Dorie Miller – unlikely hero
The Day of Infamy, and a fight for recognition
The devastation in the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, saw greats acts of heroism. Among the many accounts of bravery and heroism is the story of Doris “Dorie” Miller.
The story has been well documented, yet the fight to have him recognised with a Medal of Honor continued more than seven decades after his heroic deeds.
When the Japanese hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor, Miller manned a machine gun he was not trained on – his race precluded him from serving in a combat assignment – and ended up pulling the ship’s captain and many others to safety.
The senior surviving officer, Cdr R.H. Hillenkoetter, noted in the West Virginia’s action report on 11 December 1941 that Miller and Lt F.H. White were instrumental in “hauling people along through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost”.
The West Virginia’s captain, Mervyn S. Bennion, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. His Medal of Honor citation said, “As commanding officer of the USS West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Captain Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”
Miller was born on 12 October 1919 in Waco, Texas, the son of share-croppers Connery and Henrietta Miller.
He was expelled from school for engaging in fights over racial issues. He worked on his father’s farm until he was 20 years old and enlisted in the US Navy in 1939. He served as a Mess Attendant Third Class and became the ship’s cook when he was transferred to the USS West Virginia.
Before and even during World War II, mess attendants were relegated to laundry detail, cooking meals, swabbing the deck and shining officers’ shoes.
Because of his size and strength, Miller competed in boxing competitions on the ships and became the Heavyweight champion of the West Virginia, from a crew of more than 2,000.
He was promoted to Mess Attendant Second Class just before the West Virginia was sent to Pearl Harbor.
On the morning of 7 December 1941, Miller was aboard the West Virginia and woke around 6 am. He had volunteered as a room steward and made an extra five dollars each month providing wake-up services to duty officers, as well as doing their laundry, shining their shoes and making their beds. When the alarm for general quarters was sounded, he headed for his battle station, the anti-aircraft battery magazine amid ship, only to find that a torpedo had destroyed it.
He was ordered to retrieve injured shipmates and carry them to the safety of the quarterdeck. He was next ordered to go to the aid of the injured ship’s captain, Mervyn Bennion. He went to the bridge to rescue Bennion but the Captain refused to leave his post
Miller was next ordered to help load the two Browning .50 calibre anti-aircraft machineguns but the next time he was seen he was manning one of the guns and firing into the air at dive-bombing Japanese planes.
Miller said later: “It wasn’t hard. I just pulled the trigger and she worked fine. I had watched the others with these guns. I guess I fired her for about fifteen minutes. I think I got one of those Japanese planes. They were diving pretty close to us.”
Official documents don’t record anyone on board the West Virginia having shot down any planes that day. Regardless, anyone on board firing at the incoming planes made it more difficult for them to attack effectively.
Miller then helped pull sailors out of the water. Eventually the West Virginia began flooding and all aboard were ordered to abandon ship. Of the 1,541 men on board during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. The ship was struck by nine Japanese torpedoes.
The original newspaper reports noted that a “Negro messman” had behaved heroically. The editors at the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the country’s most widely circulated “black” newspapers, set about identifying the hero; it turned out to be Miller.
On 1 April 1942 Dorie Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox.
Adm. Chester Nimitz presented Dorie Miller with the Navy Cross on 27 May 1942 aboard USS Enterprise for his valor on 7 December, 1941.
His rank was raised to Mess Attendant First Class on 1 June 1942.
Dorie Miller was still serving as a cook two years later when he died after his ship was torpedoed.
Miller was called back on duty in 1943 to serve on the new escort carrier the USS Liscome Bay. The ship was operating in the Pacific near the Gilbert Islands on 24 November when she was hit by a single torpedo fired from a Japanese submarine. The torpedo detonated the bomb magazine on the carrier; the bombs exploded, and the ship sank within minutes. Miller was initially listed as missing; by November 1944 his status was changed to “presumed dead.” Only 272 men survived the attack.
The Navy honoured Doris “Dorie” Miller in 1973 by commissioning a Knox-class frigate, named USS Miller (FF-1091) after him.
In 2020, it was announced that the name Doris Miller was again to adorn a US Navy ship, this time an aircraft carrier, CVN-81, to be built in 2023 and launched in 2028.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly poses for a group photo with the Miller family after the unveiling of the new Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Doris Miller (CVN 81) at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Molly Crawford)
Speaking at the announcement in January, Democrat representative Bernice Johnson said: “Though he is deserving of even higher official recognition, including the Medal of Honour, the naming of this vessel on Martin Luther King Day could not be more fitting.”
Today there is a Dorie Miller park in Hawaii and several schools and buildings are named in his honour. He was also one of four Naval heroes featured on US postal stamps in 2010.
Looking towards the Arizona Memorial from the Missouri, Pearl Harbor.
‘As quiet a day as you’ve ever seen, beautiful sunshine,
nothing going on.’
– Survivor Francis Stueve
Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, dawned a typical day in paradise. Sunday mornings were a time of leisure for most American military personnel at the Pearl Harbor naval base, Hawaii.
Many were either still asleep, eating breakfast, getting ready for church or still on shore leave.
Aboard the USS Arizona, some of the crew were preparing to go ashore in Honolulu, their first leave in days. Others were getting the ship ready for the Sunday church service on deck.
Sometime after 7 am, 19-year-old Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton finished breakfast in the mess hall and set off to visit his crewmate Harl Nelson who was in sick back after contracting yellow jaundice. He grabbed some oranges on his way out.
Stratton was part of the duty section that was to remain on board the Arizona moored on Battleship Row at the weekend.
On the deck near the stern, crew members were assembling for colours, the raising of the flag. The Arizona’s band tuned up on the fantail.
The war raging in Europe seemed a million miles away from Pearl Harbor and the people of Honolulu, Oahu, that morning.
Just a few minutes before 8 am, all hell broke loose.
As Donald Stratton set off for sick bay he heard yelling from on deck. An air raid siren sounded.
Stratton recalled: “Some sailors were hollering and pointing towards Ford Island and we see one of the planes bank and it was the meatball on the wing and I thought, well that’s the Japanese headed right for my battle station.”
John Anderson was eating breakfast below deck when he heard the first explosion.
He heard a mess cook yell: “A bomb hit the island!”
Anderson recalled saying: “My god, those sons of bitches are here.”
The men on deck heard a low whine growing louder. They looked up to see a plane coming in low, 100 ft (30.5 m) above the ship. Its machineguns opened fire and the men on deck scattered.
Members of the 89th Field Artillery battalion were in their mess hall across the harbor from the moorings.
Three bangs were followed by a window breaking. A bullet shot into the mess hall. And then another, that knocked a butter dish off a table.
Army Private Francis Stueve, then 24 years old, and a few of his mates raced outside to see what was happening.
He recalled: “We were looking at the clouds, and watched a Japanese plane that had its signals on.”
“We were getting shot like everything was going to be destroyed,” he said. “Soldiers fell left and right, buildings were hit by gunfire and ships suffered fatal gashes.
“We had so many casualties. It’s a hard thing to do when people are screaming for aid . . . and you don’t have nobody coming,” he said. “Some who were looking out for their own were also getting killed.”
The Japanese launched a massive aerial attack on the American bases at Hawaii on the morning of 7 December with 353 warplanes – 40 torpedo planes, 103 level bombers, 131 dive-bombers, and 79 fighters – launched from four heavy aircraft carriers. In support were two heavy cruisers, 35 submarines, two light cruisers, nine oilers, two battleships and 11 destroyers.
It was the most devastating attack in the history of the US Navy. Almost 2,000 Navy personnel lost their lives. The other military casualties were members of the Marines and Army.
A total of 2,403 Americans lost their lives, including 68 civilians, 13 of whom were children – the youngest just three months old.
Japan had not declared war on the US at the time, but the attack should not have been a surprise.
The War Department intercepted and analysed secret cables between Tokyo and the Japanese Embassy in Washington and thought at one point that the Japanese would attack Hawaii on Sunday, 30 November.
For 10 days before the attack, the Pearl Harbor base was on full alert. No one was allowed to leave. The Saturday before the bombing attack, the alert was lifted. On the Saturday night a wealthy Japanese banker held a party for the officers at the officers’ club.
It appeared no one believed Hawaii would be a target, until early on 7 December when all bases were sent a coded alert.
Because of communications problems and amid concern that telephone messages might be intercepted (and tip the Japanese off that their codes were broken), Western Union sent a telegram to the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The warning reached Honolulu with 27 minutes to spare. It was given to a boy on a bicycle but he didn’t make it in time – the alert was delivered around noon, four hours after the attack began.
Historians point out that code-breaking intelligence did not prevent and could not have prevented the attack on Pearl Harbor; Japan never sent any message to anybody saying anything like “We shall attack Pearl Harbor”.
The attackers arrived in two waves; the first wave hit its targets at 7.53 am, the second at 8.55. By 9.55 it was all over. By 1 pm the carriers that launched the planes from 274 mi (440 km) off the coast of Oahu were withdrawing. Pearl Harbor was still burning two days later.
The USS West Virginia and USS Oklahoma were among the first casualties in the chaos that left 21 ships of the US Pacific Fleet sunk or damaged and 188 planes destroyed and 159 damaged – the majority hit before they had a chance to take off.
There were 2,403 American casualties. Most of the 68 civilians killed were victims of “friendly” anti-aircraft shells that landed in Honolulu. The count of wounded was 1,178, including civilians.
The Pacific Fleet was crippled. All eight battleships were damaged, four of them sitting on the harbor bottom. Three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer were badly damaged.
Fifty-five Japanese airmen and nine submariners were killed and one was captured. Five midget submarines were destroyed. Japan lost 29 planes, nine in the first attack wave, 20 in the second. Anti-aircraft fire from the ground damaged another 74 as American forces scrambled to defend their bases.
The military installations bore the brunt of the attack but there were explosions all over Oahu.
Hit four times
Almost half of the American casualties were on the battleship USS Arizona, hit four times by Japanese bombers.
Among the 1,177 who died on the USS Arizona were 23 sets of brothers out of 37 assigned to the ship.
There were three sets of three brothers on the ship: the Beckers, the Dohertys, and the Murdocks. One from each set survived.
Thomas Augusta Free was aboard the Arizona with his son, William Thomas Free and died in the bombing. Thomas was 50 and William was only 17.
All 21 members of the Arizona’s band were among the victims as were 125 crew members who transferred aboard from the light cruiser USS Phoenix the previous day.
Seaman first class Harl Coplin Nelson was also among the victims. Donald Stratton suffered burns to more than 65% of his body. He mustered the strength to pull himself hand over hand along a rope above the ruined deck of the Arizona. He and a few others eventually used the rope to escape the inferno and were taken to hospital. Stratton was medically discharged from the Navy after 10 months of treatment and recuperation and returned home, re-enlisted, passed through boot camp again and served on destroyers in the Pacific until the end of the war. At age 93 at the end of 2015 he was living in Colorado Springs, one of seven survivors of the Arizona still alive.
The death toll from the attack on the Arizona is the greatest loss of life on any US warship in American history.
The ship had returned from a week at sea and was fuelled-up for a trip to the mainland the next week. Her fuel load burned fiercely.
From the mayhem and devastation came stories of heroism – such as African American Dorrie Miller, denied for many years the Medal of Honor he deserved, because of his colour.
Then there were those given the horrible task of the clean-up, including gathering the bodies that were floating in the harbor.
Today, the Arizona sits below the water level – still leaking fuel oil – and forms part a memorial to those who lost their lives. Just 335 Arizona crew members survived the attack. As of February 2016, approaching the 75th anniversary of the attack, there were seven surviving crew members, aged from 92 to 95.
More than 950 Americans stationed at Pearl Harbor are still “missing”; 29 Japanese airmen and four sailors are also still “missing”.
Around 17,500 military personnel were stationed at Hawaii at the time of the attack, including 200 female nurses. There were around 100 ships based there.
Prime targets missed
There have been the inevitable conspiracy theories surrounding the attack – did the US “encourage” it to create an excuse for entering World War II?
The big question was how America could have been taken by surprise. There were several investigations and inquiries, claimed by some to have been mostly interested in finding scapegoats.
The attack missed the prime targets; the aircraft carriers of the US Pacific Fleet operating from Hawaii.
The three aircraft carriers of the fleet were not present. USS Saratoga, just out of overhaul, was moored at San Diego. USS Lexington was at sea about 400 mi (644 km) south-east of Midway where she was to deliver a Marine Scout Bombing Squadron. USS Enterprise was also at sea, about 200 mi (322 km) west of Pearl Harbor, returning from Wake Island where she had delivered a Marine Fighter Squadron.
Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, commander of the Enterprise task force, began hunting for the Japanese when news of the attack was relayed to all ships.
She launched her remaining planes in an unsuccessful search for the striking force. She put into Pearl Harbor on 8 December for fuel and supplies and sailed early the next morning to patrol against possible further attacks on the Hawaiian Islands.
While the group did not encounter any surface ships, planes from the Enterprise sank the Japanese submarine I-170 on 10 December, the first Japanese combatant sunk in World War II by American planes.
The Japanese were not going to get away with such a brazen act – a day of infamy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously called it.
The President wasted little time in taking action. The day after the attack he asked Congress to declare war on Japan. With only one dissenting vote Congress obliged, officially sending the US into World War II.
Japan, Germany and Italy responded with their own declarations of war against the US.
Just three hours after the assault on Pearl Harbor, Japanese planes began a day-long attack on American facilities in the Philippines (just after 5 am Philippines time on 8 December). Farther to the west, the Japanese struck at Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand in a co-ordinated attempt to inflict as much damage as quickly as possible to strategic targets. Eleven days later, the Japanese launched bombing raids on Darwin, Australia.
Despite the horror inflicted by the Japanese, a day of reckoning was some way off. America saw the war in Europe as its top priority.
Although set back by the attack at Pearl Harbor, America’s Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers, submarines and, importantly, the fuel storage facilities were intact. These assets underpinned the foundation for the American response that led to victory at the Battle of Midway the following June and the progression towards victory in the Pacific.
By September 1945, the world-wide war was over.
Germany surrendered on May 7, leaving Japan out on a limb. When the Japanese refused to surrender, America hit back hard in August by dropping two nuclear bombs on the Japanese mainland, devastating the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese Empire had no choice but to run up the white flag, officially surrendering on September 2.
Seventy-five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor the wounds still run deep.
The number of survivors is dwindling – most of the service personnel still living are around 100 years old. There are continuing campaigns to have some personnel recognised more fully for their brave deeds and to have others exonerated after being harshly dealt with by subsequent inquires that sought to apportion blame for the catastrophe.
Many of those killed were put in unmarked graves, injuries too severe to enable identification at the time. Today, some remains are being exhumed as DNA technology provides hope that identification can be made.
The Navy at first resisted calls for graves to be opened. Let the remains rest in peace, was the official position.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in June 2015 began digging up the remains of nearly 400 Oklahoma sailors and Marines from a veterans cemetery in Honolulu where they were buried as “unknowns”.
It will be a long process – the remains of seven crew members missing since the USS Oklahoma capsized were identified and relatives notified early in 2016.
Within five years, officials expect to identify about 80% of the Oklahoma crew members still considered missing. When the Oklahoma was torpedoed at its berth and sank, 429 people were killed, most trapped below decks when the ship rolled on its side. In the grisly salvage operations in 1943, only 35 sets of remains were identified.
The Fateful Day
Two days after attack on Pearl Harbor, Fremont “Cap” Sawade sat down to write his first, and only, poem.
With the wreckage of the Pacific Fleet still smoking, he sat at a desk at Hickam Field and started writing. His words captured the horror and the emotion.
“The poem was just a heartfelt thing,” Sawade said. “It was a very emotional time when I wrote it.”
Two copies of his poem were etched in wooden plaques; one was given to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and the second was hung on a wall in Fremont Sawade’s house.
Cap Sawade was blind during the later years of his life. He died in February 2016, aged 96, but his poem lives on, seen by those who visit the museum and used in some classrooms to bring home to students the meaning of 7 December 1941.
The Fateful Day
Twas the day before that fateful day,
December Sixth I think they say.
When leave trucks passed Pearl Harbor clear
The service men perched in the rear.
No thought gave they, of things to come.
For them, that day, all work was done.
In waters quiet of Pearl Harbor Bay,
The ships serene, at anchor lay.
Nor did we give the slightest thought
Of treacherous deeds by the yellow lot.
Those men whose very acts of treason,
Are done with neither rhyme nor reason.
For if we knew what was in store
We ne’re would leave that day before.
For fun and drink to forget the war
Of Britain, Europe, and Singapore.
For all of us there was no fear
This time of peace and Christmas cheer.
Forget the axiom, might is right,
Guardians of Peace, were we that night.
We passed the sailors in cabs galore,
Those men in white who came ashore.
But some will ne’re be seen again,
In care-free fun, those sailor men.
The Sabbath Day dawned bright and clear,
A brand of fire ore the lofty spear,
Of Diamond Head, Hawaii’s own.
A picture itself that can’t be shown,
Unless observed with naked eye,
That makes one look, and stop, and sigh.
What more could lowly humans ask
To start upon their daily task.
The men asleep in barracks late,
Knew no war, that morn at eight.
The planes on fields, their motors cold,
Like sheep asleep among the fold.
The ships at anchor with turbines stilled,
Their crews below in hammocks filled.
And faint, as tho it were a dream,
A sound steels on upon this scene.
A drone of many red tipped things,
The Rising Sun upon their wings.
Those who saw would not believe,
And those that heard could not conceive.
A single shocking, thundering roar,
Followed by another and many more.
To rob the sleep from weary eyes,
Or close forever those that died.
A hot machine gun’s chattering rattle,
Mowed men down like herds of cattle.
A bomb destroys an air plane hangar,
The planes within will fly no more.
Bombs explode upon a ship,
Blasting men into the deep,
To sink without the slightest thought
Of what brought on this hell they caught.
What seems like years, the horrible remains,
Blasting men and ships and planes.
And just as quick as they had come,
Away they went, their foul deeds done.
To leave the burning wreckage here,
The scorching hulks of dead ships there.
And blasted forms of dying men,
Alive in hell, to die again.
At night the skies were all but clear,
The rosy glow of a white hot bier,
Showed on clouds the havoc wrought,
And greedy flames the men still fought.
But from the ruins arose this cry,
That night from those who did not die,
“Beware Japan we’ll take eleven,
For every death of December Seven.”
And from that day there has arisen,
A cry for vengeance, in storms they’re driven.
This fateful day among the ages,
Shall stand out red in Hist’rys pages.
Those men whom homefolk held so dear,
Will be avenged, have no fear.
And if their lives they gave in vain,
Pray, I too, may not remain.
Adolf Hitler explained his need to wage war to the German people this way:
“One will blame me (for engaging in) war and more war. I regard such struggle as the fate of all being. No one can avoid the fight if he does not wish to be the inferior. The growth of population requires a larger living space. My aim was to bring about a sensible relationship between population size and living space. This is where the military struggle has to begin. No people can evade the solution of this task unless it renounces and gradually succumbs. That is the lesson of history.”
Max Domarus, Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen
He clearly had in mind an empire with conquered territories becoming satellites of a grand Germany.
Hitler found a like mind in the form of in Italy and on 26 October 1936 Nazi Germany and fascist Italy signed a treaty of co-operation. On 1 November the two countries announced the Rome-Berlin Axis. Italy already had made its first expansionary move, invading, conquering and annexing Ethiopia in 1935.
Having been spurned, first by Czechoslovakia in 1938 and then Poland whose government was falsely claimed to be persecuting Germans, Hitler’s agenda was not piecemeal territorial gain but conquests by war.
He built up massive armed forces to fulfil his vision of the New Order for Europe. The course towards all-out war in Europe was set.
Germany went on in 1938 to incorporate Austria and occupy Czech lands, forming a Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. In 1939 Italy invaded and annexed Albania.
On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, initiating World War II in Europe.
Honouring their guarantee of Poland’s borders, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939.
Across the world, Japan long held territorial ambitions of its own – the Japanese already had fought China for control of Korea, the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895).
Thirty years later it still saw building an empire across Asia as the means of sustaining its growing economy that was chewing up its own resources at an alarming rate.
Japan believed communism could be a stumbling block to achieving its ambitions and in November 1926 it signed an Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany, directed against the Soviet Union and the international Communist movement.
The Japanese invasion of Manchuria from 18 September 1931 marked a resumption of territorial advances and resulted in the establishment of a puppet state called Manchukuo. Even though Japanese occupation lasted until the end of World War II, the US and other countries refused to recognise the new “independent” state of Manchukuo.
On 24 February 1933 the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva adopted a report (42 votes to 1) that blamed Japan for the Invasion of Manchuria. Japan’s delegation walked from the hall amidst hisses and applause.
In 1920 Japan was a charter member of the League of Nations but the walk-out in 1933 signalled the end of the country’s membership.
Japan continued to pursue an aggressive foreign policy aimed at creating the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”, modelled on the empires of 19th Century Europe.
The Japanese empire included Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and parts of northern China. Its ambitions included the rest of Asia, even India.
The Japanese regarded this expansion of influence as a political and economic necessity, preventing foreign states – particularly Britain and the US – from strangling Japan by blocking its access to raw materials and sea-lanes.
The sleeping giant stirs
The combination of the Great Depression and the massive and tragic losses in World War I helped drive American policy and public opinion towards isolationism in the 1930s.
Nevertheless, the US maintained strong regional interests abroad, in Asia in particular.
America subscribed to an “open door” policy on China in which all countries were to respect Chinese sovereignty and have equal access to trade with China.
Japan’s “Twenty-one demands on China” in 1915 – an ultimatum to the Chinese government – would have given Japan exclusive access to parts of China. With the world plunging into the Great Depression, Japan’s need for raw materials had become critical resulting in its 1930 decision to take them by force.
The US opposed the Japanese incursions into north-east China and the rise of Japanese militarism in the region, but most US officials believed it had no vital interests in China that warranted going to war with Japan.
From 1931, the US pressured Japan to withdraw the army it had sent to conquer Manchuria and, eventually, take all of China. America tried exerting diplomatic pressure, without a result.
US concerns about Japan’s aggression increased after 7 July 1937, when Chinese and Japanese forces clashed on the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing, drawing both countries into full-scale war.
The US watched as Japanese forces swept down the coast into Nanjing.
Tensions with Japan rose when the Japanese Army bombed the USS Panay as it evacuated American citizens from Nanjing, killing three. The US Government, however, continued to avoid conflict and accepted an apology and indemnity from the Japanese. An uneasy truce held between the two nations into 1940.
Amid economic sanctions imposed by trading partners including the US in response to the actions in China, Japan turned to the Axis powers, signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy on 27 September 1940.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed an embargo, effective from 16 October 1940, on all exports of scrap iron and steel to destinations other than Britain and “the nations of the Western Hemisphere”. The US, however, was not then intending to make war.
On 26 July 1941 President Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the US, effectively ending all commercial relationships. Roosevelt knew how the Japanese would respond when he signed the order locking Japan’s wealth in American banks, telling his chief adviser: “This means war.”
A week later, Roosevelt embargoed the export of remaining oil exports to Japan. The British and the Dutch – which also had interests in south-east Asia – did likewise, halting exports to Japan from their colonies.
Having broken the Japanese diplomatic code, the Americans discovered a communication from Foreign Minister Teijiro Toyoda to Japan’s Ambassador to the US, Kichisaburo Nomura, on 31 July 1941: “Commercial and economic relations between Japan and third countries, led by England and the United States, are gradually becoming so horribly strained that we cannot endure it much longer. Consequently, our Empire, to save its very life, must take measures to secure the raw materials of the South Seas.”
Washington expected a declaration of war from Tokyo, to be followed by an attack on one of its bases in the Asia-Pacific region.
In late November 1941, the Defense Department ordered every military base in the Pacific to remain at high alert because “hostile action” with Japan was possible at any time.
Japan regarded as “impossible” America’s condition for the mutual end of territorial pursuits that it withdraw all military forces from China and Indo-China.
On Saturday 6 December President Roosevelt made a final appeal to the Emperor of Japan for peace. There was no reply.
The Americans in Hawaii
The importance of Hawaii in the scheme of defence was obvious to the Americans; whatever nation commanded Hawaii controlled the Pacific.
No nation could or would dare attack the US mainland until it had taken Hawaii.
The US military, operating from bases on Oahu, could fight a defensive or offensive war in the Pacific but other nations, without bases, could only defend.
What gave Oahu its military importance was the naval base at Pearl Harbor.
In 1876, the Kingdom of Hawaii signed a reciprocity treaty with the USA, ceding control of Pearl Harbor to the US in exchange for duty-free exports of raw sugar to America.
The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 and Hawaii was annexed as a territory of the US in 1898.
The US Navy established a base on Oahu in 1899, from which the Navy Department could explore possible territorial outposts.
Pearl Harbor was dredged and the channel enlarged to accommodate larger ships. On 28 May 1903, the first battleship, Wisconsin, entered the harbor for coal and water. Congress approved the acquisition of lands for the development of a naval station. Friction developed between the Army and Navy over the use of the facilities.
By 1906, the entire island of Oahu was being fortified along the coast with the construction of a “Ring of Steel,” a series of gun batteries mounted on steel coastal walls. Battery Randolph, completed in 1911 and one of the few surviving batteries, is today the site of the US Army Museum of Hawaii.
The Army and Navy agreed in 1908 to make Pearl Harbor the principal American naval stronghold in the Pacific. The size of the Navy property was expanded from 1908–1919.
To protect Pearl Harbor, the Army expanded its Oahu garrison and in 1913 established the Hawaiian Department as an independent command under direct War Department control. In the two decades after World War I the Army built up formidable coastal defences on the south shore to protect Pearl and Honolulu harbors, and installed air defences.
In 1917, Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor, was purchased for joint Army and Navy development of military aviation in the Pacific.
As the Japanese military pressed its war in China, concern over Japan’s intentions caused the US to begin taking defensive measures. On 1 February 1933, the US Navy staged a mock attack on the base at Pearl Harbor as part of a preparedness exercise. The attack “succeeded” and the defence was deemed a “failure”.
In 1940, President Roosevelt ordered the Pacific Fleet to be moved to Pearl Harbor from California. Its warships didn’t spend much time there in the early days as they were needed for convoy support in the Atlantic to help keep open supply routes to Britain.
By 1941 the naval base was about 22,000 acres (8,900 ha). The American fleet was under the command of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Lt. General Walter C. Short commanded the ground troops.
The US Army had primary responsibility for protecting Pearl Harbor; its objective was to make Oahu impregnable.
The Hawaiian Department was the Army’s largest overseas department. The Pacific Fleet had arrived, there had been war scares, the start of selective service, numerous training exercises, the mobilisation of the National Guard, and the doubling of the department’s strength to 43,000 soldiers (including Air Corps). The Hawaiian Department’s two main tasks were to protect the Pacific Fleet from sabotage and defeat any invasion. In April 1941 the Army Chief of Staff assured President Roosevelt: “The Island of Oahu, due to its fortification, its garrison, and its physical characteristics, is believed to be the strongest fortress in the world.”
The island was home to five radar sites, seven military bases and six main airfields.
Take out the carriers
Japan intended the attack on America’s Pacific Fleet as a preventive action to keep the US from interfering with military actions it planned in South-east Asia against overseas territories of the UK, the Netherlands, and the US.
Japanese strategists concluded the best way to hit America was to take out the fleet’s aircraft carriers based at Pearl Harbor.
Given a choice of withdrawing from China or being denied the resources needed to continue their campaign, the Japanese leadership chose war.
Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo rightly assumed that the Roosevelt administration would not leave China and South-east Asia to the Japanese or readily restore trade links. It was highly likely that the US and other countries with interests in the region would defend them vigorously, at Japan’s expense.
Japan’s hope was that an attack on the Americans would lead them to the negotiating table where a truce would be agreed and Japan would go on its way colonising the western Pacific, leaving US assets alone. The US refused to give Japan that leeway.
While Japan continued the seemingly pointless negotiations with the US administration, the country’s leadership planned a major Japanese offensive into British Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and the American Philippines.
Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet, devised a bold plan for a pre-emptive air strike against the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Japan ordered a full mobilisation of its fleet in June 1940 and by December 1941 it was ready for action.
The primary airfield targets identified by the Japanese were Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and Ford Island. Kanoehe Naval Air Station, Bellows Field, and Ewa Marine Corps Station were all secondary targets.
Japanese attacks on the airfields were to impede a response from warplanes after the prime target – the Pearl Harbor naval base – was attacked.
The main targets were to be the aircraft carriers and battleships among the almost 100 American vessels at anchor in the harbor. With data gathered and reported by Japanese spies on Oahu and Maui, the Japanese admiralty knew the location and quantity of vessels of each type in the harbor.
Getting a naval task force that included six of Japan’s nine aircraft carriers 3,400 mi (5,471 km) across the northern Pacific undetected was the first challenge.
General Minoru Genda was drafted into the planning group to report on how the attack might succeed.
The main elements of his report were:
Surprise was a pre-requisite;
- The main objective would be the Pacific Fleet’s aircraft carriers;
- American land-based power on Oahu needed to be destroyed;
- Every Japanese carrier with sufficient range needed to be used;
- The attack would include torpedo bombing and level and dive-bombing;
- A strong fighter escort was necessary;
- The attack should happen early in the day;
- Refuelling would be necessary;
- All planning had to be carried out in strict secrecy;
The Japanese arranged war games in September 1941 to rehearse and refine the plan. But the Japanese hierarchy still thought it was all too risky.
After resolving technical issues, such as refuelling, Admiral Yamamoto was adamant: for as long as he was in charge Pearl Harbor would be attacked. Still the Japanese Naval General Staff resisted, mostly on whether six aircraft carriers should be used. But the Yamamoto team played their trump card – if the plan was not adopted, Yamamoto and the entire staff of Japan’s Combined Fleet would resign. The General Staff relented.
At that time, Japan’s 1st Air Fleet formed the primary carrier fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), a grouping of naval planes and carriers that was the world’s largest aircraft carrier fleet.
Two more rehearsals were held early in November.
The attack had to be made early in December, to give the Japanese army time to complete the conquest of south-east Asia before the start of monsoon season in April. It was also the time when tidal effects at Hawaii suited best.
Sunday was chosen for the day for an attack; intelligence reports indicating that would be a day when the most Pacific Fleet ships would be in port and also the day when the Americans would be least prepared.
The strike force, under the command of Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, comprised two fleet carriers, two converted carriers, and two light carriers, as well as two battleships and a number of cruisers, destroyers and support ships.
The First Air Fleet comprised 474 planes: 137 fighters (Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 “Zeroes”), 144 dive-bombers (Aichi D3A1 Type 99 “Vals”), and 183 torpedo planes (Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 “Kates”).
The Japanese aircrews underwent an extremely tough selection process and rigorous training.
Originally, Yamamoto considered launching the Pearl Harbor strike as a one-way mission (“kamikaze”) from a range of 500 mi (804 km), but he was persuaded that the sacrifice of so many irreplaceable pilots and planes was unnecessary to achieve surprise.
Mission leaders handpicked 361 of Japan’s best pilots, many of whom had taken part in combat missions over China.
A measure of their skill was that using only the simplest optical sights, the torpedo and dive-bomber pilots would achieve hit rates at Pearl Harbor that would not be equalled until laser-guided munitions entered combat in the 1970s.
The ships carrying the Japanese planes were known as the “Kido Butai” Strike Force.
The Val dive-bombers carried semi-armor-piercing bombs. Some of the Kates carried armor-piercing bombs converted from 16-inch naval gun weaponry. The rest of the torpedo planes carried aerial torpedoes, modified with special wooden fins for low-level drops into shallow water.
The strike was organised in three groups, requiring precise calculation of timing, distance, speed, wind, and aircraft endurance.
Precision and synchronisation were essential.
A man on the inside
At 1.20 am on 7 December 1941, on the bridge of the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was handed this message:
“Vessels moored in harbor: 9 battleships; 3 class B cruisers; 3 seaplane tenders, 17 destroyers. Entering harbor are 4 class B cruisers; 3 destroyers. All aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers have departed harbor….No indication of any changes in U.S. Fleet or anything unusual.”
The message, the last of many sent from the code room at the Japanese consulate in Honolulu, was received only hours before the attack.
The sender was Takeo Yoshikawa, a naval officer at the consulate. He went unchallenged as he watched the movements of the fleet from afar, with no more access than a tourist.
He made little effort to hide his mission and should have been easily uncovered if US intelligence took the threat of a Japanese attack on Hawaii more seriously.
But he raised little suspicion and his observations helped the Japanese piece together their detailed attack plan.
Yoshikawa arrived in Honolulu on 27 March 1941 aboard the Japanese liner Nitta Maru.
The 29-year-old’s papers identified him as Tadashi Morimura. Vice-Consul Otojiro Okuda met and drove him to the two-storey consulate on Nuuana Ave.
On 27 March 1941, this notice appeared in the Nippu Jiji, an English-and-Japanese-language newspaper in Honolulu: “Tadashi Morimura, newly appointed secretary of the local Japanese consulate general, arrived here this morning on the Nitta Maru from Japan. His appointment was made to expedite the work on expatriation applications and other matters.” The announcement should have drawn the attention of American intelligence agents, as there was no Tadashi Morimura listed in the Japanese foreign registry. This suggested that he was new to the foreign service – or that he was something other than a diplomat.
He was given the title of chancellor but that was not going to be his real job.
Takeo Yoshikawa was a naval reserve ensign. He graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval College in 1933 with honours. He served briefly aboard a battleship, then underwent submarine and pilot training. Illness forced him to retire after only two years. Then the Imperial Navy offered him a job with its general staff’s intelligence division. For the next four years, Yoshikawa studied English and learned everything he could about the US Navy and its Pacific Ocean bases.
He was told late in 1940 that he was being posted to Hawaii. There, posing as junior diplomat Morimura, he was to note the status of the US fleet and its anchorages, reporting his observations to Tokyo by coded telegraph messages. The assignment fitted the plan outlined in January 1941 by Combined Fleet Commander Isoroku Yamamoto.
Yoshikawa began familiarising himself with the military installations concentrated on Oahu. To explore, he often relied on a hired cab driven by John Mikami, a Japanese-Hawaiian who did occasional work for the consulate.
Yoshikawa’s focus was Pearl Harbor, the nearly landlocked anchorage on the south coast of Oahu.
A Japanese-style teahouse in the mountainside Alewa Heights, just north of downtown Honolulu, became his favorite operational site. Its value for intelligence was the view from the second floor. The teahouse also had telescopes.
Sometimes, dressed as a labourer, he took a minibus to the cane fields at Aiea to the north of the main bases. From other nearby slopes, he could look down at the submarine facilities in the harbor’s South-east Loch. A pier at Pearl City to the north-west enabled him to see the far side of Ford Island and its airstrip. He wasn’t able to get into the restricted area at the harbor entrance, but gleaned information from other consulate staff.
He supplemented his observations with items of interest gleaned from daily newspapers.
Patterns of activity
Yoshikawa gradually recorded the island’s patterns of military activity. Because the battleships were moored in double rows along Ford Island’s south-east side, torpedoes could be used only against the outboard ones. Most vessels were in port every weekend. Air patrols neglected the northern side of Oahu. These and other observations were written up, encoded and transmitted to Tokyo using, in turn, all the cable companies in Honolulu, without attracting suspicion.
By mid-1941 Yoshikawa had given the Japanese navy invaluable information for its coming surprise attack.
On 24 September Naval commanders asked their man for ship locations keyed to the five geographical zones into which Japanese naval intelligence had categorised Pearl Harbor. The message (translated) was:
#83 Strictly secret. Henceforth, we would like to have you make reports concerning vessels along the following lines insofar as possible:
- The waters (of Pearl Harbor) are to be divided roughly into five sub-areas. (We have no objections to your abbreviating as much as you like.)
Area A. Waters between Ford Island and the Arsenal.
Area B. Waters adjacent to the Island south and west of Ford Island. (This area is on the opposite side of the Island from Area A.)
Area C. East Loch.
Area D. Middle Loch.
Area E. West Loch and the communicating water routes.
- With regard to warships and aircraft carriers, we would like to have you report on those at anchor, (these are not so important) tied up at wharves, buoys and in docks. (Designate types and classes briefly. If possible we would like to have you make mention of the fact when there are two or more vessels alongside the same wharf.)
Tokyo wanted in effect to place each American ship at Pearl Harbor in a grid. Perhaps most revealing was the final request: Why would the Japanese need to know when two or more vessels were docked side by side?
This should have alerted American intelligence that Pearl Harbor might be a target, as such information would be critical in an attack; if two ships were at one wharf, dive-bombers would be needed to supplement submarine torpedoes, which likely would not be able to penetrate the outside ship’s hull and still reach the ship anchored on the inside.
The Americans deciphered message 83 on 9 October, two months before Pearl Harbor. But neither Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the naval commander at Pearl Harbor, nor Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, the army commander there, read it until after the attack.
In an event, the message was deemed non-critical.
In mid-November 1941, the Japanese liner Taiyo Maru arrived in Honolulu carrying 340 passengers, including the youngest lieutenant commander in the Japanese Imperial Navy, Suguru Suzuki. His secret mission was to confirm information about the Pearl Harbor defences and gather more intelligence from Japan’s sources in Honolulu.
Suzuki had a list of questions for Yoshikawa who after the war gave details of some of them and his answers:
This is the most important question: On what day of the week would the most ships be in Pearl Harbor on normal occasions?
How many large seaplanes patrol from Pearl at dawn and sunset?
A: About 10, both times.
Where are the airports?
A: For this question, I was able to provide a map with every detail, plus aerial photos which I had taken…as late as October 21, and considerable structural detail on the hangars at Hickam and Wheeler Fields.
Are the ships fully provided with supplies and ready for sea?
A: They are not ready for combat; [they are] loaded with normal supplies and provisions only.
Yoshikawa also provided maps, sketches and photographs for the attack.
When the attack was over, the Japanese consulate was placed under guard.
Yoshikawa and his colleagues remained inside for more than a week before being driven to a Coast Guard vessel and taken to San Diego, then to Phoenix where they were interrogated. Yoshikawa did not reveal his activities and the US had no idea of the extent of his espionage until years later. In March 1942, the consulate people were put in an Arizona camp holding interned Japanese Americans.
The spy – his identity still unknown – and his companions eventually were exchanged for American diplomats being held in Japan.
Back in his homeland, Yoshikawa married and continued working for naval intelligence until the end of the war. Fearing arrest when American troops occupied Japan in 1945, he fled into the countryside and posed as a Buddhist monk. He returned to his wife and two children after the occupation, not revealing his story until 1960.
Yoshikawa never received any official recognition of his services.
In 1955 he opened a candy business but it failed as word spread of his role in the war. The Japanese blamed Yoshikawa for the war. “They even blamed me for the atomic bomb,” he declared in one interview. Penniless and jobless, his wife supported him for the rest of his life through her job selling insurance.
He died in a Tokyo nursing home in February 1993, aged 78.
Based on an article by Wil Deac in the May 1997 issue of World War II magazine.
Attack force prepares
The Japanese practiced and prepared carefully through 1941 for their attack on Pearl Harbor. They knew the plan was extremely risky. The probability of success depended heavily on complete surprise.
Japanese pilots trained on the island of Kyushu near the city of Kagoshima which had a shallow bay and was surrounded by mountains, just like Pearl Harbor.
One of the biggest problems to contend with was the shallow depth of the harbor on Oahu. It had an average depth of only 40 ft (12 m), too shallow for an ordinary plane-launched torpedo which dropped down over 100 ft (30.5 m) before rising to the surface. To overcome this problem the Japanese put wooden stabilisers on the torpedoes and dropped them from only 60 ft (18 m) above the water. The torpedoes then dived only 35 ft (10.6 m) before surfacing.
In October the Japanese carried out several mock torpedo-bombing exercises, to demonstrate that the torpedoes could be used in shallow water.
Yamamoto, his staff and the Naval General Staff finalised the planning of the attack: what route to travel on, how much fuel would be required for the trip, what US ships would be in the harbor and where they would be moored.
On 23 October in Kagoshima, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, who would command the carrier strike force, and Cdr Mitsuo Fuchida, who would command the planes, were briefed by Lt Cdr Takeshi Naito, Japan’s naval attaché in Berlin.
Naito had been to Italy to observe the aftermath of an unprecedented British torpedo raid. That battle took place a year earlier, on 10 November 1940, when just one British carrier, HMS Illustrious, sent open-cockpit Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers to attack Mussolini’s battle fleet, moored at Taranto, Italy. Anti-aircraft guns and a sophisticated early-warning system that lacked radar but used powerful acoustic warning devices protected the Italian warships. Unlike US warships at Pearl Harbor, anti-torpedo nets slung across the harbor also shielded the Italian ships.
The Swordfish struck in two waves an hour apart. The British disabled three battleships and four other warships, and shifted the balance of power in the Mediterranean.
Lessons well learned
Significantly, Taranto, the Italian Navy’s main naval bastion, had been shown to be vulnerable.
There were lessons in this for Japan. And they seem to have been well learned.
Between 10 and 18 November, the Japanese ships left separately from Kure Naval Base, and assembled on 22 November near the Kurile Islands.
American installations saw Japanese ships headed south in the China Sea but had no idea that US territory would be attacked directly. Even though the US thought war was imminent they believed an attack on the Philippines was the most likely scenario.
On 16 November the first units – submarines – left Japan. Their roles included reconnaissance and rescue as well as attacking the American carriers and any warships that escaped the attack and left port. Their presence proved something of a wasted effort – not one attack was made on a warship. A plane sunk one submarine as it was stalking the carrier Enterprise. The submarine tally for the whole exercise was three merchant ships.
Five of the fleet submarines carried midget submarines to Oahu, just off Pearl Harbor. The midget subs were Yamamoto’s idea, not supported by Genda and other fleet officers.
The big submarines moved on the surface at night and more slowly, submerged, during the day.
On 26 November 1941, the Japanese attack force – the main body comprising aircraft carriers and escorts – led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, left Etorofu Island in the Kurils (north-east of Japan) and began the 3,000 mi (4,830 km) journey across the Pacific Ocean.
Rear Adm. Genda met Lt Cmdr Mitsuo Fuchida, the strike commander, and Lt Shigeharu Murata, the torpedo bomber commander, on the flagship soon after leaving Japan.
They modified the master plan. Fuchida, leading the first wave, would fire one flare for “surprise achieved” or two flares for “surprise lost”. If the Americans were on the alert, the first-wave dive-bombers would surge ahead and bomb Ford Island and Hickam Field to draw anti-aircraft fire from the torpedo bombers.
Sneaking six aircraft carriers, seven destroyers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and three submarines across the Pacific Ocean was not an easy task. Seven fuel tankers were also part of the fleet, escorted by two more destroyers.
Worried that they might be spotted by another ship, the Japanese attack force continually zig-zagged and avoided major shipping lines.
For nearly two weeks Japanese battleships and destroyers escorted the six carriers to the rendezvous point, 230 mi (370 km) north of Pearl Harbor. The planes travelled in complete radio silence.
On 1 December, the First Air Fleet received the coded “go” signal from Tokyo (“Niitakayama Nobore,” or “Climb Mount Niitaka,” the Japanese name for the highest mountain on Formosa) even though negotiations between the US and Japanese governments were still in progress. The fleet refuelled on 3 December.
The attack was made ready, but not without some second thoughts. What if the element of surprise was lost?
There was another issue: The day before the strike, Japanese intelligence reported there were no carriers in Pearl Harbor. But the Japanese leaders decided to stick to the plan; they would also attack the Oahu air fields to destroy the fighters at Wheeler and Bellows Fields and the bombers and patrol bombers at Hickam Field, Naval Air Stations Kaneohe and Pearl Harbor.
At 3 am on 7 December (Hawaii time) the First Air Fleet was in its fly-off position. “Operation Hawaii”, also called “Operation Z,” was ready.
These are the significant events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:
July 1937: Japan invades North China from Manchuria.
July 1940: America imposes trade sanctions and embargoes, aimed at curbing Japan’s military aggression in Asia.
January: Adm. Yamamoto begins communicating with other Japanese officers about a possible attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese approach to achieve its ambitions consists of negotiations in parallel with preparations for war.
27 January: Joseph C. Grew, the US ambassador to Japan, cables Washington that he has learned Japan is planning a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. No one in Washington believes the information. Most senior American military experts believe the Japanese will attack Manila in the Philippines.
February: Adm. Husband E. Kimmel assumes command of the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. Kimmel and Lt Gen. Walter C. Short, commanding general of the Hawaiian Department, prepare for the defence of the islands. They ask Washington for extra men and equipment.
April: US intelligence officers continue to monitor Japanese secret messages. In a program code-named Magic, US intelligence uses a machine to decode Japan’s diplomatic dispatches. Washington does not relay all the available information to all commands, leaving out Short and Kimmel in Hawaii.
May: Japanese Adm. Nomura tells his superiors he has learned the Americans were reading his message traffic. No one in Tokyo believes the code could have been broken. The code is not changed.
July: An Imperial Conference on 2 July confirms the decision to attack the Western powers. Throughout the (northern) summer, Adm. Yamamoto trains his forces and completes planning of the attack.
24 September: The “bomb plot” message from Japanese naval intelligence to Japan’s consul-general in Honolulu requesting a grid of exact locations of ships in Pearl Harbor is deciphered. The information is not shared with Kimmel and Short.
November: Tokyo sends an experienced diplomat to Washington as a special envoy to assist Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura, who continues to seek a diplomatic solution. Japan wants the US to agree to its southern expansion in Asia diplomatically but if those efforts are unsuccessful, Japan is prepared to go to war.
16 November: Twenty-three fleet submarines, the first units for the attack, leave Japan.
26 November: The main body – aircraft carriers and escorts – begin the voyage to Hawaii.
27 November: Kimmel and Short receive a so-called “war warning” from Washington indicating a Japanese attack, possibly on an American target in the Pacific, is likely.
Night of 6 December and morning of 7 December: US intelligence decodes a message pointing to Sunday morning as a deadline for some kind of Japanese action. The message is delivered to the Washington high command before 9 am Washington time, more than four hours before the attack on Pearl Harbor. But the message is not delivered to the Pearl Harbor commanders in time, arriving after the attack starts.
Michinomiya Hirohito (known also as Emperor Shōwa) was emperor of Japan from 1926 until his death in 1989. He took over at a time of rising democratic sentiment, but Japan soon turned toward ultra-nationalism and militarism. During World War II Japan attacked nearly all of its Asian neighbours, allied itself with Nazi Germany and launched the surprise assault on Pearl Harbor.
After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the emperor became a figurehead with no political power.
When Hirohito assumed the throne, political parties were near the height of their pre-war powers. But a plunging economy, rising militarism and a series of political assassinations and political violence soon caused a crisis for the pro-democracy movement.
Japan’s conflict with China was growing. In 1931, Japanese army officers initiated the so-called Manchurian Incident by detonating a railway explosion and blaming it on Chinese bandits. They then used the event as an excuse to take over Manchuria in north-eastern China and set up a puppet state. Excursions into other areas of the country soon followed and by 1937 there was all-out war.
In September 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in which they agreed to assist each other if a country not already involved in the war attacked either of them.
Japan sent troops to occupy French Indochina that same month, and the US responded with economic sanctions, including an embargo on oil and steel. A little over a year later, Hirohito consented to war with America, leading to the raid on Pearl Harbor.
But the tide started turning at the June 1942 Battle of Midway and, soon after, at Guadalcanal. By mid-1944, Japan’s military leaders recognised victory was unlikely but kept fighting until after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 15 August 1945, Hirohito made a radio broadcast announcing Japan’s intention to surrender.
The level of the Emperor’s involvement with Japan’s military during World War II has remained debatable, even though he announced the country’s surrender to the Allied Forces.
Japan lost 2.3 million soldiers and an estimated 800,000 civilians in WWII.
General Douglas MacArthur, who was made Allied commander, was sent to Japan to oversee its rehabilitation. The US occupied Japan until 1952.
While many wanted Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal, MacArthur made a bargain with the Emperor that included the implementation of a new Japanese constitution and the denouncement of imperial “divinity.” Hirohito became a democratic figurehead, with all political power held by elected representatives.
From 1945 to 1951, Hirohito toured the country and oversaw reconstruction efforts. After American occupation ended, Hirohito served largely in the background while Japan went through a period of rapid economic growth. He died on 7 January 1989, having spent nearly 64 years on the throne, the longest imperial reign in Japanese history. His son, Akihito, succeeded him.
Hideki Tojo was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA), the leader of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, and the 40th Prime Minister of Japan during much of World War II, from 17 October 1941 to 22 July 1944.
As Prime Minister, he was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor, although planning for it had begun before he entered office.
Tojo also held the position of Army Minister, Home Minister, Foreign Minister, Education Minister and Minister for Commerce and Industry at various times concurrent with his term as Prime Minister.
As Education Minister, he continued militaristic and nationalist indoctrination in the national education system and reaffirmed totalitarian policies in government. As Home Minister, he ordered various measures designed to enhance the genetics of the population, including the sterilisation of the “mentally unfit”.
Within hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Tojo broadcast a message to the Japanese people, warning them that “to annihilate this enemy and to establish a stable new order in East Asia, the nation must necessarily anticipate a long war”.
He was extremely popular in the early years of the war as Japanese forces posted a string of victories. But after the Battle of Midway, Tojo faced increasing opposition from within the government and military. To strengthen his position, in February 1944, he assumed the post of Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff. After the fall of Saipan, he was forced to resign on 18 July 1944.
After Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, US General Douglas MacArthur issued orders for the arrest of the first 40 alleged war criminals, including Tojo.
Tojo knew that he would be arrested and executed. He attempted suicide on 11 September 1945 as American soldiers closed in on his house, but survived.
Tojo was arrested, sentenced to death for Imperial Japanese war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and hanged on 23 December 1948.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only US president to be elected four times. He led the US through the Great Depression and World War II.
Early in 1940, Roosevelt had not publicly announced that he would run for an unprecedented third term as president. But privately, with Germany’s victories in Europe and Japan’s growing dominance in Asia, he felt that only he had the experience and skills to lead America in such trying times. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt defeated all challengers to win the nomination. In November 1940, he won the presidential election against Republican Wendell Willkie.
During 1941, Roosevelt pushed to have American factories become an “arsenal of democracy” for the Allies – France, Britain and Russia. As Americans learned more about the war’s atrocities, isolationist sentiment diminished but Roosevelt stood firm against directly engaging the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan). Bipartisan support in Congress expanded the Army and Navy and increased the flow of supplies to the Allies. Hopes of keeping the US out of war ended with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His “day of infamy” speech turned America away from isolation on to a path that would end World War II.
Roosevelt was a commander-in-chief who worked with and sometimes around his military advisors. He helped develop a strategy for defeating Germany in Europe through a series of invasions, first in North Africa in November 1942, then Sicily and Italy in 1943, followed by the D-Day invasion in 1944. At the same time, Allied forces rolled back Japan in Asia and the eastern Pacific. During this time, Roosevelt also promoted the formation of the United Nations.
Already diagnosed with polio, hospital tests in March 1944 revealed Roosevelt had atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. In spite of this, and because the country was deeply involved in war, he decided to run for another term as president. He selected Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman as his running mate and together they defeated Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey, carrying 36 of the 48 states.
In February 1945, Franklin Roosevelt attended the Yalta Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin to discuss post-war reorganisation. He then returned to the US and the sanctuary of Warm Springs, Georgia. On the afternoon of 12 April 1945, Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral haemorrhage and died. Vice-President Truman became America’s 33rd President.
Joseph Clark Grew
The first warning of a possible Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came in a coded cablegram from the US ambassador in Japan, Joseph Clark Grew, to the US State Department on 27 January 1941.
Grew’s cable warned: “There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor.”
It was dismissed as a wild rumour.
Grew was the American ambassador in Japan through the 10 years preceding the attack.
He became Under Secretary of State in December 1944.
Grew told President Truman on May 28, 1945: “The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the Throne.”
The role of the emperor was to become a sticking point in getting Japan to surrender.
Grew was part of the “Committee of Three” with Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal who called for a clarification of what “unconditional surrender” would mean for Japan, with the aim of increasing the chances of an earlier Japanese surrender.
In July 1945 the Committee of Three wrote a document that included a clarification as part of a warning to Japan to surrender, known as the Potsdam Proclamation. It originally offered Japan the chance to retain the throne, providing that the Japanese government “may include a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty”.
But President Truman removed that line before issuing the Potsdam Proclamation. With no assurances as to the Emperor’s fate, the Japanese government dismissed the Potsdam Proclamation as just another threat. There was no surrender at that stage – but surrender was to come when Japan was on the receiving end of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Cordell Hull was as the longest-serving American Secretary of State, holding office for 11 years (1933–1944) in the administration of President Roosevelt during much of World War II.
He was responsible for US foreign relations before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He sent the “Outline of proposed Basis for Agreement between the United States and Japan” (known as the Hull note)” to Japan before the attack. The note was part of the American attempt to open Chinese markets to US goods against Japanese interests there.
On the day of the attack, not long after it began, Hull received the news that it was taking place while outside his office the Japanese ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura and Japan’s special envoy Saburō Kurusu were waiting to see him with a 14-part message from the Japanese government officially notifying of a breakdown in negotiations.
Admiral Edwin T. Layton, at that time chief intelligence officer to the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recounted: “Roosevelt advised him not to tell them about the raid but ‘to receive them formally and coolly bow them out’.
“After he had glanced at their copy of the 14-part message, Hull’s anger burst forth: ‘In all my fifty years of public service,’ he told the astonished diplomats, ‘I have never seen such a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehood and distortion.’
“Nomura and Kurusu, who had not been told of the attack, bowed themselves out in an embarrassed fluster. A department official overheard Hull muttering under his breath as the door closed, ‘Scoundrels and piss-ants’.”
Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations.
He died on 23 July 1955, aged 83, at his home in Washington, DC, after a lifelong struggle with familial remitting-relapsing sarcoidosis (often confused with tuberculosis).
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto was the key strategist of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Throughout his career, Yamamoto opposed many of Japan’s military actions, including the invasion of Manchuria and the ongoing war with China.
His attitude made him unpopular with pro-war factions in Japan, some of whom reportedly put bounties on his head.
Yamamoto graduated from Japan’s Imperial naval academy in 1904. In 1919, he was sent to the US where he studied English at Harvard. After graduating in 192l, he returned to Japan to specialise in the new field of naval aviation.
He again returned to the US in 1926, as the Japanese naval attaché in Washington. During this two year visit he became familiar with and developed a negative opinion of the US Navy. But he was fully aware of the power of the American nation.
On 30 August 1939, Navy Minister Adm. Yonai Mitsumasa promoted Yamamoto to Commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet commenting, “It was the only way to save his life – send him off to sea.”
After the signing of the Tri-partite Pact with Germany and Italy, Yamamoto told Premier Fumimaro Konoe: “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that I have no expectation of success.”
Yamamoto began planning for the fight. Against traditional naval strategy, he advocated a quick first-strike to cripple the Americans, followed by an offensively-minded “decisive” battle. Such an approach, he argued, would increase the chances of victory and might make the Americans willing to negotiate a peace.
The Pearl Harbor surprise attack was considered tactically brilliant.
Yamamoto thought success at Pearl Harbor would damage the morale of the American people, preventing a long-term war with Japan. He was quite wrong.
Yamamoto believed in the superiority of naval air power over battleships and Pearl Harbor proved him right about that much.
But Yamamoto did not believe he was successful – his main aim was to cripple the Pacific fleet, particularly the aircraft carriers. They were not in port when the attack was mounted. He still needed to cripple the rest of the fleet and convinced the Japanese Naval General Staff to let him advance on Midway Island, 1,300 mi (2,092 km) north-west of Hawaii.
Yamamoto hoped to draw the American fleet out so that it could be destroyed. Moving east with a large force, including four carriers, the Japanese did not know that the Americans had broken their codes, knew of the attack and were prepared.
The Americans managed to sink all four Japanese carriers with the loss of one of their own. The defeat at Midway blunted the Japanese offensive and shifted the initiative to the Americans.
Despite the heavy losses at Midway, Yamamoto sought to press on to take Samoa and Fiji, using Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands as a stepping stone.
In April 1943, Yamamoto began an inspection tour through the South Pacific to boost morale. But American forces intercepted radio broadcasts, found where Yamamoto’s plane was and on 18 April ambushed it and its escorts near Bougainville. Yamamoto’s plane was hit and went down killing all on board.
General Minoru Genda
General Minoru Genda was called in as the architect for the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was originally from Hiroshima and graduated in 1924 from the Japanese Naval Academy. He was an early advocate of naval air power over surface vessels.
He considered Hawaii a vital base for American operations against Japan and believed Japan must follow any attack on Pearl Harbor with an invasion of Hawaii or risk losing the war. From a Japanese perspective, Hawaii could be the base from which to threaten the west coast of North America, and perhaps serve as a negotiating tool for ending the war.
He believed that after a successful air attack, 10,000-15,000 men could capture Hawaii. He saw the operation as a precursor or alternative to a Japanese invasion of the Philippines
He began as a fighter pilot bombing and strafing cities in China and Japanese leaders increasingly regarded him as one of the nation’s brightest young officers.
As a commander in the navy, he was assigned to the general staff and directed to draft the air tactics for the Pearl Harbor assault.
When the Japanese entered the Pacific war, he recalled, ”I thought we would win, but we misjudged America’s real strength. We lacked war material and our national leadership was not up to the task.”
After World War II, he was commissioned as a general in the Japanese air force and served as chief of staff from 1959 to 1962, when he was elected to the upper house of Parliament. For years he was chairman of the National Defense Committee of the Liberal Democratic Party and served many terms in Parliament, retiring in 1986.
He co-operated with US occupying forces in the rebuilding of Japan after the war.
During a three-week speaking tour of the US sponsored by the Naval Institute in 1969, he said the idea for the concentrated strike from a task force of aircraft carriers came to him in 1940 while he was watching an American newsreel.
Questioned about the scars of combat, he said, ”Wars are fought and then they end, and when they end we don’t look back – only forward.”
Genda died of heart disease in a Tokyo hospital on 15 August 1989, the 44th anniversary of the end of the World War II and a day before his 85th birthday.
The day of infamy
Japan attacks the US
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor before it made any formal declaration of war. This was not Admiral Yamamoto’s intention; he originally stipulated the attack should not start until 30 minutes after Japan had informed the US that peace negotiations were at an end.
Tokyo transmitted the 5000-word notification – referred to as the 14-Part Message – in two blocks to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, but transcribing the message took too long for the Japanese ambassador to deliver it in time. (In fact, US code-breakers had already deciphered and translated most of the message).
President Roosevelt read the document and said, “This means war.” He then sent a personal message to Emperor Hirohito, seeking to start negotiations anew. Other American senior officers were less certain that the message meant war.
Senior US government and military officials took it to mean that negotiations were most likely over and that war might break out at any moment, but no warnings went out to Hawaii.
A declaration of war was printed on the front page of Japan’s newspapers in the evening edition of December 8, (December 7 in the US, after the attack) but was not delivered to the US government until the day after the attack.
This how the attack unfolded:
Saturday evening, 6 December.
American officers are secure in estimates that the chance of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is “none” despite warnings to all American bases that an attack is considered imminent. It will probably be on bases closer to Asia; an invasion of the Philippines is thought the likely scenario.
For the officers on Hawaii there is probably more concern – though even minimal – of an uprising by the around 158,000 Hawaiian civilians of Japanese descent.
It is a fairly typical Saturday evening – officers are at the various officers’ clubs, some at exclusive hotels in Honolulu, Oahu, and several enlisted personnel are in the city looking for “happy hours” in bars and hotels. A big charity football match between the University of Hawaii and Willamette University of Salem, Oregon, is played in the afternoon before a record crowd of 24,000 people; the Hawaiian team wins prompting traditional celebrations well into the night.
Some of the enlisted people attend a charity dinner dance. The rest are at their bases around the island. At the new Bloch Recreation Center at Pearl Harbor, the last round of the Battle of the Bands Pacific Fleet music tournament has attracted a good crowd. At midnight venues everywhere close their doors. During the evening senior officers receive confirmation that a dozen B-17 bombers from the mainland are expected to arrive at Hickam at 8 am on Sunday morning.
5.45 Sunday morning, 7 December
At 5.45 am, the first Japanese A6M2 combat air patrol takes off from the carriers. At 6 am, Cdr Mitsuo Fuchida takes off at the head of 183 planes. At 7.15 am, Lt Cdr Shigekazu Shimazaki takes off with 167 planes. Ship crew members cheer the departing pilots.
The sun rises at 6.43 am, silhouetting the fighters and bombers high over the ocean as they fly towards Oahu.
6.37 Sunday morning, 7 December
Five Japanese midget submarines – each battery-powered, crewed by two men and equipped with two deadly torpedoes — are making their way towards the harbor. They launched around 12.32 am, about 10 mi (km) off Pearl Harbor’s entrance.
The American minesweepers Condor and Crossbill are operating off the entrance to Pearl Harbor in darkness around 3.45 am. The Condor’s officer of the deck reports seeing something that looks like a submarine’s conning tower in the water nearby. The sighting is reported to the USS Ward, a 1,247 ton Wickes-class destroyer guarding the entrance to Pearl Harbor.
The USS Antares, a Navy cargo ship, approaches Pearl Harbor from the south, towing a barge. Around 6.30 it arrives at the harbor entrance but there is no tug to meet it. As it turns around, crew members glimpse a “suspicious” object in the water, reporting that it could be a small submarine. A report is also made to the Ward which by then is responding to the earlier report.
Around the same time, a 14P-1 Navy Patrol plane is in the air and also spots what looks like a submarine and drops smoke flares in the area.
At 6.37 the crew of the Ward see a midget submarine trying to sneak into port, trailing a US ship. The sailors describe it as cylindrical, about 80 ft (24 m) long, with an oval-shaped conning tower.
Captain of the Ward, Lt W.W. Outerbridge, orders the crew to fire on the midget sub. One shot punches a four-inch (10 cm) hole in the starboard side of the conning tower as the destroyer steams past the sub at a range of about 50 yds (45 m). It is the first effective American shot of World War II. The destroyer follows up with four depth charges. According to records, the Navy patrol plane also drops bombs.
Seawater pours into the submarine through the shell hole and it rolls to starboard, apparently sinking in 1,200 ft (365 m) of water.
Lt Outerbridge radios his commander: “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges on a submarine operating in defensive sea areas.” But his radio communication fails to raise an alert that could enable the Navy to better prepare for the air attack that followed 75 minutes later. It takes many years for the Ward’s hit to be confirmed – the mini-submarine is found off Pearl Harbor in August 2002.
7 o’clock Sunday morning, 7 December.
Two US Army privates, George Elliot and Joseph Lockard, are about to turn off the mobile radar station they had been manning since 4 am at Opana. A slight disturbance on the screen catches an eye. A large yet indistinct patch of light, which appears to the men to come from 50 planes, seems to be heading towards the island at a distance of 130 mi (210 km). The time is 7.02 am. Confused, one of the privates calls the information centre at Fort Shafter, reaching an inexperienced officer who arrived only a week earlier. He thinks they have detected a flight of B-17s arriving that morning from the US. The officer has heard Hawaiian music playing on the radio station earlier that morning, a signal that typically means an American plane is approaching Hawaii, and so determines that the blotch on the radar’s oscilloscope screen must be the incoming fleet. (It was later revealed the Japanese attackers also homed in on the radio broadcasts).
The two men continue to monitor the “blip” until 7.39 am when it is lost in the radar dead zone, about 22 mi (35 km) from Pearl Harbor. The truck to collect them at the end of their shift at the remote station arrives and leaves with them at 7.45 am.
7.38 Sunday morning, 7 December.
A Japanese reconnaissance Jake (Aichi E13A Navy Reconnaissance Seaplane) from the Chikuma sends confirmation that the main US fleet is in Pearl Harbor and describes weather conditions over the target. A second reconnaissance plane reports that no enemy ships are in the Lahaina anchorage, Maui, and sweep wide to the south to find the American carriers, but do not fly far enough and the Enterprise is not discovered.
7.53 Sunday morning, 7 December.
Targets are the battleships along the dock and US Air Force airfields. The carnage is about to begin.
At 7.53 am the first wave breaks through the low cloud over Pearl Harbor and two minutes later begins the initial strike on ships berthed on the west side of Ford Island. This force comprises 50 medium bombers, 43 A6M Zero fighters and 40 Kate torpedo bombers. Hickam Field is attacked simultaneously.
Fuchida – the attack leader – cannot believe his eyes. He sees no evidence that anyone expects an attack.
From Zero to destruction
The Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” long-range fighter plane, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1940 to 1945. Officially it was designated the Type 0 Aircraft Carrier Fighter, or the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen.
Pilots usually referred to the A6M as the “Reisen” (zero fighter). The official Allied reporting name was “Zeke”, although the use of the name “Zero” was later commonly adopted by the Allies as well.
The first Zero flew in 1939. The Zeroes were exceedingly agile and lightweight, with manoeuvreability and range superior to any other fighter in the world at that time. On the downside, the Zero, because it was lightly built, it had no armor and no self-sealing fuel tanks, a fact discovered when the Americans recovered the nine that were shot down at Pearl Harborarbor.
The Zero was the primary Japanese Navy fighter throughout the war – about 10,500 were built.
The first version was Model 11. It had fixed wing tips. After 66 planes were built, folding wing tips were added so more Zeroes could fit on aircraft carriers. This second version was the Model 21, used almost exclusively in the first year of World War II.
The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) also had a short designation for its planes; the Zero was the A6M, meaning that it was a carrier fighter (A), designed by Mitsubishi (M). The six meant that it was the sixth carrier fighter model from Mitsubishi. The prototype version was the A6M1. The first production models (the Models 11 and 21) were designated as A6M2s.
The Zero achieved speeds up to 316 mph (508 km/h) with an 850 hp (634 kW) engine.
The more powerful Sakae 12 engine was put in the third test aircraft, which became the A6M2. The later A6M5 had a rated speed of 351 mph (565 km/h).
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor 521 Zeroes were active in the Pacific, 328 in first-line units. The carrier Model 21 was the type encountered by the Americans. Its great range – more than 1,600 mi (2,600 km) – allowed it to fly much farther from its carrier than expected, appearing over distant battlefronts and giving Allied commanders the impression there were several times more Zeroes than actually existed.
Although not as fast as the British fighter, the Mitsubishi could out-turn the Spitfire with ease, could sustain a climb at a very steep angle and could stay in the air for three times as long.
The Allies developed new tactics to counter the attributes of the Zero. And though unable to match the attributes of the Zero, the resilience of early Grumman aircraft was a factor in preventing the Zero from achieving total domination.
Due to shortages of high-powered aviation engines and problems with planned successor models, the Zero remained in production until 1945.
TO, TO, TO
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida led the first wave of the air attack and published his recollections in 1951. They were translated into in English in 1955. This was his description as he arrived at Oahu in a Type 97 Model 3 torpedo bomber with the first attack wave in which he acted as observer:
“One hour and forty minutes after leaving the carriers I knew that we should be nearing our goal. Small openings in the thick cloud cover afforded occasional glimpses of the ocean, as I strained my eyes for the first sight of land. Suddenly a long white line of breaking surf appeared directly beneath my plane. It was the northern shore of Oahu.
“Veering right toward the west coast of the island, we could see that the sky over Pearl Harbor was clear. Presently the harbor itself became visible across the central Oahu plain, a film of morning mist hovering over it. I peered intently through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to be seen.
“It was 0749 when I ordered my radioman to send the command, ‘Attack!’ He immediately began tapping out the pre-arranged code signal: ‘TO, TO, TO…’ (charge).
“Leading the whole group, Lieutenant Commander Murata’s torpedo bombers headed downward to launch their torpedoes, while Lieutenant Commander Itayay’s fighters raced forward to sweep enemy fighters from the air. Takahashi’s dive-bomber group had climbed for altitude and was out of sight. My bombers, meanwhile, made a circuit toward Barbers Point to keep pace with the attack schedule. No enemy fighters were in the air, nor were there any gun flashes from the ground.
“The effectiveness of our attack was now certain, and a message, ‘Surprise attack successful!’ was accordingly sent to Akagi (Flagship of the Japanese attack fleet) at 0753. The message was received by the carrier and duly relayed to the homeland….”
The attack was opened with the first bomb falling on Wheeler Field, followed shortly by dive-bombing attacks upon Hickam Field and the bases at Ford Island. Fearful that smoke from these attacks might obscure his targets, Lieutenant Commander Murata cut short his group’s approach toward the battleships anchored east of Ford Island and released torpedoes. A series of white waterspouts soon rose in the harbor.”
Another day in paradise
Only a flight of B-17s was expected
Sunday 7 December 1941 dawned as a typical day in paradise for residents of Oahu and the servicemen and women based there.
It was breakfast time for most.
They may have been thinking about swimming, softball and tennis for a little later in the day. It was also time to write letters home. Christmas also might have been on the minds of some – it was only a couple of weeks away.
Those on the ships had received copies of the local paper, The Advertiser. The rest of the community missed out – the paper’s presses broke down after turning out only 2,000 copies which went to the bases.
The few military personnel on duty for the day and not already at work were getting ready for their duties.
Navy ships were tied to piers on the east and west sides of Ford Island and at the south end of Pearl City peninsula. There were others at the shipyard east across the bay from Ford Island. On the air bases, the planes were lined up neatly – considered to be the best way of guarding against sabotage.
At 6.30 am the tug Keosanqua was moving down the harbor to meet the Antares on its return to port.
The control tower at Hickam Field was on the lookout for the flight of B-17s that were to arrive around 8 am. Few would have seen the new planes before so there was considerable interest in them among air staff.
At Wheeler Field, 62 of the new P-40 planes were lined up.
Weather reports indicated good visibility and only scattered to broken cloud cover.
The USS Ward provided a contrast to the lack of activity elsewhere. She was on duty at the entrance to Pearl Harbor, having searched for and destroyed a midget sub she was following up on other suspicious sightings. But still there was nothing to raise major alarm inside the harbor.
On the mainland at 12.55 am eastern time (five time zones from Hawaii), three National Football League games were underway.
The Washington Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 but most probably forgot the result as worry and anger took hold amongst fans when they heard the news around 5pm EST. It became known as the “most forgotten game ever played”.
Cornelia Clark Fort was the first US pilot to encounter the Japanese aerial attackers.
She was in the air near Pearl Harbor teaching take-offs and landings to a student pilot in an Interstate Cadet monoplane. Hers and a few other civilian planes were the only ones in the air near the harbor at that time. Fort saw a military plane flying directly towards her and swiftly grabbed the controls from her student to pull up over the oncoming plane. It was then she saw the rising sun insignia on the wings.
Within moments, she saw bombers flying in and black smoke billowing from Pearl Harbor. She quickly landed her plane at John Rodgers civilian airport near the mouth of Pearl Harbor. By that time, Pearl Harbor was exploding in flames.
A pursuing Zero strafed her plane and the runway as she and her student ran for cover. The airport manager was killed and two other civilian planes did not return that morning.
(Cornelia Fort was killed on March 1943 in a mid-air collision between her plane and another over Texas. She was serving in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron).
On their way to Pearl Harbor, part of the Japanese aerial attack peeled off and flew over the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay on the east coast of Oahu, to attack Catalina PBY-5 flying boats moored there.
Catalina PBYs were used as long-range patrol bombers by the US.
The Japanese used incendiary bullets and 20 mm cannons with devastating effect. Eighteen sailors and two civilians were killed, 69 others at the base were injured.
The twin-propeller flying boats that launched and landed on water were the eyes of America’s Pacific Fleet.
Some reports put the number of flying boats at the base at 33. Some were moored, others were on the ground. Only a few (possibly three) were said to be ready to fly at short notice with their crews on standby. Those that survived the attack unscathed were able to track the Japanese fleet, though there was no counter-attack, according to the Pacific Aviation Museum on Oahu.
The museum says of the 61 Catalinas on bases around Oahu on 7 December, the Japanese destroyed 50.
The Catalinas had a wing span of 100 ft (31 m), about comparable to a Boeing 727 commercial jet. The Catalina PBY-5 could hold an eight-man crew, and four 500-pound (226 kg) bombs.
Their destruction had a high priority because they could fly as far as 2,000 mi (3,218 km) and would have been able to follow Japanese planes back to their aircraft carriers.
Murky conditions and poor weather continually thwarted attempts to search the area for the sunken planes at depths of around 30 ft. (9 m).
But in June 2015, students from the University of Hawaii, assisted by Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, managed to get the first clear pictures and video of one of the long-dead planes sitting below the surface in Kaneohe Bay next to a Marine Corps base, about 20 mi (32 km) east of Pearl Harbor on the other side of Oahu.
The wreckage is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, which prohibits unauthorised disturbance of military vessels or planes owned by the US government, as well as foreign sunken military craft within US waters.
Kaneohe was bombed in a second raid almost an hour later with four planes in a hangar lost.
“All attacks were directed at the planes on the ground, in the water and at the hangar,” Capt. Knefler McGinnis, squadron commander, wrote in his official report after the raid. “There was some strafing of cars and quarters incident to the main attack. The first attack set on fire all planes on the water and some of those on the beach. The second attack hit additional planes, setting them on fire. At the very beginning of the first attack there was immediate action on the part of the personnel to get machine guns in action against the attacking planes. This was done before the completion of the first attack and on the first attack at least two enemy planes had their gas tanks punctured. Immediate action was taken to save the planes no then on fire and those not too far gone. Personnel attempting this were severely strafed. During both of the above attacks, personnel were strafed on the road in automobiles attempting to get to the hangar area.”
Explosions, flames and smoke
How the attack on Pearl Harbor unfolded
At 3.30 am on Sunday 7 December 1941, pilots on board six Japanese aircraft carriers 230 mi (km) north of Oahu began preparing for their mission that would change the course of history.
Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service found Lt Cdr Shigeharu Murata, leader of the torpedo bombers which would strike battleship row. Murata was “vigorously” eating breakfast and sang out to Fuchida “Good morning commander, Honolulu sleeps!”
“How do you know?” Fuchida asked. “The Honolulu radio plays soft music…” he responded, “…everything is fine.”
At 6 am, the first wave of fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes took off; 183 planes were launched in 15 minutes, record time.
As they approached the north shore of Oahu, two reconnaissance planes reported from ahead; the vessels of the American Pacific Fleet were at Pearl Harbor, with no sign of an alert.
Seven of the fleet’s nine battleships were tied up along “Battleship Row” on the south-east shore of Ford Island. Navy planes were lined up at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Stations, and Marine planes at Ewa Marine Corps Air Station. At Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows airfields, planes of the US Army Air Corps were parked in groups.
Just before 7.55 am, Captain Fuchida sent the coded messages “To, To, To” telling the fleet that the attack had begun and that surprise had been achieved.
The fighters arrived first, then the dive-bombers, then the torpedo bombers.
Raleigh was one of the first ships hit, by a torpedo bomber. Utah was hit twice and capsized at 8.10 am.
Tennessee, Maryland, Arizona and Vestal (a repair ship moored next to the Arizona) also were hit in the first few minutes.
A torpedo hit Helena. The Japanese torpedo attack units came in from the south-east. There were nine hits on the West Virginia and Oklahoma. Two torpedoes hit California and she settled on the bottom. Nevada took a hit that caused severe flooding.
Confusion and panic
All around Pearl Harbor there were explosions, fire and smoke. There was confusion and panic.
People on the base ran for their battle stations or ran for cover. Around 8.10, the fuelled up USS Arizona exploded, hit by an armor-piercing shell that slammed through her deck and ignited her forward ammunition magazine. Flames and smoke billowed into the air.
In less than nine minutes, she went to the bottom with 1,177 of her crew.
The weight of Arizona‘s hull settling into the mud broke the main water line running into Ford Island, crippling the fire-fighting equipment there.
The Oklahoma rolled over, trapping more than 400 men inside. The repair ship USS Rigel was nearby – she had a machine shop that included above-and-below-water welding equipment to repair ships from battle damage.
The Rigel’s crew used cutting torches to cut through the armor plate on the underside of the Oklahoma near the propeller shaft to free some of the trapped crew.
The California and West Virginia sank at their moorings, while the Utah, converted to a training ship, capsized with more than 50 of her crew.
The Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee all suffered significant damage. The Nevada, with her boilers fired, attempted to run out to sea.
Other vessels seeking to escape the carnage had to run a gauntlet of strafing fighters, drifting wreckage, floating bodies and burning ships.
As the attack on Pearl Harbor intensified, other military installations on Oahu were hit. Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows Fields, Ewa Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, and Schofield Barracks were damaged. Hundreds of planes were destroyed on the ground and hundreds of men killed or wounded.
After about five minutes, American anti-aircraft fire began to register hits, but many of the shells that had been incorrectly fused fell on Honolulu; residents thought they were Japanese bombs.
The Japanese raiders weren’t finished. At 8.40 am more planes of the second wave zoomed in, continuing the destruction in the harbor. The bombing attacks gave way to sporadic strafing.
Unlike the first wave planes, which seemed to have specific targets, the dive-bombers of the second wave chose targets as opportunities presented. Groups of them circled high over the harbor, choosing warships that appeared valuable yet undamaged.
Dry-dock Number One held the Pacific Fleet’s flagship Pennsylvania, sister ship of Arizona. She sat high on stocks, with two destroyers, the Cassin and Downes, immediately forward.
All had armed during the first wave, so when the second wave’s dive bombers lined them up, they were able to send up a lot of flak. Only one bomb hit Pennsylvania.
Fires on board the USS Shaw reached her forward magazines, spectacularly disintegrating the entire front of the ship.
As Nevada cleared into the channel, groups of dive bombers descended on her, scoring several hits. After several more minutes she approached the narrow gap between the floating dry-dock and the dredge Turbine, when yet another wave of bombs crashed down on her.
Sinking a vessel making a run for it in the main channel would paralyse the whole American fleet for months.
Five direct hits
Nevada took five direct bomb hits after the original torpedo hit in the first wave. As she passed down the channel, the signal tower above the docks sent the message: “Stay clear of channel.” With that, Nevada was gently grounded in the mud off Hospital Point.
The cruiser St. Louis backed out of her berth next to Honolulu and quickly violated the harbor master’s usual speed limit. Once clear of the docks, she reversed her engines and worked up to 20 kts (37 km/h), smashing through the dredging line connecting Turbine to Ford Island before speeding out to sea through the main channel.
A D3A1 dive bomber crashed into the seaplane tender Curtiss, killing 20 crewmen and starting a fire.
A dive-bomber badly damaged and flooded the Honolulu.
The Japanese attacks on Hickam and Kaneohe airfields, as well as causing heavy loss of life, reduced America’s ability to retaliate.
Army Air Corps pilots managed to take off in a few fighters and shot down some enemy planes, maybe a dozen.
A witness reported seeing a dogfight between a Japanese Zero and a P-40 fighter that ended with the American plane shooting down its target, which nosedived into the ocean beside Mokolii (Chinaman’s Hat). But the counter-attack successes were minimal in comparison to the damage done by the attackers.
Just before 10 am the second wave of attacking planes withdrew to the north, and the assault was over. The Japanese left behind a burning, smoking trail of destruction.
Arizona: last of the super dreadnoughts
The USS Arizona (BB-39) is a Pennsylvania-class battleship built for and by the US Navy in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was launched on 19 June 1915 and commissioned on 17 October 1916. She was named in honour of the 48th state’s admission into the union and was one of the most powerful warships in the American fleet.
Her 12 water-tube boilers and four steam turbines driving four shafts produced 29,366 hp (22,000 kW) of power. In ideal conditions she could reach 21 kt (39 km/h) with a range out to 8,000 nt mi (15,000 km).
Her dimensions: 608 ft (185.3 m) long, 97ft (29.6 m) beam; 29ft 3 ins (8.9 m) deep load draft.
She was the second and last of the Pennsylvania class of “super-dreadnought” battleships. The dreadnought was the predominant type of battleship in the early 20th century. The prototype was the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought, the first to feature turbine power and all-big-gun armament. The dreadnoughts became obsolete, replaced by the super dreadnoughts with bigger guns.
Although serviceable, the Arizona stayed in the US during World War I.
She was among the ships that escorted President Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I.
She was sent to Turkey in 1919 at the beginning of the Greco-Turkish War to represent American interests for several months.
She underwent a comprehensive modernisation in 1929–31 and was regularly used for training exercises between the wars, including the annual Fleet Problems (training exercises).
When an earthquake struck Long Beach, California, in 1933, Arizona‘s crew provided aid to the survivors. Two years later, the ship was featured in a Jimmy Cagney film, Here Comes the Navy, about the romantic troubles of a sailor. In April 1940, she and the rest of the Pacific Fleet were transferred from California to Pearl Harbor.
Arizona displaced 29,620 tons under normal load. He usual crew complement was up to 2,200.
She was armed with a dozen 45-calibre 14-inch guns in triple gun turrets. The guns had a maximum range of 21,000 yds (19,000 m). She carried 100 shells for each gun. Defence against torpedo boats was provided by 22 51-calibre five-inch guns mounted in individual casemates in the sides of the ship’s hull. They proved vulnerable to sea spray and could not be worked in heavy seas. Each gun was provided with 230 rounds of ammunition. Four 50-calibre three-inch guns were intended for anti-aircraft defense, although only two were fitted when completed. The other two were added later on top of one of the turrets.
Arizona was also armed with two 21-inch torpedo tubes and carried 24 torpedoes.
On 26 July 1934, Arizona collided with a fishing trawler, Umatilla, that which was under tow by another trawler off Cape Flattery, Washington. Two men aboard the Umatilla were killed and a Court of Inquiry recommended that Captain MacGillivray Milne be court-martialled. He faced the court-martial at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, while the ship was taking part in exercises, was found guilty and replaced.
Arizona was overhauled at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, from October 1940 to January 1941. During the refit, her anti-aircraft armament was increased to a dozen 5-inch guns, the foundation for search radar was added to her foremast, her anti-aircraft directors were upgraded and a platform for four water-cooled .50-inch (12.7 mm) calibre M2 Browning machineguns was installed at the top of the main mast.
The battleship’s last training exercise was night-firing in company with the battleships Nevada and Oklahoma, on the night of 4 December off Oahu. All three ships were moored at quays along Ford Island the next day. She was at this time under the command of Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh
On 6 December, the repair ship Vestal moved alongside to assist the ship’s crew with minor repairs.
Arizona’s air raid alarm went off about 07.55 am on 7 December as she came under attack from 10 Japanese torpedo bombers.
The planes scored four hits and three near misses on and around Arizona.
About seven seconds after the hit, the forward magazines detonated in a massive explosion, mostly venting through the sides of the ship and destroying much of the interior structure of the forward section. This caused the forward turrets, conning tower, foremast and funnel to collapse.
The explosion killed 1,177 of the 1,512 crewmen on board at the time, more than half of the total lives lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Around 40 crew members were ashore at the time. Fierce fires burned for two days; debris showered down on Ford Island.
Several sailors were awarded medals for their conduct and actions under fire. Lieutenant Commander Samuel G. Fuqua, the ship’s damage control officer, earned the Medal of Honor for his cool-headedness while quelling fires and getting survivors off the ship. Posthumous awards of the Medal of Honor also went to Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the first flag officer killed in the Pacific war, and to Captain Van Valkenburgh, who reached the bridge just as the bomb that hit the ammunition magazines destroyed her. The ship herself was awarded one battle star for her service in World War II.
‘What the hell are all those planes doing up there on a Sunday?’ Someone said, ‘It must be those crazy Marines. They’d be the only ones out manoeuvering on a Sunday.’
Lee Soucy – Crewman aboard USS Utah
‘Hell, that’s Japs’
Irvin Hornkohl of the USS Oklahoma had been ashore for a mine school: “I bailed out of bed pretty early. It was almost like any other day except it was a Sunday. So I leisurely took a shower, then I headed down the stairs and into the mess hall. Other guys were up. There were quite a few in the mess hall. After I got done eating about a quarter of eight, I started outside. I stood there looking around; it was a beautiful morning. No clouds, just a beautiful day to be in Hawaii. Then all of a sudden I heard this machinegun fire going off. This plane came right over the barracks and let off quite a row of bullets. We just stood there in amazement at first. We couldn’t believe this was happening. I looked up and saw those big red meatballs on the wings.
“Hell, that’s Japs!”
The number of survivors 75 years after the horrific events of December 1941 is dwindling. In the years since, many have committed their experiences to official records or told of them in interviews, ensuring that the “day of infamy” will not be forgotten.
These are some of those experiences.
Six brothers on the Nevada
Six brothers from the one family – the Pattens – were among the crew of the USS Nevada.
Allen Patten was eating a breakfast of hot dogs and beans when the first explosion shook the ship.
Gilbert was standing in line to buy toiletries from the ship’s store waiting for it to open at 8 am. He counted the sailors ahead of him and decided to go back later. A bomb hit just as he was walking away, killing every sailor standing in line.
Bick (Clarence), Bub (Ray) and Bruce were below deck.
Marvin was on shore duty at the time.
Another brother, Myrne (Ted), also had served on the Nevada but his enlistment finished in October and by December he was discharged and back working as a recruiter in Long Beach, California.
On 6 December, the Nevada was returning to port, but had to wait until the aircraft carrier Lexington cleared the entrance to Pearl Harbor on her way out. When the Nevada reached her docking place on Battleship Row, the Arizona was moored there instead of in her usual place.
So on the morning of the attack, the Nevada was anchored next to the Arizona.
Bruce Patten recalled: “It was hotter than the hammers of hell down there, and it was pushing 8 o’clock, and guys said ‘What was that!’ And then there was a general alarm, and then three guys said ‘We’re under attack, we don’t know who the hell it is’!”
They ran to their battle stations and soon saw the Japanese planes skimming across the harbor. And “Wham! We took a torpedo.”
“First thing we saw when we got on deck was that … Arizona! That mast crocked like that. The sky was black. My brother Marvin was on shore patrol that day and he crawled under a taxicab to survive.”
Bruce was a boiler tender, three decks down on the Nevada, when general quarters sounded just before 8 am: “All hands man your battle stations!” ordered a voice on a loudspeaker. “On the way to my battle station, I found one of my brothers arguing with a Chief Petty Officer”. He said his brother was insisting to the Chief that Japanese planes were overhead. The Chief was yelling that he was tired of all the rumours about an attack.
“Then the first bomb hit and ended the argument,” Bruce said.
With a large hole blown in the Nevada’s side, Lieutenant Ruff, the officer in charge, ordered the Nevada to prepare to get underway. He feared the explosions and fires aboard Arizona would spread to the Nevada.
The Pattens were assigned to the engine room and worked feverishly with their fellow sailors to bring up the ship’s boilers.
Several minutes after the attack, the Nevada was underway, trying to outrun the air attackers. In their second wave, the Japanese pilots spotted the Nevada and fired at her, hoping to sink her in the entrance to block the harbor. The captain, realising that the Nevada could not reach the open sea, rammed her on a sandbar, saving the crew’s lives, including those of the Patten brothers.
Allen’s recollection of the attack was published in his hometown newspaper, the Lake City Graphic: “I got up and showered about 7 am and about 7.45 am I sat down to breakfast. I remember it was a ‘dog’ sandwich and beans. Then some of the other B Division sailors and I sat around drinking tea and coffee and discussing the Rose Bowl and who would win the football game – Duke or Oregon. Then something strange started happening and we couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was just past 8 am, we were three decks down and the Nevada started shaking like a three or four scale earthquake. The porthole was open and I heard a rat-a-tat-tat sound like a machinegun. We were all very confused; it had been such a nice serene morning. We thought it odd that someone might be practicing with their guns. Then the B Division mess cook, Henry, he was just a kid, 18 years old yelled down to us. ‘Hey, you guys, we’re being attacked’.”
Allen recalled: “Part of the crew was on liberty, and only one of the ship’s six boilers was lit and on line. Thick ropes held the ship tightly in place. An axe cut through the hemp mooring lines, and by 8.18 am, we had all six boilers off in 10 minutes – record time. The Nevada was underway in 18 minutes, steaming through billowing smoke, which was pouring from the Arizona.”
The sailors on the other ships cheered as they saw the Nevada pull out of Battleship Row.
Allen said: “Our skipper was making a run for the channel at 18 knots, but when the Japs spotted us we really took a pounding. The first of three 500 pound aerial bombs struck the Nevada mid-ship. It sounded like a big stick of dynamite going off with a thundering noise, and then a torpedo struck the portside and the Nevada came out of the water two feet just like somebody lifted it up.”
Lieutenant Ruff realised the Nevada’s bid to escape would fail. He ordered the crew to run her aground before she sank. Had it not been for his quick decision and action, the crewmen below deck, including the Patten brothers, probably would have suffered the same fate as the sailors trapped below deck on the Arizona when she sank.
Allen recalled the scene: “I went topside for the first time an hour after the Japanese attack began and I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had been tied up next to the USS Arizona and as I looked across Pearl Harbor to Battleship Row, the sight was incredible. Ford Island was engulfed in fire and smoke. I saw a nightmare. The Arizona had sunk, the California was ablaze and sinking, the Pennsylvania was in dry dock and burning, the Oklahoma and Utah were capsized. The Japs had left and the fleet was in ruins.”
After Pearl Harbor, the six Patten brothers were assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington. Ted Patten rejoined the Navy, but was assigned to another ship. In May 1942, the Lexington was dispatched to the Coral Sea to stop Japan’s advances towards north-east Australia and a possible invasion.
The aircraft carrier Yorktown joined the Lexington to confront three Japanese carriers. Cruisers and destroyers supported both sides.
On 8 May planes from a Japanese carrier attacked both the Yorktown and Lexington. The Yorktown was damaged and forced to retire. Fires and further explosions badly damaged the Lexington and although she stayed afloat, she could not make it back to port so the order was given to “abandon ship” (she was later torpedoed to prevent her falling into enemy hands).
Allen, Marvin and Bub were rescued by the destroyer Morris. The cruiser New Orleans picked up Bick, Bruce and Gilbert. Neither set of brothers knew the what had happened to the others until both ships reached Tonga Island where, on 12 May, the six brothers were reunited.
Then they travelled on the troop transports George Fox Elliot and Barnett to San Diego, arriving on 4 June.
Wayne graduated from high school in May and decided to join the Navy.
The Odebolt Chronical newspaper reported that on the afternoon of 25 June, there was a parade in Portland. Floyd and the eight brothers marched. Each carried a sign with his name and number; Gilbert was 2, Marvin 3, etc., with Floyd in the lead as “Pop” Patten, Number 1. Wayne had not officially enlisted and his sign read, “Wayne, Patten Pending.” A large crowd cheered them.
The family promoted war bonds immediately after returning and when that finished they went back to regular duty. Wayne was assigned to “boot camp” and the other brothers were sent to different ships.
Gilbert, Allen and Bub were assigned to the escort carrier Altamaha as was Wayne when he finished training.
Marvin, Bick, and Bruce were assigned to the troop carrier Monticello. Ted was on the troop carrier J. Franklin Bell.
After the cruiser Juneau was torpedoed in November 1942, killing all five of the Sullivan brothers, the Navy changed its policy and no longer allowed brothers to serve together on the same ship. The Patten brothers were split up for the rest of the war.
Bruce was on the destroyer USS Wren in Tokyo Bay four years later, on 2 September 1945, when the Japanese surrender was signed aboard the USS Missouri.
When Floyd also joined the navy, and with Wayne entering service, the Pattens became the biggest family in the US Navy at the time.
The eight brothers and their father served their country for 124 years.
The book “124 Years Before the Navy Mast: The Patten Family” (Clarence Floyd Patten, III, Dale E. Sporleder – Huntington Publications) records the family history, as do many press archives, including the Des Moines, Iowa, Register.
The Patten Navy men survived the war without injury. Their father, Lloyd Patten, died of cancer in March 1945.
Marine Corporal E.C. Nightingale was aboard the Arizona:
“At approximately eight o’clock on the morning of December 7, 1941, I was leaving the breakfast table when the ship’s siren for air defense sounded. Having no anti-aircraft battle station, I paid little attention to it. Suddenly I heard an explosion. I ran to the port door leading to the quarterdeck and saw a bomb strike a barge of some sort alongside the Nevada, or in that vicinity. The marine colour guard came in at this point saying we were being attacked. I could distinctly hear machinegun fire. I believe at this point our anti-aircraft battery opened up.
“We stood around awaiting orders of some kind. General Quarters sounded and I started for my battle station in secondary aft. As I passed through casement nine I noted the gun was manned and being trained out. The men seemed extremely calm and collected. I reached the boat deck and our anti-aircraft guns were in full action, firing very rapidly. I was about three quarters of the way to the first platform on the mast when it seemed as though a bomb struck our quarterdeck. I could hear shrapnel or fragments whistling past me.
“A terrible explosion caused the ship to shake violently. I looked at the boat deck and everything seemed aflame forward of the mainmast.
” The bodies of the dead were thick, and badly burned men were heading for the quarterdeck, only to fall apparently dead or badly wounded. The Major (Shapley) and I went between No. 3 and No. 4 turret to the starboard side and found Lieutenant Commander Fuqua ordering the men over the side and assisting the wounded. He seemed exceptionally calm. Charred bodies were everywhere.
“I made my way to the quay and started to remove my shoes when I suddenly found myself in the water. I think the concussion of a bomb threw me in. I started swimming for the pipe line which was about one hundred and fifty feet away. I was about half way when my strength gave out entirely. My clothes and shocked condition sapped my strength, and I was about to go under when Major Shapley started to swim by, and seeing my distress, grasped my shirt and told me to hang to his shoulders while he swam in.
“We were perhaps twenty-five feet from the pipe line when the Major’s strength gave out and I saw he was floundering, so I loosened my grip on him and told him to make it alone. He stopped and grabbed me by the shirt and refused to let go. I would have drowned but for the Major. We finally reached the beach where a marine directed us to a bomb shelter.”
Based on the account, Attack at Pearl Harbor, 1941, EyeWitness to History, (1997).
A rush of fear
George D. Phraner – Aviation Machinist, USS Arizona:
“Just as we left the mess area we heard this noise. We went outside to take a look because it’s usually very quiet. It didn’t mean anything to us until a large group of planes came near the ship and we could see for the first time the rising sun emblem on the plane wings. The bombing was becoming heavier all around us and we knew this was REALLY IT!
“At first there was a rush of fear, the blood started to flow real fast. It was then that general quarters sounded over the speaker and everything became automatic. My battle station was on a forward 5 inch gun and it was standard practice to keep only a limited amount of ammunition at the guns. There was only one ready gun crew on each side and mine wasn’t one of them. There we were, the Japanese dropping bombs over us and we had no ammo. All the training and practicing for a year and when the real thing came we had no ammunition where we needed it. As unfortunate as this was, that simple fact was to save my life. The gun captain pointed at me and said, “you go aft and start bringing up the ammunition out of the magazines”. The aft magazines were five decks below.
“A few moments later I found myself deep below the water line in a part of the ship I normally would never be in. I remember getting these cases of ammo powder and shells weighing about 90 pounds each. I had begun lifting shells into the hoist when a deafening roar filled the room and the entire ship shuddered. It was the forward magazine. One and half million pounds of gun powder exploding in a massive fireball disintegrating the whole forward part of the ship. Only moments before I stood with my gun crew just a few feet from the centre of the explosion. Admiral Kidd, Captain. Van Valkenburgh, my whole gun crew was killed; everyone on top.
“Seconds after the explosion the lights went out and it was pitch black. Somehow we were able to open the hatch and start to make our way up the ladder. I was nauseated by the smell of burning flesh, which turned out to be my own as I climbed up the hot ladder. A quick glance around revealed nothing in the darkness, but the moaning and sounds of falling bodies told me that some of my shipmates had succumbed and had died in their attempt to survive.
“Getting through that choking kind of smoke was a real ordeal, the kind of smoke that really hurt your lungs. After a while I began to get weak and lightheaded. I could feel myself losing the battle to save my own life. I hung to the ladder, feeling good. I felt that it was all right for me to let go. At that moment I looked up and could see a small point of light through the smoke. It gave me the strength to go on. After what seemed to me like an eternity, I reached the deck gasping and choking. I laid down for a few moments. The warm Hawaiian air filled my lungs and cleared my head. I glanced over to the forward end of the ship to see nothing but a giant wall of flame and smoke.
“Behind me, a marine lay dead on the deck, his body split in two. I began to realise there were dead men all around me. Some men were burning, wandering aimlessly. The sound of someone shouting ‘put out the fire’ cut through the sound of the battle, but it was obvious the ship was doomed. I made my way to the side of the ship, which by this time was sinking fast and jumped off the fantail. The shoreline of Ford Island was only a short distance. There was burning oil all around the ship, but the aft was clear. After swimming to shore, I was taken to the naval air station. Every table in the mess hall had a man on it.”
George Phraner served aboard USS Arizona, USS Lexington, USS Nassau. His medals include the American Defense with star, Asiatic-Pacific with four stars American Area, Victory and Good Conduct. He died on 7 September 2008, aged 78.
Thumbed his nose
Twenty-year-old Don Bloomfield had just finished eating breakfast in the mess hall at Camp Malakole on Oahu.
“We stood there watching these planes flying over and then boom! We heard bombs dropping and then a Japanese plane went over just above the tree tops and the (pilot) thumbed his nose at us. That’s one thing I’ll never forget.”
His account: “Once we realised we were being attacked, we were told not to go outside unless we took our mattress cover to put over our heads. The latrines were on a strip of land next to the ocean and a guy was sitting on the throne when a bullet hit the latrine next to him and it blew up. Major Wheeler came along and told Earl Lasko and me to grab a jeep and head for Schofield Barracks. They had a truckload of empty sandbags there and we were to take them from Schofield to Pearl and Hickam Field.”
A road ran between Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field and Don with Earl Lasko and the truck driver drove to Schofield Barracks for a load of empty sandbags and deliver them to the beach area. There men were waiting to fill the empty sandbags making a barrier on the beach in case of invasion. With an empty truck, they would head back to the barracks to get another load of empty sandbags then back to the beach where they would be filled. Don and Earl Lasko made three trips back and forth that day, a distance of perhaps 12 mi (19 km) each way.
Don said, “When soldiers go into combat they carry a body bag with them. On at least one of the trips we followed a flatbed truck loaded with bodies in body bags. Wheeler Field was completely deserted. Hickam Field by Pearl Harbor was devastated. Planes were burning. It was after dark when we got back to Camp Malakole. We hadn’t had anything to eat all day.”
They ate Spam and cheese sandwiches.
Navy Ensign Joe Langdell was asleep in the bachelors’ quarters on Ford Island, one of about 40 crew members of the Arizona not on board on 7 December.
In a newspaper interview he explained how, days after the attack, he was eating breakfast and was called upon for a difficult assignment.
Langdell recalled: “An officer came in and he says, ‘Is there an officer here from the Arizona?’ But the only thing I could do is put my hand up, and he says, ‘After breakfast, Mr. Langdell, you go down to the dock, there will be a boat down there with 15 men, sheets and pillow cases. And you go out to the Arizona and take all the dead bodies off above the waterline.’
Langdell was 26 years old at the time.
“It took two days to take all the bodies,” he said. “We carefully wrapped them in sheets. The body parts we put in pillowcases. We swept the decks and took the small bones. Everything was taken ashore and properly taken care of.”
Langdell became active in helping organise anniversary tributes to those who perished in the attack. “I try not to shed a lot of tears about it, but I’m sentimental,” he once said. “It’s just important to remember that we’re the greatest country in the world because we have freedom and if we want to keep our freedom, we need to protect it.”
Langdell died in 2015 Northern California, aged 100. He had been the oldest living member of the USS Arizona crew and its last surviving officer, according to the Arizona Reunion Association
‘Black, black, black, dark, dark’
Seaman Apprentice Gene Dick was one of 32 Sailors who survived the sinking of the 27,500-ton Oklahoma. It took him until 2009 when he met other survivors to be able talk about that day in 1941.
Of the 2,166 men aboard the Oklahoma, 429 were killed—the second most casualties suffered, second only to the USS Arizona’s 1,177.
Dick was doing routine tasks in sick bay when the battle alarm sounded and the officer of the deck announced that it was not a drill.
The first torpedo hit: “[It] just picked that ship up, and shook it like that, and slammed it down into the water,” Dick said.
By the time he had picked himself up, the second torpedo hit and shook the ship again. When the water started pouring in, Dick and another sailor headed to get to the open deck. They made it to a supply berthing as the ship continued to roll.
“When we got about three people from the door, water started pouring in through the hatch and just knocked us over and over and over,” said Dick. He then began climbing bunks to escape the rising water. “By that time the ship had turned completely over. “I ended up in an air pocket between the deck and the bulkhead.”
“Full of salt water and fuel oil; and I couldn’t see a thing,” Dick said. “It was black, black, black, dark, dark. There were bodies floating all around me. Then I saw a light back in the back.”
Someone had found a battle lantern, and Dick could hear some voices so he swam to them.
“We didn’t even know which way was up,” he said. “We just knew we were in an air pocket. Somebody found a porthole.”
Still disoriented, the sailors did not know if the porthole went inside or outside the ship.
“I decided by then I didn’t care,” said Dick. “I was going to go through that porthole, because I was just as dead out there as I was in here.”
Some people made it through the small porthole easily, while others needed help. Dick was fifth in line to get out.
“We’d been down there for about four hours then,” said Dick. “We didn’t know it. We were scared to death, you know.”
He tried to get through feet first, but his clothes got caught and he had to try again.
“I took off my skivvy shirt and headed down. I got down. I could get one shoulder through, then the other shoulder through. I took a deep breath and got down and started through, and my shorts caught. It was only a 21-inch porthole, but I got my hands on the outside and pushed; the guys pushed on me. And finally my shorts ripped off.”
Dick said as soon as he hit the open water he began swimming up.
“We were down about 50 feet deep in the depths of Pearl Harbor,” said Dick. “I swam and swam and swam and finally got to the surface. There was burning fuel oil all around me.” He was rescued by a motor whaleboat crew who plucked him from the water.
Gene Dick finished his Navy career 22 years later as a chief warrant officer in the medical service.
You could hear them down below
Irvin Hornkohl was in a working party sent out the next day to the Oklahoma:
“There were still bodies in different places, washed up here and there. People were out in launches, anything that would float, picking up bodies. There was smoke all over the place.
“We got out to the Oklahoma and we climbed up on the belly of the ship. We handled air lines to help these guys who were standing on the Oklahoma, trying to cut out the trapped men. They were using cutting torches and chipping guns. There was this big Hawaiian out there with muscles as big as suitcases. He worked in the shipyards. He was trying to cut these guys out. I’ll never forget him, watching him work like a demon trying to save those guys. They had plans laid out, drawings of the ship. But, I don’t know how much good those were. We went by sounds. We’d hear tapping – tap, tap, tap.
“We’d rush over there and tap on the hull, and someone would tap back from inside. So, that’s where we would start cutting. It was terrible; you could hear them down below. In some spots where we cut through, a blast of air would come out and the guys would holler, “Quit cutting, quit cutting!” As soon as the pressure was released through the hole, it let water come in. It was just horrendous. It tore my heart out.
“I helped pull out three or four guys. I think, altogether, about thirty guys were pulled out from the ship. I did this all day, until evening. I don’t remember being tired, even though I hadn’t slept in about thirty-six hours. It was my birthday. My eighteenth birthday. I was so busy all day I don’t think it even occurred to me that it was my birthday.
“I’ll never in my life forget that day standing there on the Oklahoma. I’ll carry it with me to my grave. I can still hear those guys down there tapping. More than 400 guys died on the Oklahoma. It was heartbreaking. It was a lucky decision on my part to put in for the mine school and get off that ship.”
Based on Just Do It, Crazy ot Not, the life story of 30-year Navy veteran Irvin Hornkohl,
Mary Penner and Irvin Hornkohl, Manzano Alley Press
The real thing
Lt Ruth Erickson was a nurse at Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor during the attack. She recalled events of the day at the hospital:
“Two or three of us were sitting in the dining room Sunday morning having a late breakfast and talking over coffee. Suddenly we heard planes roaring overhead and we said, ‘The fly boys are really busy at Ford Island this morning.’
“The island was directly across the channel from the hospital. We didn’t think too much about it since the reserves were often there for weekend training. We no sooner got those words out when we started to hear noises that were foreign to us.
“I leaped out of my chair and dashed to the nearest window in the corridor. Right then there was a plane flying directly over the top of our quarters, a one-storey structure. The rising sun under the wing of the plane denoted the enemy. Had I known the pilot, one could almost see his features around his goggles. He was obviously saving his ammunition for the ships. Just down the row, all the ships were sitting there – the California, the Arizona, the Oklahoma and others.
“My heart was racing, the telephone was ringing, the chief nurse, Gertrude Arnest, was saying, ‘Girls, get into your uniforms at once, this is the real thing!’
“I was in my room by that time changing into uniform. It was getting dusky, almost like evening. Smoke was rising from burning ships.
“I dashed across the street, through a shrapnel shower, got into the lanai (patio) and just stood still for a second as were a couple of doctors. I felt like I were frozen to the ground, but it was only a split second. I ran to the orthopaedic dressing room but it was locked. A corpsmen ran to the OD’s (Officer-of-the-Day’s) desk for the keys. It seemed like an eternity before he returned and the room was opened. We drew water into every container we could find and set up the instrument boiler. Fortunately, we still had electricity and water. Dr (Cmdr Clyde W.) Brunson, the chief of medicine was making sick call when the bombing started.
“The first patient came into our dressing room at 8.25 am with a large opening in his abdomen and bleeding profusely. They started a transfusion. I can still see the tremor of Dr Brunson’s hand as he picked up the needle. Everyone was terrified. The patient died within the hour.
Patients streamed in
“Then the burned patients streamed in. The USS Nevada had managed some steam and attempted to get out of the channel. They were unable to make it and went aground on Hospital Point right near the hospital. There was heavy oil on the water and the men dived off the ship and swam through these waters to Hospital Point, not too great a distance, but when one is burned… How they ever managed, I’ll never know.
“The tropical dress at the time was white t-shirts and shorts. The burns began where the pants ended. Bared arms and faces were plentiful.
“Personnel retrieved a supply of flit guns from stock. We filled these with tannic acid to spray burned bodies. Then we gave these gravely injured patients sedatives for their intense pain.
“Orthopaedic patients were eased out of their beds with no time for linen changes as an unending stream of burn patients continued until mid-afternoon. A doctor, who several days before had renal surgery and was still convalescing, got out of his bed and began to assist the other doctors.
“I was relieved around 4 pm and went over to the nurses’ quarters where everything was intact. I freshened up, had something to eat, and went back on duty at 8 pm. I was scheduled to report to a surgical unit. By now it was dark and we worked with flashlights. The maintenance people and anyone else who could manage a hammer and nails were putting up black drapes or black paper to seal the crevices against any light that might stream to the outside.
“About 10 or 11 o’clock, there were planes overhead. I really hadn’t felt frightened until this particular time. My knees were knocking together and the patients were calling, ‘Nurse, nurse!’ The other nurse and I went to them, held their hands a few moments, and then went on to others.
“The priest was a very busy man. The noise ended very quickly and the word got around that these were our own planes.
“I worked until midnight on that ward and then was directed to go down to the basement level in the main hospital building. Here the dependents – the women and children – the families of the doctors and other staff officers were placed for the night. There were ample blankets and pillows. We lay body by body along the walls of the basement. The children were frightened and the adults tense. It was not a very restful night for anyone.
“Everyone was relieved to see daylight. At 6 am I returned to the quarters, showered, had breakfast, and reported to a medical ward. There were more burn cases and I spent a week there.”
Ruth Erickson served in several capacities including nursing supervisor, senior nurse and assistant chief of nursing services at various naval hospitals. She served as chief nurse at three major naval hospitals and, on 30 April 1962 became the Director of the Navy Nurse Corps. She retired from the US Navy in May 1966. She died at Rochester, Minnesota, on 25 November, 2008, aged 95.
Recollections based on articles from nursezone.com and history.navy.mil
One man, two ships
Glenn Lane is thought to be the only man to have been on two battleships on 7 December 1941.
Lane joined the Navy in 1940 and was assigned to the Arizona as radioman, third class.
He was about to have a shower when he heard the massive explosions outside.
He saw Japanese torpedo bombers attacking the docked ships. He reported to the ship’s deck to fight a massive fire that had started – many of those who remained below decks perished. A huge explosion rocked the ship and flung Lane overboard.
In the oil-saturated water he saw no possibility of returning to the Arizona. He found a small barge and made for the Nevada which by then was starting to make its run out of the harbor.
Once aboard he tried to take shelter in a casemate (munitions room) but was turned away because he was covered in oil. A bomb later tore through the casemate and killed all the men inside.
The Nevada, already damaged, was again hit and was forced to run aground.
After the attack, Lane spent 10 days on another ship, recovering from his wounds. He was later reassigned to the USS Yorktown, that was crippled during the Coral Sea battle.
After the war he went on to fly various naval missions as part of the Berlin airlift and also served in Vietnam.
Lane died in Oak Harbor on 10 December 2011, aged 93. His ashes were interred in the Arizona, inside the turret not far from where he last stood on her deck; he always wanted his resting place to be with his shipmates.
Survivor accounts based on Government records, press reports,
recorded interviews and their own accounts.
This is no drill
At 7.58 am on 7 December this telegram arrived on board all ships in the Hawaiian area after a low-flying plane dropped a bomb on Ford Island: “AIRRAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NO DRILL.”
Just who ordered it to be sent remains debated: it has been credited to both Rear Adm. Patrick Bellinger and Lt Cmdr Logan C. Ramsey. The Ramsay version changes NO to NOT. It is believed the two men were together when the order to send the message was given to the radio room.
Within five minutes of the beginning of the attack, several gunners had reached their anti-aircraft guns and were trying to shoot down the Japanese planes.
The first attack wave of 183 planes in three groups was launched north of Oahu, led by Cmdr Fuchida. Six planes failed to launch due to technical difficulties. The aerial attackers included carrier attack planes, fighters and dive-bombers.
The first casualties were 35 American servicemen who were having breakfast at the Army Air Forces’ Hickam Field – a 550 lb (250 kg) bomb hit their dining hall.
When the first wave of Japanese pilots arrived they saw seven US battleships docked at Battleship Row. There were also many other battleships, destroyers and aircraft carriers docked in other parts of the harbor. There were four submarines, as well.
But with no carrier there, the seven ships on Battleship Row were what the Japanese wanted first.
18 A6M2 fighter planes from the carriers Kaga and Akagi provided cover for the first wave. They also strafed American planes lined up on Ford Island and Hickam Field.
7.55 am: Third and Fourth Torpedo Attack Units attack ships berthed on the west side of Ford Island. Soryu’s torpedo bombers hit Raleigh. Hiryu’s Torpedo Attack Unit scores two hits on Utah, causing her to capsize at 8.10 am.
7.55 am: Second Group of 17 D3A1 dive bombers attack Hickam Field.
7.56 am: Several torpedo bombers from the 4th Torpedo Attack Unit swing south along Ford Island and attack vessels moored at the 1010 pier. One torpedo hits Helena at 7.57 am. The minelayer Ogala, moored next to Helena, is damaged below the waterline and sinks at 10 am.
7.56 am: 1st and 2nd Torpedo Attack Units approach Battleship Row from the south-east.
7.57 am: Many torpedoes find their targets along Battleship Row. West Virginia and Oklahoma sink quickly. Two torpedoes hit California and she goes down. Nevada is hit and takes on water.
7.57 am: Nine D3A1 dive-bombers attack hangars and parked planes on Ford Island.
8.03 am: A torpedo damages Nevada.
8.05 am: The 49 B5N2s of the 1st Group acting as level bombers begin their attack from the south.
8.11 am: One torpedo and eight bombs (1760 lb – 798 kg of explosives) hit the Arizona. One bomb penetrates the forward magazine. The resultant explosion destroys the ship and damages Vestal moored alongside. Other bombs hit California, Maryland and Tennessee.
The second wave also was divided into three groups. One attacked Kaneohe, the rest Pearl Harbor proper, arriving over their targets almost simultaneously from several directions.
The second wave comprised 171 planes, commanded by Lt Cmdr Shigekazu Shimazaki. Four planes failed to launch because of technical difficulties. The formation comprised carrier attack planes, the bulk of the dive-bombers, and some fighters.
Bombers went after some of the ships that had already been attacked. This brought even greater damage to the navy yard. Some bombers went after the Nevada.
18 A6M2 fighters from Kaga and Akagi provided cover. Nine fighters from Kaga strafed Ford Island and afterwards used their unexpended ammunition on Wheeler Field.
While both waves of the attacks managed to do substantial damage neither wave destroyed any of the destroyers, submarines or fuel storage tanks. But in less than two hours the Japanese had ruined the US Pacific Fleet’s battleship readiness.
8.48 am: Second Group approaches Pearl Harbor from the north-east, led by dive-bombing expert Lt Cdr Egusa Takashige.
8.50 am: Nevada gets under way and is attacked by Takashige to try to block the channel and takes five bomb hits.
8.57 am: Dive-bombers hit Pennsylvania and two destroyers in dry dock.
9.04 am: The 5th Attack Unit arrives from the north-east and attacks hangars and planes on Ford Island, as well as further attacks on Pennsylvania.
9.05 am: A D3A1 dive-bomber crashes into the tender Curtis, killing 20 crew members and starting a fire.
9.07 am: 5th Attack unit hits Pennsylvania with a 550 lb (250 kg) bomb.
9.07 am: Nevada takes sixth bomb hit.
9.08 am: Dive-bombers attack Raleigh but a single hit does little damage.
9.10 am: Nevada intentionally grounds at Hospital Point. She is later towed to the west side to clear the channel entrance.
9.10 am: 27 B5N2 level bombers from the carrier Zuikaku attack hangars and planes on Hickam Field. Fighters from Akagi strafe the airfield.
9.12 am: 6th Attack Unit continues attacks on Pennsylvania and other targets in the Navy yard.
9.15 am: Dive-bombers attack the destroyer Shaw in the floating dry dock, causing fires and an explosion in the forward magazine.
9.20 am: A dive-bomber scores a near-miss but damages Honolulu, causing flooding.
American forces responded immediately. Navy ships in the harbor opened fire with anti-aircraft guns, although in some ships the “ready” ammunition was locked up.
Ashore, several Army P-36 and P-40 fighters managed to take off and shoot down some Japanese planes.
Anti-aircraft fire from shipboard guns is credited with 15 Japanese planes, and one was shot down by small-arms fire over Fort Shafter. It is thought three more were shot down by US Navy planes flying from the aircraft carriers at sea.
Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. Satisfied the mission was successful, the Japanese planes turned to fly back to their carriers. The last one returned “home” at 12.15 pm.
A suggested third-wave attack was abandoned, perhaps because the American carriers were in the area.
Bad news spreads
The mainland finds out
For most mainland Americans, 2,500 mi (4,000 km) from Oahu, news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor interrupted radio programs on an otherwise tranquil Sunday afternoon. An Associated Press bulletin at 2.22 pm Eastern Standard Time first reported the attack to mainland news organisations and radio networks. After confirming the initial bulletin with the government, the major radio networks interrupted regular programming from 2.30 pm, carrying news of the attack that was still in progress.
Webley Edwards was the first radio announcer to broadcast news of the attack.
At 9 am local time in Honolulu, Webley Edwards made this special announcement on radio station KGMB: “Alright now, listen carefully. The island of Oahu is being attacked by enemy planes. The centre of this attack is Pearl Harbor, but the planes are attacking airfields as well. We are under attack. There seems to be no doubt about it. Do not go out on the streets. Keep under cover and keep calm. Some of you may think that this is just another military manoeuvre. This is not a manoeuvre. This is the real McCoy. I repeat, we have been attacked by enemy planes. The mark of the rising sun has been seen on the wings of these planes and they are attacking Pearl Harbor at this moment. Now keep your radio on and tell your neighbour to do the same. Keep off the streets and highways unless you have a duty to perform. Please don’t use your telephone unless you absolutely have to do so. All of these phone facilities are needed for emergency calls. Now standby all military personnel and all police – police regulars and reserves. Report for duty at once. I repeat, we are under attack by enemy planes. The mark of the rising sun has been seen on these planes. Many of you have been asking if this is a manoeuvre. This is not a manoeuvre. This is the real McCoy.”
In New York City, station WOR broke into the local broadcast of the Giants and Dodgers game while CBS informed listeners of the attack at 2.25 pm EST. NBC broadcast their first bulletin nearly four minutes later. Within minutes the CBS radio network broke into normal programming with more information.
Honolulu NBC radio affiliate KGU, provided the first and most comprehensive radio coverage of the event. What was not known at the time was that Japanese planes, still swarming overhead in Honolulu, had used the station’s signal to guide their planes to Hawaii.
While the attack was still in progress a reporter for KGU radio climbed to the roof of the Advertiser Building in downtown Honolulu with microphone in hand and called the NBC Blue Network on the phone with the first eyewitness account. “This battle has been going on for nearly three hours… It’s no joke, it’s a real war” said the reporter. Ironically, a Honolulu telephone operator interrupted the broadcast after 2 ½ minutes declaring a need for the line for an emergency call.
Most people knew what the attack meant for the US even before Roosevelt’s official announcement the next day. The US was going to war.
Tora Tora Tora and the path to evangelism
Mitsuo Fuchida was a key figure in the Japanese air attacks in the Pacific during World War II.
In 1939, he was assigned to the carrier Akagi and in August 1941 he was put in command of all air groups of Japanese Navy Carrier Division 1. By the time the Pacific War began, he had logged more than 3,000 hours in the air.
On 7 December 1941, in command of the Pearl Harbor aerial attack, Fuchida flew in a Type 97 Model 3 torpedo bomber with the first attack wave as an air observer. Fuchida and his pilot, Lt Mitsuo Matsuzaki, flew down the eastern coast of the island of Oahu then turned west into the harbor. At 7.40 am, seeing the Americans were not responding, he slid open his canopy and fired a green flare to signal to all pilots that the attack was to begin as planned. At 7.53 Fuchida told Matsuzaki to send the radio signal “Tora! Tora! Tora!” to the flagship Akagi, indicating that the attack was to start with complete surprise to the enemy; Tora was the acronym for totsugeki raigeki, “torpedo attack”.
Matsuzaki and Fuchida took part in the attack on the USS Arizona. They also remained over Pearl Harbor through the second wave attack to note the amount of damage. Returning to their carrier, Matsuzaki saw that his plane had been hit 21 times by anti-aircraft fire. A mechanic on the aircraft carrier found a frayed elevator cable dangling from the plane by a single thread. If it had severed, the inevitable crash probably would have killed the two men.
Fuchida said years later that he mourned those who died aboard the USS Arizona and other ships, but he did not regret his role in the Pearl Harbor attack. “It was a war,” he said.
Fuchida designed the aerial attack plan against Rabaul in January 1942, then on19 February he led the first of two waves of attacks on Darwin, Australia. On 5 April, he led a series of carrier plane attacks against British naval forces in the Indian Ocean.
Appendicitis kept him out of flying in the Battle of Midway in June; he stayed at the bridge of the carrier Akagi to observe the progress of the battle. After American planes hit Akagi, large fires led to evacuation of the bridge. As he was trying to lower himself from the bridge by rope, an explosion threw him to the deck, breaking both ankles. He survived, and eventually was taken to hospital.
In April 1944 Fuchida became a staff officer of air operations for the Japanese Navy and held this role until the end of the war. In 1945 he went to Hiroshima for a week-long military conference with the Japanese Army, leaving the day before the atomic bombing. The day after the nuclear bomb exploded, 7 August, he was sent to assess the damage at Hiroshima; all members of the assessment party – except Fuchida – died later from radiation poisoning.
Fuchida’s role in the war came full circle when he was on hand to witness Japan’s surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.
After the war, in October 1945, American officers interrogated Fuchida. He answered questions about the Pearl Harbor attack, the defences at the Mariana Islands and the Philippine Islands, and the deployment of Special Attack squadrons in preparation for the Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands that did not take place.
Fuchida said Japanese officers only completed the analysis of the Pearl Harbor success three days after the attack, but did not repeat an attack because it was assumed that the Americans would bring in planes from elsewhere immediately, including from the carriers that had avoided the attack.
Defeated and depressed, Fuchida returned to Kashihara to help his wife raise their two children and take over the family chicken farm.
“It was a rainy day in my life,” he recalled. “Life had no taste or meaning. … I had missed death so many times and for what? What did it all mean?”
In 1948, near the Hachiko statue outside the Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Fuchida was given a pamphlet about the life of Jacob DeShazer, a member of the “Doolittle Raid” who was captured by the Japanese and later became a Christian missionary. In 1949, near the same location outside Shibuya Station, Fuchida bought a copy of the New Testament of the Bible. In May 1950, he met Jacob de Shazer for the first time. In 1952, he toured the US as a member of the Worldwide Christian Missionary Army of Sky Pilots, which would be the first of his many tours around the world as a missionary; he declared himself to be an “ambassador of peace”.
In 1955, he published the book From Pearl Harbor to Golgotha, also known as From Pearl Harbor to Calvary, which focused on his faith rather than military matters. He became an American citizen in 1960.
Fuchida died of complications from diabetes in Kashihara, Japan, on 30 May 1976.
Tora! Tora! Tora! became the title of a 1970 Japanese-American war film dramatising the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku directed the film. The cast includes Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, Sō Yamamura, E. G. Marshall, James Whitmore and Jason Robards.
Casualties and damage
2,403 American military personnel killed
The American toll (according to the National WWII Museum): 2,008 Navy personnel killed and 710 wounded; 109 marines killed and 69 wounded, 218 soldiers and airmen (who were part of the Army) killed and 364 wounded; and 68 civilians killed and 35 wounded. In total, 2,403 Americans died and 1,178 were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships.
Of the American fatalities, nearly half were due to the explosion of Arizona’s forward magazine.
Of the 402 American planes then in Hawaii, 169 were destroyed and 159 damaged, 155 of them on the ground. Almost none was actually ready to take off to defend the base. Eight Army Air Forces pilots managed to get airborne during the attack and six were credited with downing at least one Japanese plane.
Of 33 Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats operating out of Hawaii, 24 were destroyed (most of them in the three squadrons at Kaneohe, and six others damaged beyond repair. (Three on patrol returned undamaged.) Friendly fire brought down some US planes, including five from an inbound flight from the carrier Enterprise.
At the time of the attack, nine civilian planes were flying near Pearl Harbor; three were shot down.
A dozen Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses planes approached Hawaii after a 14-hour flight from California on the first leg of a trip to the Philippines and found themselves in the middle of the Japanese raid. The fighters they thought were coming to escort them in were coming to attack them. Each bomber took whatever evasive action it could but five planes were attacked. One crew member was killed. Some of the planes came under friendly fire in all the confusion as they tried to land. The entire B-17 affair lasted 10 minutes and by 8.20 am all surviving planes were on the ground. Four of the 12 were destroyed.
Fifty-five Japanese airmen and nine submariners were killed in the attack.
Only one midget submarine managed to get into Pearl Harbor. It was spotted just after 8 am, fired its torpedoes, missed the target and was sunk by the destroyer USS Monaghan. Two others sunk just outside the harbor entrance with their torpedoes still attached.
A fourth sub drifted around the island until it beached. Its pilot, Kazuo Sakamaki, became America’s first prisoner of war in World War II. Sakamaki’s sub became disabled and he tried to blow it up with an explosive charge, which failed to go off. Diving down to investigate, he passed out, floated to the surface and washed up on shore where he was discovered and captured. He spent the whole war in a POW camp. After the war, he worked for Toyota and died in 1999.
The whereabouts of the fifth midget sub was unknown.
Of Japan’s 414 available planes, 29 were lost during the battle (nine in the first attack wave, 20 in the second) with another 74 damaged by anti-aircraft fire from the ground.
Sparing the vital dockyards, maintenance shops, and oil depots meant the US was able to respond relatively quickly to Japanese activities in the Pacific. Japanese commander Admiral Yamamoto later said it was a great mistake not to order a third strike.
Much of the American fleet was at dock in Pearl Harbor, but not as many key battleships and no aircraft carriers were in the harbor as the Japanese had hoped.
On board the attack fleet, Adm. Nagumo fended off calls from his attack leaders for a follow up mission to inflict further damage and find the aircraft carriers that were not at Pearl Harbor that morning. The fleet turned away, seemingly satisfied with what had already been achieved.
The survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack were left to fight fires, tend the wounded and prepare for an invasion which all were sure would come. The invasion never came, but the fires at Pearl Harbor burned for days, and navy engineers were salvaging wrecked ships for years.
Only two American battleships were permanently lost, and of the eight present during the attack, four were armed and at sea within two weeks.
Navy Lieutenant Fritz Hebe was leading his Wildcat fighters from the carrier USS Enterprise toward Ford Island in Pearl Harbor in fading light late on Sunday after a search mission launched from the carrier.
The Enterprise was returning after delivering Grumman F4F Wildcats to Wake Island. Heavy seas had delayed the Enterprise, possibly saving her from destruction in the Japanese attack. When news of the attack reached her, Wildcats were launched to try to find the attackers. They were unsuccessful and flew towards Ford Island.
It was 7:30 pm. The men on the ground and ships were still jittery from the morning attacks.
As Lt Hebel’s fighters came in to land the sky filled with tracer bullets.
Almost every gun placement on the ships thought the Wildcats were Japanese planes returning for another raid.
Lieutenant Hebel and three other Navy pilots were killed by American guns.
Although the Enterprise itself escaped the attack, several of her planes were lost, including scouts and bombers, which flew in ahead of the ship.
Subs lead the fightback
One thing the Japanese didn’t think to take out was Pearl Harbor Submarine Base – a decision that proved costly by the end of the war
Four US subs stationed at Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, the Narwhal, Dolphin, Cachalot and Tautog, helped fight off the attack.
According to action reports, once they saw the first bomb drop, crew members of the Narwhal started firing the sub’s anti-aircraft guns, eventually hitting two enemy planes. One of them exploded and crashed in the channel before it could fire any torpedoes.
A relief crew was manning the Tautog at the time, having just returned from a 45-day mission, so only a quarter of its regular crew was on board. They were able to bring down a torpedo plane that exploded about 150 ft (45 m) from its stern.
The Dolphin shot down one plane that crashed into the Navy Yard, where the Cachalot was being overhauled. Its crew opened fire regardless. The action report showed a torpedo came within 100 yds (91 m) of it, while an undetonated bomb landed about 20 ft (6 m) off its starboard quarter.
No losses or damage were reported by any of the US subs at Pearl Harbor that day – they weren’t on the “hit” list.
As a result, US subs were quickly able to take the war back to Japan’s homeland, sinking ships all along its coast.
Even though the US submarine force represented only 1.5 % of the US Navy, by the end of the war it was credited with having destroyed 1,314 vessels in the Pacific, including eight aircraft carriers, a battleship and 11 cruisers. The subs sank 1,200 Japanese merchant ships carrying nearly 5 million tons of supplies – 60 % of Japan’s merchant losses.
Submarine successes during the war meant the US was able to completely cut off Japan’s supply lines to the rest of Asia, drastically reducing its ability to wage war.
Of the 40 torpedoes taken into the attack by the Japanese, only 36 were dropped:
25 hit their targets; four missed; six dropped incorrectly; two planes were shot down before dropping their explosions; one malfunctioned; one was reported as lost; one is still unaccounted for.
Yuri Shimbun reported: “Ten young sailors boarded five mini-submarines after undergoing secret training and took part in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The Ko-hyoteki (Type A) submarines were equipped with two torpedoes and each carried two crewmen. None of the submarines returned to the Imperial Japanese Navy fleet and nine of the sailors died. The other was taken prisoner.”
Mystery still surrounds the operation of the five mini-subs that took part in the Japanese operation.
So far this is what is believed to have unfolded:
Five mini-submarines were carried to their destination piggyback-style by fleet submarines, and released to home in on their targets.
Mini-sub Number 1 was sunk by USS Ward and did not fire either of its two torpedoes. Mini-sub Number 2 got into Pearl Harbor and fired its two torpedoes. Both missed their targets, but Number 2 was then sunk by two American warships. Mini-sub Number 3 ran aground and did not fire either of its two torpedoes.
Mini-sub Number 4 was found in 1960 with both its torpedoes still on board. It now stands outside the Japanese Naval Academy.
No one was sure what happened to mini-sub Number 5.
But Terry Kirby, a submariner explorer based in Hawaii, claims to have found the remains of Number 5, three miles (4.7 km) from Pearl Harbor on the sea floor, in three parts.
Japanese mini-submarines were scaled-down versions of the fleet submarines. Each of the seven compartments in the mini-subs was crammed with equipment. They were six feet (1.8m) wide and 80 ft (24 m) long. Powered by a 600 hp (447 kW) engine they could travel at 19 kts (35 km/h) – twice the speed of the submarines that carried them to Pearl Harbor. Each mini-sub carried two 1,000 lb (454 kg) torpedoes, twice as heavy as those carried by torpedo bombers. A net cutter was at the front of each mini sub that was found.
Kirby said that the Number 5 submarine he found appeared to have fired its torpedoes.
Based on photographs at the time, some believe Number 5 hit the USS West Virginia.
Some survivors on the Arizona claimed to have seen a torpedo trail heading towards their ship.
A Congressional report by Admiral Nimitz on the attack on Pearl Harbor said that an unexploded 1,000 lb (454 kg) torpedo had been recovered. If survivors saw a trail, it is likely the torpedo did not explode.
Scuttled in West Loch
What happened to Number 5 remains speculation, even if its wreck is confirmed.
The main theory is that Number 5 sailed to a remote part of Pearl Harbor called West Loch where it was scuttled.
The crew was ordered not to allow their boats to fall into the hands of the Americans. Each of the five mini-subs was fitted with explosives charges just behind the conning tower.
However, if the crew of Number 5 did scuttle the mini-sub in West Loch, how could its wreck be three miles (4.7 km) off the coast of Pearl Harbor?
According to some reports, a possible explanation is in an incident on 21 May 1944.
As the Americans prepared for the invasion of Saipan a landing craft in West Loch exploded, destroying six other landing craft. More than 200 men were killed. A clean-up of West Loch was ordered under strict security.
Wreckage on the seabed was collected and dumped about three miles (4.7 km) out at sea. It is believed that during this sweep the remains of Number 5 was swept up along with many landing craft and dumped.
The aim of the air strike on Pearl Harbor was to destroy the US Pacific Fleet in its home port but simultaneous strikes on other Pacific and South-east Asian targets were preludes to full-scale invasion and occupation.
Capture of the Philippine Islands was crucial to Japan’s effort to control the South-west Pacific, seize the resource-rich Dutch East Indies, and protect its South-east Asia strongholds. The strategy called for simultaneous attacks on Malaya, Thailand, American-held Guam and Wake, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines – and Hawaii.
The well-coordinated Japanese campaign relied on speed and surprise. Because the other targets were to the west of the International Dateline, the date was December 8 but they were hit around the same time as the Pearl Harbor attack.
The aerial bombing of Guam started two hours after and invasion followed that resulted in 21 deaths (14 Americans and seven Chamorros – Guam people). Guam was surrendered and 483 prisoners of war – 368 military personnel and 115 civilians – were interned on Guam before being sent to a POW camp in Japan. The island remained under Japanese control until 21 July 1944.
The small US Army and Marine garrisons on Guam and Wake surrendered on 10 and 22 December, respectively, and the British forces in Hong Kong surrendered on 26 December. Singapore capitulated on 15 February 1942. After amphibious landings in Thailand and Burma, Japanese forces pushed to the north-west, threatening India.
Only in the Philippines did the combined US-Filipino units mount a prolonged resistance, holding out for five months before surrendering on 9 April 1942.
Japanese planes bombed American bases, including Clark Field at Angeles, and Manila, in the Philippines, inflicting heavy casualties and destroying many planes.
About 12,000 Americans and 63,000 Filipinos who had been pushed back on to the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island became prisoners of war and were subjected to the infamous Bataan Death March.
The Japanese forced the already weakened prisoners to march 65 mi (110 km) to a prison camp. Guards shot any man who fell or faltered during the five-day march. Along the way, the Japanese singled out prisoners, sometimes in groups, and shot them dead as examples to others of what could happen to them.
By the time Japan surrendered in the Philippines, two-thirds of the Americans captured at Bataan had died in Japanese custody.
As well Pearl Harbor, American ships were attacked at sea between San Francisco and Honolulu. Japanese submarines sank an American transport carrying lumber 1,300 mi (2,092km) from San Francisco.
Battle for Wake Island
The Japanese began an assault on Wake Island 2,300 mi (3,700 km) west of Oahu, between Midway and Guam, as Pearl Harbor came under fire.
The US annexed Wake Island, comprising three islets (Wake, Peale and Wilkes), in 1899. It was permanently settled in 1935 when Pan American Airways built a township and hotel to service their trans-Pacific China Clipper flights.
The US began fortifying the island in the late 1930s amid rising tensions with Japan.
The airfield was being upgraded and a defensive battalion of 400 men was stationed there in 1941.
Japan saw the island as strategically important to its ambitions in the Pacific – it was north of the Japanese-held Marshall Islands and east of Guam.
The attacks began when 36 Japanese medium bombers flew from the Marshall Islands to Wake Island and destroyed eight US Wildcat fighter planes on the airfield and damaged the airfield and Pan Am facilities. Casualties included 23 killed and 11 wounded.
The Japanese attackers withdrew without casualties.
But the Japanese returned the next day. The remaining four fighter planes were able to take down two Japanese planes. A Japanese invasion fleet left the Marshall Islands at the same time as the second attack and arrived off Wake Island on 11 December.
The American force stationed on the island successfully repelled the first Japanese assault, sinking two of their ships using their 5 in (130 mm) coastal artillery guns. The Japanese destroyer Hayate became the first Japanese ship sunk during the war. The Japanese flagship Yubari was damaged.
Thwarted in the early stages, Japanese commanders called in extra firepower, including the aircraft carriers Soryu and Hiryu that by then were returning from Hawaii.
American commanders called for help from Hawaii. The USS Saratoga was despatched but recalled when it was learned that the two Japanese carriers were in the area.
More than 1,000 Japanese troops landed on Wake Island on 23 December. The American troops and civilian contractors were vastly outnumbered and under-resourced. They had little choice but to surrender. Many prisoners were executed and buried in a mass grave.
During their 15-day effort the defenders sank four Japanese warships and downed at least 20 warplanes, killing more than 800 attackers.
The garrison’s spirited defence of the island, though eventually unsuccessful, inspired the first combat film of World War II, Wake Island, which was released in 1942.
Japan strengthened their defences on the island, basing around 4,000 troops there, and held it until the end of the war.
Although the Americans did not try to retake the island, they launched periodic air raids and bombardments. One such air raid was thought to be the start of an invasion and Japanese commanders executed the remaining prisoners of war who were being used as forced labour.
On 4 September 1945, two days after the Japanese surrender, Japanese soldiers lowered their flag. For ordering the killing of more than 100 prisoners on Wake Island, the Japanese commander was executed in June 1947 for war crimes.
The ‘Day of Infamy’ speech
Roosevelt declares war
America’s response to the attack on Pearl Harbor was swift and, ultimately, decisive in the context of the outcome of World War II.
On Monday 8 December President Franklin D Roosevelt went to Congress to declare war on Japan.
12.20 pm: A heavily guarded black limousine pulls up to the south entrance of the US Capitol (parliamentary building) in Washington DC. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gets out of the car and enters the Capitol, assisted by his son Captain James Roosevelt wearing the uniform of the US Marines. The chamber of the House of Representatives is jam-packed with members of both houses of Congress, the US Supreme Court, official guests, and onlookers in the galleries.
12.29 pm: The President, still on his son’s arm, enters the Chamber of the House and is introduced briefly by Speaker Sam Rayburn to a thunderous ovation. For the past nine years, Republicans showed little enthusiasm toward the President when he addressed a Joint Session of Congress. This time, the Republicans join in, signifying the nation’s sudden unity.
Solemnly, and telling representatives that the events of the previous day spoke for themselves, he begins his speech requesting a declaration of war:
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.
The Senate unanimously approved the resolution 82-0. The House of Representatives vote was 388 to 1, Montana Republican Jeannette Rankin casting the lone vote against.
JOINT RESOLUTION Declaring that a state of war exists between the Imperial Government of Japan and the Government and the people of the United States and making provisions to prosecute the same.
Whereas the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:
Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the state of war between the United States and the Imperial Government of Japan which has thus been thrust upon the United States is hereby formally declared; and the President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial Government of Japan; and, to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States
The single vote against Congress’s declaration of war against Japan came from Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana. Rankin was a pacifist who had also voted against the American entrance into World War I. “As a woman,” she said, “I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”
During the 1930s, the combination of the Great Depression and the tragic losses in World War I helped pushing American public opinion and policy toward staying out of conflicts elsewhere.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed the US instantly and permanently.
The “America First” movement, which had lobbied against the country’s entry into the war and at its peak had 800,000 members, disbanded.
The Congressional vote on December 8 meant the US changed from a position of neutrality – or isolationism – to the most significant player in international affairs, a position that it has maintained since.
Washington became a global power base and the War Powers Act gave the President supreme executive authority.
So shocked by what they had seen at Pearl Harbor, the American public wanted to fight the Japanese first. President Roosevelt argued however that the Nazis were the greater threat.
“The Army demands the aid and assistance of every person in the Territory… If you are ordered by military personnel to obey a certain command, that order must be obeyed instantly and without question.”
Order to the people of Hawaii
Martial law was declared within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and it lasted, with some modifications, for nearly three years, until 24 October 1944.
As smoke billowed from the harbor, Lt Gen. Walter Short met Territorial Governor Joseph Poindexter to convince him to declare martial law.
Governors Poindexter and Ingram M. Stainback stripped themselves of their administrative powers by reluctantly declaring martial law, temporarily, as they thought.
An entire new system of justice and order was instituted and controlled at the absolute discretion of Lt Gen. Short, newly declared “Military Governor” of the Hawaiian Islands.
He assumed comprehensive executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The martial law regime affected every resident of the Territory of Hawaii, citizen and alien alike. Never before or since were American citizens kept under martial law in such numbers or for such a long time.
Military government had harsh consequences for Hawaii’s residents of Japanese ancestry; the 37,000 alien residents (the Issei) who were ineligible for citizenship and the 121,000 Japanese-American citizens (the Nisei and Sansei) comprised 37% of the population of Hawaii.
Their large numbers and doubts about their loyalty in the event of a war with Japan became the primary justification, in the eyes of the military and of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for martial law.
But the large numbers meant their removal from Hawaii was impractical. Japanese labour was essential to the Hawaiian economy and defence industries, and shipping was unavailable. The army instituted a policy of “selective internment” in Hawaii, leaving most Japanese Americans free to continue their lives in their own homes (and in most cases, their pre-war employment) as best they could, but as with all civilians, under army rule. Hundreds of general orders were issued, impacting virtually every aspect of civilian life.
A curfew and blackout were imposed from the evening of 7 December. The streets were ordered cleared between 9 pm and 6 am under penalty of arrest. All people of Japanese descent had to be in their homes by 8 pm.
Every light bulb and every flame was to be extinguished after dark. Even a lit cigarette, a kitchen stove burner, or an illuminated radio dial was grounds for an arrest. Car headlights had to be painted blue to dim the beams.
The army censored the press (closing Japanese language newspapers), radio broadcasts and transmissions, and all civilian mail. All long-distance telephone calls to the mainland were to be spoken in English and censored.
Businesses were tightly controlled; they had to shut daily by 4.30 pm. The military kept an inventory of goods on the shelves. Liquor sales were banned. Fuel was rationed.
The army permanently closed all Japanese language schools and temporarily closed the public schools, allowing them to reopen two months later with a four-day week so children could work in plantation fields.
Hospitals and emergency facilities were under direct army control, as were food sales, parking, traffic and prostitution. All civilians except very small children were registered and fingerprinted, and were required to carry identification cards at all times.
The army’s control of labour, including wages, working conditions and allocations of workers to industries and firms, was particularly resented; nearly half the workers were “frozen” in their jobs, with stiff penalties for absenteeism or switching jobs without permission.
Additional restrictions were placed on aliens, mainly Japanese but also Germans. They were restricted from travelling or changing residences without permission. They could not meet in groups of more than 10 or be outside during the blackout. They were ordered to hand in all firearms, flashlights, portable radios, cameras, and other items that could be used in espionage.
Some areas of Oahu were ruled off-limits to Japanese. Japanese fishermen were not permitted to go to sea in fear that they could commit espionage.
Violations of military orders, as well as other crimes, were tried before military courts, which replaced civil courts.
On 10 March 1943, most functions of the civilian government — except for the control of labour — were returned to civilian agencies. Trial by jury was restored for violations of territorial and federal laws but violations of general orders continued to be prosecuted in provost courts. Nevertheless, martial law, including the suspension of habeas corpus (a writ enabling detainees to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment), remained legally in effect after July 1943.
Although the Office of Military Governor changed its name to the Office of Internal Security in July 1944, it was not until 24 October 1944, that martial law ended with Presidential Proclamation No. 2627.
After the war, federal district court Judge J. Frank McLaughlin condemned the conduct of martial law, saying, “Gov. Poindexter declared lawfully martial law but the Army went beyond the governor and set up that which was lawful only in conquered enemy territory namely, military government which is not bound by the Constitution. And they… threw the Constitution into the discard and set up a military dictatorship.”
Hitler and Churchill
At the time of the attack, Japan was already one of the Axis powers, but Adolf Hitler did not know what it was planning to do.
When news of the Pearl Harbor reached Nazi headquarters, not many of those gathered even knew where Pearl Harbor was, by many accounts, and a world map was consulted.
Hitler was said to be jubilant, exclaiming: “Now we can’t lose the war! We have an ally that has not been defeated in 3,000 years of history!”
The success of the Japanese attack came at a good time for Hitler; the invasion of the Soviet Union – Operation Barbarossa that began on 22 June – was stalled on the outskirts of Moscow.
Despite successes, a Soviet counter-offensive pushed the Germans back. The Red Army repelled the strongest blows of the Wehrmacht (the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1946) and forced Germany into a war of attrition for which it was unprepared. Hitler’s dream of an empire in the East was over.
It was no surprise then that Hitler saw Pearl Harbor as a major plus for the Axis powers.
He assumed the Japanese would tie down the US in the Pacific and weaken Britain by threatening its Asian possessions. It has been noted Hitler viewed the Japanese with his own prejudices: in Mein Kampf (Hitler’s psychotic autobiography) he wrote that Japanese scientific and technical progress would amount to nothing without “Aryan” (the noble and gifted race, in Hitler’s mind) influence. His top lieutenants recalled that he accepted Japanese gains in the Far East with some resignation, and occasionally warned that eventually Germany would find itself in a showdown with what he called the “yellow race”.
On 11 December Hitler spoke to his acolytes about recent military events, made a hostile attack on President Roosevelt and declared war on the US.
At that time, the American public was calling for retribution against Japan. Germany’s declaration of war made it easier for President Roosevelt to enter World War II via Europe.
To British Prime Minister Winston Churchill the events at Pearl Harbor caused mixed emotions. The Japanese attack appalled him but at the same time he was confident America would now join the Allies in their fight against Germany.
He was dining at Chequers when he heard the news. His guests were US Ambassador Gil Winant and Averell Harriman, President Roosevelt’s special envoy to Europe.
According to historian Walter Reid, a butler brought in a portable radio for the party to listen to the BBC Home Service. When the attack was confirmed Churchill leapt to his feet and said he must declare war on Japan at once.
Churchill is said to have telephoned Roosevelt, and asked “Mr. President, what’s this about Japan?” FDR responded that it was true; they were all in the same boat now.
“Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful,” Churchill wrote in his own history of World War II.
Later in December, Churchill and his military chiefs sailed to America to hammer out the strategy they would follow; including how to defeat Germany, the greater threat and the first priority.
On Christmas Eve Churchill broadcast to the world from the White House on the 20th annual observation of the lighting of the community Christmas tree.
He spoke of the aggression that led to war and ended with this: “Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”
America goes to war
President Roosevelt and his advisers had to make an important decision about how to fight the war. Would the US take the fight to Japan first, or Germany, or both enemies at the same time?
In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor during the weeks and months afterwards, men and women across America signed up for the Armed Forces to play a role in taking revenge on Japan.
But Roosevelt decided not to strike back at Japan immediately. He would use most of his resources to fight Germany.
While the attention of most Americans was still focused on Pearl Harbor and the Pacific, naval yards on the east coast already were gearing up for what was expected to be a long, bloody war.
Germany controlled much of Europe, as well as much of the Atlantic Ocean and posed a big threat to America’s friends and trade in Europe. Roosevelt was also worried about possible German intervention in Latin America.
Another factor was Germany’s level of industrialisation. It had many scientists and engineers and modern factories. Germany might be able to develop deadly new weapons, such as an atomic bomb, if it was not stopped quickly.
Finally, America’s British friends were fighting for their lives against Germany. This was not the case in Asia where Japan’s opponent was China.
Even though China’s fighting forces could not offer strong opposition to the Japanese, America was not willing at that stage to spreads its intervention too thinly.
Hitler’s decision to break his treaty with Josef Stalin and attack the Soviet Union made the choice easier for President Roosevelt; the Germans would have to fight on two fronts, in the west against Britain and in the east against Russia and that meant it would be timely to attack Germany while its forces – and attention – were divided.
The bulk of America’s troops and supplies therefore were despatched to Britain to join the fight against Germany.
Germany and Japan already agreed to strengthen their Tripartite Pact, binding each to declare war on a power attacking the other. The agreement had not been formally signed, meaning that Hitler was required only to aid Japan, not enter the war against the US.
Hitler wanted to ensure Japan stayed in the war, perhaps invading Russia from the east.
He also believed war with the US was inevitable. He wanted to take the initiative so on 8 December (German time) he ordered German U-boats to sink American ships on sight.
In an address to the Reichstag on 11 December Hitler declared war on the US. That removed any uncertainty in the US Congress about whether engaging Germany was a priority.
Fleet made ready again
America’s military resources after the Pearl Harbor attack comprised mainly aircraft carriers, submarines and air power.
Even as the smoke was clearing from the devastation at Pearl Harbor the US Navy was clearing the mess and salvaging the fleet. Many of the sunken warships rose again to fight the Axis powers.
Except the battleships Arizona and Oklahoma and the training ship Utah that were beyond repair, every ship sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor returned to sea – the battleships California, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland, Nevada, and Pennsylvania; the light cruisers Helena, Raleigh and Honolulu; the destroyers Cassin (rebuilt), Downes (rebuilt); the repair ship Vestal; the tender Curtiss; and the minelayer Oglala.
None, however, saw action until 1943; by then they had missed the crucial battles of 1942 and early 1943 – Coral Sea, Midway, Solomons and Santa Cruz. The restored battleships were used almost exclusively to bombard shorelines during amphibious operations.
Four battleships were sunk outright at Pearl Harbor and recovery work started immediately. It was a massive job. Divers spent more than 20,000 hours underwater. Even in dry areas workers usually had to wear gas masks to protect against the risk of toxic fumes.
Within three months most of the smaller ships and three of the battleships – Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Tennessee – were either returned to service or refloated and steamed to the mainland for final repairs.
The Utah remains on the bottom of Pearl Harbor along with the Arizona.
The Oklahoma was raised after a massive effort but proved to be too damaged to return to service.
All the recovered ships eventually were sold for scrap, or destroyed in target or atomic weapon tests, or otherwise decommissioned. (The USS Arizona is no longer a commissioned warship, but retains the right to fly the US flag as if she were on active duty).
Only one of the US fighting ships in Hawaiian waters on 7 December 1941 survives to this day – the US Coast Guard Cutter Taney, which fired at the attacking planes with its anti-aircraft guns from its Honolulu Harbor pier.
Today, the Taney is a museum ship moored in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Hard for Japanese Americans
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump in December 2015 called for an end to Muslim immigration to the US.
His call was met with both condemnation and praise.
US persecution of particular ethnic groups or religions would not be new.
In the days after the Pearl Harbor attack, suspicion fell on Japanese American communities in the western US.
As news of the attack spread on the mainland, Mayor Fiorello Henry LaGuardia took to the airwaves to warn Japanese New Yorkers to stay in their homes until the government could determine their “status”.
Germany’s declaration of war did little to dampen hostility towards the Japanese, even though the war would not be taken to their doorstep immediately.
General John Lesesne DeWitt was a vocal supporter of internment of Japanese Americans. He believed Japanese and Japanese Americans in California, Oregon, and Washington could be conspiring against the American war effort, and recommended they be removed from coastal areas.
President Roosevelt agreed, and issued Executive Order 9066, on 18 February 1042, directing the forced removal of men, women and children of Japanese ancestry to federal internment camps.
While no specific group or location was mentioned in the order, it was quickly applied to virtually the entire Japanese American population on the West Coast. Dewitt issued military proclamations to carry out the order that forced more than 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into “assembly centres”, effectively detention camps.
The Department of the Treasury froze the assets of all citizens and resident aliens who were born in Japan and the Department of Justice arrested about 1,500 religious and community leaders as potentially dangerous enemy aliens.
The military was given broad powers to ban any citizen from a 50-60 mi (85-100 km) wide coastal strip from Washington state to California and extending inland into southern Arizona. The order also authorised transporting citizens to at least 10 assembly centres set up and governed by the military in California, Arizona, Washington state, and Oregon.
Japanese Americans were the biggest group under scrutiny but the same executive order (and other war-time orders and restrictions) were also applied to smaller numbers of residents of the US who were of Italian or German descent: 3,200 resident aliens of Italian background were arrested and more than 300 of them interned; about 11,000 German residents – including some naturalised citizens – were arrested and more than 5,000 were interned.
The war-time measures affecting Japanese Americans were the most severe, uprooting entire communities and used against citizens as well as resident aliens.
According to the 1940 census, 127,000 people of Japanese ancestry lived in the US. A third were born in Japan, and in some states they could not own land, be naturalised as citizens, or vote.
No one charged
None of the Japanese Americans were charged with a crime against the government. More than 70% of those forced into camps were American citizens.
Congress endorsed the order with not even one vote against.
One citizen, Fred Korematsu, refused to leave his Californian home and move into a relocation camp. He challenged the order in the Supreme court (Korematsu v. United States) in 1944. In his lawsuit, Korematsu charged that Executive Order 9066 was unconstitutional. The government argued that the order was constitutional because of the importance of preventing espionage.
In a majority opinion in favor of the government, the Supreme Court accepted that the importance of protecting America from foreign invasion and attack was greater than the importance of respecting Fred Korematsu’s constitutional rights. It therefore found that the creation of military zones was constitutionally valid.
The case of Korematsu v. United States was never officially overturned in court but Fred Korematsu succeeded in having his conviction overturned in the 1980s.
“The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil possessed of US citizenship have become “Americanized” the racial strains are undiluted. It then follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today. There are indications that these were organized and ready for concerted action at a favourable opportunity. The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken…”
— DeWitt’s Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942,
and the government’s brief to the Supreme Court defending Order 9066.
Barbed wire surrounded the overcrowded camps and armed soldiers stood guard. The barracks had no running water and little heat. There was almost no privacy and everyone had to use public bathrooms.
Medical care and schools were provided for the Japanese Americans. Eventually many young adults were released to do farm and defence work, go to college, and even serve in the military.
In December 1944, President Roosevelt suspended Executive Order 9066. But many Japanese Americans found they could not return to their hometowns. Hostility against Japanese Americans remained high across the West Coast through the early post-war years. Many villages displayed signs demanding that the evacuees never return. As a result, the freed internees scattered across the country.
The last camp closed in March 1946.
“Finally getting out of the camps was a great day. It felt so good to get out of the gates, and just know that you were going home…finally. Home wasn’t where I left it though. Getting back, I was just shocked to see what had happened, our home being bought by a different family, different decorations in the windows; it was our house, but it wasn’t anymore. It hurt not being able to return home, but moving into a new home helped me I believe. I think it helped me to bury the past a little, to, you know, move on from what had happened.”
– Aya Nakamura, 18 November 2000
In 1948 President Truman signed the Evacuation Claims Act, which gave internees the opportunity to submit claims for property lost as a result of relocation.
Individuals born in Japan were not allowed to become naturalised US citizens until 1952
President Gerald Ford formally rescinded Executive Order 9066 on 16 February 1976.
In 1988 the American Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which formally apologised for its wartime imprisonment of the people and awarded each of 80,000 survivors or their heirs $US 20,000.
The Presidential Commission that recommended the 1988 apology said of the original order that the “broad historical causes were … race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance of Japanese Americans contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan.”
Presidential candidate Trump defended his 2015 proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US, comparing the plan the World War II detainment of Japanese Americans and others.
Trump said his ideas were no worse than those of then-President Roosevelt. “What I’m doing is no different than FDR,” he said on ABC’s Good Morning America program.
Last year on, the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans expressed solidarity with Muslims facing persecution immediately after the San Bernardino, California, and Paris terrorist attacks and the call for a ban on Muslim immigration.
On 10 December hundreds of people marched through the Little Tokyo historic district in Los Angeles and held a candlelight vigil, condemning Islamophobia and singing, “We shall overcome.”
Kathy Masaoka heard a Muslim woman on the radio describe her hesitancy to go to the market for fear of being attacked.
“It crystallised for me at that moment, that this must be how my parents felt and how my family felt after Pearl Harbor,” she said.
Ms Masaoka is co-chair of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress in Los Angeles, which helped win the presidential apology and compensation in 1988.
Minoru Yasui began his fight to prove to the US he was a loyal American when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No 9066 in 1942.
In 2015 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The Oregon-born attorney continued his quest right to his death in 1986, relying without success on the Constitution to make his case.
Yasui broke a race-based curfew in 1942 to force his own arrest and spent nine months in solitary confinement while awaiting a ruling from the US Supreme Court, hoping to prove America’s treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II was unconstitutionally racist.
Yasui was born and raised in Hood River, Oregon, the son of Methodists, going on to become a high school valedictorian and a second lieutenant in the US Army Reserve. But that didn’t seem to matter after World War II broke out and anti-Japanese fervour swept the nation.
When the military issued a curfew ordering Americans of Japanese ancestry to stay in their homes between 8 pm and 6 am, Yasui believed it was illegal and decided to intentionally break curfew in Portland on 28 March 1942 to test the law in court.
After Yasui was arrested, indicted and released, he was placed in a detention camp under what he later described as the government’s “absolutely illegal, unconstitutional and unenforceable” detention program for Japanese Americans.
He was convicted of breaking the curfew. During his appeal, Yasui spent nine months in solitary confinement in a 6-by-8- cell at the Multnomah County jail in Oregon.
Yasui eventually moved to Colorado. After the war, he practiced law and served in several community and civil rights groups. But he never gave up on trying to prove that the US government had acted wrongly.
The Los Angeles Times reported that in 1983, Yasui’s attorney, Peggy Nagae, filed a request to reopen his case alleging unconstitutional discrimination.
Yasui’s conviction was vacated, but he died of cancer in Denver at age 70 before he could persuade the government to address the merits of his case in court.
Japanese-Americans were allowed to enlist in the Armed Forces in 1943.
More than 17,000 Japanese-Americans fought for the US in World War II. Nisei (persons born in the US of immigrant Japanese parents and therefore US citizens) formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Fighting against Germany, the combat team became the most decorated military unit in US history, winning thousands of medals, awards, and citations.
But many of members of their families and friends were still in detention centres.
The Niihau Incident
Executive Order 1066 is said to have its origins on a tiny island 30 minutes by air from Oahu.
The Japanese had contingency plans for planes damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor to make their way to the small island of Niihau and land on the beach there. They would be picked up by a rescue submarine.
Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi was flying an A6M2 fighter from the carrier Hiryu, escorting a group of dive bombers from another carrier, the Shokaku, as part of the second attack wave. Their target was Bellows Field.
The second wave did not have the advantage of surprise and as they regrouped after their strafing runs, Nishikaichi’s group was intercepted by a flight of American P-36 Hawk fighters.
The P-36s were obsolete and badly outclassed by the Zeroes; they were quickly driven off. But in the clash Nishikaichi’s fuel tank was punctured by a bullet and began leaking fuel. As the group left to return to the Hiryu, Nishikaichi realised he would not be able to make it back so he turned his crippled Zero towards Niihau.
As he flew over the island, he saw that the contrary to Japanese intelligence, the island was inhabited; there was a small village.
The island, owned by the Robinson family, was inhabited by 136 people, most of them native Hawaiians who worked as farm labourers.
One of these was Hawilo Kaleohano, who watched the smoking airplane come down for a crash landing, skidding to a halt about 20 ft (6 m) from him.
There was no electricity, no telephones or communication radios on Niihau Island and the only regular contact with the outside world was a weekly boat trip from the plantation owner, who lived on nearby Kauai Island. So the people on Niihau were unaware that Hawaii had just been bombed and that the US was now at war with Japan.
What Nishikaichi didn’t know was that the US Navy had driven away all the Japanese submarines and no rescue was coming.
Kaleohano knew that the plane was Japanese and that tensions had been high between the two nations, so when he ran to the crashed plane, the first thing he did was remove the dazed pilot’s identification papers and pistol.
A small group of Hawaiians now surrounded Nishikaichi, and treated him with the customary Hawaiian hospitality, preparing a large meal with him as honoured guest.
On a battery radio at night the islanders heard about the Pearl Harbor attack and placed arbor attack and placed Harbor
Nishikaichi under guard.
There were Hawaiians of Japanese descent on the island and Nishikaichi persuaded three of them – Ishimatsu Shintani, Yoshio Harada and is wife Irene – to help him overcome his captors. On 12 December they found weapons and took several hostages.
The hostages included Ben Kanahele and his wife Ella. When Kanahele made a grab for the pilot’s gun, a fight broke out. Nishikaichi shot Kanahele three times, but, using his hunting knife, Kanahele still managed to kill Nishikaichi, and Yoshio Harada then killed himself with a shotgun. The next afternoon, military officials arrived on the island and found the dead pilot and Harada, and arrested Irene Harada and Shintani. They also confiscated the burned remnants of Nishikaichi’s Zero fighter, cutting off all the hydraulics and dismantling everything removable, and then dragging the remaining pieces into the trees to hide it from Japanese reconnaissance planes.
Ben Kanahele and Howard Kaleohano were both awarded medals. Irene Harada and Shintani were removed from the island. Shintani was interned and Harada was jailed for over two years, although never charged.
Many people believe the complicity of the Haradas and Shintani in helping the Japanese pilot was one of the contributing factors towards the later mass internment of Japanese-Americans from the US west coast.
In its subsequent report on the incident, the Navy was most alarmed by the fact that there had been three people of Japanese descent on the island – two of them American-born – and all three had helped the downed pilot: “The fact that the two Niihau Japanese who had previously shown no anti-American tendencies went to the aid of the pilot when Japanese domination of the island seemed possible, indicate likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan if further Japanese attacks appear successful.”
The burned-out remains of Nishikaichi’s A6M2 Zero sat rusting Niihau Island for many years. They are now on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Based on an article by Lenny Flank, 2015.
Take Two: second attack thwarted
Japan launched a second “attack” on Pearl Harbor just four months after the first. It failed miserably.
Five Kawanishi H8K1 flying boats were chosen for Operation K in 1942, but only two were available on the day, 4 March. They were not the most threatening of warplanes but nevertheless could have wreaked havoc had their mission succeeded. Each had a gross take-off weight of 71,650 lbs (32,500 kg), a wingspan of 124 ft (38 m). They were powered by four 1,850 hp (1,380 kW) engines that enabled a top speed of 296 mph (476 km/h). They had a crew of 10 and were capable of missions of up to 14 hours.
The Japanese military hierarchy wanted to check on the progress made by the US on restoring the fleet after the December raid. It was also intended that the new flying boats, armed with bombs, would attack the 1010 Dock (1,010 ft – 307m long) which was a key US Navy asset in Pearl Harbor and undergoing repairs after the December attack. The flying boats might also be able to find the carrier fleet that was missed the first time.
A long-range sortie was planned. The two flying boats were refuelled by a submarine in the French Frigate Shoals overnight, 560 mi (902 km) north-west of Honolulu. A second submarine was to stand by 10 mi (16 km) south of Oahu to report on weather conditions and be available for a rescue mission in case any of the flying boats had to ditch.
Three other submarines were sent to the Shoals carrying aviation fuel.
The submarine that was to wait off Oahu (I-23) disappeared sometime after 14 February. It is still not known what happened to it.
The two flying boats were armed with four 550 lb (250 kg) bombs and set off on the longest bombing raid ever attempted to that time.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, the Americans intercepted and decoded their radio communications. Fortunately for them, the US Navy ignored the code-breaking team’s warnings and no attempt was made to shut down the raid before it started.
Curtiss P-40 Warhawks were sent to intercept the raiders when they were picked up on Hawaii’s WARD (Women’s Air Raid Defence) radar north-west of Hawaii during the night. Fighters were scrambled and anti-aircraft guns were manned, but the flying boats were not found. Planes were despatched to try to find the carriers which were thought to have launched the new raid. Poor weather hampered the search. There were no carriers anyway.
Heavy cloud enabled the flying boats to reach the coast of Oahu about 2 am. Miscommunication between the two planes meant they set out to attack separately and from opposite directions. Neither could clearly identify their targets, due to the weather and the wartime blackout across Hawaii.
One pilot saw land and dropped four bombs – they hit the side of an extinct volcano north of Honolulu, six miles (9.5 km) off target on Tantalus Peak, close to Roosevelt High School where windows were broken and deep craters made. No one was at the school.
The other plane also could not find the target and the only landmark the pilot could recognise was the lighthouse at Ka’ena Point. He guessed the target area from there, but was wrong. His bombs fell harmlessly into the ocean.
Having dropped their bombs, the two planes returned safely to the Marshall Islands atolls.
The mission was an abject failure but American newspaper reports at first mistakenly reported significant casualties. The Japanese picked up the reports and for a time celebrated another success against the Americans.
The exercise did have great significance for the US, proving that its code-breakers were well up to the task of intercepting and interpreting Japanese communications. This proved vital in preparing for the Midway battle that was to come.
The Doolittle Raid
Though not responding with immediate attacks on Japan for the Pearl Harbor raid, the Japanese did not escape prompt retribution entirely.
The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, on Saturday 18 April 1942, attacked Tokyo and other places on Honshu Island, the first air raid to strike the Japanese Home Islands.
It demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack.
It provided an important boost to American morale while damaging Japanese morale. The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle, US Army Air Forces.
Sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were launched beyond fighter escort range from the Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet in the Western Pacific Ocean, each with a crew of five men. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan, and to continue westward to land in China—landing a medium bomber on Hornet was impossible. Fifteen planes reached China but all crashed, while the 16th landed at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. All but three of the 80 crew members initially survived the mission. Eight were captured by the Japanese Army in China; three of those were later executed. The B-25 that landed in the Soviet Union was confiscated and its crew imprisoned for more than a year. Fourteen complete crews, except for one crewman who was killed in action, returned either to the US or to American forces in the region.
After the raid, the Japanese Imperial Army conducted a massive sweep through the eastern coastal provinces of China, in an operation now known as the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign, searching for the surviving American airmen and punishing the Chinese who aided them, in an effort to prevent this part of China from being used again for an attack on Japan.
The raid caused negligible material damage to Japan, but it succeeded in its goal of raising American morale and casting doubt in Japan on the ability of its military leaders to defend their home islands.
It also contributed to Adm. Yamamoto’s decision to attack Midway Island that turned into a decisive strategic defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Doolittle, who initially believed that loss of all his planes would lead to him being court-martialled, received the Medal of Honor and was promoted two steps to Brigadier General.
Japanese aggression goes on
Buoyed by the success of the raid on Pearl Harbor, the seemingly unstoppable Japanese war machine rolled on through the Pacific and South East Asia. They even launched air raids on Darwin in the far north of Australia.
For Britain, the most severe material, strategic and psychological blow came with the loss of two of the “jewels” in its imperial crown: Hong Kong and Singapore.
Just eight hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 52,000 Japanese troops attacked Hong Kong.
On Christmas Day, after a week of bombardment and fierce fighting, the beleaguered Allied forces surrendered, the first time in history that a British crown colony had surrendered to an invading force. It became known as “Black Christmas”.
Worse was to come for Britain.
When the Japanese arrived at Singapore in February 1942, the territory’s defenders were woefully underprepared.
The two biggest British warships in the Far East, Repulse and Prince of Wales, were sunk in a Japanese air attack on 10 December 1941, ending any hope for a naval defence of Singapore.
Japanese forces began landing on Singapore Island on 8 February 1942. The Allied garrison had no choice but to surrender after seven days of fighting. It was the largest surrender of British-led troops in history; 80,000 British, Australian and Indian soldiers became prisoners of war. The defenders lost 138,000 men in the battle; the invaders lost 10,000.
For Churchill, the fall of Singapore was the “worst disaster in British history”.
The Japanese occupied Hong Kong and Singapore until the end of the war.
Prisoners of War taken by the Japanese in their sweep through Asia originated from many different countries: China, India, Burma, Britain and the Commonwealth, the US, the Netherlands and the Philippines.
Japanese military culture did not subscribe to the idea of surrender; prisoners taken by the Japanese were brutally treated. The 1927 Geneva Convention was ignored. The Red Cross was denied access to camps; beatings, executions, medical experiments, poor sanitation, starvation rations, disease and torture were part of everyday life – and death.
Two battles in the Pacific set back Japanese advances; the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, on May and June of 1942.
The US had to defend Midway at all costs – if it fell, the Japanese surely would invade Hawaii.
Japan hoped to lure the American aircraft carriers that they’d missed at Pearl Harbor into a trap and destroy them by occupying Midway.
The Japanese also hoped a demoralising defeat would force America to negotiate an end to the war on terms beneficial to Japan.
But the Japanese got it all wrong.
First, they underestimated America’s naval strength. They did not know the USS Yorktown – which had been badly damaged during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May – had been repaired and was at sea. Second, American code breakers in May 1942 predicted that a Japanese invasion force, including four Japanese aircraft carriers, was headed toward the Midway Islands.
The Americans struck by surprise on 4 June.
The three American aircraft carriers not in or near Pearl Harbor on 7 December joined the offensive.
American planes from the carriers found the Japanese fleet. They sank all four of the Japanese carriers; they had been among the six that launched the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Before the war ended in August 1945, the US Navy also sank the other two Japanese aircraft carriers from the Pearl Harbor operation.
The US lost just one aircraft carrier and a destroyer.
The battle was a turning point, giving the US indisputable naval superiority in the Pacific.
From August 1842 until February 1953 the Allies were engaged in a major offensive against the Japanese who had established a base on Guadalcanal.
Success in fiercely contested battles at sea, in the air, and on the ground meant the Allies were able to stop Japan from launching a springboard into Australia and other parts of Asia where it did not already hold territory.
The Allies conducted an island-hopping campaign through the region to re-take territory claimed by the Japanese.
Meanwhile, the Americans used their naval superiority to reclaim territory in the Central Pacific.
The advances against the Japanese came to a head with the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945. The Japanese launched massive kamikaze attacks on the US invasion fleet in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War.
The battle of Okinawa, also known as Operation Iceberg, took place from April to June 1945. It was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific theatre of World War II. It also resulted in the largest casualties; 100,000 Japanese and 50,000 of the Allies.
To any Japanese who thought the war was winnable, Okinawa was the last chance. The island was within 350 mi (560 km) of the Japanese homeland and was for the American strategists to be the base from which the follow-on invasion the southernmost Home Island, Kyushu, would start.
The Japanese defences were all but overwhelmed by 16 June after 82 days of bloody combat. By 21 June hundreds of Japanese troops had surrendered. The final official flag-raising ceremony on a Pacific War battlefield took place on 22 June 1945. Earlier that day the Japanese commander and his chief of staff committed ritual suicide.
The Japanese meanwhile continued their aggression in China.
China fought Japan, with some economic help from Germany, the Soviet Union, the British Empire and the US.
In 1944 Japan launched a massive invasion and conquered Henan and Changsha. But the Chinese forces refused to surrender.
Two events led to a rapid end of Japan’s war in China: on 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later Soviet leader Joseph Stalin declared war on Japan, and Soviet forces over-ran the Japanese army in Manchuria and Japanese forces in China, Formosa and French Indochina surrendered. As many as 20 million Chinese died in the eight year-long conflict.
The remaining Japanese occupation troops in China (excluding Manchuria) formally surrendered on 9 September 1945.
All the territories that Japan annexed from China, including Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, eventually were returned to the Republic of China. Japan was expelled from the Korea Peninsula.
The atom bomb
Strategic bombing and urban area bombing of parts of Japan began in 1944 after the long-range B-29 Superfortress bomber entered service, first deployed from China and then the Mariana Islands.
On the night of 9-10 March (“Operation Meetinghouse”) 334 B-29s took off on a bombing raid over mainland Japan, with 279 of them dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo.
Damage to Tokyo’s heavy industry was slight until follow-up firebombing destroyed much of the light industry that was an integral source for small machine parts. Firebombing also killed or made homeless many workers. Over 50% of Tokyo’s industry was spread out among residential and commercial neighbourhoods; firebombing cut the whole city’s output in half. The destruction and damage was especially severe in the eastern areas.
About 15.8 sq mi (4,090 ha) of the city was destroyed and about 100,000 people were estimated to have died. But there was still no Japanese surrender.
The atom bomb, the most devastating game-changer of all, was to change everything.
The US dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The two bombs, which killed around 200,000 people, remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.
The two gravity bombs were called Little Boy and Fat Man. Little Boy, dropped on Hiroshima, was the equivalent of 13-18 kilotons of TNT (Trinitrotoluene). Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki, was the equivalent of 20-22 kilotons.
From 1942 more than 100,000 scientists of the Manhattan Project in America worked on the development of the atomic bomb. At the time it was the largest collective scientific effort ever undertaken. It involved 37 installations across the US, 13 university laboratories and a host of experts such as Nobel prizewinning physicists Arthur Holly Compton and Harold Urey.
The Manhattan Project was also the most secret wartime project in history. At first scientists worked in isolation in different parts of the US, unaware of the scale of the project. Later, the project was centralised and moved to an isolated laboratory headed by physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer in Los Alamos, New Mexico. On 16 July 1945 scientists carried out the first trial detonation of the bomb in the New Mexico desert. President Harry S. Truman received news of the successful test while negotiating the post-war settlement in Europe.
The Little Boy bomb, except for the uranium payload, was ready at the beginning of May 1945. The uranium-235 projectile was completed on 15 June.
Six months of intense strategic fire-bombing of 37 Japanese cities did little to break the resolve of Emperor Hirohito’s regime and Japan continued to defy the demand for unconditional surrender.
Dropping the atom bomb on Japanese cities was seen as the best means of forcing Japan to surrender, ending the war. The alternative, an Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, was expected to cost hundreds of thousands of casualties.
The predicted Japanese surrender, which came on 15 August just six days after the detonation over Nagasaki, ended World War II (Germany and the Axis powers had already surrendered).
When Japan signed the papers of surrender aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945, the West Virginia, a symbol of the resurrection of the Pearl Harbor fleet, was among the American warships standing by in Tokyo Bay.
I realise the tragic significance of the atomic bomb … It is an awful
responsibility which has come to us … We thank God that it
has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray
that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.
— President Truman, 9 August 1945
The American public, the press and members of the government itself wanted answers.
How and why could such a thing as the attack on Pearl Harbor happen? Someone had to be brought to account.
It was not just the size of the defeat; why it was a such surprise also had to be established.
From mid-1940 until the attack on Pearl Harbor, American cryptologists had read the most sensitive Japanese diplomatic messages and had kept President Roosevelt informed of every Japanese diplomatic and political policy turn.
MAGIC was the code name assigned to the intelligence garnered from the decryptions and translations of Japanese diplomatic messages.
But MAGIC didn’t tell the President or anyone else what the Japanese military was planning. Those ciphers and codes had not been broken.
Eight hearings were held over the course of World War II to get answers, culminating in a joint Congressional Investigation from 15 November 1945.
The first hearings lay responsibility for much of the disaster at the feet of the local area commanders in Hawaii, Gen. Walter Short and Adm. Husband Kimmel. The major political and military figures in Washington were exonerated.
A later hearing completely exonerated Adm. Kimmel. Instead, Adm. Harold Stark, chief of naval operations at the time of Pearl Harbor, was blamed for failing to adequately advise Kimmel of the critical situation before the attack.
The Truman administration released all of the relevant classified documents, including the MAGIC translations, to the first session of the Congressional hearings. All of the participants still alive, with the exception of seriously ill Secretary of War Stimson, were examined.
In 1946 the committee’s findings were released in 40 volumes. A dozen findings contained in one volume apportioned the blame among all the principals: Hawaiian area commanders and the War and Navy Departments.
A minority report also censured Roosevelt but concluded, like the majority findings, that Secretary Stimson, Secretary Knox, Generals Marshall and Gerow, and Adm. Stark, as well as Gen. Short and Adm. Kimmel, were culpable for the disaster.
Although many figures in Washington were blamed, Adm. Kimmel and Gen. Short bore most of the criticism.
Since the investigations there has been a stream of “revisionist” histories, rationalisations and conspiracy theories.
Reference: National Security Agency, www.nsa.gov
Lt Gen. Walter Campbell Short
and Adm. Husband E. Kimmel
Lt Gen. Short, US Army, was the military commander responsible for the defense of US military installations in Hawaii at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He arrived in Hawaii in February 1941. Defense of Oahu was the responsibility of the Army.
Adm. Husband E. Kimmel became the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Fleet, also in February 1941, following the relocation of the fleet to Hawaii in 1940.
Soon after taking command Adm. Kimmel expressed concern about the possibility of a surprise attack.
On 18 February1941, Kimmel wrote to the Chief of Naval Operations: “I feel that a surprise attack (submarine, air, or combined) on Pearl Harbor is a possibility, and we are taking immediate practical steps to minimize the damage inflicted and to ensure that the attacking force will pay.”
He did not, however, make any apparent changes to prepare for such an attack. In late November, Adm. Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, warned Kimmel of a surprise attack in the Pacific. No Action was taken.
In November, Kimmel received a specific warning from the Navy Department. It was ‘‘to be considered as a war warning” and to expect “an aggressive move by Japan” in a few days. Short received a similar message from the War Department. Again, neither man took any action.
After the attack, Both Kimmel and Short admitted that they had not expected an air attack and the Japanese caught them unprepared and unawares.
On 17 December, Kimmel and Short were relieved of Duty. Adm. Chester W. Nimitz became the new commander of the US Pacific Fleet.
Short was ordered back to Washington by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. In disgrace, he was reduced in rank from his temporary rank of lieutenant general to his permanent rank of major general, since his temporary rank was contingent on his command.
The ordeal was humiliating and both Kimmel and Short were pressured into early retirement. Both endured numerous investigations and inquiries over the “naval debacle”.
A commission of inquiry hurriedly set up under Associate Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts and seven subsequent inquiries blamed Kimmel and Short for the catastrophe at Pearl Harbor. However, the Navy Court of Inquiry and the Army Pearl Harbor Board partially exonerated them, though their ranks were not restored to them. Neither man was granted the court martial they requested to clear their names. In 1941, they agreed to a waiver to speed the investigation and the government held them to it.
Gen. Short and Adm. Kimmel were accused of being unprepared and charged with dereliction of duty. The report charged that Short and Kimmel did not take seriously enough earlier war warnings and did not prepare for an air attack at Pearl Harbor.
The commission found Kimmel and Short guilty of “dereliction of duty”. The Commission presented its findings to Congress on 28 January 1942.
The commission’s report found that had orders been complied with:
- the aircraft warning system of the Army should have been operating:
- the distant reconnaissance the inshore air patrol of the Army should have been maintained;
- the antiaircraft batteries of the Army should have been manned and supplied with ammunition: and
- a high state of readiness of aircraft should have been in effect.
Short testified on his own behalf before Congress in 1946. Unlike some of his predecessors in Hawaii, Short was more concerned with sabotage from Japanese-Americans on Oahu. This led to Army planes parked outside of their hangars so they could be more easily guarded. However, this made them easy bombing targets and many were subsequently destroyed on the morning of the attack. Explaining his reasons for his instituting an alert against sabotage only, General Short said:
- that the war warning message he received on 27 November contained nothing directing him to be prepared to meet an air raid or an all-out attack on Hawaii (Alert “Two” and “Three”);
- that he received other messages after the 27 November dispatch emphasising measures against sabotage and subversive activities;
- that the dispatch was a “do-don’t” message which conveyed to him the impression that the avoidance of war was paramount and the greatest fear of the War Department was that some international incident might occur in Hawaii which Japan would regard as an overt act;
- that he was looking to the Navy to provide him adequate warning of the approach of a hostile force, particularly through distant reconnaissance which was a Navy responsibility; and
- that instituting higher level alerts would have seriously interfered with the training mission of the Hawaiian Department.
He also said that he did not receive adequate warning and suffered from lack of resources.
He and his family attempted to get the Army to restore his rank of lieutenant general in the retired ranks on the basis that warnings from the War Department prior to the attack were vague and in conflict. He requested, but did not receive a formal court-martial.
Gen. Short retired from active duty on 28 February 1942, with the permanent rank of major-general. After he retired from the Army, he headed the traffic department at a Ford Motor Company plant in Dallas, Texas. He retired in 1946 and died in 1949 in Dallas of chronic heart ailment.
Adm. Kimmel defended his decisions at several hearings, testifying that important information had not been made available to him.
He retired early in 1942 and died at Groton, Connecticut, on 14 May 1968.
In a 1964 interview, Adm. Chester Nimitz, who took over as commander of the Pacific Fleet three weeks after the attack, concluded that “it was God’s mercy that our fleet was in Pearl Harbor on December 7”. If Kimmel “had advance notice that the Japanese were coming, he most probably would have tried to intercept them. With the difference in speed between Kimmel’s battleships and the faster Japanese carriers, the former could not have come within rifle range of the enemy’s flattops. As a result, we would have lost many ships in deep water and also thousands more in lives.” Instead, at Pearl Harbor, the crews were easily rescued, and six battleships ultimately raised.
Submarine Capt. Edward L. “Ned” Beach, concluded that Kimmel and Short were made scapegoats for the failures of superiors in Washington.
Kimmel’s supporters pointed to a series of bureaucratic foul-ups, and circumstances beyond anyone’s control (poor atmospheric conditions blocked a radio warning from the War Department to Pearl Harbor of a possible attack, forcing it to be sent as a telegram, which delayed it long enough for the attack to start before Kimmel could get it) that led to the fleet’s lack of preparedness that Sunday morning.
A 1995 Pentagon study concluded other high-ranking officers were also responsible for the failure at Pearl Harbor but did not exonerate Kimmel.
On 25 May 1999 the US Senate by a vote of 52–47 approved a non-binding resolution that Kimmel and Short had performed their duties “competently and professionally” and that the losses at Pearl Harbor were “not the result of dereliction of duty.” Senator William V. Roth Jr said: “They were denied vital intelligence that was available in Washington.”
Senator Strom Thurmond, one of the sponsors of the resolution, called Kimmel and Short “the two final victims of Pearl Harbor.”
The resolution called on the President to posthumously restore both men to full rank. Neither President Clinton nor Presidents Bush or Obama after him acted on the request.
Air Force established
The attack on Pearl Harbor illustrated sharply the weaknesses of the US defence structure and prompted changes that helped shape the American security network of today, including unified military commands and better sharing of reconnaissance information.
Most of the American warplanes at military airfields on Hawaii at Pearl Harbor were destroyed or heavily damaged before they could take to the air.
In the aftermath, the government accepted that the former Army Air Forces – established only six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor – needed to be under independent control. As a result the US Air Force was created in 1947 with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.
The Act created the National Military Establishment, later renamed the United States Department of Defense, which was composed of three branches, the Army, Navy and a newly created Air Force.
Before 1947 the responsibility for military aviation was divided between the Army (for land-based operations) and the Navy (for sea-based operations from aircraft carriers and amphibious aircraft).
Heroes of the Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a major blow to America’s naval strength and a considerable embarrassment for commanders who were caught by surprise.
But the US wasn’t without military heroes – the personnel who went after the attackers, saved their comrades and rescued the injured.
Fifteen Navy men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery at Pearl Harbor, eight of them posthumously.
There were also 53 Silver Stars, four Navy and Marine Corps Medals, one Distinguished Flying Cross, four Distinguished Service Crosses, one Distinguished Service Medal, and three Bronze Star Medals awarded.
A special military award, the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal, was later authorised for all military veterans of the attack.
One of the most notable heroes was not identified by name until sometime afterwards and was awarded only the Navy’s second highest honour, the Navy Cross – denied to this day the Medal of Honor even though he has been portrayed in movies and took part in promotional tours to drum up support for the American war effort.
The problem? He was black. That was Dorie Miller.
Medal of Honor recipients
John W. Finn.
Chief Petty Officer (Later Lt) John Finn was in bed in his apartment near the Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, about 12 mi (19 km) from Battleship Row. Planes began zooming by his window and he heard machinegun fire. He dressed, jumped in his car and set off for his post. On the way he spotted the rising sun on the wings of the planes.
Finn secured and manned a .50 calibre machinegun in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy strafing fire. The citation said that although wounded several times, he continued to man the gun and to return the enemy’s fire “vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the re-arming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the US Naval Service.”
Finn, the last survivor of the 15 who received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Japanese attack, died in 2010 at a nursing home in California, aged 100.
In a 2009 interview, he was dismissive when asked if he was a hero.
He replied, in essence, that heroism is in everyone: “You gotta understand that there’s all kinds of heroes, but they never get a chance to be in a hero’s position.”
Mervyn S Bennion (posthumously)
Citation: “As Commanding Officer of the USS West Virginia, after being mortally wounded, Capt. Bennion evidenced apparent concern only in fighting and saving his ship, and strongly protested against being carried from the bridge.”
Capt. Bennion was badly wounded when a large piece of metal hit him in the abdomen after an explosion on USS Tennessee.
He remained in a cot in under the conning tower. Although he was in pain he continually asked about the ship and his men. He asked the men not to move him, but to leave him and go below.
He was moved anyway by Lt Cmdr Harper, Doris Miller and other men on deck. Even as he was bleeding to death, Capt. Bennion showed great concern for his ship and crew.
Francis C. Flaherty (posthumously)
“When it was seen that the USS Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ens. Flaherty remained in a turret, holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.”
Samuel G Fuqua
“Upon the commencement of the attack, Lt Cmdr Fuqua rushed to the quarterdeck of the USS Arizona to which he was attached where he was stunned and knocked down by the explosion of a large bomb which hit the quarterdeck, penetrated several decks, and started a severe fire. Upon regaining consciousness, he began to direct the fighting of the fire and the rescue of wounded and injured personnel. Almost immediately there was a tremendous explosion forward, which made the ship appear to rise out of the water, shudder, and settle down by the bow rapidly. The whole forward part of the ship was enveloped in flames which were spreading rapidly, and wounded and burned men were pouring out of the ship to the quarterdeck. Despite these conditions, his harrowing experience, and severe enemy bombing and strafing, at the time, Lt Cmdr Fuqua continued to direct the fighting of fires in order to check them while the wounded and burned could be taken from the ship and supervised the rescue of these men in such an amazingly calm and cool manner and with such excellent judgment that it inspired everyone who saw him and undoubtedly resulted in the saving of many lives. After realising the ship could not be saved and that he was the senior surviving officer aboard, he directed it to be abandoned, but continued to remain on the quarterdeck and directed abandoning ship and rescue of personnel until satisfied that all personnel that could be had been saved, after which he left his ship with the boatload. The conduct of Lt Cmdr Fuqua was not only in keeping with the highest traditions of the naval service but characterises him as an outstanding leader of men.”
Edwin J. Hill (posthumously)
“During the height of the strafing and bombing, Chief Boatswain Hill led his men of the line-handling details of the USS Nevada to the quays, cast off the lines and swam back to his ship. Later, while on the forecastle, attempting to let go the anchors, he was blown overboard and killed by the explosion of several bombs.”
Herbert C. Jones (posthumously)
“Ens. Jones organised and led a party, which was supplying ammunition to the anti-aircraft battery of the USS California after the mechanical hoists were put out of action a bomb explosion fatally wounded him. When two men attempted to take him from the area which was on fire, he refused to let them do so, saying in words to the effect, ‘Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off’.”
Isaac C. Kidd (posthumously)
“Rear Adm. Kidd immediately went to the bridge and, as Commander Battleship Division One, courageously discharged his duties as Senior Officer Present Afloat until the USS Arizona, his Flagship, blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.”
Jackson C. Pharris
“In charge of the ordnance repair party on the third deck when the first Japanese torpedo struck almost directly under his station, Lt (then Gunner) Pharris was stunned and severely injured by the concussion which hurled him to the overhead and back to the deck. Quickly recovering, he acted on his own initiative to set up a hand-supply ammunition train for the anti-aircraft guns. With water and oil rushing in where the port bulkhead had been torn up from the deck, with many of the remaining crewmembers overcome by oil fumes, and the ship without power and listing heavily to port as a result of a second torpedo hit, Lt Pharris ordered the shipfitters to counter-flood. Twice rendered unconscious by the nauseous fumes and handicapped by his painful injuries, he persisted in his desperate efforts to speed up the supply of ammunition and at the same time repeatedly risked his life to enter flooding compartments and drag to safety unconscious shipmates who were gradually being submerged in oil. By his inspiring leadership, his valiant efforts and his extreme loyalty to his ship and her crew, he saved many of his shipmates from death and was largely responsible for keeping the California in action during the attack. His heroic conduct throughout this first eventful engagement of World War II reflects the highest credit upon Lt Pharris and enhances the finest traditions of the US Naval Service.”
On 16 October 1966, while attending a Medal of Honor function Pharris collapsed and was taken to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, where he died the next day of a heart attack.
Thomas J. Reeves (posthumously)
“After the mechanised ammunition hoists were put out of action in the USS California, Reeves, on his own initiative, in a burning passageway, assisted in the maintenance of an ammunition supply by hand to the anti-aircraft guns until he was overcome by smoke and fire, which resulted in his death.”
Donald K. Ross
“When his station in the forward dynamo room of the USS Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam, and heat, Machinist Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room and proceeded to the after dynamo room where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness, he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it.”
Ross received the first Medal of Honor of World War II. He died of a heart attack on 27 May 1992, aged 81. His ashes were scattered over the Nevada. The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross was named in his honour.
Robert R. Scott (posthumously)
“The air compressor compartment in the USS California, to which Scott was assigned as his battle station, was flooded as the result of a torpedo hit. The remainder of the personnel evacuated that compartment but Scott refused to leave, saying words to the effect ‘This is my station and I will stay and give them air as long as the guns are going’.”
Peter Tomich (posthumously)
“Although realising that the ship was capsizing as a result of enemy bombing and torpedoing, Tomich remained at his post in the engineering plant of the USS Utah, until he saw that all boilers were secured and all fireroom personnel had left their stations, and by so doing lost his own life.”
Franklin van Valkenburgh (posthumously)
“As commanding officer of the USS Arizona, Capt. Van Valkenburgh gallantly fought his ship until the USS Arizona blew up from magazine explosions and a direct bomb hit on the bridge which resulted in the loss of his life.”
James R. Ward (posthumously)
“When it was seen that the USS Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.”
“Cmdr Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the 3-inch anti-aircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the USS Arizona, to which the USS Vestal was moored, he swam back to his ship. The entire forward part of the USS Arizona was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the 2 ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the USS Vestal was afire in several places, was settling and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard Cmdr Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the USS Arizona, and subsequently beached the USS Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save his ship.”
Promoted to Captain in February 1942, Young later was given command of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco. In the Solomon Islands campaign, Captain Young commanded San Francisco in the Battle of Cape Esperance and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal with great distinction. On 13 November 1942, during the latter battle, he guided his ship in action with a superior Japanese force and was killed by enemy shells while engaging the battleship Hiei.
Source: US Army Centre for Military History.
There were many acts of heroism during the attack and bravery wasn’t confined to Navy personnel.
A handful of American pilots also put up a spirited defense against the Japanese and were among the first American heroes of World War II.
Only about 20 American planes were able to get off the ground in the Pearl Harbor attack. They included Curtiss P-40s, P-36 Hawks and five obsolete Seversky P-35s. Most of the planes were shot down, but the bravery and initiative of the pilots accounted for six victories in the one-sided aerial battle.
The Japanese attack destroyed or damaged most of the planes at Wheeler and Hickam Fields. The latter was devastated with 20 Boeing B-17s, a dozen Douglas A-20 Havocs and 32 Douglas B-18s destroyed.
The 47th Pursuit Squadron had been temporarily assigned to gunnery practice and its planes were at Haleiwa Field, an auxiliary air strip on Oahu’s North Shore about 10 mi (16 km) from Wheeler.
George S. Welch and Kenneth Taylor, both second lieutenants in the US Army Air Corps, spent Saturday evening 6 December at a dance at the Wheeler Field officers club, followed by an all-night card game.
They were just leaving the all-night party when Japanese dive bombers swooped on Wheeler Field. Violent explosions ripped through the parked planes and buildings caught fire. Welch found a telephone and called Haleiwa to get their two planes ready.
Japanese Zeroes strafed Welch and Taylor three times on their drive to Haleiwa. When they arrived their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters fighter planes were already armed and the engines running. Without waiting for orders they took off.
According to a 2001 Air Force Times account, Taylor and Welch first spotted the formation of American B-17 bombers flying in from the mainland. But as the two pilots neared a Marine Corps airfield at Ewa, they came across a group of Japanese planes.
They shot down several Japanese planes before flying to Wheeler for more fuel and ammunition. Welch recalled: “We had to argue with some of the ground crew. They wanted us to disperse the airplanes and we wanted to fight.”
One of Welch’s machineguns jammed. Taylor was wounded in the arm and leg.
As their planes were being replenished with ammunition, senior officers told them not to go up again.
But another group of Japanese planes approached the field and as everyone on the ground scattered first Welch, then Taylor took off.
Fourteen American pilots got off the ground on that day and shot down 10 Japanese planes, according to the 25th Infantry Division’s Tropic Lightning Museum.
Welch had four confirmed kills. Although Taylor was officially credited with two, he believed he had downed two other planes but wasn’t able to see them crash. Wheeler Field and the US Army Museum of Hawaii credit Taylor with four kills.
Taylor recalled: “We went down and got in the traffic pattern and shot down several planes there. I know for certain I shot down two planes or perhaps more; I don’t know.”
Taylor, a retired brigadier general and former commander of the Alaska Air National Guard died in 2006, aged 86.
Both Welch and Taylor were nominated for the Medal of Honor but instead were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the highest Air Force medal, for their actions. It is thought the Medal of Honor was refused because the two pilots had taken off without orders. Taylor also received a Purple Heart.
Welch later served in New Guinea, and one year to the day after Pearl Harbor, he shot down three more Japanese planes from his Bell P-39 Airacobra. Then on 2 September 1943, flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, he shot down four more.
Welch finished the war with 16 victories.
After the war, he was a test pilot for the F-100 Super Sabre jet and became the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight with that type of plane on 25 May 1953.
He was killed on 11 October 1954, while test-flying a Super Sabre which disintegrated during a 7g pullout at Mach 1.55.
First Purple Heart for a woman
Lt Annie G. Fox was the first woman to receive the Purple Heart for combat. She served as the chief nurse in the Army Nurse Corps at Hickam Field during the Japanese attack.
At the time, the award was most commonly awarded to service members wounded by enemy forces. It was occasionally awarded for any “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” The requirements were changed after the Pearl Harbor attack and Lt Fox was awarded the Bronze Star – she was not wounded.
The Purple Heart was awarded to Lt Fox for “outstanding performance of duty and meritorious acts of extraordinary fidelity”. The citation said: “During the attack, Lieutenant Fox, in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head Nurse of the Station Hospital. . . in addition she administered anaesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact…”
Annie Fox remained in the Army and served in the Pacific for the duration of World War II, retiring from the military in 1945. She died in January 1987, aged 93.
There were 82 Army nurses working at three medical facilities in Hawaii on the day of the attack.
None are known to have died that day, according to the Army Nurse Corps. Women and children were among civilian casualties, some in Honolulu as a result of friendly fire as American artillery fired back at the attackers.
The often discussed conspiracy theory is that President Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the attack and allowed the Hawaiian base to be bombed to justify American entry into World War II.
To summarise, theorists claim that FDR provoked the attack, knew about it in advance and covered up his failure to warn the Hawaiian commanders. FDR needed the attack to sucker Hitler to declare war, since the public and Congress were overwhelmingly against entering the war in Europe.
No historical research or inquiry findings support the theory.
But the speculation won’t go away. Almost every year some new credence is given to the idea that senior members of the US administration knew what was going to happen.
A declassified memorandum from the Office of Naval Intelligence, claimed as proof, suggests Washington dismissed signals that mass bloodshed was looming and war was imminent.
The 26-page memo, dated 4 December 1941, marked as confidential, and entitled “Japanese intelligence and propaganda in the United States,” flagged Japan’s surveillance of Hawaii under a section headlined “Methods of Operation and Points of Attack”.
“In anticipation of possible open conflict with this country, Japan is vigorously utilising every available agency to secure military, naval and commercial information, paying particular attention to the West Coast, the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii,” the memo said.
The memo, now held at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum was declassified more than 30 years ago. Little attention was paid to it until historian Craig Shirley in 2011 referred to it in his book December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World.
But Mr Shirley said: “Based on all my research, I believe that neither Roosevelt nor anybody in his government, the Navy or the War Department knew that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. There was no conspiracy. This memo is further evidence that they believed the Japanese were contemplating a military action of some sort, but they were kind of in denial because they didn’t think anybody would be as audacious to move an army thousands of miles across the Pacific, stop to refuel, then move on to Hawaii to make a strike like this.”
In June 2001 then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz made a Commencement Address at Michie Stadium in West Point. He said:
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of a military disaster whose name has become synonymous with surprise — the attack on Pearl Harbor. Interestingly, that ‘surprise attack’ was preceded by an astonishing number of unheeded warnings and missed signals. Intelligence reports warned of ‘a surprise move in any direction,’ but this made the Army commander in Honolulu think of sabotage, not attack. People were reading newspapers in Hawaii that cited promising reports about intensive Japanese diplomatic efforts, unaware that these were merely a charade. An ultra-secret code-breaking operation, one of the most remarkable achievements in American intelligence history, an operation called ‘Magic,’ had unlocked the most private Japanese communications, but the operation was considered so secret and so vulnerable to compromise that the distribution of its product was restricted to the point that our field commanders didn’t make the ‘need-to-know’ list. And at 7 am on December 7th, at Opana radar station, two privates detected what they called ‘something completely out of the ordinary.’ In fact, it was so out of the ordinary that the inexperienced watch officer assumed it must be friendly airplanes and told them to just forget about it.
However, it is noted that this doesn’t conflict with the established facts: a series of intelligence failures that prevented important information getting to high command in time.
One of Adm. Kimmel’s lawyers wrote to him in 1953: “Pearl Harbor never dies, and no living person has seen the end of it.” That is probably still true today.
Pearl Harbor attracts an estimated 2 million visitors each year to pay their respects to those who perished in the Japanese attack.
The focal point for visitors is the Arizona Memorial at the site of the sinking of the USS Arizona.
The Memorial is built over the sunken wreckage of the Arizona, the final resting place for 1,102 of the 1,177 crewmen killed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument which preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific War, including the events at Pearl Harbor, the internment of Japanese Americans, the battles in the Aleutians, and the occupation of Japan.
The memorial, built in 1962, is accessible only by boat, and straddles the sunken hull of the battleship without touching it. Historical information about the attack, shuttle boats to and from the memorial and general visitor services are available at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center, which opened in 1980 and is operated by the National Park Service. The remains of the battleship were declared a National Historic Landmark on 5 May 1989.
The Arizona’s wrecked superstructure was removed and after the war efforts began to erect a memorial at the submerged hull. The Pacific War Memorial Commission was created in 1949 to build a permanent memorial. Adm. Arthur W. Radford, commander of the Pacific Fleet, attached a flag pole to the main mast of the Arizona in 1950 and began a tradition of hoisting and lowering the flag. In that same year a temporary memorial was built above the remaining portion of the deckhouse. Adm. Radford asked for funds for a national memorial in 1951 and 1952 but was denied because of budget constraints during the Korean War.
The Navy placed the first permanent memorial, a 10 ft (3 m) basalt stone and plaque, over the mid-ship deckhouse on 7 December 1955.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the creation of a National Memorial in 1958. Enabling legislation required that the memorial, budgeted at $US 500,000, be privately financed; however, $200,000 of the memorial cost was government subsidised.
Main contributions to the memorial ($US):
- $50,000 Territory of Hawaii initial contribution in 1958;
- $95,000 privately raised following a 1958 This Is Your Lifetelevision segment featuring Rear Adm. (ret.) Samuel G. Fuqua (Medal of Honor recipient and the senior surviving officer from USS Arizona);
- $64,000 from 25 March 1961 benefit concert by Elvis Presley;
- $40,000 from the sale of plastic models of the Arizonain a partnership between the Fleet Reserve Association and Revell Model Company;
- $150,000 from federal funds in legislation initiated by Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouyein 1961.
The legislation declared that the Arizona would “be maintained in honour and commemoration of the members of the Armed Forces of the United States who gave their lives to their country during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941.”
The national memorial was designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis who had been detained at Sand Island at the start of the war as an enemy of the country because of his Austrian birth.
The US Navy specified that the memorial be in the form of a bridge floating above the ship.
The 184 ft (56 m) long structure has two peaks at each end connected by a sag in the centre. It represents the height of American pride before the war, the sudden depression of a nation after the attack and the rise of American power to new heights after the war. Critics initially called the design a “squashed milk carton”.
The architecture of the Arizona memorial is explained by Preis: “Wherein the structure sags in the centre but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, expresses initial defeat and ultimate victory … The overall effect is one of serenity. Overtones of sadness have been omitted to permit the individual to contemplate his own personal responses … his innermost feelings.”
As a tribute to the ship and her lost crew, the US flag flies from the flagpole, attached to the severed main mast of the sunken battleship.
The Visitor Center operated by the National Park Service is free to the public and has a museum with exhibits about the Pearl Harbor attack, such as the ship’s bell from the Arizona.
Access to the Arizona Memorial is by US Navy boat, for which a numbered ticket, obtained at the Visitor Center and valid for a designated departure time, is required. Actress Stockard Channing provides the voice over for the film about the history of Pearl Harbor shown at the USS Arizona Memorial for the National Park Service.
Every US Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine vessel entering Pearl Harbor participates in the tradition of “manning the rails”. Personnel stand at attention at the ship’s guard rails and salute the Arizona Memorial in solemn fashion as their ship moves slowly into port.
The Arizona today is an active US military cemetery. The USS Arizona Reunion Association allows for the cremated remains of any crew to be interred on the ship. To do so, divers swim with the urn and place it inside the barbette (circular armour support) of gun turret No. 4.
A USS Utah Memorial has been created on the West side of Ford Island. The Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri Memorial are on the East side of Ford Island. The Utah Memorial is not included on any tours to Pearl Harbor and can only be visited by those with military ID.
A crew member of the USS Utah kept an urn containing his daughter’s ashes in his locker on board, planning to scatter them at sea, but the attack prevented him from ever doing so.
He was among 64 men who died aboard the Utah that day, and many of their bodies remain entombed within its sunken hull. The baby girl, who had died at birth, was finally honoured with a funeral at the USS Utah Memorial at Pearl Harbor in 2003.
The USS Oklahoma Memorial also is on Ford Island. Transport is available every 10 to 15 minutes from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
Oil still leaks
On 6 December 1941, Arizona took on a full load of fuel – nearly 1.5 million gals (5.6 million litres) — ready for its scheduled trip to the mainland. The next day, much of it fed the explosion and fires that destroyed her. Around 500,000 gallons (1,892,705 litres) were left to slowly seep out of the ship’s submerged wreckage. After 75 years Arizona continues to spill up to 9 quarts (8.5 l) of oil into the harbor each day. In the mid-1990s, environmental concerns led the National Park try to determine the long-term effects of the oil leakage.
It was established that because of the structural damage from the attack and more than 70 years of rust, the Arizona is possibly nearing the point of collapse.
Some scientists warn of a possible “catastrophic” eruption of oil from the wreckage, which would cause extensive damage to the Hawaiian shoreline and disrupt US naval functions in the area.
The NPS and other governmental agencies continue to monitor the deterioration of the wreck site but are reluctant to perform extensive repairs or modifications due to the Arizona’s designation as a “war grave.”
The oil often seen on the surface of the water surrounding the ship has added an emotional gravity for many who visit the memorial and is sometimes referred to as the “tears of the Arizona” or “black tears”. Some say the oil will stop leaking when no more Arizona survivors are alive.
Pearl Harbor-Hickam Joint Base
Pearl Harbor remained a main base for the US Pacific Fleet after World War II along with Naval Base San Diego. In 2010, the Navy and the Air Force merged their two Hawaiian bases; Pearl Harbor joined with Hickam Air Force Base to create Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, 8 mi (12.8 km) west of Honolulu, on Oahu
Today, Oahu hosts all branches of the military and the Coast Guard.
Pearl Harbor Entrance is bounded in the east by Hickam Air Force Base and in the west by a naval reservation. During the Korean and Vietnam wars the harbor complex was a staging area for forces and equipment bound for the combat zones.
In its most recent history the joint base has been the home port of 14 Los Angeles class submarines and four Virginia class submarines, nine destroyers and two cruisers.
Naval Station Pearl Harbor provides berthing and shore-side support to surface ships and submarines, as well as maintenance and training. Pearl Harbor can accommodate the largest ships in the fleet, including dry dock services, and hosts more than 160 commands. Housing, personnel and family support are also provided for permanent and transient personnel.
The Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station, Pacific (NCTAMS PAC), Wahiawa, Hawaii, is the world’s largest communication station. The base of this shore command is in central Oahu.
Hickam remains the launch point of strategic air mobility and operational missions in support of the Global War on Terrorism as well as special air missions in support of the Commander, US Pacific Command (USPACOM) and Commander, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).
Pearl Harbor also is home to the retired USS Missouri, a US Navy Iowa-class battleship.
Missouri was the last battleship built by the US, and was the scene of the signing of surrender by the Empire of Japan, ending World War II.
Missouri was ordered in 1940 and commissioned in June 1944. She was decommissioned in 1955 into the US Navy reserve fleets (the “Mothball Fleet”), but reactivated and modernised in 1984 as part of the 600-ship Navy plan.
Missouri received 11 battle stars for service in World War II, Korea, and the Persian Gulf and was finally decommissioned on 31 March 1992. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in January 1995. In 1998, she was donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association and became a museum ship at Pearl Harbor.
She overlooks the scene of the incident that drew the US into World War II and was the venue for the surrender that ended it.
Japan, now one of America’s strongest allies, is the largest source of international tourists to Hawaii. Japanese visitors pay their respects at Pearl Harbor just as Americans do; ironically, the state’s economic vitality today depends largely on tourism from Japan.
The naval base includes around 300 buildings of historic significance; among the most notable are Dry dock 1, the Arizona and Utah Memorials, and moorings F6, 7 and 8.
The US Navy has commemorated the heroic actions of the members of the armed services and the citizens of the Island of Oahu by naming the last of the US Navy’s four new cargo variants of the Whidbey Island class landing dock ships the USS Pearl Harbor, based at San Diego.
It is not without some irony today that Japan is siding with other Asian nations and the US in opposition to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Pearl Harbor is a 2001 American romantic action war film directed by Michael Bay, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and written by Randall Wallace. Stars include Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Colm Feore and Alec Baldwin.
The film is a dramatic retelling of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raid. Despite receiving generally negative reviews from critics, the film was a major box office success, earning $US 59 million in its opening weekend and, eventually, almost $US 450 million worldwide. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning in the category of Best Sound Editing.
Michael Bay, director and co-producer of Pearl Harbor answered criticism of historical inaccuracies this way:
“It is a movie. But you’ll find what I found about Pearl Harbor, because once you attempt to do a movie like this, you try to interview as many people as possible. You try to get as many views from historians as possible. The Pentagon gave us some of the top naval historians and Army Air Corps historians. And they wanted us to keep everything as accurate as possible. But they knew it was also a movie.
And you have a time limit. What you find in the historians is that everyone’s an expert on Pearl Harbor. But then again, no one’s an expert on Pearl Harbor, because there were so many logs that weren’t really kept back then.
I kept asking the naval historian Jack Green, I said ‘Why does a lot of this stuff kind of differ? Everyone’s got different opinions.’ For example, a historian will say, ‘That didn’t happen,’ whereas a survivor, tears in his eyes, said, ‘It did happen’.”
From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima
The beginning of the end and surrender
December 1941: Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and declares war on the US and Great Britain which return the declaration, the US officially entering World War II. Germany declares war on the US. Japanese warplanes attack the Philippines, Wake Island and Guam. Japanese troops invade Malaya, Thailand, Burma and Hong Kong and seize Shanghai. President Roosevelt authorises the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons to counter German aggression.
1942: Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer becomes director of the Manhattan Project. A University of Chicago team produces the world’s first controlled and sustained nuclear fission reaction in the first nuclear reactor. Japanese bombers attack Darwin, Australia. Japan defeats the Allies in the Battle of the Java Sea. America turns back a Japanese invasion force heading for New Guinea in the battle of the Coral Sea. US Marines land on Japanese-held Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, the first step of an island-hopping campaign. Planes launched from a Japanese submarine drop fire bombs near Brookings, Oregon, in the first bombing of mainland US. American and British troops fight the Germans in north Africa.
1943: Australian and American troops beat back the Japanese in New Guinea. German troops surrender to the Soviets at Stalingrad. The RAF and America’s Eight Air Force begin round-the-clock bombing of Germany. A Japanese destroyer rams and sinks an American PT boat commanded by Lt John F. Kennedy. Italy surrenders but German troops seize Rome.
1944: US Marines land on Saipan. US carrier planes take out Japan’s last carrier and 220 warplanes. US troops liberate Guam. Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy, France, to begin the Liberation of Europe. French and American troops liberate Paris. US troops being the liberation of the Philippines. British and Greek troops liberate Athens. German troops launch a surprise attack in Belgium, beginning the Battle of the Bulge, the largest land battle ever fought by the US Army that saw the Germans turned back the following year. A uranium reactor is built in Clinton, Tennessee to manufacture plutonium for an atomic bomb and the first batch of plutonium is made ready for testing.
1945: US Marines land on Iwo Jima. B-29s bomb Tokyo, burning half the city. US forces invade Okinawa beginning a fierce battle that rages for 82 days, a possible precursor to an invasion of the main Japanese home islands. The fight-to-the-death defence by the Japanese and the high number of casualties leads America to consider that the nuclear bomb might be a better alternative to a bloody invasion of the home islands. Allied Bombing raids continue on Germany. Soviet troops enter Berlin. Guerrilla fighters capture and kill Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. German forces in Italy surrender.
January: Weaponisation of plutonium begins. The first batch of Uranium 235 is separated at the Tennessee laboratory.
12 April: President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies and Harry S. Truman becomes the 33rd President of the US. Truman is unaware of the Manhattan project until he is briefed on 24 April. Three days later the Target Committee meets to determine which Japanese cities will be bombed with the new weapon.
7 May 1945: Germany agrees to unconditional surrender, ending the war in Europe. American carrier-based planes stop a Japanese invasion of Midway.
July 16, 1945: The US successfully detonates the world’s first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site in the desert of New Mexico. The bomb explodes with force equivalent to 15,000 tons of dynamite, and the flash of light is seen over 200 mi (322 km) away.
26 July: The Potsdam Declaration, calling for the unconditional surrender of Japan, is issued by the US, Britain and China. The declaration warns that unless Japan surrenders it faces “prompt and utter destruction.”
6 August 1945: The first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, at 8.15 a.m. Nicknamed “Little Boy”, the bomb is released from the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber flown by Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets. It explodes 2,000 ft (609 m) above ground, killing 80,000 people instantly. One of the main arguments for use of the bomb is that it will force Japan to surrender unconditionally. Japan holds firm. President Truman speaks to the nation in a radio address: “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base.”
9 August 1945: An atomic bomb is dropped over Nagasaki, Japan, by a B-29 bomber flown by Maj. Charles Sweeney. It explodes 1,540 ft (470 m) above the ground. The original target for the bomb, nicknamed “Fat Man”, was Kokura, Japan. Due to cloud cover, the bomb is instead detonated over Nagasaki. It is estimated that 75,000 people are killed instantly. The Soviet Union declares war on Japan and invades Japanese-held China (the Manchuria region), North Korea, Sakhalin Island and the Kurlie Islands.
Infamy has become catastrophe.
14-15 August: After Emperor Hirohito determines that Japan must surrender, a coup is launched by those wishing to continue the war. The coup attempt fails.
15 August 1945: Japan surrenders, ending World War II.
Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States on 21 August 1959. The Hawaiian name for Pearl Harbor is Pu’uloa.
References, sources and recommended reading:
Tora! Tora! Tora! Pearl Harbor 1941, Mark E. Stille (Osprey); Day of Infamy, Walter Lord (Wordsworth Editions); At Dawn we Slept, Gordon W. Prange (Penguin); Sunday in Hell (Bill McWilliams (Open Road Integrated Media); Attack at Pearl Harbor, 1941, EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (1997); Pearl Harbor Survivors, Harry Spiller, (McFarland and Company); The Oxford Companion to American Military History 2000; Pearl Harbor Survivors Association (http://www.pearlharborsurvivorsonline.org); WW II history museum, history.com; pearlharbor.org, US Navy.
HOW THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR UNFOLDED
Sunday, December 7, 1941.
05.00 am – The Japanese attack force, comprising six Aircraft Carriers with 423 planes, under the command of Admiral Nagumo, prepares to attack the US Pacific base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
06.00 am – The first attack wave of 183 warplanes (51 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, 50 high level bombers and 43 fighters) led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida take off from Japanese aircraft carriers 230 miles (370 km) north of Oahu to head for the US. Pacific Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
06.45 am – The USS Ward sinks a Japanese midget submarine outside the entrance of Pearl Harbor.
06.53 am – USS Ward sends a message to Naval Headquarters, at Pearl Harbor: “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area.”
07.02 am – Opama Radar Station on Oahu picks up flight of unidentified planes around 130 miles (210 km) north of Oahu. The information centre at Fort Shafter assumes that the flight is a scheduled group of a dozen American B 17 Flying Fortresses travelling from California to the Philippines via Hawaii.
07.15 am – The message from USS Ward is encoded and eventually makes its way to Adm. Kimmel who decides to “wait for verification of the report” because there had been so many recent “false reports of submarines”.
07.15 am – Japan launches the second wave of 168 aircraft
07.49 am – Comdr. Fuchida issues the first wave Japanese attack order to the pilots, calling to them by radio: “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, meaning “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” signalling they had caught the base by surprise.
07.55 am – The first wave of Japanese planes begins the attack on Pearl Harbor, striking at the US warships and the air bases at Hickam, Wheeler, Ford Island, Kaneohe and Ewa Field.
07.55 am – Comdr. Logan C. Ramsey orders telegraph operators to transmit an uncoded message to every base and ship. The message read: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL
08.00 am – The American B 17 bombers arrive over Hawaii. They are unarmed and unaware of the Japanese attack. They dodge Japanese fighters and US anti-aircraft gunfire as they approach Oahu.
08.00 am – There are 100 ships in Pearl Harbor but the main targets are the 8 battleships anchored there. Seven battleships are moored on Battleship Row along the southeast shore of Ford Island and the USS Pennsylvania is in dry dock across the channel.
08.10 am – Attacks on the 8 battleships begin:
- USS Arizona is struck by a torpedo, killing 1177 on board
● USS Oklahoma is hit by five torpedoes and turned turtle. 429 men die
● USS West Virginia is hit by two bombs and seven torpedoes. 106 die
● USS California is hit by two bombs and two torpedoes.100 die
● USS Nevada is hit by six bombs and one torpedo. 60 die
● USS Tennessee is hit by two bombs. 5 die
● USS Maryland is hit by two bombs. 4 die
● USS Pennsylvania (Kimmel’s flagship) in dry dock is hit by one bomb. 9 die
- USS Arizona is struck by a torpedo, killing 1177 on board
08.10 am – President Franklin D. Roosevelt is told about the attack on Pearl Harbor
08.17 am – The destroyer USS Helm slips out of the channel and engages a Japanese mini submarine
08.35 am – The first wave of attacks on Pearl Harbor ends
08.39 am – The destroyer USS Monaghan engages and sinks a second Japanese mini submarine
08.54 am – The second wave of Japanese attacks begin. It consists of 35 fighters, 78 dive-bombers, and 54 high-altitude bombers which target other ships and shipyard facilities.
09.30 am – The destroyer USS Shaw is destroyed
10.00 am – The attack is over and the attack planes return to the Japanese fleet. The Japanese loses 29 planes and some midget submarines
10.00 am – The attack has extracted a heavy toll on the US Pacific fleet
- 21 of the 96 ships at anchor were destroyed and many were severely damaged
● Of the 394 planes at the Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows airfields, 188 were destroyed and 159 were damaged
● The death total was 2,403 (including 68 civilians) and the number of wounded total was 1,178
(All but the Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma were repaired and sailed again)