Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor, 1940
     The evening of December 6th, 1941, Seaman 1C James Daniel Lancaster and a few friends aboard the USS Arizona were arguing about the chances of a Japanese bombing raid.  One of his buddies said, "We are sitting ducks out here!"  The argument grew boisterous and an officer finally told them to quiet down.  The next morning, Seaman Lancaster heard planes overhead; he never saw his friends from the night before again.  

     What Seaman Lancaster and his buddies didn't know that Saturday evening was that on November 26th,  Japan had dispatched all 6 of its first line aircraft carriers--the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, and Zaikako--and their fleets (33 ships in all) on a top secret mission commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.  Emperor Hirohito had given final authorization for the attack on December 1st. 

Before dawn on December 7th, the Japanese aircraft carriers were abuzz as more than 350 aircraft were prepared for take off.

At 6:00 Sunday morning the first wave of  Japanese fighter aircraft, torpedo bombers, high-level bombers, and dive bombers took off. 

A torpedo plane takes off from the Shokaku

A Zero (fighter plane) takes off from the Akagi

The first wave of the attack was led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, and it is from his writings that we take much of the Japanese account of the attack.  Fuchida was later converted to Christianity and became an evangelist.  
Mitsuo Fuchida
     
Pearl Harbor Radar
The incoming Japanese attack planes were detected by radar and reported, but were mistaken for an incoming group of American planes, due that morning from the mainland.  During practice maneuvers, destroyers spotted a Japanese submarine, fired on it, and reported it.  The report was ignored.

By 7:40, Fuchida realized they were nearing their goal.  The sky above Pearl Harbor was clear.  The U.S. aircraft carriers Enterprise and Lexington were no where to be seen.  They were gone on missions to transport fighters to Wake and Midway Islands.  However, the battleships USS California, Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, and Nevada could be clearly seen in Battleship Row.  At 7:49 he ordered his radioman to give the attack command.

The torpedo bombers, led by Lieutenant Commander Murata, were the first to attack.  Lieutenant Commander Itaya's fighters provided an escort to ward off any American fighters which might venture into the sky.  But... Fuchida saw no American fighters in the air, no anti-aircraft guns flashing from the ground!

  At 7:53 he sent the message "Surprise Attack Successful" to the Flagship Akagi.
Japanese photo of Battleship Row as torpedoes are dropped
     Meanwhile, Ensign Guy Flanagan Jr. was in his bunk room in the USS Arizona.  At around 7:55 he and his buddies heard an air raid siren.  An air raid on Sunday?  They thought it was a joke.   Lieutenant Commander Samuel Fuqua was eating breakfast.  Ensign William J. Bush  was asleep in his room when he faintly heard the siren.  Fuqua called for General Quarters to be sounded.  Bush jumped out of bed, put on his clothes, and headed to battle stations as did many others.  Carl Marvin Carson was probably one of the first to notice the planes.  He was on deck doing his morning chores when he heard a plane fly over.  He thought nothing of it until "chips started flying."  The plane was strafing the deck!  

     Similar scenes occurred aboard the other battleships.  29 of the 40 Japanese torpedo planes targeted the battleships.  Each plane was armed with a torpedo carrying 450 pounds of high explosives, and up to 21 of these found their targets.  Two hit the California, 1 exploded against the Nevada, and up to 9 each struck the Oklahoma and West Virginia. The Oklahoma and West Virginia sunk within minutes. Two torpedoes traveled under the USS Vestal, a repair ship, and hit the Arizona.  

     Next, the dive-bombers went in for their targets: Wheeler field, Hickman field, and bases on Ford Island.  Wheeler Airfield was the main fighter base.  There, the Japanese found 140 planes--mostly P-40s and P-36 pursuits--on the ground.  Two-thirds of these were destroyed or put out of action.  

Burning planes and hangars at Wheeler Field
Army planes destroyed at Wheeler Field
A similar proportion of B-17, B-18, and A-20 bombers were lost at Hickman airfield, and a bomb which hit the barracks there killed many airmen.  Other smaller airfields also suffered badly.  Only a few Army fighter planes did manage to get airborne.  These shot down 11 Japanese planes, and lost only 4 of their own--two during take off and one to friendly fire.

     But the battleships were afforded no respite.  Fuchida's level-bombing group entered their bombing run for the battleships at an altitude of 3,000 meters.  Fuchida had the sighting bomber take position in front of his plane.  By this time there was anti-aircraft fire all around.  Lieutenant Commander Fuchida felt his plane bounce.  He had been hit!  There was a hole in his fuselage and a rudder wire had been damaged, but the plane was still under control.  He was about to release his bombs when a cloud emerged between him and his target.  They would have to try again.  His group circled around.  

Other bombing groups made their rounds.  Just as Fuchida's group was returning for their 2nd run, he recalls, a gargantuan cloud of dark red smoke rose to 1000 meters.  He felt the shock of the explosion even in his plane several miles from the harbor.

Smoke from the Arizona
(black specks in the air are flak from anti-aircraft guns)
The Arizona had been hit in the forecastle at 8:03.  The bomb penetrated the ship's 2 armored decks and ignited the ship's magazine.  Another bomb, 30 seconds later, hit the boat deck.  A third went down the stack, and then one indirectly hit the face of the #4 turret.  
Battleship Row soon after the Arizona exploded

Lieutenant Commander Fuqua, on board the ship, was knocked out by the blast of the bomb.  When he came to, the ship was a mass of flames.  Assisted by the crews from turrets 2 and 4, he tried to fight the fire.  At 9:00 A.M. he gave the command to abandon ship.  He evacuated 70 wounded into boats and landed them. 
Samuel G. Fuqua
Recieved the Medal of Honor for his bravery.  Became a Rear Admiral. 
 As Donald A. Graham recalled, Fuqua as the senior officer on deck, set a good example.  He was "unperturbed, calm, cool, and collected, exemplifying the courage and traditions of an officer under fire.  It seemed like the men painfully burned, shocked, and dazed, became inspired and took things in stride, seeing Mr. Fuqua, so unconcerned about the bombing and strafing, standing on the quarterdeck.  There was no going to pieces or growing panicky noticable..."  Mr. Fuqua left the ship at about 9:30 and reported that that all personnel but 3 or 4 men (dead) from turrets 3 and 4 had been saved.  
USS Arizona burning

Men on other parts of the ship were not so fortunate.  1177 of the men on the USS Arizona died.  Only 333 survived.  Carl Malvin Carson, who was also knocked out by the blast, ruptured both of his lungs.  The lights went out throughout the ship.  When he came to, he grabbed a flashlight and headed for his battle station.  He ran into a friend whose skin was just hanging from his arms and face.  He took him by the arm--and all the skin came off in his hand.  There was nothing he could do to help, and his friend died like many others.  Carson stepped off the ship into the water.  After 10 feet, he passed out and went down.  "Everything was so peaceful and nice and it would have been so easy to let go."  Then he saw a bright light that made him come to.  He came back to the surface and oil was on fire on top of the water just 2 feet from him.  Then someone reached down and pulled him out, put him in a motor launch, and took him to Ford Island. 
Marine Lt. General Shapely earned the Silver Star for his gallantry at Pearl Harbor
and later the Navy Cross for his courage during the Battle of Guam.
 Marine Corporal E.C. Nightingale was another survivor.  He evacuated from secondary aft, following Major Sharpley's orders.  Bodies were thick on the deck.  He made his way to Lieutenant Commander Faqua, but was thrown into the water by the concussion from a bomb.  A 150 foot swim for a pipeline was his only chance at life.  Half way there, his strength gave out.  He was about to go under when Major Sharpley saw him, grabbed his shirt, and told him to hang on to his shoulders while he swam in.  Twenty-five feet from the line, the major's strength began to give.  Nightingale told the major to leave him behind. The major stopped, grabbed him and wouldn't let him go.  They made it to the beach.  
Crew abandons USS California as burning oil approaches

Fuchida's group completed their bombing mission.  Fuchida's own bombs got two hits on the USS Maryland, other horizontal bombers and dive-bombers scored 2 hits on the California and Tennessee and a few in the West Virginia.  
Rescue efforts near the West Virginia

Fighting the flames of the West Virginia
The second wave of Japanese planes arrived at 8:55.  The Nevada was hit repeatedly and was forced to run ashore ablaze and sinking.  The Pennsylvania (which was dry-docked) was damaged, and 3 destroyers were wrecked in the Navy Area.
The USS Nevada on fire
By 9:55 it was all over.   The United States had lost 2402 men.  An additional 1282 were wounded. 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged. 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers, and 3 other ships were damaged.  (The USS Maryland and USS Tennessee were repaired within weeks.)  Four battleships were sunk, 3 damaged, and 1 grounded.  Japanese losses were 5 midget submarines, 29 aircraft, 64 killed, and 1 captured. 

Three hours later, the Japanese launched an attack on the Philippines.  The same day, U.S. ships were attacked between San Francisco and Honolulu.  Japanese bombers attacked Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, and Wake Island.  

On December 8th, the United States declared war on Japan.  Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the American people, "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 [was] a date which will live in infamy."

There are few things I agree with FDR on, but there, he was right.  Pearl Harbor was a very sad day for the United Sates of America, and December 7th, 1941 is a date which will live in infamy.

The best I can do is wish you a very uneventful 71st anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.

"Therfore be ye also ready, for in an hour ye think not, the Son of man cometh."  --Matthew 24:44

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