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Japan started a war by bombing the US Pacific Fleet.

But there was more infamy that morning of December 7, 1941, as planes pummeled Oahu's air bases. Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor was shocked awake.

AS A SERENE DAWN BROKE on Oahu's eastern horizon on December 7, 1941, there was little hint that anything other than a pleasant tropical morning would greet the enlisted men of Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor on Ford Island. For now, most of them were still in bed, many having spent the night out in Honolulu, finally free after the end of a week-long alert prompted by a war warning from Washington.

Officers were recuperating, too. Rear Admiral Patrick Bellinger, commander of Patrol Wing 2 and its four squadrons of Consolidated PBY patrol planes, was in bed in his quarters on Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor, recovering from the flu. His operations officer, Commander Logan C. Ramsey, had endured a strenuous week covering for him through the week on alert. He was sleeping in late after a dinner party. US Coast Guard Lieutenant Frank Erickson was officer of the day, functioning as the station's gatekeeper, authorizing personnel to arrive or depart from Ford Island. He was in the administration building, his overnight shift nearing its end and his thoughts turning to the day's activities that he had planned for his family at Waikiki.

North of Hawaii, all was not well. A formation of 183 Japanese aircraft led by Commander Fuchida Mitsuo had entered Hawaiian airspace and deployed for attacks against the US Pacific Fleet warships moored at Ford Island-- along what would soon be known infamously as Battleship Row--and against Oahu's airfields. Just over half of the enemy planes were to target the airfields, including a powerful group of 51 dive-bombers that separated from the main formation and passed southeast down the center of Oahu. Half of these bombers, under Lieutenant Sakamoto Akira, spiraled down into the US Army's Wheeler Field, while the rest, under Lieutenant Commander Takahashi Kakuichi, continued down the island's central plain, heading for the US Army Air Forces' Hickam Field and for Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor itself was not totally unprepared to meet the day, but neither was it in top fighting shape. Portions of the Pacific Fleet's shipboard anti-aircraft batteries were manned and ammunition was readily available, though not in sufficient quantity to blunt a sudden, massive air strike. The US Navy patrol planes that might have warned of the approaching Japanese carrier strike force were either on the ground or out of position. A relatively fresh VP-21 Patrol Squadron was on the way to Midway and Wake Islands, while the dozen PBY-3 flying boats of VP-22 had returned from there to rejoin Hawaii's patrol force, but they were run down and required overhaul. The only patrol planes airborne from Oahu, apart from three aircraft patrolling south of the island, were four PBY-5s of VP-24 training with the submarine Gudgeon (SS-211) off the coast of Maui; all the rest were on the ground undergoing maintenance or were in various states of readiness.

At about 7:30 A.M. Lieutenant Richard R. "Dick" Ballinger, communications officer and staff duty officer of Patrol Wing 2, picked up his telephone and dialed 661. The call awakened Ramsey at his residence on the northeast end of Ford Island. Ballinger related that he received a message from 14-P-1 (the dawn patrol PBY flown by Ensign William P. Tanner), then scouring the restricted area south of Oahu. Transmitted at 7:15, the message stated that the aircraft had bombed and sunk a submerged submarine one mile off the Pearl Harbor entrance channel. Shaking off the effects of being roused suddenly from slumber, Ramsey considered the possibility that the PBY might inadvertently have transmitted "a drill message of some variety." He asked Ballinger if he had authenticated the message. "No," Ballinger replied, "it was in plain English." Ramsey ordered Ballinger to request an authentication of the message at once. Neither man was aware that 14-P-1 had sent a coded message earlier, at 6:42, or that 54 minutes had elapsed since the initial notification from the aircraft. "All right," Ramsey said. "I'll be down immediately!"

At 7:35 Ramsey telephoned Commander Vincent R. Murphy, staff duty officer at Pacific Fleet headquarters, who, after several frustrating and unsuccessful attempts to contact Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, commandant of the 14th Naval District, regarding a similar report from the destroyer Ward (DD-139), arrived at his office just in time to hear the telephone ringing. Ramsey relayed the content of the PBY's transmission, also saying that he had requested verification. "That's funny," Murphy replied. "We got the same sort of message from one of the destroyers on the inshore patrol." After Murphy explained that he had been unable to obtain further details, Ramsey said: "Well, you had better get going, and I'll be down at my Operations Center soon."

Ramsey threw on an aloha shirt and slacks, hopped into his 1939 Oldsmobile, and began the short drive to the north parking lot of the administration building. Although at the time he did not think the message referred to an enemy presence, the bombing of any target so close to the entrance channel was a serious matter. Should Lieutenant Ballinger authenticate the message from 14-P-1, the incident certainly justified changing the existing patrols.

Ramsey parked his car and hurried to his office on the second floor in the north corner of the building, directly across from Rear Admiral Bellinger's office and asked for the text of the message from 14-P-1. After reading it he judged it to be "apparently authentic."

Although he decided to await authentication before taking further action, Ramsey left his office and strode to his wing's plotting and chart room, several doors down on the left, and began work on a modified search plan at about 7:52. The new plan needed to take into account not only the existing morning security patrols but also the four aircraft from VP-24 then engaged in "inter-type tactics" with the Gudgeon in Operating Area C5. Ramsey based the search area on extensive discussions with the staff that took into account "prevailing wind conditions and the presence of outlying islands and other factors." The best estimate indicated that the northwest sector would be the most likely avenue of approach by the Japanese. Quickly, Ramsey drafted an order for the PBYs to conduct a search northwest of Oahu in a pie-shaped, 90-degree sector from 270 to 0 degrees.

After writing up the order, Ramsey descended the stairs, went to the radio room at the end of the hall, and handed the order to one of the radiomen, instructing him to code it and stand by to transmit it. There was still no certainty that transmission would be necessary, as Ramsey was awaiting confirmation of the earlier dispatch from 14-P-1. He stayed in the radio room briefly before returning upstairs.

Meanwhile, in the office of the officer on duty on the east side of the lobby at the administration building's north entrance, Lieutenant Erickson noted at 7:53 that the marine color guard had posted for colors and doubled-checked that his assistant officer of the day stood ready to play the colors recording over the loudspeaker system.

Seaman Second Class Glennon J. Ryan had mustered with about 100 of his shipmates at 7:45 in front of the administration building's northeast entrance, having drawn maintenance and cleanup duty in one of the chief petty officer quarters. Ryan and the other men waited for the marines standing nearby to raise the Stars and Stripes, then began answering the roll call at 7:55.

Minutes earlier, after Lieutenant Commander Takahashi had released 17 Type 99 dive-bombers to attack Hickam Field, the remaining nine under his personal command, having already traversed the Aiea plantation sugar fields north of Pearl Harbor, turned hard to starboard upon approaching the Aliamanu Crater. Holding fast at about 12,000 feet, Takahashi's new course cut a path across Pearl Harbor from the northeast. Banking right, the dive-bomber commander and the crews who followed beheld the sunlit panorama of Pearl Harbor and the seaplane facilities on the southern tip of Ford Island. The American fleet lay sleeping in the morning light, and enemy interceptors were nowhere to be seen; the sky was completely clear of anti-aircraft fire. The Japanese had achieved total tactical surprise.

Takahashi led his column west by southwest over the east channel, paralleling the southeast shore of Ford Island, and then banked again to starboard over the seaplane hangars, keeping the target area visible over his right shoulder. After the nine Type 99s circled clockwise toward Pearl City Peninsula and the western edge of the sugarcane fields of Aiea, the planes began their dives one after the other. They dove in three-plane sections, with each succeeding aircraft circling slightly farther east before pushing over into the target area.

Takahashi plummeted in a steep 55-degree dive toward the seaplane hangars, his two wingmen trailing astern in echelon left. Following at close intervals, the two trailing sections under Lieutenant Hira Kunikiyo aimed for targets slightly to the northeast, up the rungs of the "stepladder" to be set in place by the impact of their chief's bomb. While steadying his aircraft, Takahashi reached forward with his left hand and pushed a long, thin metal rod through a hole in the windscreen to remove the protective wind cap that covered the tubular navy Type 95 bombsight mounted through the Plexiglas. He leaned forward, peered into the grid-lined aiming lens, and moved his left hand to the bomb release lever. From the rear seat, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Koizumi Seizo monitored the bomber's steadily decreasing altitude, calling out each 600-yard interval through the voice tube. At about 1,800 feet, just prior to release, Koizumi yelled, "Yoi!" (Ready!), and then at about 1,200 feet, "Te!" (Release!). The Type 99 jolted as the bomb-release cradle arm swung downward, throwing the 550-pound Type 98 high-explosive land bomb--fused for extra penetration with a 0.1-second delay--from the bomber's underside.

The gathering engine noise was so in keeping with the norm near the base that few individuals in the harbor noted the arrival of Japanese aircraft to the north. Moreover, the carrier Enterprise (CV-6) and her air group had been absent since November 28, and although few at Pearl were privy to her secret mission to Wake Island, the air group's arrival during the weekend would not have been unexpected. Thus, it is not surprising that, in all the deck logs, action reports, and war diaries compiled subsequent to the Japanese air raid, only one individual noted Takahashi's eastward passage north of the harbor. From the destroyer Allen (DD-66) in berth X-5 northeast of Battleship Row, Boatswain's Mate Second Class Elliot R. Milliken noticed 20 to 25 aircraft circling off to the north but, "in view of frequent Air Attack Drills," attached "no importance ... to their presence."

ONLY AFTER TAKAHASHI'S BOMBERS TURNED southwest did observers take notice in appreciable numbers. The war diary for NAS Pearl Harbor noted that at 7:50, aircraft approached the station from the direction of Merry Point and Hickam Field, possibly observing the clockwise spiral of the planes over the harbor. Northwest of Ford Island, signalmen on board the high-speed minesweeper Zane (DMS-14), moored in berth D-7, witnessed aircraft making a "long gliding approach from Northward." On board the light cruiser St. Louis (CL-49), moored portside to the light cruiser Honolulu (CL-48) in berth B-21 in the repair basin, Gunner Wilfred G. Wallace, junior officer of the watch, "observed a large number of dark colored planes heading in the direction of Ford Island from Aiea." As Takahashi's unit passed through the layer of broken clouds and descended on the station, observers on board the battleship Pennsylvania (BB-38) in dry dock number one thought they saw the nine aircraft plummeting in single file through the clouds directly over Ford Island.

At least two astute observers recognized the aircraft as Japanese just prior to the bombing. On board the light cruiser Helena (CL50), Signalman First Class Charles A. Flood was ready to go below after chatting with shipmates on the signal bridge when he heard someone comment regarding the planes high over Ford Island--not at all usual for a Sunday morning. "I picked up a pair of binoculars," he wrote later, "and looked them over." Although he could see no markings at that altitude, something in their approach struck him as unusual but familiar. In early 1932 Flood had served in a landing force during the Sino-Japanese hostilities at Shanghai, China, and remembered the Japanese "bombing technique, which was a form of glide-bombing. The planes over Ford Island were approaching in the same manner." Flood quickly bellowed down to the men on the main deck: "Japanese planes bombing Ford Island!" His shouting attracted the attention of Ensign William W. Jones, the officer of the deck. In a display of "initiative and prompt action," Jones instantly passed the word: "All hands to General Quarters--break out service ammunition."

Ensign Henry D. Davison on board the battleship Arizona (BB-39) had just sent a messenger to deliver the 8:00 reports to Captain Franklin Van Valkenburgh when dive-bombers passing directly overhead attracted his attention. Putting a spyglass on the aircraft, Davison saw red dots on the wings, though he still entertained second thoughts regarding the machines' provenance until he saw the bombs falling.

Commander Ramsey, now in the wing's plotting room, glanced out the window at the color guard moving into place in front of the administration building. Just then, aircraft noise distracted him, leading him to conclude that a "flat-hatting" aviator was buzzing the station. Ramsey crossed the corridor to the window left of the stairway and saw a plane zooming away, pulling out of its dive, low over the seaplane hangars to the south. Although he strained to determine the offending machine's side number--thinking that the pilot had broken any number of the station's flight restrictions--he was a moment too late. The aircraft sped into the distance too quickly to allow identification. Calling out to Lieutenant Ballinger, whose window afforded a better vantage point, Ramsey inquired tartly, "Dick, did you get his number?" Ballinger missed the number too but said, "No, but I think it was a squadron commander's aircraft because I saw a band of red on it." The aircraft, emblazoned with Takahashi's red hikotaicho (air group commander) stripes, pulled out of its dive, and an explosion and red flash in the distance prompted Ramsey to wonder whether blasting was underway somewhere in the harbor or whether the "reckless" pilot had crashed. The explosion of a second bomb and the appearance of more aircraft left no doubt in Ramsey's mind. "Never mind!" he shouted at Ballinger. "It's a Jap!"

Ramsey hurried across the hall and dialed 663 to reach Rear Admiral Bellinger's private phone. Bellinger was still in bed, but he had heard the noise of an aircraft that sounded as if it were in a dive and then the thud of a bomb. In a "very brief" conversation, Ramsey informed his chief that planes were bombing the hangars. Bellinger responded with the incredulous retort, "You wouldn't kid about a thing like that?" Assured that Ramsey was not joking, Bellinger said, "Well, let's get going. I'll be right down."

Ramsey threw down the phone, ran across the hall to the communications room, and raised Radioman Second Class David T. Montgomery of the Patrol Wing 2 flag unit on the voice tube. Perhaps remembering Rear Admiral Bloch's previous alert messages that all began with the word "Drill," Ramsey instructed Montgomery to "broadcast on all wave-lengths and over all means of communication," in plain English, "Air Raid Pearl Harbor X This Is No Drill." Ramsey then scurried back to the plotting room to modify the search plan and messages to the two groups of PBYs then on patrol. The time was 7:58.

Even as explosions rocked the foot of Ford Island, Gunner Wallace on board the St. Louis continued to watch the events unfolding to the west. He experienced the curious phenomenon of "acoustic shadows" experienced so frequently during artillery bombardments of the American Civil War--though he saw planes attacking, their missiles "caused flame but no sound."

Takahashi's bomb, the first to fall into Pearl Harbor, detonated at the water's edge along the southeastern portion of ramp 4, sending an immense column of water, mud, and concrete shards hurtling skyward and partially disabling the ramp where the explosion upended a slab of concrete. Takahashi's two wingmen, Petty Officer First Class Shinohara Kazuo and Petty Officer Second Class Fukuhara Jun, targeted VP-22's PBY-3s on the apron, scoring solid hits among the aircraft south of hangar 6.

Next in line and leading the six aircraft of the 3rd Chutai, Lieutenant Hira, the squadron's junior division officer, shifted his aim farther northeast and targeted hangar 6, followed by his two wingmen, Petty Officer Second Class Nakadokoro Shuhei and Seaman First Class Harashima Masayoshi. Although he reported that his section scored three direct hits on the hangar, Hira in fact overshot; his bomb landed midway between the building and the shore. The bombs that his wingmen dropped landed close to the eastern face of the hangar, one of them opening a crater 20 feet across and 7 feet deep. The other bomb struck the small-arms magazine on the northeast corner of hangar 6 and broke apart, igniting the hangar itself along with the contents of the offices in the lean-to along the building's east face. The bomb failed to detonate "but burst asunder" from the impact, scattering its explosive charge of picric acid--"a bright yellow granular powder"--on aircraft and lockers inside the hangar. Flying splinters and concrete shards rained down among the buildings and nearby aircraft, puncturing and igniting the fuel cells of the planes on the apron and elsewhere. Among them was a new Dutch PBY-5 in the hangar that was to be flown to Java after re-instrumentation but was "pretty well demolished" by the debris. Within moments the tip of Ford Island erupted in flames, as did the northeast corner of hangar 6.

The tactical orders for Takahashi's dive-bomber crews directed them to fire their machine guns as soon as they released their bombs so as to "thoroughly destroy the enemy and maximize damage." Then they were to clear the area to "avoid being a hindrance" to the fighters. Hence, it might have been the machine-gun fire that first alerted some of the men on the ground, particularly those at the station. The chatter of both fixed and flexible 7.7mm machine guns blended with the din of exploding bombs while the dive-bombers headed straight away from the station at full throttle. The pilots attempted no evasive maneuvers aside from disrupting the defenders' aim by blending into the ground cover at low altitude.

Behind Hira's trio of bombers, meanwhile, with a towering column of smoke already obscuring the target area, the trailing section under Warrant Officer Kokubu Toyomi entered the fray in echelon left. Conforming to the stepladder tactics, Kokubu's pilot, Petty Officer Second Class Suzuki Toshio, shifted to the northeast, targeting either other hangars or the Vought OS2U floatplanes and other aircraft parked close by. His bomb burst among aircraft near the west corner of hangar 38, carrying away a substantial portion of that structure's side window lights. A great shower of fragments and debris rained on VP-24's ready airplane nearby, which "suffered a severed wing spar from a large flying missile." Nearby patrol and scout planes went up in flames as well.

Kokubu's first wingman, Petty Officer Third Class Kitamura Fusao, released a bomb that failed to detonate. The missile penetrated the roof of hangar 38, broke apart, and imbedded itself into the concrete floor of the staff repair shop in the building's west corner. Except for the impact holes in the roof and floor, and the yellowish powdered explosive scattered about the hangar, the bomb did little damage.

AT THE END OF Takahashi's string of nine carrier bombers, Seaman First Class Seki Masao concluded the bombing attack. On the ground at that moment, after taking a few steps outside hangar 54 to investigate the detonations at hangar 6, Seaman Second Class James S. Layman looked up and saw Seki's carrier bomber heading his way over the water tower. Because the markings on the plane left "no doubt as to the nationality," Layman immediately turned to run away from hangar 6. At that instant, Seki released his bomb. Layman quickened his pace, noting later that his "strides took on greater proportions."

Although Seki claimed he dropped his bomb among the aircraft close by hangar 6, it actually fell far short of that objective and detonated in the street immediately south of the old assembly and repair building number two. The explosion showered the fleeing sailors with concrete shards and cinders, opened up a large crater, and damaged OS2Us and Curtiss SOC observation planes parked between hangar 38 and the engine and aircraft overhaul shop. According to Seaman First Class Houston James, there was a loud thud at impact but no audible explosion, and the ground lifted up in front of him. Closer to the impact, the force of the partial detonation threw a group of sailors against the exterior of the assembly and repair building, injuring one of them.

Lieutenant Shiga Yoshio, commanding the carrier Kaga's fighters and flying top cover at about 15,000 feet over the harbor, saw Takahashi's bomb explode in a white flash in the shallow water off the southernmost seaplane ramp. A scarlet fireball erupted, followed by a plume of smoke that climbed to the southwest and was carried away by the prevailing winds. The methodical pounding administered by the carrier Shokaku's bombers impressed Shiga: "Flash after flash. Being the best bombers, they had been trained to hit moving targets, so they didn't miss these stationary targets at all. In a matter of a few seconds, the calm in the harbor was shattered."

Shiga and a number of other Japanese aviators appreciated that beautiful Oahu would never be the same. Some even regretted their actions at the time, thinking, "I wondered whether we should even drop the bombs." They could not, however, envisage the ferocity of the coming conflict--a merciless, grinding war of attrition that would conclude only with the dropping of two atomic bombs. For the Americans, although "Air Raid Pearl Harbor X This Is No Drill" was hardly the stuff of a battle cry, the words reflected well the shock and horror of the unexpected attack and fed a resolve to "remember Pearl Harbor" and emerge victorious.

J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John F. Di Virgilio are the authors of This Is No Drill: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941, the new book from the Naval Institute Press from which this article was adapted.

Caption: Above: Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor, two months before the Japanese surprise attack of December 7, 1941. The now-infamous Battleship Row is at upper right, sparsely populated at the time the photographer snapped this photo.

Caption: Top: This is the message that alerted Pearl Harbor's defenses to the Japanese raid. Since previous messages had pertained to drills, this one made clear the attack was real. Above, left to right (all shown in the mid-1930s): Logan Ramsey was in charge of Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor's Patrol Wing 2, filling in for its sick commander; Frank Erickson was the station's officer of the day, manning the gate, in charge of comings and goings; communications officer Dick Ballinger had earlier received the first report of Japanese activity nearby--a patrol plane sank a sub a mile out.

Caption: Opposite, top: The "Air Raid Pearl Harbor" message was sent from the radio room of the naval air station's administration building, far left, first floor. Above: The attack began with torpedo bombers hitting the battleship Utah at far left, PBY-3 flying boats near the air station's hangar 6 (under the plume of smoke), and the light cruiser Helena at center right. Opposite, portraits, top to bottom: Takahashi Kakuichi commanded the dive-bombers attacking the air station; Hira Kunikiyo led two of Kakuichi's groups, bombing in his commander's wake; radioman Koizumi Seizo called out the order to drop the first bomb.

Caption: Above, left: The deployment of Takahashi Kakuishi's dive-bombers over Pearl Harbor. His nine planes circled clockwise and set up their runs toward Hickam Field and Naval Air Station Pearl Harbor from the northeast. Above, right: An interpretation of the dive-bombing attack that was included in the Japanese post-action report. The placement of the aircraft around hangar 6 at center is approximately correct, but the number of hits on the building marked as successful is fanciful at best.

Caption: A torpedo bomber at upper right banks hard near the southern tip of Ford Island after targeting Helena. At lower right, shadows cast by smoke from explosions obscure the naval air station's hangar 6. Two PBYs sit outside hangar 54 at lower right center.

Caption: In this December 8 view, debris covers the roof of hangar 38 at the top right corner following the dive-bomber attacks. Skylights are missing, almost certainly carried away by the blast deflected upward from a bomb detonation just beyond the building or by partial detonation of the bomb that passed through the roof near this location.

Caption: Sailors at the naval air station look on as the destroyer USS Shaw explodes in the distance after being hit by three bombs. This view shows the PBY ramp, with assorted US aircraft scattered among the debris.
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Title Annotation:1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor
Author:Wenger, J. Michael; Cressman, Robert J.; Virgilio, John F. Di
Publication:America in WWII
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2019
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