Vincent P. DeSantis | December 8, 2016
At about 7:55 a.m. local time on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, a Japanese airman released a bomb over Pearl Harbor. It was the first of many bombs to fall in the next two hours upon the sprawling, important American naval base in Hawaii where most of the United States Pacific fleet was moored. The bombs exploded the United States into the Second World War and placed Japan on the road to ultimate disaster.
Within the first two or three minutes, the Pacific fleet and every military air installation on the island of Oahu (except one army airstrip unknown to the invaders) were under attack by Japanese planes which had split up to hit all the targets almost at once and from different directions. The Japanese knew that a big prize — the American aircraft carriers delivering planes to Wake Island — had probably eluded them. But all eight battleships were in Pearl Harbor.
“When I flew over Kahuka Point at the head of the first formation, I was confident that we would succeed in our mission,” said Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Japanese navy, who led the attack. “Pearl Harbor is still asleep in the morning mist,” he wrote in his log. “The orderly group of barracks, the wriggling white line of the automobile road climbing up to the mountaintop; fine objectives all directions. . . . Inside the harbor were important ships of the Pacific fleet, strung out and anchored two ships side by side in an orderly manner.”
Most of the damage was done in the first 15 or 20 minutes. By 8:30 the planes of the first wave were leaving; they had met almost no air opposition. The combat air patrol from the American carrier Enterprise had flown inadvertently into the midst of the battle but could do little. So had B-17 planes arriving from San Francisco without armament; all but one managed to land without much injury. The army sent a few fighters up from its overlooked airstrip about 8:15, and some more later in the morning, but the air defense of Pearl Harbor had been put out of business in the first attack.