Sea Warfare Changes Before the World’s View

Today in History, December 10: 1941 –

4,000 Japanese troops land in the Philippines, 700 land on the island of Guam and seize it. To top of a disastrous day, Japanese torpedo bombers swarmed over the British Battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse, sending them both to the bottom of the South China Sea. Since December 7th, Japanese air raids had destroyed fully half of the Allied aircraft in the Pacific theater. Some battleship sailors had consoled themselves with the thought that the ships lost at Pearl Harbor due to the air raid were unable to protect themselves only because they were caught at their moorings. It was believed that ships at sea, with room to maneuver could avoid aircraft. The loss of the powerful Prince of Wales and Repulse quickly put these thoughts to rest.

“Before We’re Through With ‘em, the Japanese Language Will be Spoken Only in Hell!” -Adm. William F. Halsey

Today in History, December 8: 1941 –

The US Navy Task Force focused around the USS Enterprise (CV-6) aircraft carrier, short on supplies and fuel, enters Pearl Harbor in the dark of night to re-provision as quickly as possible. Uncertainty reigns; nobody knows if the surprise attack by Japanese aircraft was the precursor to an invasion…

The men of the Task Force are horrified by the destruction they are witnessing; mighty ships they had seen just days before lay smoldering and efforts to rescue untold numbers of their friends trapped in the ships were ongoing. The stench of burning oil and bodies permeates the night air.

The commander of the Task Force, Vice Admiral William Halsey observes the carnage from the bridge of the Enterprise and angrily utters one of what will be many memorable quotes from him during the war, “Before we’re through with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell!”

Today, of course, Japan is one of our closest and most faithful allies. But on December 8, 1941, and for years to come, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other allied basis left no room for anything but battle.

Pearl Harbor…An Unmitigated Failure for Japan

Today in History, December 7: 1941 –

Did you know that the Japanese surprise attack on the bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was…a tremendous failure? In spite of the horrific losses in lives and the loss of combatant ships and aircraft, the Japanese Task Force missed their primary targets. The battleships and most of the aircraft they destroyed were obsolete…and they knew it.

They were after the American aircraft carriers, which they recognized as the next generation capital ships. Their intelligence was that the American carriers were in port at their berths, but the Kawanishi flying boat that provided that info couldn’t catch that the carriers left soon after it’s recon mission.

The Japanese aircraft failed to destroy the dry dock facilities at Pearl…allowing the repair of many of the ships damaged during the attack, and importantly, the USS Yorktown after the Battle of the Coral Sea, allowing her to take part in the tide-turning Battle of Midway.

And due to Admiral Nagumo’s decision to cancel another sortee, the attack failed to destroy or damage the fuel storage depot at Pearl. Had they done so, the entire fleet would have been forced to retreat the 2500 miles to San Diego (if they could make it there). The US fleet could not have operated from Pearl for nearly a year if they had lost that fuel depot. So while the attack was a flashy victory for the Empire, it was a tactical loss. America’s industrial capacity quickly replaced the losses. God bless our heroes that lost their lives that day.

What was supposed to be the backbone of the US Pacific Fleet, several Battleships, were either completely destroyed or so badly damaged that it would take years before they could put to sea again. the Arizona was virtually blown apart by a direct hit that ignited her magazines (her ammunition stores); the Oklahoma rolled over and capsized; only one of the behemoths managed to get steam up and make a run for the sea. But her commander wisely beached her, fearful that she might be sunk in the channel and put the entire harbor out of commission for months.

The Army commander, more worried about sabotage than air attacks, had ordered all of the Army Air Corps’ aircraft lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be more easily guarded. They made easy targets for strafing Japanese fighters. Only two Army fighters made it into the air to do battle with the enemy (my father grew up with one of the pilots).

Being Late Made History

Today in History, December 6: 1941 –

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV6) was at sea, returning to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after delivering a squadron of Marine fighter planes and their pilots to Wake Island.

Seas had been rough, and the Task Force’s timing was not what they wanted. The sailors were looking forward to Saturday night on Oahu and Sunday morning relaxing on the golf course or at the Royal Hawaiian. Instead the destroyer sailors spent the night being tossed about;

the Enterprise crew, aboard a larger ship, sat down in the hangar deck to watch the now famous motion picture, “Sergeant York” about a heroic soldier from WWI.

Some of the viewers, considered lucky because they would be aboard the scout flights assigned to fly ahead to Pearl the next morning, would be dead within hours. The rest would be the lucky ones…because of the delay, the Enterprise was not at her berth on the morning of December 7th.

The Enterprise and her crew would earn 20 battle stars during WWII. Her air crews would be responsible for a large part of the victory at Midway and she would play a large part in the battles during the Guadalcanal Campaign. She would, for a time, be the only American carrier in the Pacific.

So, had she not encountered that storm, had she been in Pearl on December 7, how different would the course of WWII been? How many more lives lost?

The Roosevelt Corollary

Today in History, December 6: 1904 –

The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. In 1904 President Roosevelt made an addition to the Doctrine.

There had been recent incidents in which European powers threatened actions against South American nations that they felt owed them money.

In his annual message to the Congress, TR stated that, should any developing nations in the Western Hemisphere require intervention due to unrest or an inability to handle their financial affairs, it would be the US that would intervene, not foreign nations.

Many criticize Roosevelt’s assumption of police powers in the Americas as expansionist, and with the events surrounding the building of the Panama Canal, there is likely some validity to that view. However the primary objective was to ensure that foreign powers knew the US would not tolerate their use of military force in our backyard.

Flight 19

Today in History, December 5: 1945 –

Flight 19, a squadron of 5 TBM Avenger Torpedo planes on a navigational training flight out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, disappears without a trace within the “Bermuda Triangle”. Land based personnel could hear them by radio trying to find their way before apparently ditching at sea. 14 crewmen were lost.

In the efforts to find the lost men, a flying boat, a PBM Mariner, was also lost without a trace…almost doubling the loss of life with her 13 man crew. Hundreds of aircraft and ships searched for the lost crews without success.

Many ships and aircraft have been lost in this area…leading to speculation about aliens, magnetic anomalies, the lost civilization of Atlantis, etc. The Navy is likely correct about disorientation, but there have been an unusual amount of losses within the “Triangle.”

A Farewell to Brothers in Arms


Today in History, December 4: 1783 – General George Washington, veteran of the French and Indian War, leader of his men from Bunker Hill to Valley Forge to Yorktown, with all of the hardships involved, announces to his officers that he is resigning his commission and returning to civilian life at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City. “with a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.” Washington then took a moment with each of his officers alone. There was not a dry eye in the house, including the future President…George Washington….wept.