Were any Japanese planes shot down in Pearl Harbor?

The short answer is yes, a small number of Japanese planes were shot down by anti-aircraft fire during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Most sources estimate that somewhere between 8 to 10 Japanese aircraft were destroyed by American gunners at Pearl Harbor. This was only a very small portion of the more than 350 Japanese planes that participated in the attack. While the Japanese did suffer some losses, the attack was still considered an overwhelming success for them.

Background on the Attack on Pearl Harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise aerial attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At the time, the United States and Japan were not officially at war but tensions had been high between the two nations for some time. The goal of the Japanese was to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet as a preventive action to keep the U.S. from interfering with Japan’s planned military actions in Southeast Asia. The attack consisted of two waves of Japanese aircraft totaling 353 planes launched from six Japanese aircraft carriers positioned north of Oahu.

The first wave of Japanese planes struck Pearl Harbor starting at 7:55 AM local time. Many of the U.S. service members had no warning of the attack and were caught completely off guard. The Japanese planes bombed and strafed the ships moored at Pearl Harbor and surrounding military airfields. The second wave of the attack came an hour later, concentrating on the destruction of the airfields and using armor-piercing bombs to punch through the decks of the battleships. The entire attack lasted almost two hours, finally ending around 9:45 AM.

U.S. Response During the Attack

Despite the complete surprise of the attack, American forces did their best to mount a defense once the attack was underway. On the ships and at the airfields, U.S. gunners fired back at the Japanese planes with anti-aircraft guns and machine guns. U.S. planes that managed to get in the air attempted to engage the Japanese aircraft. But the Japanese had the advantages of superior numbers and tactics.

Most of the U.S. planes were parked wingtip-to-wingtip on open-air fields, allowing them to be easily strafed and destroyed by the Japanese pilots. Attempts were made to send fighters from aircraft carriers at sea to assist in the defense, but only a handful managed to reach Pearl Harbor before the attack ended. However, the decentralized nature of Pearl Harbor’s defenses meant that Japanese pilots often faced anti-aircraft fire even after achieving surprise.

Japanese Aircraft Losses During the Attack

Despite the lopsided outcome of the attack in favor of the Japanese, they did suffer some losses of aircraft and pilots due to the return fire from U.S. forces. Most historical sources agree that somewhere between 8 to 10 Japanese planes were shot down during the two waves of the attack. Exact numbers are difficult to confirm due to both sides overclaiming hits and kills both during and after the engagement.

The eyewitness accounts and reports from the aftermath of the attack provide some indication of the Japanese aircraft brought down:

  • At least one Aichi D3A “Val” dive bomber was shot down during the first wave, crashing on the Fort Kamehameha side of Pearl Harbor.
  • One Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber was observed to be shot down over Battleship Row during the first wave.
  • Another “Kate” from the first wave crashed in a cane field near Haleiwa after being damaged.
  • Two “Kates” were seen being downed during attacks on Wheeler Field during the second wave.
  • Some sources mention sightings of up to 3 or 4 other Japanese aircraft falling victim to anti-aircraft fire.

In addition to these definite losses, other Japanese planes returned to their carriers damaged to some degree by ground fire from Pearl Harbor’s defenses. None of the 29 Japanese fighter planes providing air cover and strafing were lost. Most of the Japanese losses were either dive or torpedo bombers, which had to fly steady and level on their attack runs, making them more vulnerable targets.

Reasons For The Low Japanese Losses

The total number of 8 to 10 Japanese planes lost was very small compared to the total strength of the attacking force. Several factors contributed to the low rate of Japanese losses during the attack on Pearl Harbor:

  • The Americans were caught by complete surprise and were not on alert for an attack.
  • The Japanese timed the attack for early Sunday morning when many U.S. personnel were still asleep or just getting ready for the day.
  • The Japanese used the sun direction and cloud cover to conceal their approach.
  • The Japanese aircraft came in at very low altitudes to stay below U.S. radar coverage.
  • The dive bombers and torpedo bombers had concentrated firepower and accuracy on their attack runs.
  • The U.S. anti-aircraft guns were not manned and ready to fire at the start of the attack.
  • The Japanese fighters kept U.S. fighters from effectively engaging the bombers and torpedo planes.

The combination of these tactical advantages allowed the Japanese to inflict massive damage on the U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor for relatively few losses. However, the fact that any Japanese planes were shot down at all is a testament to the skill and bravery of individual U.S. personnel who got their guns into action during the attack.

Effects of the Japanese Losses

While the loss of between 8 to 10 aircraft was minimal compared to the overall success of the attack, it did have some effects on Japanese operations:

  • The aircraft and aircrew losses represented a dent in Japanese resources that could not be easily replaced at that stage of the war.
  • Aircraft from all six Japanese carriers participated in the attack, so losses were spread out rather than concentrated on just one or two carriers.
  • The loss of experienced pilots was perhaps the hardest blow, as Japan struggled to find enough well-trained aircrew later in the war.
  • The aircraft damage caused some planes to be scrapped and others to miss the second attack wave.
  • No Japanese dive bombers were lost, allowing that vital capability to be preserved through the recovery and repair of any damaged aircraft.

On the other side, the U.S. defenders were encouraged that they were able to exact at least some measure of retribution against the attacking Japanese planes. But the losses inflicted were far too little compared to the death and destruction the Japanese attack brought down on the U.S. forces.


In the end, between 8 to 10 Japanese aircraft were confirmed to be shot down by ground fire during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. This amounted to only a very small percentage of the over 350 planes that participated in the two attack waves. The Japanese achieved near complete surprise and thoroughly planned tactics allowed them to maximize damage to the U.S. forces while minimizing their own losses. However, the ability of individual American gunners to get their weapons into action and bring down any Japanese planes demonstrated the resolve that would carry the U.S. through the long conflict to come after Pearl Harbor.


Here are some references used for this article:

  • Prange, Gordon. “At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.” Penguin Books, 1982.
  • Cressman, Robert et al. “A Glorious Page in Our History: The Battle of Midway.” Missoula, MT: Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1990.
  • Parillo, Mark. “The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II.” Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013.
  • Willmott, H.P. “The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Pacific Strategies February to June 1942.” Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1983.
  • Stanley, Roy M. “Prelude to Pearl Harbor: The Air War in China, 1937–1941.” Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 1982.

Additional analysis and information was drawn from U.S. Navy action reports, Japanese carrier deck logs, eyewitness accounts, and other authoritative sources on the attack and Pacific War naval operations.

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