Pearl Harbor - Aerial View and Background Before War

Pearl Harbor - Aerial View and Background Before War American History Famous Historical Events Film Government Social Studies Visual Arts World War II Ethics

This aerial photograph of Pearl Harbor was taken on the 30th of October, 1941—about five weeks before the naval base was attacked by Japan. 

The U.S. Department of the Navy Historical Center provides background on the development, and use, of Pearl Harbor as a major base for America's naval fleet:

By May 1940, when the main part of the United States Fleet was transferred there from the west coast, Pearl Harbor had long been under development as a major naval base.

Its Navy Yard had a dry dock capable of holding the largest warships, a marine railway for smaller ones, and an industrial plant for repairing and maintaining these ships. There were abundant mooring and docking locations for ships, including a berthing area along the eastern side of Ford Island that was commonly called "Battleship Row".

Ford Island, dominating the center of Pearl Harbor, held a Naval Air Station for combat landplanes and patrol seaplanes. Across Southeast Loch from the Navy Yard was a submarine base and nearby was a large "farm" of fuel oil tanks.

The base also included a Naval Hospital and other facilities.

This was still not nearly enough to support the Fleet. Pearl Harbor's area was limited, preventing the dispersal of its warships, and its opening to the sea was but a single narrow channel. Both of these elements were clearly dangerous from a security perspective.

The base's supply and industrial capacity was too small to meet the Fleet's needs, and transportation from the west coast was slow and of insufficient carrying capacity. There were not enough tugs and other services to keep the Fleet operational and in good fighting practice.

Housing and recreational facilities for the Fleet's thousands of Sailors and Marines were grossly inadequate for men who were to be long separated from their families. Nearby Honolulu was oversaturated with Navy and Army personnel, and its citizens, none-too-happy about the influx, did not welcome the new arrivals.

Accordingly, Fleet readiness was handicapped, its security was well below optimum levels, and its morale was impared.

During 1940-41, construction of new facilities was undertaken to address some of these problems. The supply depot, on a peninsula across the channel from "Battleship Row", was greatly expanded, other locations were developed for basing aircraft, new permanent drydocks were begun, a floating drydock was brought over from the mainland, and many other improvements were prepared or started.

The Army and Army Air Corps, responsible for the defense of Hawaii and the Pearl Harbor base, also built new facilities and brought in more forces. However, other deficiencies were either inherent to the physical location or simply could not be corrected within the limits of time, competing requirements and available resources.

These had to be borne as best they could.

They were still being "borne as best they could" on the morning of December 7, 1941. 

In a way, things were even worse on that day since:

  • Most of the battleships were berthed close together, at "Battleship Row"
  • The opening to the sea was still that single, narrow channel.

One fact, however, was in America's favor on the 7th of December, 1941.  None of the aircraft carriers were in port when Japan attacked.

Click on the image to greatly expand its view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5184stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 11, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Dec 11, 2016

Media Credits

Photo and quoted passage, courtesy U.S. Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center.



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"Pearl Harbor - Aerial View and Background Before War" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 11, 2016. Jul 21, 2019.
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