Pearl Harbor: Documents: The Attack

The beginning of the attack coincided with the hoisting of the preparatory signal for 8 o'clock colors. At this time-namely 7:55 a.m.-Japanese dive bombers appeared over Ford Island, and within the next few seconds enemy torpedo planes and dive bombers swung in from various sectors to concentrate their attack on the heavy ships moored in Pearl Harbor. It is estimated that nine planes engaged in the attack on the naval air station on Ford Island.

At the time of the attack, our planes-patrol flying boats, float planes, and scout bombers, carrier type-were lined up on the field. These planes caught fire and exploded. Machine-gun emplacements were set up hastily and manned, although the return fire from shore on Ford Island was pitifully weak. Then as suddenly as they had appeared, the Japanese planes vanished. No further attack on this air station was made during the day. However, 33 of our best planes out of a total of 70 planes of all types were destroyed or damaged.

As soon as the attack began, commander, Patrol Wing 2 broadcasted from Ford Island the warning: "Air raid, Pearl Harbor-This is not a drill." This warning was followed a few minutes later by a similar message from the commander in chief, United States Fleet.

At approximately the same time that the Japanese dive bombers appeared over Ford Island, other low-flying planes struck at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on the other side of the island. The attack was well executed, with the planes coming down in shallow dives and inflicting severe casualties on the seaplanes moored in the water. Machine guns and rifles were brought out, and men dispersed to fire at will at the low-flying planes. After a period of 10 to 15 minutes, the attacking planes drew off to the north at a low altitude and disappeared from sight.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis