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Home > Family History > USS Neosho > The Pearl Harbor Attack > Prelude to War

 

 

Prelude to War: Conflict in the Far East

 

 

The seeds of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor were sown long before 1941.  Throughout the early 1900s, Japan -- a small, industrial nation -- felt that it had been humiliated repeatedly by the West.  Even though Japan had beaten Russia decisively in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War, Western powers had forced Japan to give up many of its victory spoils.  Then, after World War I, Japan -- unlike many of the victorious European nations -- wasn't allowed to expand its territory despite having sided with the Allies.  Through assassination and other means, militaristic factions had assumed political power in Japan shortly after World War I.  

 

Japan Invades China

After suffering what it felt were repeated humiliations, Japan in the 1920s believed that it was justified in expanding its territory and it envisioned ruling all of Asia while ousting the Western powers.  As the only Asian industrialized country, Japan saw itself as Asia's leader and began to use the thinly-veiled motto "Asia for Asians" to justify its aggressions.  With few natural resources of its own, Japan eyed China's bounty and, in 1931, invaded Manchuria in northeastern China, an area rich in coal and iron.  By this time, China was emerging from centuries of dynastic rule and boasted a huge population but was saddled with a feeble military and corrupt political leadership.  

 

The Japanese incursion into Manchuria caused tensions with the United States, which, for many years, had viewed itself as the protector of China.  However, the U.S. was unable to intervene against Japan, since it was in the throes of an economic depression and because of the isolationist attitudes that were prevalent in America at that time.  Japan declared outright war against China in 1937, further escalating tensions with the United States. 

 

In 1938, the United States, Japan's main supplier of natural resources, began pressuring Japan to withdraw from China by cutting off some of her imports, but to no avail.  Tensions in Europe exploded the following year when Germany invaded Poland followed quickly by the onset of World War II.  In 1940, Japan signed a mutual-defense pact with Germany and Italy, forming the so-called "Axis."  This pact proscribed Japan as the leader of a "new order" in Asia and pronounced Germany and Italy as the leaders of a new order in Europe.  The neutral U.S., increasingly alarmed at Japanese aggressions, cut off Japan's steel, rubber, and, finally, oil imports, still hoping that Japan would retreat from China.  With its oil supply now shut off, Japanese leaders decided not to withdraw from China but rather to invade the petroleum-rich countries of Burma and Indonesia (then called the Dutch East Indies).

 

The U.S. Fleet Moves to Pearl Harbor

With the British, French, and Dutch preoccupied with the European theatre of war, the main threat to Japan's planned invasion of southeast Asia was the U.S. Pacific Fleet, consisting of three aircraft carriers, nine battleships, and scores of other ships.  The Pacific Fleet had been based in San Diego, California but in 1940, as tensions continued to escalate with Japan, the United States decided to move the fleet to Pearl Harbor in the territory of Hawaii, which was several thousand miles closer to the hot-spots in Asia.  

 

The decision to move the fleet to Pearl Harbor was criticized by some American military leaders who claimed that Pearl Harbor was too shallow, that it was too far from the U.S. mainland and vulnerable to attack, that supplies (such as diesel oil for the ships) would have to be imported, and that its single channel could be a bottleneck for ships trying to get out to sea.  Despite these objections, the Navy, in the spring of 1940, moved the U.S. Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor, a place many Americans had never even heard of.

 

As Japanese military leaders were planning to invade the oil-rich countries of southeast Asia, they decided to first attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.  By knocking out the U.S. fleet in a surprise attack, they reasoned, Japan would have enough time to secure the oil fields and other resources in southeastern Asia before the United States could counter-attack.  Therefore, in November of 1941, a large Japanese fleet, including six aircraft carriers carrying dozens of torpedo-bombers, dive-bombers and fighter planes, secretly left Japan and raced through the stormy waters of the Northern Pacific, heading for Hawaii.

 

Aerial_View_Of_Ford_Island_Oct_1941_-_600x450.jpg (59558 bytes)    Aerial_View_Of_Hickam_Field_Oct_1941_-_600x400.jpg (42640 bytes)    Aerial_View_of_Saratoga_and_Lexington_-_600x400.jpg (30499 bytes)

Above left:  Aerial view of Pearl Harbor, looking south.  This was taken about six weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Above center:  Another aerial view of Pearl Harbor, also taken in October, 1941.

Above right:  The U.S.S. Saratoga (foreground) and her sister ship U.S.S. Lexington anchored off Diamond Head.  The American carriers were the prime target of the Japanese planes during the Pearl Harbor attack, but none were at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7.  The Lexington had left on December 5 to deliver planes to Midway Island, and the Saratoga was undergoing repairs in Bremerton, Washington.  A third carrier, the U.S.S. Enterprise, returned to Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of December 7 after delivering planes to Wake Island.

 

Sailors_On_Beach_-_600x400.jpg (47141 bytes)    Aerial_View_of_Akagi_-_600x400.jpg (40818 bytes)

Above left:  While the Japanese fleet was heading to Pearl Harbor, American servicemen enjoyed the sun and sand in Honolulu.

Above right:  The carrier Akagi, flagship of the Japanese fleet that headed to Pearl Harbor in November, 1941.

 

 

Table of Contents:

U.S.S. Neosho  (AO-23)

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) Home Page

 

Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos

 

Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho

 

The Pearl Harbor Attack  (December 7, 1941)

Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Bill Leu Interview:  Pearl Harbor Attack

U.S. Navy Action Report:  U.S.S. Neosho

 

The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942)

The Battle of the Coral Sea:  Summary

Battle Action:  April 30 - May 4, 1942 

Battle Action:  May 5 - May 7, 1942

Battle Action:  May 8, 1942

The U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea

May 7, 1942:  The Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting For Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

List of Survivors & Casualties

The Battle of the Coral Sea  (May 1942 - cont.)

Bill Leu Interview:  Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Coral Sea

Action Report of the U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of the U.S.S. Sims

U.S.S. Helm Report

Other Ships at Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Sims (Neosho's Escort)

The U.S.S. Henley (Neosho's Rescuer)

The U.S.S. Helm (Rescued Life Raft)

Coral Sea Scrapbook

S.F. Examiner Article, July 10, 1942

 

Aftermath

President Bush's Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

Obituary of Captain John S. Phillips

 

U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum

 

Sources & Further Information

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