Title banner: Pearl Harbor * Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal

Results of Japanese Surprise Air Raid


Sunday, 7 December 1941 was a typical day of rest in Hawaii. The weather was perfect with some cloud cover overhead. The people were taking it easy as was their custom on Sundays. The military was sleeping in or eating breakfast a bit late since this was a day of relaxation and rest. The accounts of battleship survivors, which are included later in this work, give the state of mind general among the military as well as among all Hawaiian residents.

Although Admiral Kimmel in his Fleet Order warned of a surprise air raid on Pearl Harbor as a possibility, few thought "it could happen here." Most people felt the Japanese would not attack without a declaration of hostile intent. The fact that they had attacked China in 1895 and Russia in 1905 without a declaration of war was considered not applicable to modern Japan. The military personnel, however, were not sure of Japan's code of honor in this regard, and made preparations accordingly. Yet, in the various hearings no American military man excused the air raid on the ground that Japan had violated her solemn agreement to the Hague Convention.

There was little real reconnaissance on 7 December. There was none to the north, which proved to be the vulnerable direction. It was taken for granted that if the Japanese attacked, the attack would be from a southerly direction, where the Mandated Islands were. But, the trade winds were northerly and would be helpful to the Japanese in carrying a bomb load over 200 miles of water.


Image: 80-G-30554 Japanese planes over Ford Island.
Japanese planes over Ford Island.


The first indication of hostile action by Japan was a submarine periscope sighted at 0350 by the minesweeper Condor. The destroyer Ward, which was on patrol duty at the Pearl Harbor entrance, was notified and opened fire and dropped depth charges. Also a PBY seaplane dropped depth charges which showed a noticeable oil slick after the explosions. It was assumed that the submarine was sunk in about 1,200 feet of water.

A message was sent at 0654 which was delivered to the Duty Officer of the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet at 0715. After requesting confirmation Patrol Wing TWO verified the report at 0732. But a second confirmation of this unbelievable circumstance was requested. Before verification was received the attack on Ford Island dispelled all doubt.


At 0755 the Navy Yard signal tower telephoned to the Commander-in-Chief at his quarters, "Enemy air raid-not drill." At about the same time the Commander Patrol Wing TWO broadcasted from Ford Island the warn-


ing: "Air Raid, Pearl Harbor-This is Not a Drill." Within a few minutes an identical message came from the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Fleet doctrine required all ships to get underway as soon as possible but some were not able to overcome the damage which the Japanese attack wrought. As it turned out, it was better that ships stayed moored because there was some fear that the planes had dropped mines in the entrance channel; and let us not forget that enemy submarines awaited the ships in the various sea lanes. Most destroyers and a few cruisers did get underway and joined forces to find and confront the Japanese Fleet, but these searched southward instead of northward. Perhaps it was best that they were unable to contact the Japanese forces, for these forces were much superior and had plenty of air power. Sunk at sea, they would have been lost beyond recall—though they would have been far tougher targets.


True to the Japanese plan all air bases were first put out of commission so that air interference with Japanese attacks on the ships of the fleet was minimal. Ford Island was attacked at 0755 and all fighting planes were effectively disposed of prior to torpedo attacks on ships which occurred at 0757. Likewise Ewa, Hickam, Wheeler, Bellows, and Kaneohe were subjected to dive-bomber attacks and machine gun strafing. The Army field at Haleiwa was not attacked because the Japanese knew it had only a few reserve training planes.

The Army was on sabotage alert only, and therefore its planes were grouped together with ten feet or less from wing-tip to wing-tip. Only machine gun ammunition was available to Army personnel until well into the morning. This fact plus the sabotage philosophy resulted in a perfect target for the Japanese dive-bombers and machine gun strafers.

The score board shows that the attackers put all of the air bases virtually out of commission for several hours. The figures given before the joint Congressional Investigating Committee on 15 November 1945 are as follows:

Ford Island—33 out of 70 totally destroyed or damaged.

Ewa—33 out of 49 totally destroyed.


16 out of the remainder were too damaged to fly. (3 were on patrol.)

Hickam—18 out of 30 combat planes totally destroyed.

Wheeler—42 out of 83 combat planes totally destroyed.

Bellows—3 out of 12 combat planes totally destroyed.

Kaneohe—26 out of 35 seaplanes totally destroyed.

6 were severely damaged. (3 were on patrol.)[1]

The true story is that the Japanese put out of commission the half dozen potent air bases in Hawaii. Although the Army Air Force and Naval Air acted heroically when the true nature of the attack was comprehended by the personnel, the fact remains that only a token air force was able to resist the Japanese or follow them to their carriers.


Within a very short time after Ford Island and Hickam were struck, the moored ships were attacked by torpedo planes. The forty planes came in

Image: 80-G-19948 Wreckage at Naval Air Station, Ford Island, with ships burning in background, 7 December 1941.

Wreckage at Naval Air Station, Ford Island, with ships burning in background, 7  December 1941.


Image: 80-G-32477 Planes and hangars wrecked during the Japanese attack on Naval Air Station, Ford Island.
Planes and hangars wrecked during the Japanese attack on Naval Air Station, Ford Island.

groups in the early stages of the assault and their targets being stationary, the accuracy of fire was lethal. The torpedoes were let go 50-100 feet above the water only a few hundred yards short of the ships. There were four groups of torpedo bombers in all, the first one on the port beams of the ships. The following ships were hit: California, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. The second group also attacked the port sides. The third was from the west and was directed against ships tied up at the Navy Yard dock. It was then that Helena was hit by a torpedo after it had passed under Oglala. The force of the explosion opened a hole in the old minelayer Oglala which eventually caused her to capsize. The fourth group came from the northwest and was successful in putting at least two torpedoes in Utah and one in Raleigh. The old battleship Utah was rigged as an aerial target ship and resembled an aircraft carrier; she capsized to port at 0813. It is interesting to note that Utah and Raleigh occupied berths usually assigned to aircraft carriers. The forty torpedo planes presumably fired forty torpedoes, of which about half found their mark.

A few of the Japanese torpedoes were recovered from the mudbanks in which they ended their runs. All of them were fitted with wooden fins to prevent diving, and they were modified to explode after a very short run. These were new features to the Americans as it had been believed a depth


of at least seventy-five feet was necessary for modern torpedoes, and a run of several hundred yards was required prior to explosion.


The inboard ships could not be reached by torpedoes, for which reason the Japanese endeavored to immobilize them by armor-piercing projectiles dropped from a height of about 10,000 feet. The following ships were hit by 14 or 15-inch projectiles or later by smaller bombs: Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, California, West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Honolulu, Vestal, Shaw, Floating Dry Dock Number Two, and Curtiss. Cassin and Downes were in Dry Dock Number One ahead of Pennsylvania and

Image: 80-G-32438 Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor
Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor


were hit by diving planes using the smaller bombs. The extent of the damage caused is covered in a later chapter.


Honolulu did not escape. Several people were killed on the streets of the city or elsewhere, and several buildings were destroyed, including a Japanese language school. Whether all losses resulted from bombs being jettisoned by planes before their return to their carriers or whether some were 5-inch shells fired by fleet ships at Japanese planes is not clear and probably never will be solved.

A number of private planes, out for flying in balmy Hawaiian skies, were shot down by the Japanese in the early stages of the attack. Such planes were entirely inoffensive and the slaughter of their occupants was wanton murder in the first degree.


Some mainland newspapers published stories of a dearth of manpower at air bases and on board ship on Sunday morning, or unfitness for duty on account of drunkenness. The Roberts Commission had as witnesses the President of the Temperance League of Hawaii and its Executive Secretary. Both of them admitted that the letter signed by them to the people of America was exaggerated and slanderous. Although there were about 11,000 soldiers and sailors in Honolulu on the night of 6 December, that figure represents only about ten percent of the total military force, and only a few were drunk or disorderly. In fact the police records indicate that more civilians were arrested for drunkenness on the night of 6 December than were military. It should also be noted that leave or liberty expired at midnight, and the military personnel who imbibed beer at the various service clubs could not obtain beer after midnight on 6 December. No liquor was served on military ships.

Officers and selected enlisted men whose families lived at the time in Honolulu were granted weekend leave over 7 December. Yet the figures were kept within the limits set by the fleet order. The hearings of the Con-


gressional Committee show that the actual number of men on board and  available for duty at 0800 on 7 December were:

5 or more
Commanding officers of battleships
5 out of 8
Commanding officers of cruisers
6 out of 7
Commanding officers of destroyers
Damage-control officers of battleships
6 out of 8

Average percentage of officers:

Battleships (approximate)
Cruisers, battle force (approximate)
Destroyers, battle force (approximate)

Average percentage of men:

Cruisers, battle force
Destroyers, battle force
85% [2]

The Army exceeded these figures somewhat because the Army had quarters available at the duty sites for officers and enlisted men.


As has been seen the fleet order required that about one-fourth of the antiaircraft batteries be manned, with ammunition near at hand. The batteries selected were in various sectors, with range finders and directors appropriate to those sectors. The 50 caliber machine guns were furnished with 300 rounds of ammunition, and the two 5-inch guns with 15 rounds each in ready service boxes. Additional ammunition was furnished from magazines by personnel regularly assigned to that task and by volunteers. The number of shots fired by various guns was given at the Congressional Investigation as follows:

Rounds of machine gun ammunition
Rounds of 5-inch 50 caliber
Rounds of 5-inch 25 caliber
Rounds of 5-inch 38 caliber


Image: 80-G-32792 Heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire which the Japanese planes encountered.
Heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire which the Japanese planes encountered.

The machine guns got into action promptly while the 5-inch guns were firing within four minutes. The destroyers had all anti-aircraft batteries firing in about seven minutes although the machine guns opened fire immediately. As will be seen from survivors' reports printed later, general quarters was sounded on practically all ships promptly. The effectiveness of the Navy fire is evidenced by the fact that five of the torpedo planes which began the attack on the large units of the fleet were shot down.

Mention should be made of the midget submarine which gained entrance to Pearl Harbor. At 0835 on 7 December Curtiss sighted a periscope and immediately opened fire. The submarine surfaced and fired one torpedo toward the nested destroyers. Curtiss hit the conning tower twice as Monaghan dropped depth charges. There was never any doubt that the submarine was sunk. It is shown on page 169 as finally recovered several weeks later.

As for the Army, only a limited amount of ammunition was at hand, although machine gun ammunition was available on some of the Army planes. None of the 3-inch mobile batteries were emplaced. There was not at the time any anti-aircraft batteries around airfields or around the Navy compound.



Deeds of heroism in both the Army and Navy were common and in keeping with the highest traditions of the services. The Army awarded five Distinguished Service Crosses and sixty-five Silver Stars; the Navy recommended fifteen Medals of Honor and awarded sixty Navy Crosses.


The Army list given at the Congressional Investigating Committee was  as follows:

Killed in action or fatally wounded
Wounded in action
Missing in action

The Navy was as follows:

Killed in action or fatally wounded
Wounded in action
Total killed or fatally wounded
Total wounded in action


Let it be recorded that there was no sabotage or insurrection in Honolulu or anywhere in Hawaii. It is true that the Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately took into custody suspected enemy agents, including 370 Japanese, 98 Germans, and 14 Italians.

Contrary to the stories printed in some mainland papers there was no organized glutting of roads to Pearl Harbor. In the early stages of the attack no one had any trouble driving from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor although such roads became crowded in due course.

Here it should be mentioned that staff officers and others received telephone calls at Honolulu "to return to the ship immediately; we are under enemy air attack." Commercial radio assisted in this. All complied promptly, although the great majority thought it was a Sunday drill, and that the "boom boom" which they heard (a customary sound on weekdays) was intended to add realism to the drill. Even when entering the Navy Yard on


the way to the boat dock most officers were unbelieving until seeing the wreckage and the burning oil on the waters, and the bottom of Oklahoma in the distance.

The prevalent story of poisoned drinking water was pure fabrication, as was also the story of cutting direction markers in sugar cane fields to indicate the course to Pearl Harbor. Many similar stories were ill-founded.

Martial law was promptly put into force in Honolulu. All except those with military business were off the streets at nine o'clock in the evening. Strict black-out was practiced at night. All women and children except those women holding government jobs were evacuated as soon as ships were available.


There was now no doubt that the Japanese had scored a great victory. Most of the air bases were a shambles and a large part of the fleet was immobilized. The damage done seemed great indeed, and spirits were at a low ebb. On 10 December came the news that Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk near Singapore. Two days earlier the air bases in the Philippine Islands were successfully attacked. It did not seem possible at the time that the Japanese could be so victorious.

What if another air raid was made on the fleet and its reserve oil supply or its repair base at the Navy Yard -- or a landing force of the Japanese hit the beaches? Families in Honolulu were indeed in jeopardy and many took to the hills to escape the danger that seemed to threaten.

For several months the Army was unable to guarantee that the islands of the Hawaiian group were safe against successful Japanese landing attack. This included Midway, from which land-based airplanes could operate. Therefore the Navy was forced to consider Pearl Harbor as a base with limited capabilities. With the possibility of Japanese land-based planes near at hand it was decided that Pearl Harbor should be used by the fleet as little as possible, that task forces should stay at sea a maximum of time, that rest and relaxation were things that had to take second place in wartime.



1 Hearings, Part 1, pp. 54 and 55.

2 Ibid., p. 49.

3 Ibid., p. 57.

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