Pearl Harbor Attack Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: April Inocente

April holds a Masters in Educational Technology and a B.S. in Elementary Education from Texas State University. She has experience teaching second grade, and as a campus instructional technologist, creating and implementing curriculum for elementary coursework. April is versed in teaching trends and approaches, and holds multiple certifications.

The biggest attack on an American naval base happened in a matter of two hours. It caused major damage and major loss of life. In this lesson you will learn about this historic attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Attack

Imagine you live in a beautiful beach paradise that has white sand beaches and a deep blue ocean as far as you can see. Now imagine you wake up in this paradise to bombs landing all around you. You see ships and docks being destroyed. People are running for their lives as the world around you is being blown up from fighter planes above.

USS California sinking, the USS Shaw burning, and the USS Nevada beached in the attack at Pearl Harbor
USS California

On December 7th, 1941, at 7:55 in the morning, the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii, was attacked by Japanese fighter planes. Because the United States and Japan were not at war with each other, this attack was a complete surprise. 183 Japanese planes dropped bombs and shot bullets at the American ships and nearby airfields below. One hour later a wave of 167 planes delivered the second round of attacks. There were also submarines below the surface shooting torpedoes at the ships. The sailors, many of whom were sleeping or eating breakfast when the attack happened, quickly got as many planes off the ground as they could, but the battle was doomed from the start.

The Damage

More than 2,300 sailors and more than 50 civilians, a person who is not in the military, were killed. In addition, over 1,100 people were injured in the attack. 21 U.S. Naval ships, including eight battleships, were destroyed or damaged by the bombs and torpedoes. The biggest loss was the USS Arizona battleship which was hit by an armor piercing bomb that hit an ammunition magazine causing a huge explosion. The ship sank in 9 minutes, killing 1,177 sailors inside. The bombs also caused total destruction and/or damage to over 300 planes sitting on the ground in airfields.

The USS Arizona sinking in the attack at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona

Why It Happened

World War II had been going on in Europe and Asia for two years before the Pearl Harbor attack happened. The United States stayed out of this war, but was monitoring the situation. Japan, who was in the war, wanted to attack and take over much of the Asian continent. To better monitor Japan's movements, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the Pacific Fleet of the Navy to set up their base in the Hawaiian Islands, which is located in the Pacific Ocean between California and Japan.

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