Shoot First, Ask Questions Later…

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.”

USS Oklahoma

Today in History, November 3: 1943 – The USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is re-floated at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after a months long salvage operation. She had been on Battleship Row on December 7, 1941 when Japanese torpedoes caused her to capsize quickly. After being decommissioned, the ship was sold for scrap, being too old and too damaged for further service. En route from Pearl to San Francisco, the Oklahoma slipped the line from her tow ship and sank to the bottom of the Pacific. I guess she didn’t want to end up in a scrap yard.

Naval Satellite Communication

Today in History, January 28: 1960 – US Navy Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh Burke uses the first satellite communications system, developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, to send a secure radio message from Washington DC the Commander of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. The satellite? The moon.

A system had been developed to bounce high frequency radio waves off of the moon, creating a stable world wide communications system for the Navy. It would be used until the late sixties when man made satellites were in place.

Knowing When to Say No Secured Nimitz’ Fate…and Kimmel’s

Today in History, December 25, 1941:

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz arrived in Pearl Harbor aboard a PB2Y Coronado flying boat after a flight from the west coast. Before the flight he had taken a six day train ride from Washington DC across the country.

On December 17th Nimitz, who at the time was the Commander of the Bureau of Navigation (the Navy’s personnel dept) was ordered to take command of the US Pacific Fleet, much of which was either sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. FDR had told him to get out there until “the war was won.” He did.

When the Japanese attacked Oahu on December 7, the current commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, quickly became the scapegoat for all that had been done wrong. He would spend years defending himself while Nimitz led the US Navy to victory.

But Nimitz very nearly assumed Kimmel’s fate. Nimitz had been an innovator in the Navy for years…as a result he had been offered CINCPAC earlier in the year, but turned it down…he wanted the Bureau instead.

So did Nimitz’ instincts tell him not to take the offer? Either way his choice kept him from being in Kimmel’s shoes, which allowed him to be the historic leader he became.

After his arrival in Pearl Nimitz spent a lot of time with Kimmel, and then kept Kimmel’s staff in place.

Nimitz told Kimmel and others that, “The same thing could have happened to anyone.”

“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?