"The rise and fall of the empire depends upon this battle," signalled Yamamoto to his attack fleet before the strike at Pearl Harbor. But even at this stage, not everything was going to plan. Attack fleet commander Admiral Chuichi Nagumo had just been informed that the American aircraft carriers were not at their moorings, as intelligence had indicated, but were elsewhere in the Pacific on a training exercise. Nonetheless, he decided the attack should go ahead. There were also to be attacks on the US Pacific island bases on Guam, Wake and Midway, and on the British strongholds of Singapore and Hong Kong. Japanese Planes warming up on the flight deck of the Kiryu before they take to attack Pearl Harbor. Shortly after dawn on 7 December 1941, 423 Japanese aircraft took off from the decks of the six aircraft carriers of the Japanese fleet. By 7.55 am, they were over Pearl Harbor. Below them lay the American Pacific Fleet, including eight US battleships unprotected by torpedo nets, anchored in neat rows, the regulation practice in peacetime. Each Japanese pilot carried with him a cheap picture postcard of the base, divided into squares to show his specific target area. The Americans had little or no warning: Pearl Harbor's radar had shut down for church parade and the anti-aircraft ammunition was locked away. The attack came in two great waves, the dive-bombers and torpedo planes wreaking havoc on their sitting targets. Two hours later, four American battleships lay on the harbour bottom, and four more had been seriously damaged; 188 US planes had been destroyed or put out of action on the ground; and over 3500 American servicemen had been killed or injured. Hanging over the base was a huge pall of oily smoke that could be seen from miles out to sea. A Japanese Kate Torpedo Bomber Over Pearl Harbor. Such was the degree of surprise achieved that only 29 attacking planes were shot down. "Leaving aside the unspeakable treachery of it, the Japanese did a fine job," judged fleet commander Admiral Husband Kimmel, later relieved of his command. Up to 18 days after the attack, sailors were still being cut out alive from the capsized hull of the battleship West Virginia. By one of the strange ironies of war, the Japanese government had planned to actually declare war on the USA half an hour before the air strike began, and diplomats in the Japanese embassy in Washington had been slaving away over the translation. But they missed the deadline, and a shamefaced Japanese ambassador was forced to deliver the declaration while the attack was in progress. Japanese Zero's awaiting take-off to attack Pearl Harbor. Warnings from US Navy commanders on duty in the Pacific, who had sensed from intercepted signals that a Japanese attack was due at dawn somewhere, had been sent to Washington. But a series of bizarre accidents and misunderstandings meant that these warnings were not passed on to Pearl Harbor in time (the crucial message was sent by commercial cable, and was arriving by motorbike messenger just as the first bombs and torpedoes were falling). Some of these muddles were so peculiar that historians have claimed that President Roosevelt deliberately delayed the warnings in order to bring America into the war. But this seems highly improbable: incompetence and complacency seem the more likely villains. The day after the attack, the president addressed the nation. ''Yesterday, December 7th a day which will live in infamy, the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan," he said, his voice shaking with anger. "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory." In Tokyo on the day of the attack, Tojo had broadcast to the Japanese people using similar phraseology. "I promise you final victory," he said. Civilian car strafed by Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile in Berlin, the brutality of the Japanese air strike thrilled Hitler, but he was at first unsure how to act. An outraged story in an American newspaper concerning Roosevelt's "secret preparations for war" in Europe settled the matter for him: he declared war on the USA on the 11th December, Mussolini following suit. "A historical revision on a unique scale has been imposed on us by the Creator," was Hitler's grandiloquent explanation to the Reichstag. For Roosevelt's part, it is still uncertain whether he would have declared war on Germany at this stage, despite continuing pressure from Churchill; but it was probably inevitable sooner or later. Either way, the Japanese had precipitated global war. In his country house, Chequers, Churchill had been dining when he was informed of the attack; he rose hurriedly to draw up a declaration of war, (as he had promised Roosevelt in the event of Japanese aggression against America) within the hour. Both the British and Dutch declarations of war were issued the next day. Churchill was elated: America had been dragged into the conflict, and with its aid Britain would probably triumph. "So ... We should not be wiped out," he wrote later. "Our history would not come to an end. We might not even have to die as individuals." The Japanese were overjoyed at the 'victory' of Pearl Harbor. Yet devastating as the attack had been, it had not had quite the effect they hoped. Not only was there the question of the 'missing' carriers, but Nagumo had refused permission for a second strike on the harbour and this was to prove crucial in the months ahead as the Americans strove to salvage and repair their damaged ships. Nor were the enormous fuel stocks on Hawaii destroyed. Pearl Harbor remained a viable US naval base in the Pacific. Burying US Navy personnel after the attack on Pearl Harbor. More generally, the Japanese would now have to contend with the industrial might of America. Only Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the air strike and a great realist, seemed to understand the potential consequences for his country. "The fact that we had a small success at Pearl Harbor is nothing," he told a colleague grimly. "People should think things over, and realise how serious the situation now is."