"A date that will live in infamy." That is how U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described December 7, 1941. On that fateful day, a little before 8:00 a.m., the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in a preemptive strike meant to cripple the United States before they could join the Allied Forces in World War II. The Pearl Harbor raid was successful, resulting in the loss of 2,403 American lives, as well as the destruction or damage of 21 U.S. ships and 347 U.S. aircraft. The key to this successful attack was the Japanese aircraft, particularly the Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 fighter, commonly known as the Zero.

Photo courtesy Naval Historical Center
Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes like this one were the heart of the Japanese aerial force that attacked Pearl Harbor.

World War II was often a battle of technological advances. Throughout the war, the Allied and Axis forces constantly worked to improve the abilities and features of their equipment. No type of technology showcased this battle for supremacy better than the fighter planes. Every few months saw the introduction of a new or improved fighter plane to combat the latest version developed by the opposing side.

Photo courtesy National Museum of Naval Aviation
This Zero is on exhibit at the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we will take a look at the basics of these fighter planes, focusing on the Japanese Zero used at Pearl Harbor. You'll learn about the infrastructure of the planes, how they were used and the types of weapons they carried. But first, let's see how the Japanese planes got to Pearl Harbor in the first place...