Monday, March 26, 2012

THE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR

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Sunday morning, December 7, 141, the nation was enjoying another peaceful morning when suddenly Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor without notice. The Japanese military had great success in crippling one of the greatest military forces of all time, the United States of America. An attack of that magnitude against such a strong military giant required careful planning and timing. It made a significant impact on the American military presence and action.


As on most ships on any peacetime Sunday morning in port, holiday routine was being observed. With the exception of those on watch and a few late sleepers from the midwatch, the crew was at breakfast. They watched as the Japanese Kates and Vals and Zeros flew past on their way to the main anchorage at Pearl Harbor, less than two miles away. At the same time, other groups of attacking aircraft were already pouncing on their primary targets-the battleships and other helpless vessels at anchor. (Lee 58+)


Early that Sunday morning the U.S. Secretary of State met with two Japanese diplomats to discuss a peace settlement. Meanwhile the Japanese military had already launched a surprise attack on the base. The Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored in the harbor while simultaneously attacking the Hickam and Wheeler airfields. Ironically, the planes were detected by a U.S. Army radar operator but the officer to whom he reported the discovery said the aircraft were friendly. A survivor describes what he seen


When we looked east, we saw a thick column of black smoke billowing up from Pearl Harbor. The explosions grew in intensity and frequency, and we could see airplanes flying in circles…. The aircraft dropped below treetop level at the Waipio peninsula and skimmed over the water toward our quarters, located on a bluff overlooking the bay at the western end of the harbor. We stood on the porch, watching as the plane raced toward us with its guns firing. This was no war game. The aircraft bore straight on, and there was no mistaking its intent, it was strafing us. As it got closer, I strained to see the crew members- the men who were trying to kill us- but there wasnt time to stand around. We huddled on the cement steps of our quarters, trying to make smaller targets of ourselves as we crawled in through the door. The planes erratic maneuvers caused it to veer slightly off course. It missed us and roared close over the roof of the house, guns still firing. (Lee 58+)


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For Japan, the bombing was a stunning victory. The Japanese navy crippled the entire U.S. Pacific fleet in little over an hour and a half without even loosing more than thirty of their own planes. Although, the Japanese later realized that the attack was actually worse for them than it was for America because it propelled enraged Americans to arms. The Japanese soon realized that they had more trouble coming their way than what they had caused.


Japans Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto led the attack against the United States. His naval force hid under the cover of darkness about two hundred miles north of Oahu, an island off of Hawaii (Reid 1). Yamamotos strike force consisted of over three hundred and sixty planes that were launched from six different aircraft carriers along with thirty-three other Japanese naval ships (Reid 1). According to Yamamotos plan, the five Type-A-class midget submarines were to launch from their mother submarines in the early hours of Sunday morning. They were then to go from their launch areas to Pearl Harbor before the aerial strike. Each midget would enter the narrow and shallow channel and pass under the antitorpedo nets that hung down to a depth of thirty-five feet. Once inside the harbor, the midgets would wait for the airial attack to begin; then they would fire their torpedoes against targets of opportunity as the attack unfolded. The first wave of Japanese aircraft, which were launched at around six o’clock in the morning, was made up of one hundred and eighty dive-bombers, level bombers, torpedo planes, and fighter planes (Elting 48). The first bomber was followed by over one hundred and eighty Japanese warplanes all of which were ready and willing to destroy. Their mission was clear, to hit quickly, effectively and deadly.


Although the attack only took a little over an hour and a half there were two different waves of attacks. The first wave started around 755 in the morning which consisted of dive-bombers at the airfields, torpedo planes and warplanes at the harbor, and were followed by heavy bombers. The planes soon retreated leaving Americans thinking that it was all over, when all of the sudden the second wave hit not long after. The second wave started at around 840 a.m. and it contained one hundred and eighty planes. Its pattern was the same as the first except for there were no torpedo planes. For over an hour and a half the Japanese were barely disturbed by American antiaircraft guns, but by the second wave, American guns were firing which brought down the only Japanese aircraft lost by gunfire. A survivor describes what he saw


The planes machine guns made a peculiar sound, a sort of high pitched popping and whistling combination as the propeller and engine noised mixed with those of the bullets passing out of the gun muzzles. There was doubt in our minds that the pilot was distracted from his strafing run by the accurate gunfire from an American ship docked at West Loch…. As more and more American sailors manned anti-aircraft guns, the sky filled with the round black puffs of three and five inch projectiles. The shells bursting close by sounded like gigantic firecrackers going off inside a hallow steel drum. Hot shrapnel and spent bullets rained down on our house and lawn. (Lee 58+)


The attack, only a little over an hour old, was over by nine fifteen and by one oclock in the afternoon all remaining Japanese warplanes and all surviving crew had returned to their carriers. The major targets were the eight American battleships anchored along with over one hundred and eighty other American vessels in the harbor that were untouched by enemy fire. Their targets were clear and their shots were sure. The mission was to destroy the major firepower of the United States Navy and Air Force.


During the war, teenage boys were put to work on some battleships doing odd jobs such as repairing things to even helping with the ammunition. Their work may have been small but the crewmembers greatly appreciated the extra help. During the attack a sixteen-year-old boy named John Garcia was working on the U.S.S. Shaw as an extra hand and he describes his experience as follows


It was a mess. I was working on the U.S.S. Shaw. It was on a floating dry dock. It was in flames. I started to go down to the pipe fitters shop to get my toolbox when another wave of Japanese came in. I got under a set of concrete steps at the dry dock where the battleship Pennsylvania was. An officer came by and asked me to go into the Pennsylvania and try to get the fires out. A bomb had penetrated the marine deck, and… three decks below. Under that was the magazines ammunition, powder, shells. I said “There ain’t [sic] no way I’m gonna go down there. It could blow up any minute.” I was young and sixteen, not stupid. (“Japan Attacks the U.S.” 74)


The U.S. military suffered many damages from the attack. Over fifty-one U.S. naval ships were damaged or sunk eight battleships, nine cruisers, twenty-nine destroyers, and five submarines. Amazingly out of all of the damaged ships only one ship was totally lost, the twenty-six year old battleship Arizona. The other two battleships, the California and the West Virginia that were heavily damaged and sunk, were salvaged and returned to active service. The battleship Oklahoma was also severely damaged along with nine other naval ships. These were also repaired and returned to active service; however, the battleship Oklahoma was raised but not repaired. The Japanese also destroyed eighty naval aircraft and ninety-seven army planes that were not even in the air. Only four U.S. aircraft were able to get off the ground and they were soon shot down by enemy fire. Japanese fighters strafed the army planes so tightly that they were not able to get any more off the ground. Although the Japanese damaged many American vessels they too had some losses. By the second wave, American guns were finding targets and were able to shoot down twenty-nine planes killing fifty-five officers. An eyewitness describes what he saw


…we did see one Japanese fighter plunging downward into the largest concentration of smoke. The plane was consumed in bright, orange-yellow flames nearly twice the length of the fuselage… (Lee 58+)


The surprise attack also took many lives and injured many people. There were over two thousand four hundred soldiers killed and there were over one thousand one hundred and seventy eight wounded (“Japan Attacks the U.S.” 74). There were also eighty-three innocent civilians injured and there were forty-nine killed (Encyclopedia Americana 581). Had the American forces taken action at the first signs of trouble the results may have not been as tragic. Unfortunatly, lives were lost because of a slack in our defensive strategies.


After the attack, several investigations were held to see who was responsible for not being alert in the case of an emergency. Although they were not convicted, Admiral Kimmel and Lt. Short were criticized for the U.S. losses. Many wanted the finger of blame to fall upon an individual but the real responsibility lies within an overconfident military who thought nothing in that magnitude could ever happen to them, especially in their own country. At that time in our nation, we were settled in our military might believing that we were invincible and our attention was suddenly shaken with the frightening reality that we were not. A survivor of the attack describes how he felt


The strange new sound of being shot at soon became a familiar one that I will never forget. (Lee 58+)


As a result of this tragedy the United States as a nation, realized that they are not exempt from military strikes against their own country. This attack made America look back at its own self-defense and made them realize that it was time to make changes. American forces had to upgrade their awareness level with new instructions and new equipment to bring us back to full alert. During the many hours and days of clean up Americans were reminded of the tragic loss of many lives including many non military forces. There is now a memorial, in the harbor, where the battleship Arizona was lost to remind people of what can happen when an entire nation is unprepared. . This strategic surprise attack on America’s largest Pacific naval base truly became a day of infamy.





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