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This Day in History

World History

Sunday, December 7, 1941. :   Japanese fighters bomb the US navy base at Pearl Harbor, precipitating America's entry into WWII.

     During the early stages of World War II, the United States willingly assisted Britain as one of its allies, but did not declare war on any of the countries involved. This changed on the morning of 7 December 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy, stationed at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

Tensions had been rising between the United States and Japan since Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and had continued to encroach on Chinese territory. Earlier in 1941, the USA and the UK reacted to continued Japanese military action in China by imposing boycotts on several industries critical to Japan, freezing assets and closing the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping. Peace negotiations between the US and Japan were unsuccessful, and Japan launched a pre-emptive strike against the US, hoping to gain the upper hand.

Six aircraft carriers launched approximately 360 Japanese warplanes, with the first attack wave occurring at 7:55am, local time. A second wave attacked an hour later. Further attacks by battleships, cruisers, and destroyers ensued. 2,403 Americans were killed, including 68 civilians, and a further 1,178 were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk, including five battleships. Ultimately, the Japanese were successful in their aim of crippling the US navy. However, the attack pushed the US into WWII, and provided the catalyst and the motivation for the development of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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