Peter Takes on History
December 7, 1941
RADAR ignored, intelligence mistaken, the tiger attacks!
At 7:08A on December 7th, 1941 the newly deployed technology called Radio Detection And Ranging - RADAR warned of an immense signal moving toward the Hawaiian islands.
In ’41 relations with Japan had tanked and US intelligence actually expected a Japanese attack … but at Subic Bay in the Philippines, not in Hawaii.
Unfortunately the RADAR warning was dismissed and forty minutes later the attack began. The lead bomber pilot radioed back to Japanese General Yamamoto, "Tora, tora, tora! " Tora is the Japanese word for Tiger, and that day a code word to indicate that total surprise had been achieved.
Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers. All eight U.S. battleships were damaged. Four were sunk. I was surprised to learn that all but the Arizona were later raised, six of the eight were returned to service and went on to fight in the war.
Twenty-four hundred Americans were killed; half on the USS Arizona. Twelve hundred were wounded. Japanese losses were light: 29 aircraft and 64 servicemen.
The attack could have been worse. The Japanese planes missed the Pearl Harbor power station, fuel and torpedo storage facilities; as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building - home of the intelligence section.
Still, a U.S. Military assignment policy was reviewed because of Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941 there were seventy-seven twins or triplets assigned to the USS Arizona. Sixty-two were killed. Twenty three sets of brothers died.
At 1:30 p.m., FDR heard of the attack. He spent the day consulting with military advisors and with Churchill. Eleanor actually addressed the nation first; on that evening’s scheduled weekly radio broadcast. FDR’s famous remarks were made the next morning, on December 8th before Congress. Roosevelt called it, "A day that does live in infamy."
In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto is purported to have said, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Yamamoto called it. The day after the attack the U.S. and Britain declared war on Japan.
Four short months later, in a dramatic turnaround, a US bomber squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel "Jimmy" Doolittle surprised Japan by attacking Tokyo.
A year later came the Battle of Midway. The US Navy, aided by American code breakers spared during the Pearl Harbor raid, was able to ambush the Japanese battle group, inflicting losses that hobbled them for the rest of the war.
One nearly overlooked element of the attack - the Japanese deployed five two-man midget submarines at the mouth of the harbor the night before the air attack.
One was spotted attempting to enter the harbor predawn. The USS Ward sunk that sub in what is now considered the first combat action of the Pacific War. Another midget sub did succeed in entering the harbor but was immediately sunk by the USS Monaghan. Two more subs participated in the attack and may have successfully fired torpedos and retreated. A fifth sub suffered a mechanical failure and drifted to the east coast of Oahu where it was wrecked on a reef. One sailor drowned trying to swim to shore. Another sailor survived. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki made it to shore where he collapsed, exhausted. He was discovered by a U.S. soldier, David Akui, and was taken into custody, becoming the first US prisoner of the war. After the WWII Ensign Sakamaki participated in a second, more peaceful Japanese invasion as president of Toyota in Brazil.