The Second World War became truly global when Japanese war planes attacked the US naval base in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbour, the strongest American base in the Pacific, on Sunday December 7, 1941. Many isolationist forces in the US had resisted entering what at that time was mostly a European war. But more than two years after the conflict had started in Europe, an enemy had hit home with all its fury.
Some chronicles still call the attack “a surprise”. It definitely was without warning or a formal declaration of war, but it was hardly a surprise nor was it unexpected. For months, Washington and other world capitals were expecting a strong Japanese attack somewhere in the Pacific. The question was where. The US knew that Hawaii was one of the targets. It knew that an attack could be imminent.
Two days before, highly suspicious secret Japanese communications between Tokyo and its consulate in Hawaii had been intercepted. But when that faithful weekend a military officer received a copy of them in Washington and read them, he complained about minor errors of translation and left its full assessment for the following Monday.
By then it was too late.
Early on Sunday morning, 366 Japanese warplanes attacked the US naval base, one of the biggest in the world. Four battleships were blown up, four more were damaged and a further eleven were sunk or crippled. Some 200 fighters and bombers were also destroyed. The death toll was so huge – 2,403 – that for some time the figure was kept secret. Most of the casualties were from the battleship Arizona. Its remains now still lying half sunken in Pearl Harbour, converted into a tragic memento of that terrible day. An event that was reflected with huge headlines in all the American newspapers like this one from San Francisco.
Not long afterwards, the US Congress declared war on Japan. A war that almost led to the total destruction of the Empire of the Rising Sun.
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