The Alpha: Pearl Harbor, December 1941
"Videmus nunc per speculum in aenigmate."
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Chapter 2

Launching the Strike
A day after Kimmel's discussion with Layton of the location of enemy carriers, the fate of his fleet was being sealed, baring some unforeseen disaster. From the Combined Fleet's new Chief-of-Staff (since September) Rear-Admiral Ugaki Matome, came the message that ordered execution of the war plans at 0000, December 8th (Tokyo Time), 1941. The message arrived at 2000 aboard Akagi, and being relayed to Nagumo, read: "Climb Mount Niitaka, 1208." The Task Force, halfway between Midway and the Aleutians, drove on, confident of its victory. By December 6th, it had reached a position almost due north of Oahu, and changed course towards it, heading for the launch point. That evening, a message came in from the Naval General Staff, informing the fleet of the ships in Pearl Harbor. No carriers were reported, slightly worrying Nagumo, who believed that there was now a definitive threat of them appearing on his flanks. Still, the attack would proceed. By midnight, December 7th, about the time the Japanese invasions of Malaya started, planes were being lined up along the flightdecks.

While preparations were ongoing about the Task Force, about three hundred miles to their south the destroyer Ward, protecting the entrance to Pearl Harbor, was informed by two approaching minesweepers that they had sighted a submerged submarine. Ward, expecting the report to be correct, attempted to find the vessel, but failed. It would not be her last contact that morning.

When Ward secured from General Quarters at 0435, the Japanese aircrew were about to rise. Quickly, after breakfasting and receiving their final briefings, the pilots, observers, gunners, radiomen and bombardiers shuffled to their planes. At 0550, the carriers turned into the wind, now blowing briskly from the east, and prepared for the take off. It was at 0610 that the first Zero took off from Akagi, leading the way for the dive-, torpedo- and level-bombers. Soon thereafter, all planes in the air and assembled, the flight leader Fuchida Mitsuo took his planes south toward Pearl Harbor. The second wave, to be launched one and a half hours later, was being readied aboard the warships.

Off Pearl Harbor, at 0630, the stores ship Antares was the next vessel to call upon the destroyer Ward. Antares reported it had seen a small submarine. Ward's men saw it soon thereafter: a small conning tower, obviously belonging to a submarine. At 0640, Ward's men went to battlestations, and began firing their 4" guns. Only two rounds later, the submarine was hit in the conning tower and heeled over. Ward rushed across her, dropping a shallow pattern of depth charges. The sub positively annihilated, Ward reported her attack to the 14th Naval District's (responsible for the local defense of Hawaii) offices.

To the north of Oahu, at 0700, Fuchida's planes were still heading for their target, now guided by the radio waves of Honolulu's KGMB radio station. At this moment, on Oahu the only available radar station, Opana, detected the incoming planes. Excitedly, the radar operators called their immediate superior, reporting a major flight of planes to Oahu's north, approaching quickly. The operator of the information center told them not to worry; he considered the blip to come from a flight of B-17 heavy bombers en route from California. Three minutes later, the plucky Ward detected another submarine, this time by sound, dropped a spread of depth charges, and found satisfied that a large bubble of oil was rising to the surface.

At half past seven, a report arrived in Fuchida's plane from a search plane the cruiser Chikuma had sent out ahead of the force, telling of the latest strengths in the harbor. A short time later, Fuchida sighted Oahu in the early-morning sun light. He ordered his planes into attack positions. Alas, now the Japanese made an error. The dive-bombers regarded a signal from Fuchida as an order to attack first, when in fact, Fuchida realized that surprise had been achieved, and the more vital attack of the torpedo bombers was to come first. It broke the plan: now every group of planes merely headed the straight route for their targets, seeking to keep the interval between the unpreventable attack on the airfields by the dive-bombers, and their own attacks on the battlefleet, short.

At 0749, now well over Oahu, Fuchida ordered his radioman to tap out the signal To-To-To, the attack order. The first attack wave broke up and headed for its targets. Four minutes later, Fuchida signalled Tora-Tora-Tora, back to the fleet, indicating complete strategic and tactical surprise.

Wake-up Call
Kimmel was in his quarters, digesting the information that had come from Ward. It was surprising. If true, and Kimmel was still awaiting confirmation, it meant that the Japanese had decided to wage war against the United States, quite unlike his staff had thought. Whilst he thought about the matter, Rear-Admiral William Furlong, Senior Officer Present Afloat, witnessed a particularly appaling case of irresponsibility, when a plane flying over Ford Island, the flat island housing Luke Field in the center of the harbor, released a bomb that exploded harmlessly on the edge of the field. Suddenly, thunderstruck, Furlong noticed the red disk of the Japanese national insignia on the fuselage of the plane. Immediately, his flagship radioed out to the fleet: "All ships in harbor: Sortie!"

But it was too late for that. While the dive-bombers were already bombing Ford Island, Ewa and Wheeler Fields, the first torpedo bombers were approaching. They came from Hiryu and Soryu, and headed for the ships on the north-western side of Ford Island, were the target ship Utah and the cruiser Raleigh were anchored. Although instructed to avoid Utah, a single torpedo slammed into the target ship, which took on a heavy list and started to capsize. The light cruiser Raleigh, whereon no-one realized the severity of the danger, was hit by another torpedo, which took out the electric system, at 0755. This drove the crew to the realization that the raid was real, and five minutes later, the entire anti-air armament was in action. However, Raleigh listed heavily. Another Hiryu attacker took his plane past Ford Island and launched his torpedo at Furlong's flagship Oglala, missing the small minesweeper but hitting the cruiser Helena alongside.

Kimmel received news of the attack via phone and stepped outside, from where he could overlook the harbor. From here, he witnessed the most spectacular of the American losses that day: the violent destruction of Battleship Row. Battleship Row from the air

Along the south-eastern shore of Ford Island, the battleships of the Pacific Fleet lay in double rows, two ships besides each other. The repair ship Vestal was anchored there, as was the tanker Neosho, carrying hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel oil. California was moored alone further towards the entrance of the harbor. Aboard her, preparations were underway for the morning flag raising. Suddenly, a Japanese plane thundered overhead, ending the ceremony. Torpedoes dropped into the harbor waters. A first missile found West Virginia, moored outboard Tennessee, in the middle of the row. Action stations rang aboard most ships now. Vestal opened fire, shortly before a dive-bomber scored a hit on her, shortly followed by another; destroyers and cruisers joined in, and the battleships prepared for action. Aboard Nevada, the hindmost ship of the twin column (she had no ship alongside), the officer of the deck ordered steam to be made in order to follow the instructions which Furlong had given his ships.

Two torpedoes found Oklahoma in quick succession around five past eight. The huge battlewagon caught a list, which increased quickly. It appeared impossible to counterflood the ship quickly enough, so abandon ship was ordered and the men attempted to get off the ship.

A single torpedo then plowed under Vestal, moored outboard Arizona, and detonated against the latter ship, blowing her bottom out. A heavy bomb, courtesy of Fuchida's high-level bombers, then struck near the "Y" turret, adding to the damage. At the same time, a torpedo hit California, moored far from the other battleships, followed by another not much later.

Kimmel reached his headquaters not much later, and was immediately filled in on the few details that were available. Several more torpedoes had by now hit West Virginia, which settled on an even keel, the victim of more torpedoes than anyone had cared to count. While Kimmel was ordering his thoughts, and ordering the necessary messages to be dispatched, a tremendous explosion jarred the windows of his office. Looking out, he saw a huger column of deadly black smoke rise over the forecastle of Arizona, which settled quickly, a mass of torn metal forward. Apparently, one of Fuchida's bombers had placed an armor-piercing bomb into her forward ammunition or black-powder magazines, detonating that and disintegrating the forward part of the ship.

The giant explosion sucked all air from the immediate vicinity, saving Vestal alongside by extinguishing her fires. On the other hand, debris shattered the topside of Tennessee, which anchored ahead of Arizona. Two bombs had struck her, for less damage.

Fuel oil burned on the harbor surface. It threatened to reach Nevada, which, last in line, had so far received but one torpedo hit and a number of near bomb misses to port. Now, her officers attempted to extract her from the line of approaching burning oil.

While the battleships were burning, twisting under the force of explosions and the men aboard them dying in the fury of detonating bombs and sputtering machine guns, their comrades at the airfields faired little better. At Kanoehe, a small airfield used by various patrol planes, the Japanese arrived first (at 0748) and ignited a terrible blaze, destroyed most PBYs present, and left the little field helpless and without a fire truck. Efforts to reach Bellows, Wheeler, or Hickam Fields were successful, but no-one believed the reports. Consequentially, when Hickam and Luke Fields were struck next, no-one had any advance warning. What was more, into the fray drove two groups of planes which without a doubt did not belong there. From California, the B-17s which had been considered to be on the Opana radar station's scope arrived over Hickam; and from Enterprise, returning from her Wake Island operation, came the dive-bombers of her air group, sent ahead to spent the day in Hawaii, instead of on the decks of the carrier. Each flight ran into the thunder of anti-air explosions, and each flight also had to deal in its own way with the Zeros of the Japanese bombers' escort. Four SBDs were shot down, but the Army's unarmed B-17s survived. But the carnage wrought by the Japanese on Hickam was only surpassed by that sustained a short while later on Wheeler, Pearl Harbor's Army fighter field. The fighters, arrayed in close line to protect against sabotage, had little chance of protection, and few managed to take off. Most were destroyed by strafing Zeros and dive-bombing Vals, of which there were so many that part of the attackers instead chose to hit the small Marine air station at Ewa.

Destroyers were racing to the open sea, the only ships small and maneuverable enough to get out of Pearl Harbor. The attacks were slacking after 0830, most planes having dropped their weapons, and the second wave not yet arrived. However, it was only a temporary respite. Everything around Pearl Harbor went into higher alert. Guns were made ready and ammunition stocked up. Then, at ten to nine, the second wave, led by Lt.Cmdr. Shimazaki, reached the burning harbor area. Below them, and a few minutes before their attack, destroyer Monaghan scored an unlikely victory, ramming another midget sub, this one inside the harbor proper. The victory was short lived; as the rammed intruder slid beneath the waves and settled on the shallow ground, Shimazaki's attackers bore down on the fleet. Wheeler Field under attack

Zeros strafed Ford Island, Hickam and Wheeler Fields, and Kaneohe and Bellows. Three P-40 fighters were shot down upon taking off, At Kaneohe, counting all things, twenty-seven PBYs were destroyed out of 36 that had been based there. High-level bombers now added their high-explosive bombs to the carnage on the airfields, obliterating hangars and revetments. The harbor's waters were spared the same power of attack that the initial wave had had, but there were a number of targets too good to pass up on. One was Nevada, now progressing slowly under her own power past Battleship Row, heading for the open sea. It was evident that if Nevada sank anywhere near the harbor entrance, the entire harbor would be blocked for a considerable amount of time. Thus, dive-bombers were soon working her over. Five bombs crashed into the ship, and after a second attack wave had worked the ship over for another hit, Nevada was grounded at Hospital Point, just off the harbor entrance but well out of the way.

Another promising target for the dive-bombers was Drydock No.1, holding battleship Pennsylvania and destroyers Cassin and Downes. The battleship received but light damage, but Cassin and Downes were destroyed completely, and the destroyer Shaw nearby was similarly wrecked. Bombs also hit California, aboard which Battle Force chief Vice-Admiral Pye ordered abandon ship as the battleship slowly settled on the ground, and the light cruiser Raleigh, still listing heavily. Bombs also splashed into the waters around the piers to which the Pacific Fleet's cruisers were tied, damaging Honolulu. The cruiser St. Louis backed out of its pier and made for the open sea. On the way, she was nearly hit by the torpedoes of another midget submarine.

However, the air attack on Pearl Harbor was over, the time now ten past ten. The enemy's planes had flown off to strafe airfields by quarter to ten, a task which they completed in due course, before setting off for their carriers. Fuchida made up the rear; he had been watching the entire raid.

Post-Strike Deliberations
At the same time that St. Louis reached the open sea, the first planes were received back aboard their carriers, in rather unfriendly weather. But although several landed planes had to be written off as constructive losses, the majority landed safely, their crew elated to be back and confident that they had secured a major victory.

At noon, Fuchida landed, and set to briefing Nagumo. He told Nagumo that his fliers had sunk four and damaged four other battleships. Then, Kusaka asked him what proposed to strike next; and Fuchida answered that he desired to hit the fuel tank farms and dockyards. Nagumo then dismissed Fuchida, and querried Genda as to his thoughts. Genda replied that he would not hit Pearl Harbor again until the American carriers had been found. He advocated staying in the area, convinced that the American fleet was now effectively reduced to the carriers, to find the flattops and destroy them. But Nagumo would not accept that daring scheme. He asked his chief-of-staff for comments. Kusaka suggested that retirement now was the perfectly logical step. Nagumo had inflicted more damage than had been thought possible in even the Combined Fleet's optimistic wargames, at negligible casualties. No sense trying one's luck. Nagumo agreed. Soon, the flags ran up the mast, telling that the Task Force would head north-west, away from the Hawaiian Islands. Fuchida, upon hearing this, headed up to confront Nagumo, but was cut short. There would be no argument.

Even the Combined Fleet staff, once informed by Nagumo via radio of the decision, argument vehemently against it. But Yamamoto knew that he had to leave the decision to Nagumo, quite realizing that he might not have the full picture. And he was certainly delighted to get back his Task Force intact.

And so Nagumo retired from the scene of action. He left behind a shattered Pacific Fleet, a demoralized command, and a devastated Kimmel. While he had watched his proud fleet being destroyed, a spent American .50-caliber bullet had shattered the window he was standing at and hit him in the chest, from whence it dropped to the floor, leaving only a stain on his white jacket. "It would have been merciful had it killed me.", Kimmel uttered.

The news of the attack reached Washington just after lunch. Roosevelt was surprised and shocked, Navy Secretary Knox, who first heard it through naval channels, needed Stark's double confirmation that it was indeed a raid on Pearl Harbor. War Secretary Stimson took it with all the impertubability that only fifty years in civil service can bestow. Secretary of State Hull, with the unenviable task of seeing the Japanese ambassador after the raid had been known to him, could barely hide his cold contempt for the Japanese envoys.

The White House and the Congressional Leadership met that night. Roosevelt told the Congressmen of his news; and they agreed that Roosevelt would speak before the combined House and Senate the next day, to voice a motion for a declaration of war.

Final Accounting Northampton entering the harbor after the attack

The carrier Enterprise entered Pearl Harbor on the evening of December 7th. From her flag bridge, Vice-Admiral William Halsey looked out on the carnage that was the harbor. California lay on her bottom on the harbor bed, as did West Virginia. Arizona had blown up and was beyond salvage, almost 1200 men dying aboard her alone. Oklahoma had capsized, with men still aboard her. Salvage operations would take place to rescue these men, but not all would be saved.

The target ship Utah shared Oklahoma's fate, and the men aboard her the fate of Oklahoma's. The cruiser Raleigh, severely damaged in the attack, was kept upright by the help of salvage barges. The destroyers Cassin and Downes were destroyed, without a chance to salvage them. Shawwas severely damaged and would require a new bow. Oglala, the old minesweeper, had been destroyed.

On land, the air strike had destroyed 164 air planes and damaged another 150, many beyond repair. The human casualties were severe. The Navy had lost 2,008 men killed and 710 wounded, most aboard the battleships, most aboard Arizona. The Marines had 109 killed and 69 wounded, most in the Marine Detachments aboard the ships in harbor. The Army had 218 men killed and 364 wounded, and there were a hundred civilian casualties.

The Japanese had suffered twenty-nine planes shot down, and a large number damaged, but casualties were light, certainly in no relation to the damage inflicted.

And so, in three hours work on a Sunday morning, the Japanese had shattered any hope of winning their war, for they had filled the Americans with terrible resolve. But they had also effectively negated the threat of a U.S. flanking attack on their sortie to South East Asia. In consequence, they could largely ignore the U.S. raids of February/March, and finish up their operations against the Dutch and British possessions. The U.S. defeat eliminated any ever so slight hope the United States may have had of relieving the Philippines, and, of course, destroyed the career of Kimmel and his land counterpart, Short.

Alas, to analyze the attack means also to see if the successes it achieved could not be had by another way, a way, for example, that would not have enfuriated the Americans in such a fashion. The answer is difficult, for many issues played into the decision to begin the war with an attack on the Pacific Fleet.

It is likely, however, that had the Japanese decided to wait for Kimmel to come out, and fight him in Japanese territory, such as the Mandate, they would have won an equally resounding victory, and one which would have hurt enemy morale, not increased it. Although the Combined Fleet would not have so many carriers available,it would have the entire battleforce with which to oppose the U.S. Pacific Fleet, plus at least as many heavy carriers as the U.S. had. It is likely that the Japanese would have won such a battle.

But that is a largely academic question. It must be noted that the Japanese attack plan was brillant and executed professionally, with no error being made in the execution. The question of who was responsible for the debacle is easy to answer: Genda, Nagumo, Fuchida, Kusaka. The men who planned, led, and executed the attack.

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