The population of the United States in 1941 was 121 million. The U.S. Army and Navy existed in a state of slow-motion after World War I.
Very little innovation in tactics or purchasing of modern equipment for the soldiers had occurred. Leadership was lost in a time warp and initiative was discouraged as rank in a peace time army was frozen. For the average soldier, life was nothing but drill, drill, drill. A good overview of the state of the services was depicted in the popular and successful movie "From Here to Eternity.” A book by Gordon Prange, At Dawn We Slept — The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, indicates even less subtly what the United States was doing on Dec. 4, 1941.
At 6 a.m., Dec. 7, a mini-Japanese submarine was sunk by depth charges in the entrance of Pearl Harbor. The sub rolled over and sank. The incident was reported to the command post but no further action was taken.
At 7 a.m., a mobile RADAR unit on the west coast of Hawaii was operating. The operator suddenly noticed a number of what he thought were airplanes moving from the west to Hawaii. He alerted the command post that the planes appeared to be 40 miles to the north and moving fast toward the island. The officer in charge thought a couple of seconds and then told the operator to disregard the information as a number of B17s from San Diego were due in today and what he was seeing was these planes (The B17s were coming east from the United States — San Diego. These planes were coming at 180 mph and from the north).
The Japanese were angry and had been for a number of years. The United States had instituted an oil embargo on Japan and restricted free trade with them. Since 1931, Japan had had designs on Manchuria and began enlarging their empire by engaging in a vicious war with Manchuria. The United States wanted Japan to cease action there and the Japanese ignored these messages. Japan was not to be dictated by what they believed to be a "colonial power” like the United States. They began planning to do something drastic to the United States for meddling in their affairs.
At 7:40 a.m., 183 Japanese "Zeros” and "Kates” (bombers) began bombing Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor. The enemy had been practicing this maneuver for more than a year. Their torpedoes had been modified to stay near the surface of the 30-35 foot deep bay and each ship had been assigned to a crew of flyers to torpedo. The first battleship hit was the USS Utah. The second ship hit was the Helena, followed by the Oglala (a minesweeper). Within five minutes, rifles and machine guns began being used to shoot at the clearly marked Japanese airplanes, followed by ach-ach guns. At 8:05 a.m., the battleship Arizona was hit by an armor piercing bomb, followed by a second hit at 8:06 a.m. It sank in 11 minutes with 1,177 lives lost.
Carnage was everywhere. Ships were sinking and the Japanese planes were having a "turkey shoot. How had the airplanes gotten to Pearl Harbor? Simple for the Japanese. They achieved what the United States had thought was impossible, the Japanese had sailed undetected in six aircraft carriers for 10 days from Japan, across the Pacific in strict radio silence and less than 200 miles from Hawaii. In the first 15 minutes of the first wave attack, after arriving at Wheeler Air Base, the Japanese planes destroyed the U.S. air fleet.
At 8:35 a.m., the first wave of Japanese planes began returning to their carriers after damaging, sinking or destroying eight battleships at Ford Island. At 8:55 a.m., the second wave of planes began their carnage and were instructed to look for targets of opportunity they had missed in the first wave. The Americans were able to muster up six fighter planes by now and began engaging in dogfights. The B-17s arrived and were being attacked. The B-17s were not armed and most were destroyed almost immediately (The Japanese lost 29 planes in the attacks). The Japanese, however, suffered much more damage in the second wave of attacks as the Americans were now prepared and more deadly in their defense.
It is ironic that many Japanese thought they should uphold conventions of war by sending a note declaring their intent of starting a war with the United States. The Japanese had delivered half of a 14-page note to the U.S. ambassador on Dec. 6, 1941 with intents of sending the second half the next day — Dec. 7. The note informed the United States that peace negotiations were at an end. The Japanese leader, Yamamoto, felt that war should be declared in these notes but he was overruled and the Japanese declared war on the United States the next day, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The 14-page note was to have been delivered 30 minutes before the first attack on Pearl Harbor but the Japanese Embassy did not deliver it until after the attack due to slow typing by their clerks.
By 10 a.m., the planes had returned to their carriers and began preparing for a third strike. The commander, however, began to review the situation. He knew three U.S. carriers (Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga) were around somewhere in the Pacific but he didn’t know where; their fuel was adequate to get back to Japan but he had none to squander; the second wave suffered more damage by the Americans and he knew they would be better prepared for the third wave. He finally made his decision over the objection of many officers. It was time to go home.
On Dec. 8, 1941, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.