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Pearl Harbor Attack: What Led to It and What Was the Aftermath?

World War II Timeline: November 3, 1941-November 17, 1941

On November 17, 1941, Japan signed off on the plan to attack Pearl Harbor. Learn about this and the other major events that occurred in November 1941 below.

World War II Timeline: November 3-November 17

November 3: As tensions mount between the U.S. and Japan, American women and children leave Guam, Wake, and Midway Islands.


November 6: The U.S. National Academy of Sciences reviews the technology behind the invention of fissile nuclear weaponry and calls for the immediate development of the atomic bomb.

Japan's military command prepares for planned attacks throughout the East Indies and South Asia, including Thailand and the Philippines.

November 7: Joseph Stalin rallies his war-weary subjects with his inspirational "Mother Russia" speech, recalling the heroics of great Soviets from years past.

November 9: Working off intercepted intelligence information, the Royal Navy destroys two Italian shipping convoys.

November 10: Underscoring his commitment to Britain's partnership with the United States, Winston Churchill insists he will declare war "within the hour" if Japan and the United States engage forces.

November 14: The British aircraft carrier Ark Royal sinks two days after being torpedoed in a Nazi German U-boat attack. The crippled ship is making its way back to England from its post off the coast of Gibraltar when it finally goes down.

The beleaguered city of Leningrad gets a lifeline with the first airlift of supplies.

November 17: Congress allows for the arming of merchant ships with its repeal of key sections of the Neutrality Act, a move that Franklin Roosevelt lobbied hard to achieve.

The Japanese high command signs off on Admiral Yamamoto's plan to bomb Pearl Harbor.

World War II Headlines

Read on for details and images that outline one of the major events of World War II, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Attack on Pearl Harbor: At 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first wave of 353 carrier-based Japanese bombers and other combat aircraft struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet's base in Hawaii. The U.S. naval and military garrison was almost completely surprised, and the devastation was extensive. Japan's dramatic entry into the Second World War was a remarkable strategic accomplishment, notwithstanding its political repercussions, the adverse propaganda, and the absence of the U.S. aircraft carriers from Hawaii that day.

Japanese bombers assault U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor: The U.S. battleships West Virginia and Tennessee (both pictured above) were heavily damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seven torpedoes and two bombs struck the West Virginia, and two bombs hit the Tennessee. (Both ships were repaired and saw action before the end of the war.)

Although the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was a tactical victory for the Japanese, it was a long-term strategic defeat. In reflecting on the outcome of the attack, its primary planner, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, is said to have declared, "I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

Japanese fury against America: The men piloting the aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor had been trained in a culture in which loyalty unto death in the service of their emperor was a sacred principle. They were taught that America threatened the existence of Japan itself.

1,177 die in USS Arizona bombing at Pearl Harbor: The USS Arizona was commissioned by the Navy in October 1916. It was docked on "Battleship Row" in Pearl Harbor on December 7. Minutes after the attack began, the Arizona was hit by a 1,760-pound armor-piercing bomb. The explosive penetrated the deck and ignited more than a million pounds of gunpowder, tearing the ship apart and killing 1,177 of the crew. A sailor on another ship saw the Arizona "jump at least 15 or 20 feet . . . upwards in the water and sort of break in two."

Civilian volunteers at Pearl Harbor come to the rescue: On the morning of December 7, an alarm sounded across Oahu directing all civilian shipyard workers to report to Pearl Harbor, even as the battleships were still under attack. One group of civilians under the direction of Julio DeCastro, on board the USS Oklahoma, was credited with saving the lives of 32 crewmen trapped in the ship's hull. Many other civilians, both men and women, worked for hours fighting fires on the ships and docks. One civilian, George Walters, was cited for risking his life by running a crane up and down its tracks, shielding three battleships from enemy fire.

The timeline on the next page recounts the events of late November 1941.