Saturday, December 7, 2013

Facts You May Not Know About The Pearl Harbor Attack

Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a history buff, especially in terms of military history and naval history in particular, I've always found Pearl Harbor to be a fascinating event.

So here's a list of eleven factoids that many people may not be aware of. Read on!

  1. US Army general Billy Mitchell, an early proponent of air power, predicted that the US would go to war with Japan, and that Pearl Harbor would be attacked by aircraft. He made this prediction in 1924!
  2. The Japanese were good at taking other nation's lessons and learning from them. The attack on Pearl Harbor was inspired by a similar attack by the Royal Navy against the Italians in the Mediterranean, at Taranto. The British bombed the Italian naval base with aircraft launched from the HMS Eagle, in 1940. One Italian battleship was sunk, and two damaged. The Japanese studied the battle carefully, and implemented the tactics when they hit Pearl.
  3. The Pearl Harbor attack was but one of a series of simultaneous attacks across the Pacific by the Imperial Japanese forces. The overall plan had been to knock out the US Navy, drive off the Royal Navy, seize as many bases and territories as possible, reinforce and fortify them, and dig in, bracing themselves in anticipation of America's manufacturing might eventually building up a large navy again. Japan figured that if they took enough territory and then made it impregnable, they could eventually negotiate a peace.
  4. While it's commonly said that there were eight battleships at Pearl on the morning of December 7th, technically there were NINE. The aged USS Utah, no longer fit for front-line combat duty, was stripped down and converted into a target ship. The Japanese mistook it for a carrier, and sank it.
  5. One battleship, the Nevada, was not sunk, but rather beached at Waipao Point. The Nevada was the only battleship that had steam enough to get underway, but as she made for the harbor exit, the Japanese focused on it as a target for bombs, and it occurred to the captain that if the Japanese sunk the ship at the mouth of the harbor, it would render Pearl Harbor useless until the ship could be raised. So, instead, he ordered the battleship to run aground.
  6. Only two battleships actually were total losses, the Arizona and the Oklahoma. However, a lot of American propaganda at the time insisted that the Oklahoma had been rebuilt and was fighting in the Pacific. Um, no.
  7. The attack happened on a Sunday morning, and many servicemen were at services. According to author Walter Lord, who wrote Day of Infamy, one chaplain's benediction was "God bless you all, Pearl Harbor is under attack, report to your stations."
  8. In the movie "Tora! Tora! Tora!", considered one of the best and most accurate movies about the attack, the band on the fantail of the Nevada was playing the national anthem and raising the colors as the attack began. They are shown increasing the anthem's tempo because they saw the Japanese planes swooping in for a bombing run, and they wanted to get the heck out of there. While it made for a kind of funny scene, it did NOT happen that way. The band played the anthem at the normal tempo, didn't miss a beat, finished it, THEN ran for their stations.
  9. The US Navy fuel storage fields were mistakenly labelled as baseball fields on Japanese intelligence maps, so they were not bombed. Had they been, the resulting destruction of those supplies would have gone a long way towards crippling the surviving ships' operations.
  10. When FDR gave his Day of Infamy speech and Congress voted to declare war, it was declared only against the Japanese, not the Axis Powers as a whole. America was assuming that they would be fighting only the Japanese, while providing arms and material to Britain and Russia in their fight against the Nazis. It was Hitler who declared war on America a few days later, followed by Mussolini.
  11. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack, was reportedly upset by their Foreign Ministry's messing up the delivery of the declaration of war. He was upset that the attack occurred when the two nations were technically at peace, and that the attack would be considered a sneak attack.
Incidentally, I highly recommend Walter Lord's book "Day of Infamy". Lord was an excellent writer who wrote non-fiction, documentary style accounts of some important events of the 20th century (Pearl Harbor, Dunkirk, the Titanic, the Battle of Midway).

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