The winds of war are stirring as Hitler accomplishes the takeover of Europe, Japan has been waging war in Manchuria since 1929, and it seems America is destined to enter the fray even though Congress has chosen to remain as an isolationist. Naval intelligence has deciphered Japanese diplomatic encryption codes, but the maneuvers and intentions of the Imperial Navy and Army in Asia and the Pacific are unclear.
One arm tied behind our backs
Through the Lend Lease Act President Roosevelt has authorized the shipment of war material to Great Britain and Russia however unbeknownst to the American public the fiery glow of sinking ships offshore of the eastern seaboard are actually American merchant vessels torpedoed by Nazi U-Boats. The war is already just off the US coast and the American people have not been informed yet. Meanwhile former Army Captain Claire Chenault is acting as an observer for the Chiang Kai Chek government of China evaluating the effectiveness of the modern Japanese Air Force that ravages China’s antiquated Bi-plane defensive squadrons. Soon he will be in command of the Flying Tigers.
Through a tragic series of errors and miscommunications events on the island of Oahu at Pearl Harbor will become historic in rapid succession. Although CINCPAC know that the Japanese Imperial Navy have disembarked from their shipyards they are at a loss to establish the exact location of Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto’s Task Force. Little do they know he will take his flotilla more than 3,400 nautical miles to within striking distance of Hawaii just 230 miles north of Oahu. The first wave of incoming torpedo planes, dive bombers, and fighters will show up on US Naval Radar but will be mistaken for a flight of B-17’s expected in from the mainland coast of California.
Five Japanese mini submarines are already silently prowling the entrances to Pearl Harbor’s shipyard and even after one such vessel is detected by the Destroyer USS Ward and is destroyed by a 5 inch gun word does not get to Admiral Kimmel until the coming air raid is well underway! All in all, Pearl Harbor is considered one of the most successful sneak attacks in all military history, but the end result is not what the Japanese intended. A tactical victory will soon become a strategic nightmare!
Loss of life
Today the only remaining veterans who survived the explosion that destroyed the USS Arizona from the precision hit from an aerial bomb that penetrated below decks, ignited the powder storage compartment (Magazine) and instantly incinerated more than 1100 officers, sailors, and US Marines, are 4 elderly veterans too ill to travel. Of the original 1177 men only 75 survived the devastating blast that tore the hull apart and sunk the massive battleship in minutes. The memorial that was built over the wreck of the USS Arizona is now under repair and not accessible to tourists after cracks were discovered in its structure.
Some things never change
Just 77 short years ago the world was a different place but not as different as we might think. There was international trade, trans-oceanic air travel, and a global economy with the US having established a large presence in the Pacific Islands to patrol trade routes and provide crude oil shipments using naval ports and militarily manned bases. At this time the world seems a placid place in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. General Mac Arthur commands America’s outpost in the Philippines as do the British who have a large base in Manila.
Dawn of destruction
On the morning of December 7th however an evil force with unholy intentions looms just over the horizon as the first wave of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s aerial assault make their way cautiously over the Island of Oahu. There residents are enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning. US Naval officers aboard some of the battle fleet stationed at Pearl are on deck flying colors and standing at attention while others are sleeping off a night on the town at Honolulu. As the first scout planes enter the area children on baseball fields wave to the pilots that they can plainly see though their cockpit glass as the Mitsubishi Zeroes, Aichi D3A (Vals), and Nakajima B5N Kates, form up for an attack. Once the advanced aviator saw that the US Navy had been caught completely by surprise he used the infamous “Tora! Tora! Tora!” voice command to commence the operation!
It took only 1 hundred and 10 minutes for 2 waves of attack aircraft from a task force of 6 Japanese Aircraft Carriers to carry out the assault and return to their waiting task force. In two waves of 353 aircraft the Japanese manage to decimate the US Pacific Fleet. Sinking or damaging 8 US Naval Battleships, ravaging almost all US Army Airfields and Pearl Harbor runways and killing over 2,400 American soldiers and sailors, it seemed that the US role in the Pacific would end in utter defeat.
The tragedy of unpreparedness was one of the main ironies of the battle. US Aircraft parked side by side wing to wing made strafing and bombing runs for the Japanese especially easy and effective. Major ordnance locked away in storage delayed the anti-aircraft defenses as sailors and US Marines were forced to bust out locks or shoot them out in order to get ammunition to the deck guns and onboard air defense batteries. Yet, remarkably the Japanese reported that within 5 minutes of the attack the US Navy managed an umbrella of anti-aircraft fire as the Japanese swooped down over their opponents with savage intent.
Payback too little too late
Amidst the confusion and chaos, 2 airmen managed to get to a remote airfield to pilot a couple of Curtis P-40 Warhawks to project an air to air battle with the Japanese who by that time were beginning to withdraw. Both aviators did manage to get some payback as they lined up on the tails of some of the trailing dive bombers and torpedo planes to claim some kills, but the horrid damage to Pearl Harbor had been done. Black smoke and fire billowed high into the air as people from the town of Honolulu looked on in disbelief at a US Navy port that had been devastated by a sneak attack.
Bloody balance sheet
In the aftermath of the battle only 29 Japanese aircraft had been shot down and five miniature subs sunk or captured. In exchange for more than 3,500 US casualties, the loss of 8 major battleships, and destruction of virtually all airfields. Luckily the intelligence department had not been hit or the Admiral’s headquarters. It is said that Admiral Kimmel upon walking out of his office and seeing the disheartening battle damage reached up and tore off his shoulder chevrons of his uniform. He and General Short, who was in charge of the ground defenses and airfield security would endure endless Congressional interrogation over the failures of the Army and Navy in effectively anticipating the attack. One might recall that Colonel Billy Mitchell in 1926 warned his superiors that one day Pearl Harbor would be attacked by the Japanese. Many wondered later why Admiral Stark in Washington DC had intelligence that an attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent but failed to share that knowledge with either Husband E. Kimmel or Walter Short, the two commanders responsible for the Hawaiian military operations.
As devastating as the sneak attack was there were failures that proved costly to the Japanese in a short period of time. These oversights would allow the Americans to recover in record time and be back in the fight in short order and be the very awakened sleeping giant that Yamamoto had warned his superiors of while plans for the attack were being drawn months before.
What have we as a nation gleaned from the Pearl Harbor tragedy? Years later the lesson on that terrible date of 7 December 1941 seems to have done little to remind America what will happen as soon as we let our guard down, allow our military to become underfunded and complacent, and underestimate our enemies? These questions today burn just as bright as the fires that blazed aboard those US Navy battleships in the aftermath of torpedoes and aerial bombardment.
Warning to the future
Looking back at such bloody surprises as the Korean conflict, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, 9-11, Mogadishu, Benghazi, and the Iran Nuke Deal we can see that even today as well funded, technically advanced, and well trained as our modern day US armed forces are tragedy is always just around the corner and if future liberal administrations want to defund our military, capitulate to the enemy, and negotiate from weakness Pearl Harbor may end up being a walk in the park compared to the horrid possibilities of a nuclear exchange or massive defensive compromise due to major cyber-attack upon our electronic capabilities that could render us vulnerable once again! Pearl Harbor should never be forgotten!