Navy Department on the Attack at Pearl Harbor

(December 5, 1942)


On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft temporarily disabled every battleship and most of the aircraft in the Hawaiian area. Other naval vessels, both combatant and auxiliary, were put out of action, and certain shore facilities, especially at the Army air bases, Hickam and Wheeler Fields, and the Naval air stations, Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, were damaged. Most of these ships are now back with the Fleet. The aircraft were all replaced within a few days, and interference with facilities was generally limited to a matter of hours.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, two surface ship task forces of the Pacific Fleet were carrying out assigned missions at sea, and two such task forces were at their main base following extensive operations at sea. Discounting small craft, eighty-six ships of the Pacific Fleet were moored at Pearl Harbor. Included in this force were eight battleships, seven cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers and five submarines. No United States aircraft carriers were present.

As a result of the Japanese attack five battleships, the Arizona, Oklahoma, California, Nevada and West Virginia; three destroyers, the Shaw, Cassin and Downes; the minelayer Oglala; the target ship Utah and a large floating drydock were either sunk or damaged so severely that they would serve no military purposes for some time. In addition, three battleships, the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee; three cruisers, the Helena, Honolulu and Raleigh, the seaplane tender Curtiss and the repair ship Vestal were damaged.

Of the nineteen naval vessels listed above as sunk or damaged, the twenty-six-year-old battleship Arizona will be the only one permanently and totally lost. Preparations for the righting of the Oklahoma are now in process, although final decision as to the wisdom of accomplishing this work at this time has not been made. The main and auxiliary machinery, approximately 50 per cent of the value, of the Cassin and Downes were saved. The other fifteen vessels either have been or will be salvaged and repaired.

The eight vessels described in the second sentence of paragraph three returned to the Fleet months ago. A number of the vessels described in the first sentence of paragraph three are now in full service, but certain others, which required extensive machinery and intricate electrical overhauling as well as refloating and hull repairing, are not yet ready for battle action. Naval repair yards are taking advantage of these inherent delays to install numerous modernization features and improvements. To designate these vessels by name now would give the enemy information vital to his war plans; similar information regarding enemy ships which our forces have subsequently damaged but not destroyed is denied to us.

On Dec. 15, 1941 only eight days after the Japanese attack and at a time when there was an immediate possibility of the enemy's coming back, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the Arizona, Shaw, Cassin, Downes, Utah and Oglala had been lost, that the Oklahoma had capsized and that other vessels had been damaged. Fortunately, the salvage and repair accomplishments at Pearl Harbor have exceeded the most hopeful expectations.

Eighty naval aircraft of all types were destroyed by the enemy. In addition, the Army lost ninety-seven planes on Hickam and Wheeler Fields. Of these twenty-three were bombers, sixty-six were fighters and eight were other types.

The most serious American losses were in personnel. As a result of the raid on Dec. 7, 1941, 2,117 officers and enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps were killed, 960 are still reported as missing and 876 were wounded but survived. The Army casualties were as follows: 226 officers and enlisted men were killed or later died of wounds; 396 were wounded, most of whom have now recovered and have returned to duty.

At 7:55 A.M. on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese dive-bombers swarmed over the Army Air Base, Hickam Field, and the Naval Air Station on Ford Island. A few minutes earlier the Japanese had struck the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay. Bare seconds later enemy torpedo planes and dive-bombers swung in from various sectors to concentrate their attack on the heavy ships at Pearl Harbor. The enemy attack, aided by the element of surprise and based on exact information, was very successful.

Torpedo planes, assisted effectively by dive-bombers, constituted the major threat of the first phase of the Japanese attack, lasting approximately a half hour. Twenty-one torpedo planes made four attacks, and thirty dive-bombers came in in eight waves during this period. Fifteen horizontal bombers also participated in this phase of the raid.

Although the Japanese launched their initial attack as a surprise, battleship ready machine guns opened fire at once and were progressively augmented by the remaining anti-aircraft batteries as all hands promptly were called to general quarters. Machine guns brought down two and damaged others of the first wave of torpedo planes. Practically all battleship anti-aircraft batteries were firing within five minutes; cruisers, within an average time of four minutes, and destroyers, opening up machine guns almost immediately, averaged seven minutes in bringing all anti-aircraft guns into action.

From 8:25 to 8:40 A.M. there was a comparative lull in the raid, although air activity continued with sporadic attack by dive and horizontal bombers. This respite was terminated by the appearance of horizontal bombers, which crossed and recrossed their targets from various directions and caused serious damage. While the horizontal bombers were continuing their raids, Japanese divebombers reappeared, probably being the same ones that had participated in earlier attacks; this phase, lasting about a half hour, was devoted largely to strafing. All enemy aircraft retired by 9:45 A.M.

Prior to the Japanese attack 202 United States naval aircraft of all types on the Island of Oahu were in flying condition, but 150 of these were permanently or temporarily disabled by the enemy's concentrated assault, most of them in the first few minutes of the raid. Of the fifty-two remaining naval aircraft, thirty-eight took to the air on Dec. 7, 1941, the other fourteen being ready too late in the day or being blocked from take-off positions. Of necessity, therefore, the Navy was compelled to depend on anti-aircraft fire for its primary defensive weapon, and this condition exposed the Fleet to continuous air attack.

By coincidence, eighteen scout bombing planes from a United States aircraft carrier en route arrived at Pearl Harbor during the raid. These are included in the foregoing figures. Four of these scout bombers were shot down, thirteen of the remaining fourteen taking off again in search of the enemy. Seven patrol planes were in the air when the attack started.

There was a total of 273 Army planes on the Island of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941. Very few of these were able to take off because of the damage to the runways at Hickam and Wheeler Fields.

It is difficult to determine the total number of enemy aircraft participating in the raid, but careful analysis of all reports makes it possible to estimate the number of twenty-one torpedo planes, forty-eight dive-bombers and thirty-six horizontal bombers, totaling 105 of all types. Undoubtedly certain fighter planes also were present, but these are not distinguished by types and are included in the above figures.

The enemy lost twenty-eight aircraft due to Navy action, and the Army pursuit planes that were able to take off shot down more than twenty Japanese planes. In addition, three submarines, of forty-five tons each, were accounted for.

The damage suffered by the United States Pacific Fleet as result of the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, was most serious, but the repair job now is nearly completed, and thanks to the inspired and unceasing efforts of the naval and civilian personnel attached to the various repair yards, especially at Pearl Harbor itself, this initial handicap soon will be erased forever.


Source: New York Times, (December 6, 1942); ibiblio