On this day in 1941 the Imperial Navy of Japan launched a surprise attack on the United States’ Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the island of Hawaii.
The base was attacked by 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk. Of these eight damaged, two were raised, and with four repaired, six battleships returned to service later in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded. Important base installations such as the power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.
The Japanese high command believed that they could defeat the United States with a single decisive battle. This strategy had been successful in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.
Some people believe that Franklin Roosevelt was aware of the attack in advance and allowed it to take place in order to draw the United States into World War II which had started in 1939. No evidence has ever been found to confirm this theory.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor public sentiment in the United States was strongly opposed to entering WWII. After the attack opposition to entering the war evaporated and Congress declared war on Japan on December 8th and against Germany and Italy on December 11th.