In 1887, the United States government obtained exclusive use of the inlet called Pearl Harbor, and the right to maintain a repair and coaling station for ships. The area was established as a naval base in 1908, and then in 1911 dredging of a channel from the sea was completed, across a sandbar and a coral reef at the mouth of the harbor. This made that channel accessible to the largest naval vessels, as it was now 35 feet deep, with a maximum depth of 60 feet. During the Japanese attack, this center for United States military action in the Pacific Ocean was nearly completely destroyed.
Between the middle of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Japan looked to transform itself from a closed, feudal society into a modern industrial and military power. In the early 1930's, the Japanese army engaged in battles with the Chinese in Manchuria and prevailed. Because of their losses in these battles, Manchuria became a part of the Japanese political system. In 1937, conflict again began between Japan and China, this time near the Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing. This conflict led to a full-scale war known today as the Sino-Japanese War, which was one of the bloodiest in history and lasted until the defeat of Japan in 1945.
In 1939, World War II began with a string of German victories. These successes included the defeats of Poland, France and England. Many European nations that Germany now controlled had control of important colonial empires; the East Indies and Singapore in Southeast Asia. These empires were of interest to Japan because they had the natural resources oil, coal, rubber and tin that Japan desperately needed.
Japan began their expansion with the seizure of Indochina in mid-1941. To this, the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in strict opposition, but many others in America wanted to leave the situation alone. So the United States provided materials to countries that were at war with Germany and Japan, but tried to stay neutral and prevent war. This was not effective, however and President Roosevelt created an embargo on the shipment of oil to Japan. Without this critical resource, Japan's industrial and military forces would quickly come to a halt, so they viewed the embargo as an act of war. Only a few months later in September, Japan formed the Axis Alliance along with Italy and Germany. Things were beginning to look worse for the United States.
Officials in the United States tried to come to a resolve with Japan over their differences. Japan wanted America to lift the embargo and allow them to take over China. The United States refused to do either, and saw Japan's refusal to budge on their stance as a sign of hostility. Because of neither nation's willingness to compromise, it seemed that war was now inevitable.
The most powerful and important part of the United States' defense in the Pacific Ocean was the Pacific Fleet, which was usually on the west coast but made a training cruise to Hawaii every year. Because of the overshadow of war at the time of its training cruise in 1941, the fleet was moved to Pearl Harbor naval base. This was a perfect location because it was halfway between the U.S. west coast and Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands.
The Pacific Fleet arrived at Pearl Harbor on April 2, 1940 and was scheduled to depart and return to the United States mainland around the 9th of May. However, this plan was seriously altered because of the increasing activity in Italy and Japan's attempts to expand in...