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Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Curator Laurence Burke took a step back and explored the long and complicated history leading up to the Japanese attack.
What Made The Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor
Gallery, said that the history of Pearl Harbor often focuses on the events of December 7, 1941, but not what happened before the day that President Roosevelt called, “a date that will live in infamy .”
Why Did Japan Bomb Pearl Harbor?
To understand Pearl Harbor, Burke took the audience back to 1853-1854 when US Naval Captain Matthew C. Perry sailed to Japan and negotiated the opening of Japanese ports to trade. After more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation, Japan wanted to engage with the rest of the world.
To compete globally, Japan needed resources—a theme that persistently pushes the narrative of Pearl Harbor to its climax. Iron and coal were major natural resources in the age of steam in the late 19th century
Japan was involved in a war in 1894-5 with China and in 1904-5 with Russia to secure resources. It was a victory in 1905 against the Russian Navy that shocked the world and showed the United States that they needed to be prepared for a potential war with Japan.
As early as 1911, the US Navy drew up plans to deal with a possible war with Japan, known as War Plan Orange. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1921 set out to prevent costly naval building races between the nations, but limited Japan to a navy much smaller than the United States, a result that further soured the relationship between the two countries .
Pearl Harbor: The Attack, 7 December 1941
In September 1940, Japan aligned with Germany and Italy. Japan hoped the war would result in a boon of new resources and saw the alignment as a way to push back against the United States. If America wanted to declare war on Japan, it would also have to declare war on Germany, meaning a fight between two oceans.
In the summer of 1941, Japan moved to take the rest of Indochina. This aggression launched major diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the United States that would continue until the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the United States had placed embargoes on Japan in the past, in 1941 it completely froze all trade with Japan. This cut off Japan from key resources such as scrap iron and crude oil.
The United States believed that Japan would run out of necessary resources in six months and would have to agree to negotiations or stop military action. Japan did the same math and realized they needed to act. Japan began planning the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“This is not a unanimously accepted idea,” Burke noted. Many within the Japanese military were wary of the risks—the Japanese carriers did not have the range to reach Pearl Harbor and would need to be replenished at sea, a maneuver unfamiliar to their navy. But for Japan, the potential reward outweighed the risks. They believed that an attack on the United States would prevent America from entering the war for up to six months. At that time, Japan can change the balance of power and take Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies. Japan also hoped the attack would demoralize the United States into inaction.
Timeline: The Critical Events Which Led To The Japanese Attack On Pearl Harbor
The Japanese Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto knew that to succeed secrecy was essential. Few in the military were aware of what was a conspiracy. The Japanese carriers would take an extremely northern route to avoid shipping lanes, and while traveling were under complete radio silence. Even ship-to-ship communication was done using flags or blinker lights.
The final orders to attack Pearl Harbor were given to the ships by hand before they set sail on November 26.
Burke noted that, at the time, the United States had only broken Japan’s diplomatic codes, not their naval codes. But even if the US could read Japanese naval codes, there was no radio traffic to intercept.
Japan has set an internal deadline: If negotiations with the United States do not go as desired, Pearl Harbor will be attacked. They pushed the deadline to November 29th. Three days later, the Japanese high command sent the message, “Climb Mount Niitaka,” to tell the Japanese carrier force it was listening to proceed with the attack.
Climb Mount Niitaka:” A Detailed Description Of The First Wave Attack On Pearl Harbor
What unfolded over the next few days is the story we are more familiar with—2,403 Americans were killed, 188 US aircraft were destroyed, and the core of the Pacific Fleet was left sitting at the bottom of the port.
Sailors stand among wrecked aircraft at the Ford Island seaplane base, watching as the USS Shaw (DD-373) explodes in the center background, December 7, 1941. The USS Nevada (BB-36) she is also seen in the middle in the background, with a bow with her head to the left. Several aircraft are in the foreground, a consolidated PBY, Vought OS2Us and Curtiss SOCs. The broken wing in the foreground is from a PBY. Image: U.S. Navy
Given the nearly 100 years of history between the two nations, Burke said, “We can see why the Americans should have anticipated war with the Japanese.” But the specifics of the attack were a surprise. The US knew something was up, but they anticipated being attacked in the Philippines not Pearl Harbor. The United States knew the risks Japan faced with an attack on Pearl and believed it was impossible. And the United States did not believe that Japan was capable of planning and executing such an attack.
To say that Pearl Harbor was a complete surprise, as most history books do, does not take into account the complex history and relations between the United States and Japan that led up to the attack. The war with Japan was not a surprise, but the location and nature of the first strike was.
Pearl Harbor: How Much Did The U.s. Know Before The Japanese Attacked Hawaii?
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During the 1930s, Japan, having already annexed Korea in 1910, sought to further expand its empire, particularly to obtain natural resources. In 1931, the Japanese invaded Manchuria, a small, resource-rich province in northern China, and set up a puppet state called Manchukuo. In 1937, Japan invaded the rest of China and by some estimates killed as many as 300,000 people during the infamous Nanking Massacre. China would lose around 14 million people by the end of the Second World War.
The Western powers were distressed by Japanese expansion, particularly because it violated the “Open Door” Policy supported by the League of Nations (precursor of the United Nations), which had been established to ensure opportunities for equal trade with China. The League of Nations reprimanded Japan, but this did nothing to stop its expansion.
Since Japan had limited natural resources, 55.4% of its imports at the time came from the United States (Rhodes 39). From 1937, the United States began to ship supplies of oil, steel and scrap iron. In December of the same year, Japanese planes sank the
Interesting Pearl Harbor Facts
, an American gunboat, in the Yangtze River, killed three Americans. Although Japan said it was a mistake and paid reparations, it continued to arouse sympathy for China and anger against Japan in the United States.
In 1940, Japan became part of the Axis Alliance with Germany and Italy and occupied parts of French Indochina (modern Vietnam) with the permission of the Vichy government, the created puppet state after the fall of France. In response, the United States placed a complete embargo on all trade with Japan. President Roosevelt also moved the majority of the US Pacific Fleet from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor.
The embargo created a dilemma for Japan. The Japanese relied on American resources to fuel their war effort, and ultimately concluded that they needed to conquer the resource-rich territories in Southeast Asia to continue. In July 1941, Japan moved to southern Indochina, on the doorstep of colonies controlled by Western powers such as India, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. controlled by America. Japan knew that this move would risk war with the United States.
The attack at Pearl Harbor was the brainchild of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, who argued that it would “deal a fatal blow to the enemy fleet” (Rhodes 392). In October 1941, the attack was approved by the Japanese naval general staff. Commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, the Japanese fleet included six aircraft carriers, 24 support vessels, and a group of submarines.
Attack On Pearl Harbor: History, Date, Map, Casualties And Facts
The United States was expecting an attack. The ongoing negotiations to end Japanese expansion were not producing results, particularly since the beginning of the American trade embargo. Just hours before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, received a message from the Navy: “This dispatch should be considered a warning of war. Negotiations
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