On 7 December, the United States will mark the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a 90-minute Japanese aerial assault on a US naval base in Hawaii that left nearly 2,500 people dead and sparked the direct involvement of the US in the Second World War.

Pearl Harbor attack December 1941
A sailor standing amid wreckage watches as the USS Shaw explodes at the Naval Air Station, Ford Island, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Nevada is also visible Fox Photos/Getty Images

Relations between the US and Japan had broken down, and the rivalry over the Pacific between the two nations was intensifying. When the US imposed oil sanctions on Japan, the state's response was to remove the US out of the Pacific with a surprise attack, which would allow Japan to conquer South-East Asia, a region rich in resources.

The first wave of 177 aircraft was launched from six Japanese carriers at 6.05am on Sunday 7 December from a position just north of Oahu.

At 7.51am – without explicit warning, without a declaration of war, and while the US and Japan were still in the middle of peace negotiations – the Japanese planes began their assault, dropping torpedoes and armour-piercing bombs on the most important battleships of the Pacific fleet. A second wave of 167 planes followed, targeting US air bases and aircraft carriers.

More than 200 US aircraft were destroyed and eight battleships were hit, and many other ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair. Some 2,403 American citizens (2,335 members of the US military and 68 civilians) were killed and a further 1,200 injured.

More than half of the US casualties were on the USS Arizona, which was hit with an armour-piercing bomb that penetrated the forward ammunition compartment, blowing the ship apart and sinking it within seconds, with 1,177 crew members entombed in the wreckage.

The Japanese lost just 64 men, 30 planes and five mini submarines.

After the attack, President Franklin D Roosevelt delivered a speech before Congress, calling 7 December a "date which will live in infamy". The attack prompted the US to declare war against Japan the next day. On 11 December, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy declared war on the US, which reciprocated the same day.

Three and a half years later, the war came to an end after the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, and on Nagasaki three days later. Japan surrendered on 15 August. The assault on Pearl Harbor remained the deadliest attacks on US soil until 11 September 2001.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won't apologise for Japan's attack when he visits the US naval base at Pearl Harbor on 27 December, a government spokesman has said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that "the purpose of the upcoming visit is to pay respects for the war dead and not to offer an apology".

Abe will be the first Japanese leader to go to the site of the Japanese attack that propelled the United States into the Second World War. The unexpected announcement came two days before the 75th anniversary of the attack and six months after Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima for victims of the US atomic bombing of that city at the end of the same war.