At 7:55 a.m. a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appeared out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious massacre. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States into World War II.
Diplomatic negotiations with Japan had been breaking down. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers knew that an imminent Japanese attack was probable, but nothing had been done to increase security at the naval base in Pearl Harbor. It was Sunday morning, and many military personnel had been given passes to attend religious services off base. At 7:02 a.m., two radar operators spotted large groups of aircraft in flight toward the island from the north, but with a flight of B-17s expected from the United States at that time they were told to sound no alarm. Thus, the Japanese air assault came as a devastating surprise to the naval base.
Much of the Pacific fleet was rendered useless. Five of eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged, and more than 200 aircraft were destroyed. A total of 2,390 Americans were killed and 1,200 were wounded, many while valiantly attempting to fight back against impossible odds. Japan's losses were some 30 planes, five midget submarines, and fewer than 100 men. Fortunately for the United States, all three Pacific fleet carriers were out at sea on training maneuvers. These giant aircraft carriers would have their revenge against Japan six months later at the Battle of Midway.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt appeared before a joint session of Congress and spoke his now famous words, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."