Compare and Contrast Essay on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Britain

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This report is going to analyze if the attack on Pearl Harbor was more gruesome than the Battle of Britain with the research question being: Was the attack on Pearl Harbor more gruesome than the Battle of Britain?

Under gruesome, we understand how many deaths there were, how these deaths happened, and what the effects, like other deaths or impacts on the families of the dead, the battles had after the war. You can find these three elements back in the sub-questions: What was the impact on the areas involved? How were these battles fought? And What did these battles cause?

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Also, in British English the word is spelled “Harbour” but because it is an American name it is spelled “Harbor”, so we will be referring to it as “Harbor”.

We chose this topic because we wanted to research what happened during World War 2 outside of Europe. We stumbled upon the Attack on Pearl Harbor and found this interesting. We wanted to compare this to a famous battle in Europe.

A quick introduction to these battles

The Attack on Pearl Harbour, which happened on 7 December 1941, was a surprise attack where Japan bombed the island Oahu, which is part of Hawaii and so territory of the US, by this time it was not a state yet. On the island of Oahu, Pearl Harbor was a US naval facility at the time. (NewDoc Films) (Pacific Atrocities)

According to Pruitt, Japan’s main aim was to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor and destroy morale in the US Navy, so Japan could control the Pacific.

The attack stayed a surprise attack because the Japanese had figured out the radars on the island, which were fairly new technology and not many people knew how to operate them correctly, had a dead zone in the North because the mountains broke the signal. And they found out that Sunday mornings no American surveillance planes flew. (NewDoc Films)

Many people consider the Battle of Britain to be one of the most crucial events of World War II. Since Hitler's unsuccessful attempt to gain air dominance, the Battle represented the first loss of German troops. Despite the fact that the German air force (Luftwaffe) had more planes than the Royal Air Force, the British were able to re-arm and replace pilots far more efficiently and fast. At a crucial moment in the war, Hitler shifted tactics, and these factors resulted in a British triumph. (

What was the impact on the areas involved?

The attack on Pearl Harbor happened on December 7th, 1941, and was caused by Japan, as already said. After the attack, 2403 American civilians and military had deceased and 1178 were wounded. Not only were the people affected, but also the American fleet. (Loproto, Mark). Nearly 20 American ships and 300 aircraft were destroyed. (Bushati, Amy). But the Japanese had failed to destroy the whole American Fleet. By the 1940s, battleships were no longer the most important naval ships: Aircraft carriers were, and as it happened, all the Pacific Fleet’s carriers were away from the base on December 7 ( It was, as the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would call it: ''A date which will live in infamy'' (National Geographic Kids).

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed daily life in Hawaii for years afterward. The army declared martial law; they took over the territory that was affected by the attack. They also declared a strict curfew and closed all public places. But the rules got stricter. The army temporarily prohibited the sale of alcohol everywhere in Hawaii and they closed all schools. Although martial law was a response to the attack, it remained until 1944 (Weird History).

The Battle of Britain took place in 1940, one year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a battle between the Royal Air Force of Britain and the German air force (the Luftwaffe). The battle was not a single fight; it was a four-month campaign against Britain waged by Germany that started on the 10th of July and ended on the 31st of October (NZHistory).

Both sides lost heavily during the Battle of Britain. More than 1700 planes of the Luftwaffe were destroyed. There were 2662 deceased soldiers of the Luftwaffe and 1250 soldiers of the Royal Air Force. This battle was the first battle the Germans had lost at that time. Because they had lost and decided to attack the east, Britain was not conquered (NZHistory). But not only soldiers perished in the Battle of Britain, but the people in the country itself. On the 7th of September, one and a half months before the British victory, the Germans started a campaign of aerial bombing attacks on British towns and cities. This was called 'the Blitz'. When the Germans bombed London, 430 people perished and 1600 were wounded. London was then bombed for 57 nights, and often during the daytime too. London experienced regular attacks, but on the 10th and 11th of May, it was hit by the biggest one. 1436 people perished in that attack. London was bombed the most often and heavily in the country, but the smaller cities and towns were not left unharmed. In small cities and towns, the impact of an air raid could have been disastrous (Imperial War Museums). Although the Battle of Britain lasted only a few months and ended with a British victory, the German Blitz of British cities would continue for years (Costello, T).

How were these battles fought?

Planning the Attack on Pearl Harbor took almost a year. Japan’s pilots practiced for months on Pearl Harbor’s twin sister, Kagoshima Bay. The pilots did a lot of bombing training and practiced flying low. The Japanese planned to attack in three waves:

    • The first wave was to attack all military installations across the entire island of Oahu. See the red lines in the picture below.
    • The second wave would attack more specific targets. See the Yellow lines in the picture below
    • And the third wave would take out fuel storage tanks, dry docks, and repair fields. See the orange lines in the picture below.

In the end, the third wave was canceled because the Japanese admiral was unsure about where the carriers from the US were. (NewDoc Films) (Pacific Atrocities)

The first wave began at 7:55 in the morning, when the Japanese bombed everything. The plan was to only bomb military bases, but a lot of civilian residents were also hit. At first, the citizens thought it was just a few planes dropping off supplies, but when the bombing began it became clear they were under attack. Chaos took over, only a few people knew who was attacking them and no one was prepared for this. The Japanese began hitting important ships; a direct hit to the USS Arizona caused it to sink in less than nine minutes. Over 1100 men were killed because of this bomb. The USS Oklahoma was also hit, it was damaged by more than ten torpedoes. Seawater had entered the battleship through portholes and water hatches that had been opened the night before for maintenance purposes. The USS Oklahoma sank after being bombed, trapping nearly 400 soldiers on board. There were made multiple attempts to rescue the men in the USS Oklahoma, saving a few of the men but hundreds of men died a slow, awful death. These sinking ships caused thick smoke to fill the air above the island, making it difficult to breathe. What is more, unarmed aircraft from the US mainland arrived with bad timing and are caught between friendly fire, who are shooting at everything in the air, and the enemy. (NewDoc Films) (Pacific Atrocities)

The second wave focussed on taking down US aircraft, so they were unable to take off and fight the Japanese. Most of the aircraft were damaged or destroyed during the first wave, so they attacked the remaining aircraft. They took down those who were attempting to take off, killing lots of pilots in the process, hangers, destroying the aircraft inside which were under maintenance, and airfields. (Matt)

Different from the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Britain was no surprise. The Germans had invaded most of Europe in June 1940 and it was clear to all that Britain was next. Adolf Hitler looked at Britain as the one thing standing in his way to world domination. He said: “Where Napoleon failed I shall succeed. I shall land on the shores of Britain.” (Capra)

The German plan was divided into three phases: phase one, the main aim was to knock out the RAF, Royal Air Force; phase two, was to bomb the coast, drop parachute troops, and establish beachheads and phase three, would be the actual invasion of Britain. But in reality, the Germans had to change their tactics multiple times, this is believed to be the reason why they lost the Battle of Britain. (Capra) (

Many historians describe the progress of the Battle of Britain in different ways. There is an especially big disagreement between German historians and British historians, but the Royal Air Force Museum identifies these five main phases in the battle, which lasted from July 10th until October 31st, 1940:

“Battle of Britain – Phase One

    • 26th June to 16th July – Scattered and limited day and night attacks and mine-laying sorties, directed mainly against ports and shipping and towns with aircraft factories.

Battle of Britain – Phase Two

    • 17th July to 12th August – Increasing and larger daylight attacks against shipping in the English Channel, ports along the South and East coasts, and some coastal airfields, with increased night attacks against the West, Midlands, and East Coast, RAF facilities, and the aircraft industry.

Battle of Britain – Phase Three

    • 13th August to 6th September – Large-scale daylight attacks against RAF airfields in South-East England, with the object of exhausting the RAF’s ability to provide a defense. Night attacks continued.

Battle of Britain – Phase Four

    • 7th September to 2nd October – Large-scale day and night attacks against London.

Battle of Britain – Phase Five

    • 3rd October to 31st October – Smaller-scale daylight fighter-bombers attacks while large-scale night attacks continued mainly against London.
    • This was also the start of what came to be called the ‘Blitz’ on the capital and against other cities and towns, which lasted until May 1941.” (Royal Air Force Museum)

The first phase, Störangriffe (=nuisance raids) as the Germans called them, consisted of mainly small attacks and mine-laying sorties. The Luftwaffe sunk four ships and damaged three others. (Royal Air Force Museum)

During phase two, also called Kanalkampf (=the Channel battles), the Germans attacked the ships in the Channel. This was primarily to test the British defense and to give the German pilots experience. The Luftwaffe also started bombing the coast, ports, shipping lanes, and coastal airfields. With nearly 20 sunken ships, the British Navy took more damage than either air force during this phase of the battle. ( (Royal Air Force Museum)

‘Eagle Day’, which was August 13, in phase three marks the start of the major Luftwaffe attack against the RAF, where the aim was to destroy the RAF in four weeks. A lot of the attacks were focused on destroying the British radar system, a valuable weapon for the British and underestimated by the Germans. Night attacks continued against ports, ships, and the aircraft industry, while daylight attacks moved further inland. The RAF lost 248, while the Luftwaffe lost 332. ( (Royal Air Force Museum)

Phase four, the large-scale attacks on London began. Beginning on the night of 7 September London was constantly under attack. On September 15 the RAF fought off a big wave of German attacks, destroying only 24 British aircraft but 60 German, the Luftwaffe was left completely demoralized at this moment, and this proved to be a turning point in the battle. ( (Royal Air Force Museum)

In phase five the battle altered when it became clear to the Germans that the British aircraft force had not been destroyed yet. The daylight attacks were scaled-back and the German approach had changed; the goal was no longer to beat the RAF but to destroy Britain by bombing its government, civilian population, and entire war industry. London was the principal target from early October to early November. Innocent civilians were affected by this, their homes, schools, shops, and other things were destroyed and many were killed. ( (Royal Air Force Museum) (Capra)

Britain fought bravely through this all but, after this, it did not get better. The Battle of Britain was over but this was the beginning of ‘The Blitz’; a German bombing campaign in 1940 and 1941 where they bombed industrial targets, towns, and cities. (Royal Air Force Museum)

What did these battles cause?

The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the most important events that happened in WWII. Because Hawaii was the territory of the US, the attack made the US join the Allied and helped them to win the war. But the attack also led to the Pacific war between the US and Japan, which turned into a bloody conflict. After Japan refused to surrender, the US dropped nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed loads of people. After this happened, the Japanese did surrender, and the Second World War had come to an end. The US involvement also helped to guide the world into a democratic and relatively peaceful world. Without the US, the Soviet Union would have a lot more dominance in Europe and that would have most likely created more communism in Europe (Forces Network).

The Battle of Britain was a very important event because not only was it Germany's first major defeat in the Second World War, but it also was the start of modern air warfare. Because of their advanced radar network, the British had broken Germany's secret radio code and could understand their messages. The Battle of Britain was a crucial moment in the Second World War that not only allowed Britain to prevent them from being conquered by Germany but allowed the island to become a launch pad for the D-day invasion of the Germans. D-day allowed Britain and the Allies to eventually defeat Nazi Germany and free the rest of Europe. Without the Battle of Britain, this would not have been possible (Costello, T)


Both events were crucial in the Second World War, but which one was the most gruesome? As we said in the introduction, we look at the number of deaths, how those deaths happened, and what the effects, like other deaths or impacts on the families of the dead, the battles had after the war. If you compare the number of deaths with each other, you will see that the battle of Britain had more deaths. Probably because in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force both fought, but in the Attack on Pearl Harbor only the Japanese attacked because it was a surprise attack. Another reason is that the Battle of Britain went on much longer than the attack on Pearl Harbor. If you look at how these deaths were caused, in both events the deaths were caused by an air raid. But the reason the bombing happened was different. The attack on Pearl Harbor was planned to destroy the American fleet and destroy the morale of the US, so Japan could control the Pacific. The battle of Britain was a four-month campaign against the British, and a failed attempt by the Germans to gain air dominance. If you compare the importance of these events, you will see that they are both very important and without them, the Allies could not have accomplished their mission. But the battle of Britain took much longer to end. The chance a Brit would perish in that period was much higher than for a Hawaiian after the attack, especially after the strict rules were put in by the army. Although the measures in Hawaii stayed put for longer, the British suffered more in a shorter period. That is why the Battle of Britain was more gruesome than the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Works Cited

    1. ‘Aftermath’. The Battle of Britain | NZHistory, New Zealand History Online, 20 Dec. 2012, in history. govt.nzwarbattle-of-britainaftermath#:~:text=Both sides lost heavily during the Battle of, Force (RAF) lost 1250 aircraft, including 1017 fighters.
    2. Benjamin, Kathy. ‘The Most Disturbing Part of the Pearl Harbor Attack Isn’t What You Think’. Grunge.Com, 13 June 2021, www.grunge.com151872the-most-disturbing-part-of-the-pearl-harbor-attack-isnt-what-you-think.
    3. Bushatz, Amy. ‘14 Rarely Seen Photos That Reveal the Horror of the Attack on Pearl Harbor’. Https:News.Yahoo.Com, 7 Dec. 2021,
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