In mid 1941, America reacted to Japanese occupation of French Indo-China by freezing Japanese assets. In October Prince Konoye's moderate cabinet was replaced by a government headed by General Tojo, and, despite the recognition by several leading figures that she could not win a long war, Japan prepared a devastating strike. On December 7, carrier-borne aircraft struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Surprise was complete, although the Americans had received warnings which should have enabled them to meet the attack. American losses were heavy, but aircraft carriers were at sea and escaped the carnage.
Above, Battleship row at Pearl Harbor. From left to right are the USS West Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona. All three, along with the battleships California and Nevada eventually sank, but only Arizona and Oklahoma were total losses.
Anti-aircraft fire bursts among Japanese aircraft attacking the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Japanese lost 29 aircraft.
Small craft rescue survivors from the battleship USS California, sunk by Japanese aircraft. The Americans suffered over 3,000 casualties in the attack.
Roosevelt denounced December 7 as “a date which will live in infamy,” and, here, grim-faced, signs a declaration of war against Japan. Some historians have suggested that the Japanese attack gave him a pretext for action he wished to take in any event, but the extant evidence does not prove his complicity in what may best be seen as “the ultimate intelligence blunder.”