If You Go:
"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressing Congress, December 8, 1941
With these words, the President of the United States asked Congress for a declaration of war. Every December since, Americas remember the fallen from the first battlefield of our war against Japan and the event that drew this nation into that World War.
After sailing for over a week across the northern Pacific, the Japanese fleet with six aircraft carriers arrived about 300 miles northwest of Oahu. Every schoolchild knows that in the early morning hours of December 7th, planes were launched from those carriers to torpedo, bomb, and straff the American fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. But what we often forget is that the first shots fired that day were American, not Japanese. Early in the morning of that fateful day the destroyer USS Ward detected a Japanese mini–sub trying to enter the harbor. Its' young commander — LCRD William W. Outerbridge — ordered several rounds fired at the sub from the deck guns. One round hit the conning tower, sinking the submarine and sealed the fate of her crew.
Hours later Pearl Harbor was attacked by 353 Japanese fighter, bombers and torpedo bombers. At first the planes were mistaken for Army and Navy planes on a training excercise, but soon the truth was realized. Too late to mount a coordinated defense, the American service men put up the best resistance they could muster. Within minutes of the start of the attack, the battleship USS Arizona was hit by several bombs, one of which penetrated the deck and exploded in the forward ammunition magazine. The ship quickly sank to the bottom of the harbor. Seven of the eight battleships anchored there were sank or damaged as well. The battleship Nevada made a run for open water but came under attack and the ships captain opted to beach her rather than risk sinking at the harbor entrance and stopping up the channel.
At Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows air fields the planes were bombed and straffed as they sat on the ground. Many pilots attempted to get their planes into the air, but were shot down before they cleared the runway. Two pilots — 2nd Lt. Kenneth M. Taylor and 2nd Lt. George Welch — had their planes located at a remote field at the town of Haleiwa on the north side of the island. They managed to get into the air and shot down a number of Japanese planes, receiving credit for the first aerial kills of the war before running out of ammunition. They landed their planes, re-armed, and returned to combat. Both pilots survived the war. Their actions were re-created in the film Tora,Tora, Tora.
Also on that day, a flight of twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses flew in from the mainland, arriving during the attack on the airfields. One of the pilots, Major Truman Landon, commented: "Damn it! What a way to fly into a war — unarmed and out of gas!"
The target that the Japanese pilots were looking to destroy, the American aircraft carriers, were not in Pearl Harbor that day. Fortunately, they had sailed to Wake Island and Midway to deliver much needed fighter planes for the defense of those base. Had they been at Pearl Harbor, their destruction would have lengthened the war. Another missed opportunity for the attacker was that the Japanese pilots missed bombing the fuel depot and the submarine pens. Within hours of the attack, the freshly armed and fueled submarine fleet was dispatched as America's response to seek and destroy any enemy ships.
The attack lasted about 90 minutes. When the planes finally returned to their carriers 3,478 servicemen and 103 civilians had been killed or wounded. Nearly 350 of the 405 American aircraft in Hawaii had been destroyed or badly damaged. Eighteen ships (including eight battleships) had been sunk or required extensive repair. The Japanese naval commander, Admiral Nagumo, feared the fleet might be detected and to prevent the potential loss of ships (especially the six aircraft carriers) failed to launch follow-up attacks. Instead he decided to immediately return to Japan after the last plane was recovered. Without destroying their primary targets — the aircraft carriers — the mission was only a partial success.
Where are they now?
Besides the Japanese carrier fleet and fleet aircraft, five mini–submarines also took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Four were sunk during the action. The fifth was grounded on the East side of Oahu and its pilot, Kazuo Sakamaki, was captured (the second crew member drown). The submarine can be viewed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredricksburg, Texas.
The deck gun of the USS Ward that fired on and sank one of the other Japanese mini–subs is located at the Minnesota State Capital in St. Paul. The gun was removed when the ship was refurbished in 1942.
The destroyer USS Ward was lost during the war. On December 7, 1944, exactly three years after she fired on the Japanese submarine, she was hit by a Kamakazi during the battle of the Phillipines. Burning and dead in the water, the destroyer could not be saved. The ship was abandoned before being shelled and sunk by American gunfire from another destroyer, the USS O'Brien, under the command of William W. Outerbridge who, three years earlier as commander of the Ward, had fired the opening shots of the war at Pearl Harbor.
The USS Arizona became a Memorial and was dedicated in 1962. The white Memorial structure sits above the sunken ship, which has become a permanent resting place for the 1,177 crewmen still entoumbed inside her. The wall of the memorial has the names of all the sailors and marines who served on the ship that were killed during th attack. Today, the National Park Service manages the Memorial which sees over 2,000 visitors daily.
At anchored behind the USS Arizona is another battleship, the USS Missouri, where the signing of the documents of surrender by Japan took place on September 2, 1945. The Missouri, launched on January 11, 1944, was not involved in the Pearl Harbor attack. However, her current berth, behind the USS Arizona, appears to be a proper and fitting location for the old battle–wagon.
Also located on the grounds is the submariners memorial with the USS Bowfin, a World War II diesel–electric submarine that was launched on December 7, 1942. Nicknamed "the Pearl Harbor avenger", the Bowfin is credited with sinking 39 merchant ships and 4 military ships. Visitors can tour the submarine and experience — with an audio narration — life and conditions of World War II seamen in the "silent service".
Tora! Tora! Tora!
P-40 Warhawk — aircraft type flown by Lt. Taylor and Lt. Welch
World War II
Submarine USS Bowfin
Names of the fallen.
The Arizona Memorial is open to the public daily from 7:30 AM until 5:00 PM. If you want to go to the Arizona Memorial, you will need a ticket (free) to get a ride aboard the launch that takes there. Tickets go quickly, so it is best to arrive as soon after the site opens. A short historical film is presented before boarding the launch. The Memorial is closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. For those visiting without a car, it is suggested that you take a guided tour which will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the Memorial.
Tours of the USS Missouri are also available, however you will have to purchase a ticket for this option. Prices vary, depending on how much time you wish to spend touring and how much of the ship you would like to see and experience. The ship is open for tours from 8:00 AM daily (closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day), and closes at 4:00 PM (except for June through August when it closes at 5:00 PM).
Tours to the USS Bowfin and the submarine museum also require the visitor to purchase tickets. This attraction is open from 7:00 AM until 5:00 PM daily. However, it too is closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Children under the age of 4 are not permitted on the submarine.
Wear comfortable walking shoes and try to get to the Arizona Memorial before taking any of the other tours. Take note that tours of the interior of the Bowfin submarine and USS Missouri require climbing ladders and steep steps.
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Photographs: The Pearl Harbor photographs on this page (Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri, USS Bowfin) were taken on two separate visits to the site. The aircraft images were taken at the annual Wings Over Houston air show, which includes a re–enactment (complete with pyro–technics) of the bombing of Pearl Harbor put on by the Commemorative Air Force, using planes from the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!".