional beacon.

The Japanese pilots also listen to the station and follow its signals. One of the tunes the station plays is a teenage girl singing “Menkoi Kouma” (“Come on a Pony”) a Japanese song


Killed in the attack.


U.S. military deaths.


U.S. civilian deaths.


U.S. wounded.


U.S. Navy ships destroyed.


U.S. Navy ships damaged.


U.S. aircraft destroyed.


U.S. aircraft damaged.


Men killed aboard the USS Arizona. Many ships suffered fatalities, but the Arizona deaths accounted for nearly half of all who died in the attack. More than 900 are estimated to remain within the ship.

A rescue boat picks up a crewman from the burning USS West Virginia.

16 days

The battleship West Virginia was hit by multiple torpedoes and bombs and settled to the harbor floor. After the fires were extinguished, sailors heard banging from deep within the forward hull. Men were still alive, trapped inside. There was no way to rescue them.

The West Virginia was refloated on May 17, 1942, 161 days after the attack. Workers found the bodies of three men, Ronald Endicott, 18, Clifford Olds, 20, and Louis Costin, 21, in an airtight storeroom. A calendar was with them, with days marked off from Dec. 7 to Dec. 23.

Japan’s mistakes

U.S. admiral Chester Nimitz said the Japanese made three critical errors in the attack:

1) Attacking on Sunday morning, when most U.S. crewmen were on leave;

2) Focusing on bombing battleships while ignoring repair docks;

3) Failing to destroy storage tanks of military fuel

U.S. ships repaired

The attack destroyed three battleships, the USS Arizona, USS Utah and USS Oklahoma and damaged six battleships and 12 other vessels. Those ships were repaired within months and later earned combat battle stars fighting the Japanese. Battleships, months to repair and battle stars earned:

Representatives of Japan arrive aboard the USS Missouri to sign documents of surrender.

From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay

The USS West Virginia was raised and repaired. This battleship and the light cruiser USS Detroit, also at Pearl Harbor but undamaged, fought against the Japanese and were part of the massive gathering of U.S. ships in Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender of Japan on

Sept. 2, 1945

NOTE Times of attack are estimates; sources vary on exact times

SOURCE “Pearl Harbor, Infamy to Greatness,” by Craig Nelson; “At Dawn We Slept,” by Gordon Prange; “Sunday in Hell: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute,” by Bill McWilliams; “Japan’s War,” by Edwin Hoyt; “Ten Years in Japan,” by Joseph Grew; “Pearl Harbor Ghosts: The Legacy of December 7, 1941,” by Thurston Clarke; “Pearl Harbor, 1941, the Day of Infamy,” by Carl Smith; “Pearl Harbor, The Day of Infamy – An Illustrated History,” by Dan Van Der Vat; “Pearl Harbor, America’s Call to Arms,” Life Magazine; “Pearl Harbor,” by H.P. Willmott; National Park Service; U.S. Naval Institute; U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command; U.S. Naval War College;;;;;

Photos: AP, EPA, AFP

Researched and written by George Petras, USA TODAY

Graphics and maps by Frank Pompa, Ramon Padilla and George Petras, USA TODAY.

Development by Mitchell Thorson, USA TODAY.


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