Pearl Harbor

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Pearl Harbor,

land-locked harbor, on the southern coast of Oahu island, Hawaii, W of Honolulu; one of the largest and best natural harbors in the E Pacific Ocean. In the vicinity are many U.S. military installations, including the chief U.S. Pacific naval base, Hickam Air Force Base, Pearl Harbor Naval Air Station, and Camp H. M. Smith, headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command.

The United States first gained rights there in 1887, when the Hawaiian monarchy permitted a coaling and repair station. After the United States annexed Hawaii in 1900, Pearl Harbor was made a naval base. Harbor improvements and fortifications were later added, especially after the signing of the Berlin Pact in 1940 by the AxisAxis,
coalition of countries headed by Germany, Italy, and Japan, 1936–45 (see World War II). The expression "Rome-Berlin axis" originated in Oct., 1936, with an accord reached by Hitler and Mussolini. The Axis was solidified by an Italo-German alliance in May, 1939.
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On Dec. 7, 1941, while negotiations were going on with Japanese representatives in Washington, Japanese carrier-based planes swept in without warning over Oahu and attacked (7:55 AM local time) the bulk of the U.S. Pacific fleet, moored in Pearl Harbor. Nineteen naval vessels, including eight battleships, were sunk or severely damaged; 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed. Military casualties were 2,280 killed and 1,109 wounded; 68 civilians also died. On Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan.

There were many charges of negligence against those responsible for Pearl Harbor's defense. A special commission appointed by President Franklin D. RooseveltRoosevelt, Franklin Delano
, 1882–1945, 32d President of the United States (1933–45), b. Hyde Park, N.Y. Early Life

Through both his father, James Roosevelt, and his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, he came of old, wealthy families.
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 accused the army and navy commanders at Hawaii of dereliction of duty in a report on Jan. 24, 1942. Later army and navy investigations concluded that no valid grounds existed for court-martial. A congressional committee, formed in Sept., 1945, absolved the army and navy commanders in a formal report on July 16, 1946, but censured the War Dept. and the Dept. of the Navy.

Pearl Harbor is now a national historic landmark; a memorial has been built over the sunken hulk of the USS Arizona. The battleship Missouri, site of Japan's surrender, is also preserved there as a memorial.


See S. Twomey, Countdown to Pearl Harbor (2016).

Pearl Harbor


a US naval base in a bay on the southern shore of Oahu Island, 10 km west of Honolulu, in the Hawaiian Islands. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and thereby unleashed the war in the Pacific Ocean. The naval base at Pearl Harbor was founded in the early 20th century.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the main forces of the US Pacific Fleet were in Pearl Harbor, including eight battleships, eight cruisers, 29 destroyers, five submarines, nine minelayers, ten minesweepers, and 24 auxiliary vessels. The air forces of the base totaled 394 airplanes. The Japanese naval command, who had extensive knowledge of the disposition of the American ships at the base and of the location of the means of defense, drew up a plan for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

On November 26 a Japanese aircraft carrier task force, consisting of two battleships, six aircraft carriers with 353 airplanes, nine destroyers, and three submarines, under the command of Admiral Yamamoto, left Khitokappu Bay in the Kuril Islands. At dawn of December 7 (the night of December 7, Tokyo time) the task force reached an area 370–500 km north of Oahu Island. In addition, more than 20 Japanese submarines had been deployed ahead of time in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor. Airplanes took off from the Japanese aircraft carriers in two echelons from different directions and for two hours (7:50–9:45 A.M. local time) made several successive strikes at American ships, airfields, and coastal batteries.

Although war with Japan was anticipated and information on the impending attack on Pearl Harbor was available, the American command was caught by surprise. The combat readiness of the base was low at the time. (For instance, strategic air reconnaissance and air defense were inadequate and poorly organized, and ships and aircraft were compactly concentrated.) As a result, the Japanese sank four battleships, two destroyers, and one minelayer; damaged four battleships, three cruisers, and one destroyer; destroyed 188 airplanes; and killed more than 3,000 men. The Japanese fleet lost 29 airplanes and five midget submarines.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the USA and Great Britain declared war on Japan. World War II (1939–45) spread to the Pacific Ocean. Having seized the strategic initiative and gained naval supremacy, the Japanese armed forces launched aggressive operations along the southern axis and won great strategic victories in Malaya, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, and New Guinea.


Istoriia voiny na Tikhom okeane, vol. 3. Moscow, 1958. (Translated from Japanese.)
Chto proizoshlo v Pirl-Kharbore: Dokumenty. Moscow, 1961. (Translated from English.)
Kuznets, Iu. L. Vstuplenie SShA vo vtoruiu mirovuiu voinu. Moscow, 1962.

Pearl Harbor

site of Japanese surprise attack (December 7, 1941). [Am. Hist.: EB, VII: 822]
See: Battle

Pearl Harbor

Japan’s surprise attack destroys U.S. fleet (1941). [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2089]
See: Defeat

Pearl Harbor

site of surprise attack on American fleet by the Japanese (December 7, 1941). [Am. Hist.: Fuller, III, 455–456]

Pearl Harbor

Japan, while negotiating in Washington, bombs Hawaii (December 7, 1941). [Am. Hist.: Fuller, III, 455–456]

Pearl Harbor

an almost landlocked inlet of the Pacific on the S coast of the island of Oahu, Hawaii: site of a US naval base attacked by the Japanese in 1941, resulting in the US entry into World War II