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The Attack on Pearl Harbor: The First Wave - USAA



Pearl Harbor: The Bombs of the Second Wave

On December 7, 1941, Japanese torpedoes and bombs devastated Hawaii’s warships and air fields. The “Weapons Wall” at Pacific Aviation Museum has full-size models of three of these weapons—the ones used in the first wave of the attack. The wall also shows the aircraft that carried different types of ordnance during the first wave.

This article goes beyond the information shown on the Weapons Wall, to look at the bombs used in the second wave. The Japanese Kates and Vals of the second wave delivered different types of bombs than they delivered in the first wave—including two types of bombs not used in the first wave. Table 1 summarizes basic data about the torpedoes and four types of bombs used during the attack, and about the aircraft that delivered each weapon during the two waves.

Table 1: Japanese Bombs and Torpedoes at Pearl Harbor

Weapon Weight First Wave Second Wave
Type 91 Model 2 torpedo 838 kg
205 kg warhead
1,847 lb
452 lb warhead
B5N2 Kates
Type 99 Model 5 ordinary (anti-ship) bomb 800 kg 1,763 lb B5N2 Kates
Type 98 land bomb 250 kg 551 lb D3A1 Val B5N2 Kates
Type 97 land bomb 60 kg 132 lb B5N2 Kates
Type 99 Model 1 ordinary (anti-ship) bomb: 250 kg 551 lb D3A1 Val
Weapon Weight First Wave Second Wave
Type 91 Model 2 torpedo 838 kg
205 kg warhead
1,847 lb
452 lb warhead
B5N2 Kates
Type 99 Model 5 ordinary (anti-ship) bomb 800 kg 1,763 lb B5N2 Kates
Type 98 land bomb 250 kg 551 lb D3A1 Val B5N2 Kates
Type 97 land bomb 60 kg 132 lb B5N2 Kates
Type 99 Model 1 ordinary (anti-ship) bomb: 250 kg 551 lb D3A1 Val

Note: In Imperial Japanese Navy terminology, land bombs were general-purpose bombs used to attack land targets, while ordinary bombs were anti-ship bombs.

TWO WAVES

It is important to understand that the Japanese had two different types of targets during the attack. Most obviously, their main targets were battleships, carriers, and cruisers in Pearl Harbor. However, they also attacked air fields throughout Oahu to destroy the fighters at Wheeler Air Force Base and Bellows AFB and to destroy the bombers and patrol bombers at Hickam AFB, Naval Air Station Kaneohe and NAS Pearl Harbor. Fighters could intercept the attackers, and big planes could find and destroy the Japanese carriers.

THE FIRST WAVE

In the first wave, B5N2 bombers, which the U.S. called “Kates,” attacked the ships. The Kate was the largest aircraft on Japanese carriers. It had a crew of three, including a pilot, an observer/bombardier, and a gunner/radio operator. It carry carry either a single torpedo or several bombs, and the rear gunner would strafed targets with his single 30 caliber machine gun.In the first wave, 40 Kates carried the Type 91 Model 2 torpedo. Although only about half the size of Japan’s potent Long Lance torpedo launched from surface ships, the Type 91 still had a big 205 kg (452 lb) warhead that that exploded below the water line, doing immense damage. Most of the ships that were sunk in the attack were sunk by these torpedoes. By the way, the wooden tail fins kept the torpedo from sinking into the mud in the shallow harbor. The fins, which were pioneered by the British in their attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto a year earlier, distinguished the Type 91 Model 2 from the original Type 91.

Another 49 Kates of the first wave carried converted naval shells. These Type 91 Model 5 bombs weighted 800 kg (1,763 lb). Dropped from high altitude, these streamlined bombs hit ships with tremendous force, penetrating several decks before exploding. It was a Type 91 bomb that destroyed the Arizona, but that was its only capital ship fatality from the Type 91 bomb.

For land targets in the first wave, Japan turned primarily to its Aichi D3A1 dive bomber, which Americans called the “Val.” Each Val carried a single 250 kg (551 pound) Type 98 “land bomb.” In Japanese terminology, a land bomb was a general purpose bomb rather than an anti-ship penetration bomb. During the first wave, 51 Vals used these bombs to shred aircraft on the ground at Wheeler, Hickam, and the seaplane base on Ford Island. Kaneohe was left to strafing A6M Model 21 Zeroes. After dropping their Type 98 land bombs, the Vals and Zeroes strafed the air fields with machine guns, and Zeros jointed in with machine guns and 20 mm cannon.

Pearl Harbor Attack


In the second wave, the Vals and Kates switched roles. The Vals went after ships in the harbor, while the Kates went after air bases.

With all of the smoke in the harbor, the Japanese needed the pin-point accuracy of dive bombing to attack the remaining ships. To attack ships, the Vals used a penetrating bomb, the Type 99 “ordinary” bomb. Here, “ordinary” means that the bomb was designed for the role that carrier dive bombers were created to carry out—destroying ships.

Vals with Type 99 ordinary bombs were able to hit ships in dry dock, including the battleship Pennsylvania. However, a large fraction of the Vals went after the Nevada, which had managed to get underway. Overall, the Val attacks of the second wave did far less ship damage than the Kates of the first wave.

This left the Kates free to attack the airfields. Dropping bombs from high altitudes would not give high accuracy, but Kates could carry much heavier bomb loads than Vals. Many of the Kates in the second wave carried two of the 250 kg (551 pound) Type 98 land bombs that Vals dropped singly in the first wave. Others carried another type of bomb, the smaller 60 kg (132 pound) Type 97 land bomb, usually along with one or two Type 98s.

Vals could carry also two Type 97 bombs–one under each wing. However, there is no evidence that they did so in either wave of the Pearl Harbor attack. Pictures of “stuff” under Val wings during the attack only showed the Val’s unique dive brakes.


The Saga of the USS Nevada

July 11, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the launching of United States Battleship Number 36 named for the great state of Nevada. Throughout Battleship Nevada’s long career—from her inception in 1909 to her sinking in 1948—she repeatedly distinguished herself. She was one of the most innovative and active battleships in the US Navy, as unique and special as the state for which she was named. That special Nevada mystique, with its bad-boy past, endless forbidding sagebrush deserts, a land of contrasts, contradictions, and beauty, carried over to Battleship Nevada and seemed to embody the very spirit of the state. From her heroic sortie at Pearl Harbor to her exemplary war record and incredible toughness in the face of efforts to sink her, Battleship Nevada is indeed a ship to be remembered.

Bow view of the Nevada (BB-36) port side. Puget Sound Navy Yard, Dec. 15, 1942.

Nevada was the 36th state to be admitted to the union and Battleship Nevada was the only ship whose hull number, (BB) 36, coincided with the state’s admission order.

When commissioned in 1916, the press of the day heralded Nevada as a “super dreadnaught” and declared that she shifted Uncle Sam’s Navy into the position of being the world’s leading sea power. This is because Nevada introduced the radical new concept of the raft body armor principal. This provided the thickest possible armor (13.5-inches thick) in a box-shaped fortress amidships, enclosing the ship’s vital systems, leaving non-vital areas largely unarmored. Vital areas were defined as the main turrets, their barbettes, magazines, the engines, command, conning, and main battery fire control. This feature made Nevada the first second-generation battleship and rendered all firstgeneration battleships obsolete. Nevada was also the first US battleship to be fitted with triple turrets in positions one forward and four near the stern, and was the first US Navy battleship designed from the onset to use oil as fuel.

BRAVELY MAKING HISTORY

USS Nevada underway during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nevada was the only battleship to sortie during the attack.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. However, at 8 a.m. standing at attention on the fantail, Nevada’s band started playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” While standing fast in ranks, they were interrupted by a strafing attack aimed at them by a Japanese rear gunner in a torpedo bomber passing overhead which fortunately missed all personnel. The band paused during the strafing, but immediately picked up when it was over. They once again paused as a second torpedo bomber flashed overhead, this time without strafing. They then picked up once more until the last note was played, at which time all scattered for their battle stations.

Nevada was the first battleship to open fire at enemy planes, and she was the only ship to shoot down an aircraft with its secondary surface battery at Pearl Harbor. And on this day, luck earned Nevada a permanent berth in the annals of naval history. When in port and not tied to a pier, a battleship usually had just one boiler online to generate electricity however, a single boiler was not enough for a battleship to get underway. Early on that fateful morning, Nevada’s offi cer of the deck realized the same boiler had been in use since the ship had returned to port on Dec. 5, and ordered a second boiler lit.

By 8 a.m., the second boiler was at full steam. When the attack started, the senior offi cer present afloat (SOPA) realized that with two boilers online, Nevada had enough power to get underway. He immediately ordered the hoisting of the signals “I am preparing to get underway” and “request tug assistance.” The tugboat Hoga was dispatched to assist Nevada.

UNDER ATTACK AND FIGHTING BACK

Minutes later Arizona—moored directly ahead of Nevada— blew up in a tremendous explosion and began burning furiously. At 8:10 a.m., Nevada was struck forward by a torpedo and at
8:13 a.m. was struck amidships by a bomb. At 8:25 a.m., the first wave of Japanese attackers withdrew. Realizing the danger of the burning oil on the water drifting toward Nevada, the SOPA
made the decision to get underway without the tug. The mooring hawsers were cast off and at 8:40 a.m., Nevada started to back down minutes later her bow swung into the channel. At 8:47
a.m. the ship started moving forward. Nevada was underway! The effect was electrifying on the men ashore and aboard the other ships. Tumultuous cheering broke out and men from the stricken Arizona and West Virginia leapt into the water and swam to join Nevada as she passed.

The punch bowl from the USS Nevada silver set.

Many of the men who saw Nevada underway recalled the words of the “Star Spangled Banner” when they saw the ensign courageously raised and standing out stiffly in the breeze. The ship then successfully navigated around the pipe for the harbor dredge and headed for the channel out of the harbor. At 8:55 a.m., the arriving second wave of Japanese planes noticed Nevada underway and moved to attack her in hopes of sinking the ship in the channel and blocking it. At 9 a.m., dive bombers and torpedo bombers put Nevada under heavy attack, and within a few minutes the ship was hit by five more bombs. Nevada was burning forward and amidships and sinking by the bow. The SOPA realized Nevada was going to sink and ordered the ship grounded.

At 9:10 a.m., Nevada was grounded on Hospital Point with the assistance of the tug Hoga, which had dutifully followed Nevada down the channel. Thirty minutes later Nevada was moved across the channel to Waipio Point to prevent the stern of the ship from swinging around and partially blocking the main channel. Thus, gallant Nevada was the first (and only) battleship to get underway during the Pearl Harbor attack.

BACK IN ACTION

Left to right: Captain H.L. Grosskopf, and his staff of executive officers of the USS Nevada hold the state flag which disappeared from the battleship during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. The flag was returned by Robert J. Raynor, a Navy Yard employee, who found it. Photograph taken on July 16, 1945.

On Feb. 12, 1942, Nevada was refloated, and six days later was towed into drydock for temporary repairs. On April 22, she got underway on her own power. Nevada was the first of the pre-war battleships to be fully modernized. She emerged with new radars, fire control, and a new 5-inch battery that gave her the same anti-aircraft capability as modern battleships. In December, Nevada was ready to rejoin the fleet and in May 1943 participated in the landings to retake Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians Islands. In June 1943, Nevada was transferred to the European Theater where she supported D-Day landings at Normandy, and was commended for her accurate gunfire. She then took part in the landings on the South of France, where she single-handedly neutralized the damaged Vichy French Battlecruiser Strasbourg at Toulon with a single 14-inch hit.

In September 1944, Nevada was released from the European Theater and transferred to the Pacific. She arrived in time to participate in the landings at Iwo Jima where she again distinguished herself. Two days before the main landings she was assigned to support 12 landing craft infantry (LCI) with underwater demolition teams (frogmen) to remove underwater obstacles and mines. The LCIs amphibious assault ships immediately came under heavy fire as the Japanese commander believed this to be the main landing force. Nevada rang up flank speed and charged the beach with both forward turrets blazing and at 800 yards, threw herself broadside between the LCIs and the beach, allowing them to escape.

Nevada was struck by an Acchi 99 ‘Val’ dive bomber Kamikaze that crashed on her starboard quarter while off Okinawa, Japan on March 27, 1945. On April 5 1945, also off Okinawa, an undetected 4.7-inch shore battery suddenly opened fire, sending five rounds into the side of the ship causing minor damage. Nevada returned fire, but the bunker was so well protected it took 71 14-inch rounds to destroy it. This was the first and only time Nevada was hit by counter-battery. In July 1945, Nevada joined Tennessee, California, and West Virginia and the new battle cruisers Alaska and Guam for anti-shipping sweeps off the China coast.

ALMOST UNSINKABLE

Battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) painted orange as a target ship for the Operation Crossroads Able Nuclear weapons test in 1946. Official U.S. Navy Photograph of the cover of All Hands magazine, July 1946 issue.

After the war, Nevada was selected as a target ship for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. To identify her as the target for the airburst shot Able, she was painted orange. Nevada survived the test and was determined to still be in an operable, if radioactive, condition. The second test, shot Baker, an underwater detonation, also failed to sink Nevada. One airborne observer reported the explosion actually lifted the ship clear of the water on an even keel. And although now dangerously radioactive, she was still considered to be only minimally damaged and still operational.

Nevada was stored at Kwajalein until 1948 when she was towed near Oahu to be sunk as a target. On July 26, 1948, a powerful new explosive device was tested aboard Nevada, only to detonate without causing significant damage. On July 31, Nevada was to be sunk by naval gunfire from the modern battleship USS Iowa (16-inch guns) and three light cruisers (6-inch guns). First from 15 miles out, then just five, Nevada was pounded by gunfire, but refused to sink. Destroyers were sent into fire hundreds of 5-inch projectiles into Nevada, but when the smoke cleared, Nevada was riding proud and defiant.

Finally, the decision was made to torpedo the ship and an Avenger torpedo bomber put a single torpedo into starboard side of Nevada amidships. Slowly at first, Nevada started listing starboard, then abruptly capsized and went down, stern first, in 2,600 fathoms of water 165 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor with her colors still flying. The toughness of Nevada was a vindication of, and a tribute to, the men who designed and built this fine ship.

As the ship disappeared into the Pacific, a former crewman was heard to remark: “Certainly every man who ever served aboard her will be forever proud to say: “I served on the greatest of the great battleships, the USS Nevada, and a part of her mystique will always remain with me.” A fitting epitaph for Battleship Nevada.

LEARN MORE ABOUT USS NEVADA

A sailor from the Trident ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada viewed the silver set during a visit in 2012.

At the Nevada State Museum in Carson City, view the entire USS Nevada Battleship silver service. It was fashioned from 5,000 ounces of silver from the Tonopah mines and lined with gold from Goldfield. 775-687-4810


The Mystery Behind Why Pearl Harbor Happened

Antiaircraft blasts flash from American ships during the Pearl Harbor attack, as Japanese aircraft fly in.

Jeffrey Record
January 2012

Why did Japan attack the United States Pacific fleet and start a war it could not win?

At 0600 on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Lieutenant Mitsuo Matsuzaki lifted off in his Nakajima B5N2 torpedo bomber from Akagi, one of six Japanese aircraft carriers sailing in loose formation some 230 miles north of Hawaii. Just under two hours later the man sitting behind Matsuzaki, Commander Mitsuo Fujita, slid back his section of the plane’s canopy and fired a green flare—a signal to the 182 other aircraft of the first assault wave to begin Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The flare also marked the start of a war Japan had no hope of winning. The 1941–45 war between Japan and the United States seems, in retrospect, inevitable.

By 1941 Japan, which had subdued much of China, was determined to conquer all of East Asia, including mineral-rich, Western-colonized Southeast Asia. Japan’s imperial ambitions in East Asia inexorably collided with Western interests in the region, and Japan’s 1940 military alliance with Nazi Germany, though of little operational significance, further alienated the Western powers. The United States was preoccupied with events in Europe, especially Britain’s survival, which depended significantly on continued access to imperial manpower and other resources worldwide. But Washington was not prepared to accept Southeast Asia’s subjugation by Japan. Certainly any Japanese attack in the region that included an invasion of the Philippines would mean war. The islands were a strategic liability, but they were still an American colony garrisoned by U.S. military forces.

The Pacific War arose out of Japan’s quest for national glory and economic security via the conquest of Southeast Asia. It also arose out of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration’s belief that it could check Japan’s bid for an Asian empire through economic sanctions, U.S. force redeployments in the Pacific and other measures short of war. The Japanese sought to free themselves from what they saw as a humiliating economic dependence on the United States, including an almost total addiction to imported American oil, whereas the United States sought to exploit that dependence to thwart Japanese imperial ambitions. The Japanese sought to overturn the territorial status quo in Asia, whereas the United States sought to preserve it. Unless the Western powers had voluntarily abandoned their own empires in Southeast Asia, it is difficult to imagine how Japan could have fulfilled its imperial aims in the region without war.

Despite these facts, Japan’s decision to go to war with the United States continues to perplex. How, in mid- 1941, when the decision was made, could that nation —already militarily bogged down in a four-year war in China and contemplating an attack on the Soviet Union— even think about yet another war, this one against a distant country with overwhelming industrial superiority? The United States was not only much stronger but also lay beyond Japan’s military reach. The United States could (and did) outproduce Japan in every category of armaments, and although Japan could fight a war in East Asia and the western Pacific, it could not threaten the American homeland. In attacking Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Japan elected to fight a geographically limited war against an enemy who, once fully mobilized, was capable of ultimately waging a total war against the Japanese Home Islands. If the Pacific War was inevitable, was not Japan’s crushing defeat as well? If so, then why did Japan start a war that, as British strategist Colin Gray has argued, it “was always going to lose”?

A common answer, especially among students of the realist school of international relations—which focuses on cold-blooded calculations of power and interest as the primary drivers of state behavior—is that Japanese decision makers in 1941 were simply irrational, even crazy. French political theorist Raymond Aron, for example, believed that Japan’s decision for war “was senseless” because Japan “had no chance of winning and could avoid losing only if the Americans were too lazy or cowardly to conquer.” Gordon Prange, the great historian of Pearl Harbor, called the attack the beginning of “a reckless war [Japan] could not possibly win.” And Roberta Wohlstetter, in her groundbreaking Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, denounced the fanciful Japanese thinking behind the decision for war: “Most unreal was their assumption that the United States, with 10 times the military potential and a reputation for waging war until unconditional surrender, would after a short struggle simply accept the annihilation of a considerable part of its air and naval forces and the whole of its power in the Far East.”

Japan’s decision for war against the United States in 1941 was, in fact, dictated by a combination of national pride and the threatened economic destruction of Japan by the United States. Realists tend to dismiss the role of ideas and emotion in interstate relations. In 1941 the Japanese believed themselves a divine race destined to rule Asia. They were a proud people determined to emulate Great Britain and America as great imperial powers. They also resented their profound trade dependence on a United States increasingly hostile to Japanese ambitions in East Asia. Japan’s war machine was vitally dependent not only on American oil, which supplied 80 percent of Japan’s total consumption, but also on imports of U.S. copper, aluminum, zinc, nickel, potash, scrap iron, steel and machine tools. The Roosevelt administration’s growing attempts to use Japan’s trade dependency as a tool of coercive diplomacy only encouraged Tokyo to find another source of economic security.

Decisions involve choice between at least two alternatives, and the alternatives Japan faced in its relationship with the United States in mid-1941 were few and grim: economic ruin, capitulation to a U.S. diplomatic diktat that Japan quit China, or the initiation of war with a much more powerful and strategically invulnerable enemy. The decision for war, disastrous though it was, thus becomes comprehensible. Stanford University political scientist Scott Sagan rightly argues that the “persistent theme of Japanese irrationality is highly misleading, for, using the common standard in the literature (a conscious calculation to maximize utility based on a consistent value system), the Japanese decision for war appears to have been rational.” Sagan further asserts that on close examination of the decisions made in Tokyo in 1941, “one finds not a thoughtless rush to national suicide, but rather a prolonged, agonizing debate between two repugnant alternatives.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor, essentially a flanking raid to shield Japan’s invasion of Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, capped a decade of deteriorating U.S.-Japanese relations. Those relations foundered in the 1920s and 1930s on numerous shoals as Japan moved toward dictatorship and war after a decade of flirtation with democracy and internationalism.

The contentious issues driving an ever-larger wedge between Tokyo and Washington included American racism immigration policies that discriminated against Japanese accelerated naval competition in the Pacific U.S. nonrecognition of Japan’s 1931–32 conquest of Manchuria Japan’s continued aggression in China (and U.S. support for the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek) Tokyo’s military alliance with Adolf Hitler Japan’s evident imperial ambitions in Southeast Asia and, beginning in January 1940, escalating U.S. economic sanctions against Japan.

What really brought matters to a head, however, was the combination, in July 1941, of three key events. First, Emperor Hirohito’s July 2 formal authorization of the Japanese military’s planned invasion of Southeast Asia (of which Roosevelt learned just six days later through decrypted intercepts of Japanese diplomatic code traffic between Tokyo and Berlin). Second, Japan’s July 21 occupation of southern French Indochina. And third, the Roosevelt administration’s July 26 freezing of Japanese assets in the United States, which effectively eliminated remaining U.S.-Japanese trade, including Japanese imports of vital U.S. oil. The administration also escalated its diplomatic demands on Tokyo. As the price for restored American trade, the United States now demanded Japan terminate its alliance with Nazi Germany and evacuate not just French Indochina but China itself.

The asset freeze eliminated between 50 and 75 percent of Japan’s foreign trade and left the Japanese little choice but to invade Southeast Asia, as the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) was the only available substitute for embargoed American oil that lay within Japan’s military reach. But Japan’s vision of empire dictated the expulsion of all Western power and influence from the region, especially that of the hated United States and Great Britain. The Japanese regarded the two Anglo-American powers as strategically inseparable, which meant that an attack on one required an attack on the other, which in turn meant an attack on British colonies and the American-held Philippines.

Initial Japanese plans called for an invasion of the Philippines (whose garrison Roosevelt had hastily reinforced), but not an attack on the U.S. Pacific Feet at Pearl Harbor. It was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of Japan’s Combined Fleet, who insisted on including Pearl Harbor, arguing that it would be dangerous to leave the bulk of U.S. naval power in the Pacific intact along the left flank of Japanese forces advancing into Southeast Asia. Yamamoto’s opinion prevailed.

The alternative—diplomatic capitulation to the United States—was far more repugnant than war itself. The Japanese had spent half a century building an empire in East Asia and had invested enormous resources in their stalemated war in China. Moreover, by mid-1941 most Japanese leaders had come to regard war with the United States as inevitable, and none were prepared to give up Japan’s hard-won gains in China for the sake of restored trade with the United States. Certainly none were prepared to accept the four principles of behavior upon which the Americans insisted as the basis for further negotiation: respect for the territorial integrity of all nations, noninterference in the affairs of other countries, equality of commercial opportunity and nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific except by peaceful means. The United States was essentially demanding the Japanese renounce what they themselves believed to be their divine destiny in Asia.

The Japanese empire was not going to dissolve itself simply to placate American diplomacy. “No government, least of all the Japanese, could be expected to swallow such humiliating conditions and utter loss of face,” observed noted military historian Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart in retrospect. The Japanese regarded the U.S. oil embargo as an act of war and would not surrender without a fight. In September 1941 Admiral Osami Nagano, chief of staff of the Imperial Japanese Navy, summed up the Japanese view: “Since Japan is unavoidably facing national ruin whether it decides to fight or not, it must by all means choose to fight. Japan would rather go down fighting than ignobly surrender without a struggle, because surrender would spell spiritual as well as physical ruin for the nation and its destiny.”

In deciding for war against a materially superior United States, did Japan have a theory of victory, or at least of defeat avoidance?

The Japanese recognized they were not strong enough to threaten the American homeland, but the war would be fought in East Asia and the Pacific, which the Japanese controlled or would soon control (after Tokyo’s conquest of Southeast Asia). By fortifying the island chains of the Central and Southwest Pacific, the Japanese believed they could force the United States into a murderous, island-by-island slog that would eventually exhaust America’s will to fight on to total victory. After all, the Roosevelt administration clearly regarded Japan as a lesser threat than Nazi Germany, and the strength of U.S. interests in East Asia could never equal Japan’s.

In his book Choices Under Fire historian Michael Bess summarized the reasoning behind Japan’s strategy: “[The Americans] can come and fight us to liberate those territories, or they can accept the fact that the map of Asia has been redrawn, and that they must henceforth learn to deal with a Japanese-led Asian bloc. If we make it clear that kicking us Japanese out of our new Asian empire is going to require a long, bloody fight, then there is a good chance that the Americans will regard the battle as simply not being worth the high cost in lives. Controlling the southwestern Pacific is not a vital interest of the United States.” As it turned out, the Japanese were correct in assuming they could impose a protracted war of attrition on the Americans, but they were fatally mistaken in believing that such a war would sap American will to pay the necessary price for subjugating Japan.

Underlying the Japanese hope they could bleed the Americans into a political settlement short of total victory—a belief that persisted among Japan’s military leadership well into 1945—was a confidence that Japanese racial and spiritual superiority could neutralize U.S. material superiority. Japan was neither the first nor the last of America’s enemies to stress the superiority of the human element in war and to underestimate the resolve of Americans in war.

The Japanese were fully aware of their comparative industrial weakness (Yamamoto had spent much time in America and was very pessimistic about Japan’s chances in a long war with the United States), but they had long believed that the unique qualities of their race—including a superior national will, discipline and war-fighting prowess—could defeat the strong but soft Americans. Joseph Grew, the prewar U.S. ambassador to Japan, testified after the war, “The Japanese regarded us as a decadent nation in which pacifism and isolationism practically ruled the policy of our government.”

Moreover, as British historian H.P. Willmott points out, in 1941 Japan was “a nation with no experience of defeat and, more importantly, a nation created by and watched over by the gods and ruled by a god. …This religious dimension provided the basis for the belief in the superiority of the Japanese martial commitment —Yamato damashii—that was the guarantee against national defeat.” Many Japanese shared the view of Rear Admiral Tasuku Nakazawa, chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy operations section, that America was “a composite nation of immigrants, lacked unity, could not withstand adversity and privations, and regarded war as a form of sport, so that if we deal a severe blow at the outset of hostilities, they would lose the will to fight.”

As a creature-comforted, racially impure and capitalist society, America was, in Japan’s view, simply too soft to sustain the blood-and-treasure costs of a long, harsh war, especially in a region—East Asia—where the strength of U.S. interests was weak relative to the strength of Japanese interests, and at some point the capitalists who controlled the United States would turn against a war whose balance sheet was registering far more costs than benefits. “The [Japanese] military went into the Pacific War still clinging to the concept of fighting spirit as decisive in battle,” observed Japanese historian Saburo Ienaga. “The result was a wanton waste of Japanese lives, particularly in combat with Allied forces whose doctrine was based on scientific rationality.” Indeed, absent Japanese racial stereotyping of America as a nation of self-indulgent couch potatoes incapable of heroic sacrifice, Japanese war plans made little sense, as Tokyo did clearly recognize the great American advantage in materiel strength. Japanese quality had to offset U.S. quantity.

The Japanese were oblivious to the likely political and psychological effects of their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Far from increasing American political disharmony, the Sunday-morning “sneak attack” enraged all Americans, regardless of class, color or partisan persuasion, and in one fell swoop demolished isolationism as both a potent political force in U.S. politics and a brake on Roosevelt’s interventionist foreign policy. By galvanizing public opinion behind total war against Japan, Pearl Harbor also virtually guaranteed Japan’s eventual and utter destruction. No amount of damage the Japanese might have inflicted on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Hawaii (unluckily for the Japanese, the fleet’s three aircraft carriers were absent from Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941) could make good the decision to attack in the first place.

Pearl Harbor’s catastrophic strategic consequences for Japan raise one of the great counterfactual questions of World War II: What if the Japanese had confined their invasion of Southeast Asia only to British- and Dutch-controlled territory? The Philippines had little to offer Japan in the way of desired natural resources, and until Dec. 7, 1941, Roosevelt was in no political position to commit the United States to the defense of Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies or any other European colony in the region. Could he, absent a Japanese attack on American territory somewhere in East Asia or the Pacific, have asked for, much less obtained, a declaration of war from a Congress (especially the Senate) still heavily populated by isolationists? Had the Japanese chosen invasion of Southeast Asia and not war with the United States, how might the course, even outcome, of World War II have been altered? Presidential aide and confidante Harry Hopkins recalled several talks with Roosevelt in the year leading up to Pearl Harbor in which Roosevelt expressed concern that “the tactics of the Japanese would be to avoid conflict with us.” He also recalled the president’s subsequent “relief” that the Japanese did indeed attack U.S. territory on December 7 because “it completely solidified the American people.”

In the end, the judgment of the U.S. Army’s official history of the Pacific War still stands:

Perhaps the major error of the Japanese was their decision to attack the United States when the main objective of the war was to gain the strategic resources of Southeast Asia. Had they bypassed the Philippines and rejected Yamamoto’s plan for the strike against Pearl Harbor, it is possible that the United States might not have gone to war, or, if it had, that the American people would have been more favorably disposed toward a negotiated peace. While the Japanese would have had to accept certain risks in following such a course, they would not have forced the United States to declare war.

For further reading Jeffrey Record recommends Edward S. Miller’s Bankrupting the Enemy: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan Before Pearl Harbor, and A Gathering Darkness: The Coming of War to the Far East and the Pacific, 1921–1942, by Haruo Tohmatsu and H.P. Wilmott.

Originally published in the January 2012 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.


Contents

Diplomatic background

War between Japan and the United States had been a possibility that each nation had been aware of, and planned for, since the 1920s. Japan had been wary of American territorial and military expansion in the Pacific and Asia since the late 1890s, followed by the annexation of islands, such as Hawaii and the Philippines, which they felt were close to or within their sphere of influence. [23] [24] [25] [26]

Although Japan had begun to take a hostile policy against the United States after the rejection of the Racial Equality Proposal, [27] the relationship between the two countries was cordial enough that they remained trading partners. [28] [29] [30] Tensions did not seriously grow until Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931. Over the next decade, Japan expanded into China, leading to the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Japan spent considerable effort trying to isolate China and endeavored to secure enough independent resources to attain victory on the mainland. The "Southern Operation" was designed to assist these efforts. [24] [31]

Starting in December 1937, events such as the Japanese attack on USS Panay, the Allison incident, and the Nanking Massacre swung Western public opinion sharply against Japan. The U.S. unsuccessfully proposed a joint action with the British to blockade Japan. [32] In 1938, following an appeal by President Roosevelt, U.S. companies stopped providing Japan with implements of war. [33]

In 1940, Japan invaded French Indochina, attempting to stymie the flow of supplies reaching China. The United States halted shipments of airplanes, parts, machine tools, and aviation gasoline to Japan, which the latter perceived as an unfriendly act. [nb 6] The United States did not stop oil exports, however, partly because of the prevailing sentiment in Washington that given Japanese dependence on American oil, such an action was likely to be considered an extreme provocation. [23] [30] [34]

In mid-1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Hawaii. [35] He also ordered a military buildup in the Philippines, taking both actions in the hope of discouraging Japanese aggression in the Far East. Because the Japanese high command was (mistakenly) certain any attack on the United Kingdom's Southeast Asian colonies, including Singapore, [36] would bring the U.S. into the war, a devastating preventive strike appeared to be the only way to prevent American naval interference. [37] An invasion of the Philippines was also considered necessary by Japanese war planners. The U.S. War Plan Orange had envisioned defending the Philippines with an elite force of 40,000 men this option was never implemented due to opposition from Douglas MacArthur, who felt he would need a force ten times that size. [ citation needed ] By 1941, U.S. planners expected to abandon the Philippines at the outbreak of war. Late that year, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the Asiatic Fleet, was given orders to that effect. [38]

The U.S. finally ceased oil exports to Japan in July 1941, following the seizure of French Indochina after the Fall of France, in part because of new American restrictions on domestic oil consumption. [39] Because of this decision, Japan proceeded with plans to take the oil-rich Dutch East Indies. [nb 7] On August 17, Roosevelt warned Japan that America was prepared to take opposing steps if "neighboring countries" were attacked. [41] The Japanese were faced with a dilemma—either withdraw from China and lose face or seize new sources of raw materials in the resource-rich European colonies of Southeast Asia. [ citation needed ]

Japan and the U.S. engaged in negotiations during 1941, attempting to improve relations. In the course of these negotiations, Japan offered to withdraw from most of China and Indochina after making peace with the Nationalist government. It also proposed to adopt an independent interpretation of the Tripartite Pact and to refrain from trade discrimination, provided all other nations reciprocated. Washington rejected these proposals. Japanese Prime Minister Konoye then offered to meet with Roosevelt, but Roosevelt insisted on reaching an agreement before any meeting. [42] The U.S. ambassador to Japan repeatedly urged Roosevelt to accept the meeting, warning that it was the only way to preserve the conciliatory Konoye government and peace in the Pacific. [43] However, his recommendation was not acted upon. The Konoye government collapsed the following month when the Japanese military rejected a withdrawal of all troops from China. [44]

Japan's final proposal, delivered on November 20, offered to withdraw from southern Indochina and to refrain from attacks in Southeast Asia, so long as the United States, United Kingdom, and Netherlands supplied one million U.S. gallons (3.8 million liters) of aviation fuel, lifted their sanctions against Japan, and ceased aid to China., [45] [44] The American counter-proposal of November 26 (November 27 in Japan), the Hull note, required Japan completely evacuate China without conditions and conclude non-aggression pacts with Pacific powers. On November 26 in Japan, the day before the note's delivery, the Japanese task force left port for Pearl Harbor. [ citation needed ]

The Japanese intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the United States Pacific Fleet from interfering with its planned military actions in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Over the course of seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam, and Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. [15] Additionally, from the Japanese viewpoint, it was seen as a preemptive strike "before the oil gauge ran empty." [23]

Military planning

Preliminary planning for an attack on Pearl Harbor to protect the move into the "Southern Resource Area" (the Japanese term for the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia generally) had begun very early in 1941 under the auspices of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, then commanding Japan's Combined Fleet. [46] He won assent to formal planning and training for an attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff only after much contention with Naval Headquarters, including a threat to resign his command. [47] Full-scale planning was underway by early spring 1941, primarily by Rear Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka, with assistance from Captain Minoru Genda and Yamamoto's Deputy Chief of Staff, Captain Kameto Kuroshima. [48] The planners studied the 1940 British air attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto intensively. [nb 8] [nb 9]

Over the next several months, pilots were trained, equipment was adapted, and intelligence was collected. Despite these preparations, Emperor Hirohito did not approve the attack plan until November 5, after the third of four Imperial Conferences called to consider the matter. [51] Final authorization was not given by the emperor until December 1, after a majority of Japanese leaders advised him the "Hull Note" would "destroy the fruits of the China incident, endanger Manchukuo and undermine Japanese control of Korea". [52]

By late 1941, many observers believed that hostilities between the U.S. and Japan were imminent. A Gallup poll just before the attack on Pearl Harbor found that 52% of Americans expected war with Japan, 27% did not, and 21% had no opinion. [53] While U.S. Pacific bases and facilities had been placed on alert on many occasions, U.S. officials doubted Pearl Harbor would be the first target instead, they expected the Philippines would be attacked first. This presumption was due to the threat that the air bases throughout the country and the naval base at Manila posed to sea lanes, as well as to the shipment of supplies to Japan from territory to the south. [54] They also incorrectly believed that Japan was not capable of mounting more than one major naval operation at a time. [55]

Objectives

The Japanese attack had several major aims. First, it intended to destroy important American fleet units, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya and enabling Japan to conquer Southeast Asia without interference. Second, it was hoped to buy time for Japan to consolidate its position and increase its naval strength before shipbuilding authorized by the 1940 Vinson-Walsh Act erased any chance of victory. [56] [57] Third, to deliver a blow to America's ability to mobilize its forces in the Pacific, battleships were chosen as the main targets, since they were the prestige ships of any navy at the time. [56] Finally, it was hoped that the attack would undermine American morale such that the U.S. government would drop its demands contrary to Japanese interests and would seek a compromise peace with Japan. [58] [59]

Striking the Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor carried two distinct disadvantages: the targeted ships would be in very shallow water, so it would be relatively easy to salvage and possibly repair them, and most of the crews would survive the attack since many would be on shore leave or would be rescued from the harbor. A further important disadvantage was the absence from Pearl Harbor of all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga). IJN top command was attached to Admiral Mahan's "decisive battle" doctrine, especially that of destroying the maximum number of battleships. Despite these concerns, Yamamoto decided to press ahead. [60] [ page needed ]

Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war also meant other targets in the harbor, especially the navy yard, oil tank farms, and submarine base, were ignored, since—by their thinking—the war would be over before the influence of these facilities would be felt. [61]


Remembering Pearl Harbor: the Ni’ihau Incident

This month marks the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Visit the National Archives News website to learn more about resources related to that infamous event. Today’s post comes from Michael J. Hancock in the National Archives History Office.

When the Empire of Japan launched its attack on Pearl Harbor the morning of December 7, 1941, Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi was one of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter pilots escorting bombers on their second wave over Bellows Field, a U.S. Army air base.

Japan initially scored a devastating blow, but they no longer had the element of surprise on their side. Although American defenses were caught unaware during the early stages of the attack, by the time Nishikaichi and his fellow airmen began to made their way back to their aircraft carriers, a squadron of American P-36 Hawks became airborne and challenged the Japanese Zeroes.

The Hawks were out-performed by the superior Japanese Zeroes they were slower, less maneuverable, and their pilots lacked the combat experience of their adversaries. But not all of the Japanese aircraft escaped unscathed.

Nishikaichi’s plane took multiple hits, and a round pierced the fuselage, causing a rapid loss of fuel. Realizing that he would not make it back to his aircraft carrier some 200 miles to the north, Nishikaichi’s only option was to put his plane down on the tiny island of Ni’ihau, the westernmost in the Hawaiian chain.

Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese Imperial Navy designated Ni’ihau as a location for crippled aircraft to land. Japanese intelligence had indicated that the island was uninhabited, and pilots were told that they could wait there and rendezvous with a rescue submarine. They were wrong.

Nishikaichi’s plane crash-landed in a field as Hawaiian Howard Kaleohano rushed to help. Although he was unaware of what had just unfolded in Pearl Harbor, Kaleohano recognized the markings on the plane as Japanese and was familiar with the strained relations between Japan and the United States. Being cautious, he removed the dazed pilot’s sidearm and papers.

Kaleohano then summoned 61-year-old Japanese beekeeper, Ishimatsu Shintani, who spoke briefly with the pilot. Visibly shocked, Shintani quietly walked away without divulging what he had been told: that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and had declared war on the United States.

Next, Kaleohano asked the Haradas, a Japanese couple who were fluent in both English and Japanese, to speak with the pilot. In Japanese, Nishikaichi told the Haradas about the attack on Pearl Harbor and demanded that his pistol and papers be returned to him.

The Haradas decided that they it would be best to keep what they were told to themselves. Following tradition and unaware of recent events, Ni’ihauans treated the Japanese pilot to a luau, where Nishikaichi even sang a Japanese song while playing on a borrowed guitar. But by nightfall, news reached the islanders by radio, and the true nature of the pilot’s appearance on Ni’ihau became clear.

Nishikaichi’s fate was being discussed by the locals as they waited for Ni’ihau’s absentee landlord, Aylmer Robinson, to arrive by boat. In 1864, King Kamehameha V sold the island to the Robinson family, and it was strictly kapu (forbidden) to any outsiders.

Robinson made weekly visits to the island, but with naval restrictions in place after the attack, he was unable to make his visit on December 8. When he failed to arrive, the Haradas asked to keep Nishikaichi in their home on the condition that five other Ni’ihauans would stand guard in shifts. But that would not be enough.

The Haradas and Nishikaichi overpowered a guard and secured two guns from the nearby warehouse. The three began to search for Kaleohano, who held Nishikaichi’s documents, as the villagers scattered and ran to the beaches across the island. Kaleohano, however, had already transferred the documents to one of his relatives, who had set off on a 10-hour boat ride to locate Robinson on the nearby island of Kaua’i.

In an act of frustration and anger, Nishikaichi burned Kaleohano’s hut to the ground and, with the help of the Haradas, took a woman named Ella Kanahele hostage. The pilot ordered her husband, Ben, to go and return with Kaleohano. Ben Kanahele, knowing that Kaleahano was already making his way to find Robinson, feigned calling out to his fellow islander.

Nishikaichi then threatened to kill everyone unless his documents were returned to him. The remarkably strong Ben Kanahele attacked the pilot, but not before Nishikaichi squeezed off three shots from his pistol, striking Ben in the chest, groin, and hip. Angered, Ben grabbed the pilot and hoisted him over his head and threw him against a stone wall.

Kanahele’s wife, Ella, immediately struck the pilot’s head with a large rock. Ben Kanahele then drew his knife and slit Nishikaichi’s throat. Harada, recognizing that he had presided over this horrible chain of events and no doubt feeling great shame at abetting the Japanese pilot’s terrorist actions, placed the shotgun muzzle into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Ben Kanahele eventually recovered and was awarded two Presidential citations, the Purple Heart, and the Medal of Merit. The Ni’ihau Incident, as it became widely known, was the subject of an FBI memorandum authored by none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself. In it, he describes the actions taken by both the antagonists and the brave inhabitants of Ni’ihau.

In Shigenori Nishikaichi’s hometown of Hashihama, Japan, is a monument dedicated to him. Engraved on it are his actions over Oahu on December 7, 1941, that he died in battle, and the stirring and poignant epitaph: “His meritorious deed will live forever.”

Special thanks to Sarah Navins and Christian Belena at the FDR Library for helping with the images.


The USS Oklahoma

The USS Oklahoma was on Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That was the morning the Japanese Empire attacked the United States by surprise. The Japanese used dive-bombers, fighter-bombers, and torpedo planes to sink nine ships, including five battleships, and severely damage twenty-one ships. There were 2,402 US deaths from the attack. Of those deaths, 1,177 were from the USS Arizona, and 429 were from the USS Oklahoma. The crew of the USS Oklahoma did everything they could to fight back. In the first ten minutes of the battle eight torpedoes hit the Oklahoma and it began to sink. A ninth torpedo hit the battleship as it sank in the mud.

After the battle, the Navy decided that they could not salvage the Oklahoma due to the amount of damage it received. They decided to right the ship and then salvage any equipment or steel they could for other ships to use. They finally finished salvaging everything they could in 1946, and then sold the hull of the Oklahoma to a private company that tried to tug it to California. On the way to California, the hull began taking on water and finally sank to the bottom of the Pacific about 500 miles east of Hawaii. Today, there is a memorial to the USS Oklahoma and the 429 sailors and marines lost on December 7, 1941, located on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor made people in the United States angry. The Japanese military had attacked without warning, and without a formal declaration of war from the Empire of Japan. The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt went before Congress and asked them to declare war on the Empire of Japan. Congress passed the declaration of war with only person voting "no." Three days later, the German Empire declared war on the United States because Germany was Japan's ally. On December 11, 1941, the United States declared war on Germany, making it the official day that the United States entered World War II.

A Japanese pilot took these three photographs during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

This photo shows the severity of the attack. The darker waters around the Nevada (left), West Virginia (center), and Oklahoma (right) are actually oil slicks from the fuel reserves on board each ship. The Oklahoma is already listing badly, as the edge of the port deck has already slipped underwater. It would completely capsize only a few minutes later (image NH 50472, courtesy of Naval Heritage & History Command).

This shows the first wave of torpedoes hitting the West Virginia and the Oklahoma. The great plume of water in the center is the result of a torpedo striking the West Virginia. A similar plume would have accompanied the torpedo strikes on the Oklahoma (image NH 50930, courtesy ofNaval Heritage & History Command).

This shows the second wave of torpedoes hitting the West Virginia and the Oklahoma. The California (far right) has already sunk, and the Arizona's (second from the left, next to the island) stern is in the water. The Nevada is still moored in the lower left of the photo (image NH 50931, courtesy of Naval Heritage & History Command).

This photo was taken shortly after the start of the attack. The first wave is over, and the Oklahoma lies capsized in the harbor, while the West Virginia burns in the background (image NH 19949, courtesy of Naval Heritage & History Command).

This photo was taken shortly after the attack. The Oklahoma lies capsized in the harbor, while sailors begin rescuing crewmen that are in the harbor or trapped on the capsized Oklahoma. The small boat in the foreground is the Captain's Gig from the Oklahoma, which had launched from the Oklahoma before the attack began (image NH 19941, courtesy of Naval Heritage & History Command).

In order to right the USS Oklahoma so that it could be salvaged, the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard constructed cranes on the shore and attached uprights to the hull of the Oklahoma and used cables and winches to rotate the battleship until it was upright once more. This picture shows the Oklahoma as it reached the 90 degree position (image ARC #296975, Courtesy of the Library of Congress).

Photographer's Mate 3rd Class T. E. Collins takes a break after photographing the salvage efforts on board the USS Oklahoma. Documenting the ship's salvage was as important as the actual salvage operation (image 80-G-276601, courtesy of Naval Heritage & History Command).

It's March of 1943, and the guns of the Oklahoma are exposed to sunlight for the first time in fifteen months. A salvage worker is scrambling over the Oklahoma's turrets to check the cables needed to pull the last little bit before it is properly righted (image courtesy of the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard).

This drawing shows the damage to the USS Oklahoma caused by the Japanese torpedoes. It also shows the Oklahoma capsizing, and how it came to rest in the muddy bottom of Pearl Harbor. Each black arrow represents a torpedo hitting the ship (illustration courtesy of WFI Research Group).

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DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT THE ATTACK

HONOLULU, DEC. 6 -- Many myths about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor persist in the public mind a half century after the event, according to war historians and other scholars.

Most enduring of these myths is the belief that the 68 civilians who were killed on Dec. 7, 1941, were the victims of Japanese bombs. In fact, as a then-secret Pearl Harbor board of inquiry determined in 1943, at least 59 of the civilians were killed by jittery U.S. naval gun crews who fired artillery and antiaircraft weapons long after Japanese planes had returned to their aircraft carriers.

In the most catastrophic example of such "friendly fire," Kikuyo Hirasaki Horikawa was severely wounded when an antiaircraft shell exploded inside her mother's noodle shop an hour after the second wave of Japanese bombers had completed their bombing runs. The blast killed her husband, her three young children, a nephew and seven young men from a Japanese Christian Church dormitory.

When Horikawa awoke at the hospital, after a five-inch piece of shrapnel had been removed from her chest, she was told by her mother what had happened. "Don't cry or we cannot take you from the hospital," her mother said.

Horikawa, now 84, did not cry. But when she told her story 50 years later to the Honolulu Advertiser, she said, "To this day, when I see news accounts of a mother whose children have died, I think of my family right away."

Civilian casualties, which included 35 wounded in addition to the 68 who died, were lumped together with the far greater number of military events in most news accounts of the day. About half of the civilian dead were Japanese Americans, and in Hawaii at the time, as author Thurston Clarke has observed, "it was considered an exquisite irony for the Japanese to have killed members of their own race."

After the Persian Gulf War ended, the Pentagon released information on U.S. casualties by friendly fire. But such casualties were rarely acknowledged during World War II, when they were deemed harmful to public morale, and the Navy remains sensitive about the source of civilian deaths in Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack.

The thick press kits distributed by U.S. government officials to journalists covering the events marking the Pearl Harbor attack do not mention that civilian victims of the attack were killed by U.S. fire, except for a passing reference to the death of a schoolgirl, Nancy Arkaka, by shrapnel from a U.S. antiaircraft shell. Local television and newspaper accounts of a ceremony here Wednesday that honored the civilian dead also ignored or played down the source of the casualties.

Government and local papers, however, have attempted to correct a number of other misconceptions about the Pearl Harbor attack.

A list of "myths and legends" about the attack has been compiled by James Harpster, the National Park Service official coordinating the current ceremonies, and is included in a booklet distributed at the USS Arizona visitors center.

One of these myths is that Japanese sympathizers on Oahu cut giant arrows in sugar cane fields to guide the attacking planes. This is untrue, said Harpster, who quoted Pearl Harbor historian Gordon Prange: "Missing Pearl Harbor from the air . . . would be like overlooking a bass drum in a telephone booth."

Another widespread misconception about the attack addressed in Harpster's compilation is that the Arizona was sunk in part by a bomb that went down the ship's smokestack. What actually happened was that an armor-piercing bomb from a Japanese bomber struck the forward gun turret and exploded below decks in the ship's powder magazine, causing a blast that an eyewitness likened to an earthquake.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin also issued a booklet to correct myths about Pearl Harbor, some fostered by movies or books.

A number of visiting Americans are under the impression that Schofield Barracks was hit in the raid, perhaps because they read it in "From Here to Eternity" or saw it in the film of the same name. Not a single round struck Schofield, although nearby Wheeler Field was hit.

"A building at Schofield today bears three holes said to be machine-gun damage, but the plane would have had to be flying at an altitude of four feet and firing cement bits to make these nice, smooth holes," wrote Burl Burlingame of the Star-Bulletin.

Another myth fostered by the film "From Here to Eternity" and the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was that Japanese planes flew through Kolekole Pass in the Waianea mountains of Oahu to attack their targets. Actually, the first wave of attacking planes came around the west side of Oahu and the second wave around the east side.

One true story that became the basis of a political myth concerns the action of Doris Miller, a black mess attendant on the USS West Virginia who grabbed an abandoned machine gun and fired at Japanese dive bombers. He was the first black ever awarded the Navy Cross for heroism.


DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT THE ATTACK

HONOLULU, DEC. 6 -- Many myths about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor persist in the public mind a half century after the event, according to war historians and other scholars.

Most enduring of these myths is the belief that the 68 civilians who were killed on Dec. 7, 1941, were the victims of Japanese bombs. In fact, as a then-secret Pearl Harbor board of inquiry determined in 1943, at least 59 of the civilians were killed by jittery U.S. naval gun crews who fired artillery and antiaircraft weapons long after Japanese planes had returned to their aircraft carriers.

In the most catastrophic example of such "friendly fire," Kikuyo Hirasaki Horikawa was severely wounded when an antiaircraft shell exploded inside her mother's noodle shop an hour after the second wave of Japanese bombers had completed their bombing runs. The blast killed her husband, her three young children, a nephew and seven young men from a Japanese Christian Church dormitory.

When Horikawa awoke at the hospital, after a five-inch piece of shrapnel had been removed from her chest, she was told by her mother what had happened. "Don't cry or we cannot take you from the hospital," her mother said.

Horikawa, now 84, did not cry. But when she told her story 50 years later to the Honolulu Advertiser, she said, "To this day, when I see news accounts of a mother whose children have died, I think of my family right away."

Civilian casualties, which included 35 wounded in addition to the 68 who died, were lumped together with the far greater number of military events in most news accounts of the day. About half of the civilian dead were Japanese Americans, and in Hawaii at the time, as author Thurston Clarke has observed, "it was considered an exquisite irony for the Japanese to have killed members of their own race."

After the Persian Gulf War ended, the Pentagon released information on U.S. casualties by friendly fire. But such casualties were rarely acknowledged during World War II, when they were deemed harmful to public morale, and the Navy remains sensitive about the source of civilian deaths in Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack.

The thick press kits distributed by U.S. government officials to journalists covering the events marking the Pearl Harbor attack do not mention that civilian victims of the attack were killed by U.S. fire, except for a passing reference to the death of a schoolgirl, Nancy Arkaka, by shrapnel from a U.S. antiaircraft shell. Local television and newspaper accounts of a ceremony here Wednesday that honored the civilian dead also ignored or played down the source of the casualties.

Government and local papers, however, have attempted to correct a number of other misconceptions about the Pearl Harbor attack.

A list of "myths and legends" about the attack has been compiled by James Harpster, the National Park Service official coordinating the current ceremonies, and is included in a booklet distributed at the USS Arizona visitors center.

One of these myths is that Japanese sympathizers on Oahu cut giant arrows in sugar cane fields to guide the attacking planes. This is untrue, said Harpster, who quoted Pearl Harbor historian Gordon Prange: "Missing Pearl Harbor from the air . . . would be like overlooking a bass drum in a telephone booth."

Another widespread misconception about the attack addressed in Harpster's compilation is that the Arizona was sunk in part by a bomb that went down the ship's smokestack. What actually happened was that an armor-piercing bomb from a Japanese bomber struck the forward gun turret and exploded below decks in the ship's powder magazine, causing a blast that an eyewitness likened to an earthquake.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin also issued a booklet to correct myths about Pearl Harbor, some fostered by movies or books.

A number of visiting Americans are under the impression that Schofield Barracks was hit in the raid, perhaps because they read it in "From Here to Eternity" or saw it in the film of the same name. Not a single round struck Schofield, although nearby Wheeler Field was hit.

"A building at Schofield today bears three holes said to be machine-gun damage, but the plane would have had to be flying at an altitude of four feet and firing cement bits to make these nice, smooth holes," wrote Burl Burlingame of the Star-Bulletin.

Another myth fostered by the film "From Here to Eternity" and the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was that Japanese planes flew through Kolekole Pass in the Waianea mountains of Oahu to attack their targets. Actually, the first wave of attacking planes came around the west side of Oahu and the second wave around the east side.

One true story that became the basis of a political myth concerns the action of Doris Miller, a black mess attendant on the USS West Virginia who grabbed an abandoned machine gun and fired at Japanese dive bombers. He was the first black ever awarded the Navy Cross for heroism.


J apanese Bombers and Fighters Attacking Hickam, Wheeler, & Ford Island

The Japanese bombers attacking Hickam, Wheeler, and Ford Island, concentrated primarily on the aircraft hangers and the major barracks area right in the vicinity of the hangers. The Japanese fighters concentrated on the U.S. aircraft, which were generally pretty close to the hangers. U.S. aircraft was being strafed, primarily by Japanese Zeros, which were armed with both armor piercing and incendiary bullets. The incendiary bullets contained a Phosphorus element which would cause fires to start.

Despite the lack of combat readiness at the air bases, three of the P-40 Warhawks took off from Bellows Field and were immediately shot down by Japanese fighters. Several P-36s were able to take off from Wheeler field, gain altitude, and attack the Japanese planes. Once the signal had been given by Japanese Commander Fujita that complete surprise had been achieved, the Japanese fighters were no longer expecting airborne American warplanes.

Japanese fighters dispersed and were shooting up aircraft on the ground. At this point, the American fighters who did get airborne had good success shooting down unsuspecting Japanese planes. Examples include officers Welch and Taylor. Flying P-40 Warhawks, George Welch was credited with shooting down four Japanese planes on that day, and Kenneth Taylor was credited with two verified and two possible planes downed.


Watch the video: Pearl Harbor Edited (November 2021).