Today we recall the 69th anniversary of the day that will live in infamy.
A few months ago I came across a story about Pearl Harbor I had not read before. Here it is:
“Dawn was breaking on Sunday morning, the seventh day of the month, on the island of Oahu. Aside from its status as a tourist mecca, the island was home to several major American military facilities, including the huge naval base at Pearl Harbor and the Army’s Hickam airfield. For the soldiers and sailors, the day began like any other Sunday, with a skeleton crew on duty while many others slept off their Saturday night revelries.
“But this was no ordinary Sunday.
“For over a week, unknown to the island’s commanders, a large fleet had been steaming toward the Hawaiian Islands, operating under strict radio silence and without running lights to avoid detection. The fleet sailed to the north of the islands, far beyond the normal shipping lanes, to reduce the chances of being detected by U.S. Naval patrols or commercial ships.
“This time of year found the northern Pacific storm-tossed, and as the fleet pressed on toward its target, it adjusted its course to sail inside rain squalls.
“Early that Sunday, following a high-speed run, the fleet’s aircraft carriers came within one hundred miles of Pearl Harbor, their principal target. An hour before daybreak pilots scrambled into their planes.
“Shortly thereafter the carriers launched their strike aircraft, more than 150 in all, a mix of fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes, which quickly moved into formation and headed through the night sky for Oahu. Their mission: execute Raid Plan No. 1.
“As the aircraft approached Pearl Harbor, the weather cleared, as if on cue. This enabled the strike formations to use the battery of searchlights at Kahuku Point as a navigation aid to guide them toward their targets.
“Dawn was now breaking. As sunlight streamed over the horizon, the airborne strike force pressed home its attack over Pearl Harbor, achieving complete surprise.
“Dive bombers and torpedo planes went to work on the ships lying at anchor along Battleship Row, where the U.S. Navy’s capital ships were berthed. Fighter aircraft peeled off and strafed the airfield, hitting parked planes, fuel storage tanks, and hangers.
“Army Air Corps pilots rushed to take off after the attacking force, but by the time they were aloft, the attackers had completed their strikes and vanished. Failing to locate the attackers, the Army aircraft returned to base, whereupon a second wave of carrier strike aircraft hit them.
“A New York Times reporter on the scene reported that the attacks were ‘unopposed by the defense, which was caught virtually napping.’
“Surveying the results, the American defenders were filled with anger — and relief.
The attack, executed on the morning of Sunday, February 7, 1932, occurred at the outset of a U.S. Army-Navy war game called Grand Joint Exercise 4.
“Rear Admiral Harry Yarnell, commander of the newly commissioned American aircraft carriers Saratoga and Lexington, had launched the attacking planes. The ‘bombs’ dropped were flour bags, which could be found splattered on the Navy’s ships still sitting at anchor.
“Red-faced, the Army Air Corps commanders sought to minimize the attack’s results. They argued that the damage incurred to Hickam Field was minimal, and asserted that they had found and attacked Yarnell’s carriers. [Although the New York Times reported that “the Pearl Harbor defenders had yet to locate [Yarnell’s] task force 24 hours after the attack.”]
“Finally, [the Army commanders] protested the attack on legal grounds — it was improper to begin a war on Sunday.”
That account is from the book “7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century,” by Andrew F. Krepinevich (pp. 1-3).
Another account of the February 7, 1932 “attack” was written by Jack Young in an essay called “The Real Architect of Pearl Harbor.”
Young notes the U.S. Navy ignored the implications of the exercise. The after action report made no mention of Yarnell’s attack.
“Yarnell’s reward for his achievement was his assignment in 1933 as Commandant of the Pearl Harbor Naval Station, a backwater rear admiral posting. In the years that followed, the Navy appropriated funds for 12 battleships and only one aircraft carrier. President Roosevelt was building up the Navy but with the wrong ships.
“Although the Navy refused to learn from the exercise, the Japanese paid close attention, and their observers provided a thorough report to Tokyo. In 1936, Japan’s Navy War College circulated a study of ‘Strategy and Tactics in Operations Against the United States.’ One of its main conclusions was ‘in case the enemy’s main fleet is berthed at Pearl Harbor, the idea should be to open hostilities by surprise attack from the air.’
“Admiral Yamamato followed the exact strategy demonstrated by Harry Yarnell’s 1932 exercise, taking his task force under radio silence through the Northern Pacific with rain squalls and rough weather, away from the commercial maritime and naval sea routes, to a point just north of the island of Oahu from which point he launched his attack on the day that will live in infamy.”
Two thousand four hundred and three Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor on this day, 69 years ago. You can read their names at this link.