O'ahu as Battlefield
7 DECEMBER 1941
The attack on O'ahu was the culmination of a decade of deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States over the status of China and the security of Southeast Asia. The breakdown began in 1931 when Japanese army extremists, in defiance of government policy, invaded and overran the northernmost Chinese provinces of Manchuria. Japan ignored American protests, and in the summer of 1937 launched a full-scale attack on the rest of China. Although alarmed by this action, neither the United States nor any other nation with interests in the Far East was willing to use military force to halt Japanese expansion.
Over the next three years war broke out in Europe and Japan joined Nazi Germany in the Axis alliance. The United States applied diplomatic and economic pressure to try to resolve the Sino-Japanese conflict. The Japanese government viewed these measures, especially an embargo on oil, as threats to their nation's security. By summer 1941 both countries had taken positions from which they could not retreat without a loss of national prestige. Although both governments continued to negotiate, Japan had already decided on war.
The attack on O'ahu was an integral part of the Japanese grand strategy of southern expansion. The objective was to immobilize the Pacific Fleet so the United States could not interfere with the invasion of Asia and the western Pacific. The principal architect of the attack was Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet. Though personally opposed to war with America, Yamamoto knew that Japan's only hope of success in such a war was a quick and decisive victory. America's superior economic and industrial might would tip the scales in its favor during a prolonged conflict.
On November 26 the Japanese attack fleet of 33 warships and auxiliary craft, including six aircraft carriers, sailed from northern Japan for the Hawaiian Islands. It followed a route that took it far to the north of the normal shipping lanes. By early morning, December 7, 1941, the ships had reached their launch position, 230 nautical miles north of O'ahu. At 6 am, some 12 nautical miles outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor; five midget submarines carrying two crewmen and two torpedoes each were launched from larger mother subs. Their mission: enter Pearl Harbor before the air strike, remain submerged until the attack was underway, then cause as much damage as possible.
Meanwhile at Pearl Harbor; the 185 vessels of the U.S. Pacific Fleet lay calm and serene. Seven of the fleet's eight battleships were tied up along Battleship Row on the southeast shore of Ford Island. Naval aircraft were lined up at Ford Island and Kāne'ohe naval air stations and at 'Ewa Marine Corps Air Station. Aircraft belonging to the U.S. Army Air Corps were parked in groups as defense against possible saboteurs at Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows airfields.
At 6:40 am, the crew of the destroyer USS Ward spotted the conning tower of one of the midget subs headed for the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Ward sank the sub with depth charges and gunfire, then radioed the information to headquarters. Before 7 am, the 'Ōpana Mobile Radar Station near Kahuku Point picked up a signal indicating a large flight of planes approaching from the north. These were thought to be either aircraft flying in from the carrier Enterprise or an anticipated flight of B-17s from the mainland, so no action was taken.
The first wave of Japanese aircraft arrived over their target areas shortly before 7:55 am. Their leader, Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida, sent the coded messages "To, To, To" and "Tora, Tora, Tora," telling the fleet that the attack had begun and that complete surprise had been achieved.
At approximately 8:06 am, USS Arizona exploded when a 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb slammed through its deck and ignited its forward ammunition magazine. In less than nine minutes, it sank with 1,177 of its crew a total loss. USS Oklahoma, hit by several torpedoes, rolled completely over, trapping more than 400 men inside. California and West Virginia sank at their moorings, while USS Utah, converted to a training ship, capsized with more than 50 of its crew. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee all suffered significant damage. USS Nevada attempted to run out to sea, but took several hits and had to be beached to avoid sinking and blocking the harbor entrance.
While the attack on Pearl Harbor intensified, other military installations on O'ahu were hit. Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows airfields, 'Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, Kāne'ohe Naval Air Station, and Schofield Barracks suffered varying degrees of damage, with hundreds of planes destroyed on the ground and hundreds of men killed or wounded.
After about five minutes, American anti-aircraft fire began to register hits, although many of the shells that had been improperly fused fell on Honolulu, where residents assumed they were Japanese bombs. At about 8:40 am a second wave of attacking planes continued the destruction inside the harbor, heavily damaging USS Shaw, USS Sotoyomo, USS Nevada, and floating dry dock YFD-2. The Japanese continued air attacks on Hickam, Wheeler, 'Ewa, and Kāne'ohe airfields, causing heavy losses of aircraft and reducing American ability to retaliate. Some Army pilots, however, managed to get in the air and may have shot down 12 enemy planes. Shortly before 10 am the second wave withdrew to carriers approximately 200 nautical miles to the north. The attack was over. World War II had come to America.
The U.S. Navy had suffered its greatest defeat. Twenty-one vessels were sunk or damaged. American air power on the island of O'ahu was smashed. American dead totaled 2,390, with hundreds wounded. Japanese losses were 29 planes, 55 airmen, five midget submarines, and nine crewmen. In the wake of such a disaster, Americans rallied. A once-divided nation was now committed to avenge Pearl Harbor. The battle cry "Remember Pearl Harbor!" carried the nation forward for the next three and a half years. In 1945 America and its allies achieved victory over Japan, Nazi Germany, and Italy. Today former enemies meet at this memorial in peace, to remember a time of war. The legacy of Pearl Harbor still haunts us.
TO HONOR OUR DEAD: The USS Arizona Memorial
USS Arizona is the final resting place for many of the ship's 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The 184-foot-long memorial structure spanning the mid-portion of the sunken battleship consists of three main sections: the entry and assembly rooms; a central area designed for ceremonies and general observation; and the shrine room, where the names of those killed on Arizona are engraved on the marble wall.
The USS Arizona Memorial grew out of a wartime desire to establish some sort of memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those who died in the attack. Suggestions for such a memorial began in 1943, but it wasn't until the Pacific War Memorial Commission was established in 1949 that the first real steps were taken to bring it about.
Initial recognition came in 1950 when Adm. Arthur Radford, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), ordered that a flagpole be erected over the sunken battleship. On the ninth anniversary of the attack, a commemorative plaque was placed at the base of the flagpole.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who helped achieve Allied victory in Europe during World War II, approved the creation of the memorial in 1958. Its construction was completed in 1961 with public funds appropriated by Congress and private donations. The memorial was dedicated in 1962.
According to its architect, Alfred Preis, the design of the memorial, "wherein the structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory.... The overall effect is one of serenity.
Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses ... his innermost feelings."
Contrary to popular belief, USS Arizona is no longer in commission. As a special tribute to the ship and its lost crew, the United States flag flies from the flagpole, which is attached to the severed mainmast of the sunken battleship. The USS Arizona Memorial commemorates all of those whose lives were lost on O'ahu, December 7, 1941.
December 7, 1941 losses*
The visitor center and the USS Arizona Memorial are located on the U.5. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. In 1979 an agreement was established between the U.S. Navy and the Department of the Interior for the National Park Service to assume control of the memorial. The visitor center is the central orientation point for the tour of the memorial. It is located on the eastern shoreline of Pearl Harbor just off State Highway 99 (Kamehameha Highway) about a 45-minute drive west of Waikiki. The visitor center complex was completed in 1980, using a combination of government funds and private contributions raised by the Fleet Reserve Association, Branch 46. Parking for over 260 visitor vehicles is provided.
The interpretive program, for which visitors are given free tickets at the visitor center, consists of a brief talk by a National Park Service ranger, followed by a 23-minute documentary film on the Pearl Harbor attack. Immediately after the film, visitors board a Navy shuttle boat to the memorial. All visitors disembark on the memorial and return with their shuttle boat.
Visitors are free to explore the museum and browse through the bookstore operated by the Arizona Memorial Museum Association. Other facilities in the center include a small snack area, central courtyard, restrooms, and administrative areas.
The 16-foot by 50-foot oil mural of USS Arizona in the visitor center lobby is by John Charles Roach. The lawn behind the visitor center provides an excellent view of Ford Island and Battleship Row.
TRANSPORTATION TO THE MEMORIAL
For those without cars, several alternatives by bus are available: Honolulu public transit buses stop regularly near the visitor center and can be boarded in Waikiki. The #20 and #42 buses are the most direct lines. A commercial transportation company in Waikikl runs round-trip bus trips to the visitor center, and various commercial tour bus operators include the USS Arizona Memorial on their sightseeing itineraries.
• The visitor center is open daily from 7:30 am to 5 pm. The last program begins at 3 pm. The visitor center and memorial are closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1.
• No reservations are taken; all tours are free of charge and on a first-come, first-served basis.
• Smoking, eating, and drinking are not permitted in the visitor center's twin theaters, on the boat, or on the memorial structure.
• Due to increased security measures, bags or articles that allow concealment are prohibited in the visitor center and at the memorial. A storage facility is available to visitors for a nominal fee.
• For further recorded information, please call 808-422-0561 or 808-422-2771, or contact USS Arizona Memorial, 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, HI 96818-3145; www.nps.gov/usar.
World War II Valor in the Pacific
Commemorating the War at Sea
After the attack at Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the Second World War, the Pacific Ocean was the scene of the greatest sustained naval struggle in history. In remembrance of those who took part in that conflict, both in the Pacific and at home, President George W. Bush proclaimed a new national monument in 2008.
World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument encompasses nine sites that commemorate the Pacific war, including the USS Arizona Memorial. Nearby memorials to the battleships USS Oklahoma and USS Utah, the latter refitted as a gunnery training ship in 1941, remember the 487 crewmen who died when the ships sank during the attack. The mooring quays on Pearl Harbor's Battleship Row and six Chief Petty Officer bungalows on Ford Island are also being preserved.
The Pacific war ranged north to the Aleutians, where three sites will become part of the national monument the crash site of a B-24 bomber on Atka Island; the remains of a large Japanese base and allied defensive structures on Kiska Island; and Attu Island, the site of the only land battle fought in North America during the war.
The national monument also reminds us of the burdens borne by some on the wartime home front, when Japanese-Americans were relocated to internment camps. The U.S. Government confined over 17,000 people at Tule Lake Segregation Center and nearby Camp Tule Lake in northern California for the duration of the war.
Source: NPS Brochure (2009)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
Administrative History: USS Arizona Memorial and Visitor Center (Michael Slackman, 1982)
Benthic and Fish Communities on the USS Arizona and USS Utah: World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Pearl Harbor, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, 2010-11 NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/PACN/NRTR—2013/813 (Steve L. Coles, Daniel Lager, Claire Lager, Paul L. Jokiel and Ku‘ulei Rodgers, November 2013)
Cultural Landscape Report for Ford Island CPO Bungalows Neighborhood and Battleship Row (Vida Germano, Robert Z. Melnick, FASLA and Hannah Six, August 2020)
Dynamics of the Physical Environment at the USS Arizona Memorial: 2002-2004 USGS Open-File Report 2004-1353 (Curt D. Storlazzi, Matthew A. Russell, Marshall D. Owens, Michael E. Field and Larry E. Murphy, 2004)
Early Warnings: The Mystery of Radar in Hawaii (Harry A. Butowsky, extract from CRM, Vol. 15 No. 8, 1992)
Flow Patterns and Current Structure at the USS Arizona Memorial: April, 2005 USGS Open-File Report 2005-1334 (Curt D. Storlazzi, Matthew A. Russell, M. Katherine Presto and Jennifer E. Burbank, 2005)
Historic Resource Study: USS Arizona Memorial (Michael Slackman, 1984)
Infamous Day: Marines at Pearl Harbor Marines in World War II Commemorative Series (Robert J. Cressman and J. Michael Wenger, 1992)
Japanese Midget Sub at Pearl Harbor: Collaborative Maritime Heritage Preservation (Hans Van Tilburg, extract from Underwater Cultural Heritage at Risk: Managing Natural and Human Impacts, 2006, ©ICOMOS)
Junior Ranger Scavenger Hunt, Pearl Harbor National Memorial (Date Unknown)
Pearl Harbor's Forgotten Hero: The Story of the USS Utah (Thomas O'Brien, extract from Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 73 No. 2, 2005; ©Utah State Historical Society)
Perceptions and Suggestions of Visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial (Charles F. Keown, October 1990)
Resources Management Plan, USS Arizona Memorial (February 1996)
Submerged Cultural Resources Study: USS Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark (Daniel J. Lenihan, ed. 1998)
Surprise at Pearl Harbor: A Study in Unpreparedness and Responsibility (Mike Slackman, 1981)
USS Arizona Memorial: Administrative History Review Draft 1.0, (Spencer Architects, Inc., September 15, 2004)
USS Oklahoma — Death of a Battleship (Daniel A. Martinez and Zack Anderson, c2004)
Visitor Study: World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument Spring 2011 (Yen Le, Nancy C. Holmes and Steven Hollenhorst, October 2011)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021