Naval base and headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Honolulu county, southern Oahu Island, Hawaii, U.S. In U.S. history the name recalls the Japanese surprise air attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that temporarily crippled the U.S. Fleet and resulted in the United States’ entry into World War 2. Pearl Harbor centres on a cloverleaf-shaped, artificially improved harbour on the southern coast of Oahu, 6 miles (10 km) west of Honolulu. The harbour is virtually surrounded (west to east) by the cities of Ewa, Waipahu, Pearl City, Aiea, and Honolulu.
It has 10 square miles (26 square km) of navigable water and hundreds of anchorages and covers a land area of more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares). Its four lochs are formed by the Waipio and Pearl City peninsulas and Ford Island. Pearl Harbor Entrance (channel) connects its virtually landlocked bay with the Pacific Ocean.
Pearl Harbor was called Wai Momi (pearl waters) by the Hawaiians because of the pearl oysters that once grew there. In 1840 Lieutenant Charles Wilkes of the U.S. Navy made the first geodetic survey and urged the dredging of the coral-bar entrance to the harbour. About 30 years later, Colonel John McAllister Schofield further recommended that the United States secure harbour rights.
A subsequent treaty (1887) granted the United States the exclusive use of the harbour as a coaling and repair station, but work was not begun until after 1898, when the Spanish-American War indicated its strategic value as a Pacific base. A naval station was established after 1908, and a drydock was completed in 1919.
During the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941 the USS Arizona sank with a loss of more than 1,100 men; a white concrete and steel structure now spans the hull of the sunken ship, which was dedicated as a national memorial on May 30, 1962. Present facilities at Pearl Harbor include a naval shipyard, supply centre, and submarine base. The naval supply centre is on Pearl City Peninsula.
Pearl Harbor Entrance is bounded on the east by Hickam Air Force Base and on the west by a naval reservation. During the Korean and Vietnam wars the harbour complex was a staging area for forces and equipment bound for the combat zones.