Go to WTJ Information Page Go to WTJ Portal Go to WTJ War Series Go to WTJ Archives Go to WTJ Articles Go to WTJ Gaming Go to WTJ Store Go to WTJ Home Page


A WORLD WAR II SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3
On December 3, a warning was sent by OPNAV to Kimmel's Pearl Harbor command (CinCPAC) warning: "...categoric and urgent instructions were sent yesterday to Japanese diplomatic and consular posts at Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, Manila, Washington and London to destroy most of their codes and ciphers at once and to burn all other important confidential and secret documents." War was considered to be imminent. A large Japanese transport fleet was steaming toward Southeast Asia. Other Japanese fleet units had left Japan and it appeared that the entire Japanese Imperial Navy was deploying.

By this time American Vice Admiral William "Bull" Halsey was taking the aircraft carrier Enterprise out to Wake to deliver a squadron of Marine fighters in place of the withdrawn army aircraft which were being kept on Oahu. He had departed Pearl Harbor on November 28 in the company of several battleships, apparently headed out on routine maneuvers (his presence at Pearl had indeed been noted by officials from the Japanese consulate in Honolulu). As soon as he reached the open sea, he sent the battleships to their usual exercise area and headed west with a heavy escort of cruisers and destroyers. Once clear of the battleships, he issued Battle Order Number One, which read: "The Enterprise is now operating under war conditions..." Enterprise maintained radio silence for the rest of her voyage, and flew fully armed combat air patrols and search patterns out to 200 miles. His own feelings were that his carrier would be at war by the time he returned to Pearl.

He was correct.

Ironically, Kimmel preferred to keep the Pacific Fleet's battleships in harbor due to the unavailability of fleet carriers to provide air cover. The carrier Enterprise was between Wake and Oahu, the carrier Lexington was out near Midway and the carrier Saratoga was on the west coast of the American mainland. Kimmel instead left the battleships at Pearl Harbor, where they could be protected from enemy air attack by large contingents of local army aircraft. Unfortunately Lt. General Short had decided that sabotage was the most likely threat, and he had ordered that all aircraft ammunition be locked away, and for aircraft to be arrayed in neat rows for observation. The fact that the senior Navy and Army commanders for the most important American installations in the Pacific implemented somewhat conflicting policies apparently did not occur to anyone. So as the hours ticked by, and the alerts and warnings piled up, the bulk of the US Pacific Fleet remained in Pearl Harbor and took its usual weekend off.

By 0330 on December 7, 1941, pilots on board the Japanese carriers began to wake up from fitful sleep. Throughout the next 90 minutes the men slowly arose and prepared for their mission. Fuchida found Lt. Commander Shigeharu Murata, leader of the torpedo
The Politics of Surprise
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has often been referred to as a surprise attack. In reality, the Japanese opening of war on the United States, Great Britain and Holland, was not even remotely surprising to Allied high command. The entire Japanese Fleet was known to be deploying for war, the Dutch had already activated their war plan for the East Indies, and the American government knew the exact time of Japan's deadline. Ironically, the American government had applauded Japan's surprise attack on the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur in 1904. Despite criticism from other countries at the time, Great Britain and the United States heaped accolades on the Japanese for showing "pluck" and "ingenuity" in their opening attacks against Russia's main Pacific anchorage. Had the American administration in 1904 known that a similar type of preemptive strike would be used against Hawaii within a few decades, one wonders if they would have been so quick to congratulate that form of success.
bombers which would strike battleship row. Murata was "vigorously" consuming 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."

By 0615 the first fighters rose from the decks of the six Japanese carriers. The first wave of 183 aircraft were launched in record time; 15 minutes. At 0630 Fuchida flew south over flagship carrier Akagi, followed by 40 Kate torpedo bombers under command of Lt. Commander Murata, 51 dive bombers under command of Lt. Commander Kakuichi Takahashi, 43 fighters under command of Lt. Commander Shigeru Itaya, and immediately under Fuchida, 49 Kate high level bombers. Months of grueling training, meticulous preparation and last minute labor was about to culminate in an operation with the most dire consequences; an attack which essentially committed the Imperial Navy to a war against the rest of the world. As they approached the north shore of Oahu, two reconnaissance planes reported from ahead; the Lahaina anchorage was empty, the American fleet was at Pearl Harbor, resting quietly with no sign of an alert. Also, there were no American aircraft carriers present. This last detail caused a pang of frustration with the Japanese Commander. He had hoped to catch at least one or two carriers in the harbor. Indeed, one-third of the available Japanese torpedo bombers approached from the northwest specifically in the hope that they would be able to torpedo any American carriers moored at their traditional places north of Ford Island.

Now the task was clear. Fuchida gave the signal to deploy for full surprise attack. Had the Americans shown signs of being alert, the dive bombers would have been ordered to attack first. With the American fleet showing no sign of preparation, the torpedo bombers would attack first. Due to a misunderstanding however, both dive bombers and torpedo bombers deployed for their respective "attack first" positions. In frustration Fuchida realized that his carefully coordinated plan was falling apart. But with a moment's consideration, the total lack of American preparation sank in, and he realized that it no longer mattered. As he took a last look at the US Fleet, he sent the now famous radio message to all Japanese commands in the Pacific: "To ra, To ra, To ra," complete surprise achieved.

The first aircraft to arrive in the air over Oahu were Itaya's fighters, who fanned out over the island directly from their deployment point north of Kahuku Point. Their original purpose was to establish air superiority in case American fighters were fully deployed. Their secondary task in case of complete surprise was to strafe aircraft on the ground. First to be attacked by them was the Kaneohe Naval Air Station on the east side of Oahu, which was attacked seven minutes before Pearl Harbor. A sole fighter also flew as far south as Bellows field and quickly strafed there before flying off. At Wheeler Field, the US Army base in central Oahu, the fighters again were the first to arrive, and began strafing aircraft several minutes before Takahashi's dive bombers arrived to join the fray. Around the same time, more dive bombers made their first runs on the Army air base at Hickam Field and the Navy field on Ford Island.

Within a few minutes of these first bomb drops, the Nakajima "Kate" torpedo bombers of Murata's command arrived to administer the worst damage of the day. Coasting low over Pearl City and the Southeast Loch, they skimmed below rooftop level, dropping their lethal "fish" into the water from point-blank range. The torpedo attacks took longer than anticipated, because each pilot had been instructed not to waste any torpedoes. In pursuit of this goal, many pilots made two and even three attack runs before actually launching. This gave the effect that there were far more attacking aircraft than there really were, and it also enabled the American crewmen on the warships to react and begin shooting back. Indeed, the speed with which the American ships reacted from a state of complete repose was a shock to many of the Japanese pilots.

Because the fleet was on a very low-level alert, there were even a few manned machine guns at the very start of the attack. The battleship Nevada had some machine guns in her fighting tops manned as part of the alert, and it was these guns which distracted or shot down most of the torpedo planes who tried to attack her. Only one torpedo hit Nevada, as compared to six which hit the battleship West Virginia, four which hit Oklahoma, one which hit Arizona and two which hit USS Arizona | Click to see imagesCalifornia. Nevada was fortunate in another way; she was the only capital ship present which had two boilers fired instead of the usual one. Once the attack began, her senior officers ordered two more boilers brought on-line in preparation to sortie. The torpedo attack on Battleship Row was one of the most dramatic of the day. As the torpedoes kept slamming home, Oklahoma slowly turned onto her side and rolled into the bay. Soon only her glistening hull stuck out of the water outboard of the Maryland. West Virginia also began to list precariously, but quick counterflooding by a handful of crewmen quickly settled the "WeeVee" onto the harbor bottom on an even keel.

As the attack progressed, Fuchida brought his high level bombers in over battleship row. Their task was to drop heavy armor-piercing bombs designed to detonate the powder magazines of the battleships, thereby preventing their repair. As with the torpedo bombers, Fuchida's bombers had been instructed to make as many passes as necessary in order to assure hits. It was only a matter of time then, before some of these bombs found their way onto vital targets. Tennessee, Maryland, West Virginia, Arizona and Vestal (a repair ship moored next to the Arizona) were all hit in the first few minutes. Arizona was worst hit, suffering at least five bomb strikes. Somehow one of them detonated her main forward magazine, triggering a titanic eruption of flame and smoke which shot into the sky . In just a few seconds, half of all deaths suffered by Americans during the attack was suffered by Arizona's crew as she split open and sank to the bottom of the harbor. 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. Tennessee, which was already trapped by the flooded, burning West Virginia now had to contend with a tide of burning oil pouring from Arizona. The drifting sheets of burning oil were only kept at bay by running Tennessee's giant screws slowly in reverse and by firing streams of water from the ship's fire hoses directly off her stern (the streams of water from the fire hoses are visible in some photographs taken during the battle).

While the torpedo and high level bombers executed their missions, dive bombers and fighters continued to hit their own assigned target areas. For even though the attack seemed confusing to the untrained eye, numerous American officers correctly observed the meticulous order with which Japanese aircraft worked over their respective target zones. While good visibility lasted, most of the aircraft made their attack runs in groups of three to five planes and maintained excellent bombing discipline. Many strafing aircraft approached at surprisingly low altitude, sometimes passing within a yard of the ground in pursuit of their targets.

PEARL HARBOR SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3
  Copyright © 2003 - 2008 by The War Times Journal at www.wtj.com. All rights reserved.