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.
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).
Today in History, November 28: 1941 –
Ten days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Task Force built around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) sailed from Pearl Harbor bound for Wake Island.
In response to a “war warning” the Enterprise had taken aboard a squadron of US Marine F4F Wildcat fighter planes and their pilots, with orders to deliver them to Wake to bolster the island’s defenses.
Once they were at sea, the TF commander, Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey signed off on Battle Order #1, which put the Enterprise and her supporting Cruisers and Destroyers on a war footing.
The crew began adding armor behind the pilot’s position’s in the ship’s fighters, painting them in combat colors, and arming them for combat.
More than a week before the Japanese attacked, the Enterprise TF had orders to shoot first and ask questions later should they encounter any foreign ships or planes. The CAP (Combat Air Patrol) kept watch overhead.
The Big E would deliver the Marines and return to Pearl on Sunday, December 7. Her scout plane pilots would fly ahead, ending up right in the middle of the air raid. But that’s another story.
But on this date, Admiral Halsey and Captain Murray closed by telling their sailors “Steady nerves and stout hearts are needed now.”
Today in History, February 20: 1942 – Lt. Edward “Butch” O’Hare saves his ship. The USS Lexington was initiating a raid on Rabaul, a Japanese stronghold. However the Task Force was spotted, and many Japanese aircraft were sent to destroy the valuable aircraft carrier. Lt. O’Hare was part of the “CAP”, or Combat Air Patrol for the Lexington (CV-2).
O’Hare singe-handedly shot down five of the attacking “Betty” bombers, effectively saving his ship, one of the few aircraft carriers the United States had available at the time. This also made him the US Navy’s first ace of WWII. About a year later, O’Hare, ever the hero, would be lost in unknown circumstances in one of the first night time fighter operations. O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named for Butch. What many people don’t know is that this American hero, who gave the “last full measure of devotion” for his country, was the son of a gangster. His father had been Al Capone’s lawyer. The senior O’Hare (Fast Eddie), according to the story, had exchanged his testimony against Capone for a chance for his son to enter the Naval Academy. He paid with his life, gunned down by Capone’s thugs. As a result, thousands of American sailors aboard the Lexington were saved due to Butch’s heroism.