Chapter IV
7 December 1941: A Day That Will Live in Infamy

"All the publicity is 'Remember Pearl Harbor.' They should take a look at Hickam Field or what was Hickam Field. Twenty-seven bombs hit the main barracks. They dropped about 100 bombs on Hickam, practically all hits. The papers say they are poor bombardiers! They were perfect on nearly all their releases."

Charles P. Eckhert, Major, Army Air Forces, 10 December 1941.

At approximately 0755 on 7 December 1941 the first Japanese aircraft struck the Territory of Hawaii. In less than two hours they inflicted upon the Hawaiian Air Force the most terrible destruction it had ever received. All the anti-saboteur alerts, mock battles, and practice deployments proved to be of no avail during the actual attack. Only the individual courage and sacrifice of personnel acting in fear and desperation prevented the Japanese from completely destroying the Army Air Forces on Oahu.

The Japanese Attack

The Japanese planned to hit Pearl Harbor just after sunrise on a Sunday morning. They reasoned, correctly, that defenses would be at their weakest at this time due to the American tradition of taking Sunday as a rest day. The attack's primary purpose was to inflict sufficient damage on the US Fleet so it would be unable to interfere with their conquest plans in the Pacific for at least six months. Six carriers--the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, and Zuikaku--would transport a 360-aircraft* attack force to a point 220 miles north of Oahu. The Japanese believed their carriers, concealed by darkness during the final approach, could steam no closer without risk of being spotted by American reconnaissance aircraft. So worried were they about the air defenses on Oahu, they committed over a third of the attacking aircraft just to provide air cover for the remaining force. Another 39 aircraft would take off and fly top cover for the carrier force, just in case the Americans tried to attack.1

Three types of aircraft were used in the attack: 143 Nakajima Type 97 three-place bombers (B5N2 model 11), 129 Aichi Type 99 two-place dive bombers (D3A1 model 11), and 78 Mitsubishi Type 0

* Several publications, including the Congressional Investigation Report, give different figures for the number of aircraft used by the Japanese during the attack. Our thanks to David Aiken of Irving, Texas, for sharing his work in translating and interpreting the Japanese history series Senshi Sosho: Hawai Sakusen (BKS Vol 10), pp. 596-616, which contains, we feel, the most accurate information on actual aircraft used in the attack.


To the left is the Japanese carrier Akagi, flagship of VAdm Chuichi Nagumo, who headed the task force which attacked military installations on Oahu. Above, a Nakajima B5N (Kate) bomber heading toward Pearl Harbor with its deadly bomb*; and below, a Mitsubishi A6M2 (Zero) fighter launching from a carrier deck as the ship's crew waves and yells "Banzai!"

* Aircraft pictured flying over Japan or, possibly, the Coral Sea. On 7 Dec 1941, this Akagi-based plane carried a torpedo rather than the No. 80 ordinary bomb pictured here.


single-place fighters (A6M2 model 21).* The Nakajima was used with three different bomb loads. Forty aircraft were loaded with 800-kilogram modified torpedos for use against large naval targets. Another 49 Nakajimas were loaded with 800-kilogram, specially modified, armor-piercing 16-inch naval shells, also for use against large ships. The remaining 54 aircraft carried a mixed load; 18 had two 250-kilogram bombs for land targets, and 36 had one 250-kilogram and six 60-kilogram bombs, also for land targets. In addition each aircraft carried a hand-operated, rear-mounted, 7.7mm machine gun. The Nakajima delivered its bomb load primarily from the horizontal position, either at high altitude (around 10,000 feet) for those carrying the modified artillery shells or at low altitude (50 feet) for those with torpedoes. Bombers with multiple bomb loads could drop them either singly, in pairs, or all at once depending on the targets attacked.2

The Aichis carried a 250-kilogram land target bomb during the first attack and a 250-kilogram ordinary bomb for use against naval targets during the second attack. In addition, each aircraft could carry two 60-kilogram bombs under the wings. According to eyewitness accounts several dive bombers made multiple bombing runs, and these may have had the additional 60-kilogram bombs on board, although no Japanese records have been found supporting this claim. Each aircraft had two fuselage-mounted, forward-firing, 7.7mm machine guns and a hand-operated, rear-mounted, 7.7mm machine gun. After completing its bombing attack, the aircraft could make repeated strafing attacks.3

The Zeros were the Japanese Navy's best aircraft. On the morning of 7 December they could outmaneuver anything stationed on Oahu. Armed with two wing-mounted 20mm cannons and two 7.7mm machine guns mounted in the engine cowling, they also outgunned anything that would be sent up against them. Their primary job was to protect the other aircraft against American fighters. After gaining air superiority, or in case there was little to no fighter resistance, the Zero pilots were free to attack targets of opportunity anywhere on the island.4

Ideally, all the aircraft would strike their assigned targets simultaneously, thus assuring complete surprise. To launch and assemble that many aircraft in the dark would be difficult and would consume large quantities of fuel needed for the actual attack. The Japanese then modified the plan. Half the force, or 189 aircraft, would attack in the first wave and the remaining 171 would hit 30 minutes later. Thirty-nine fighters would take off and remain above the carriers to provide protection in case of attack. All the torpedo bombers were in the first wave because they were the most vulnerable and needed the surprise element to ensure success. The launch was accomplished almost exactly according to plan. All the first wave aircraft except one horizontal bomber, three dive bombers, and two Zeros launched within fifteen minutes, a record for the Japanese. All the aborts from the first wave were for mechanical problems that developed prior to takeoff. The second wave, although delayed due to rough seas, made it off with the loss of only four aircraft. Two dive bombers aborted on

* In early 1942 the allies would assign code names to enemy aircraft: the Nakajima B5N was called the Kate; the Aichi D3A, Val; and the Mitsubishi A6M, Zeke. The Zeke was probably better known as the Zero from its Japanese name "Zero-Sen," meaning it was produced in the Japanese year of 5700 (1940).


takeoff, while one dive bomber and one Zero aborted for mechanical problems.5

Roughly twenty minutes ahead of this attacking armada flew two Zero type scout planes launched from the heavy cruisers Chikuma and Tone. It was their job to make last-minute observations of Pearl Harbor and the alternate fleet staging area at Lahaina, Maui, and notify Lt Cmdr Mitsuo Fuchida, airborne commander, of any changes. This meant breaking radio silence, but Fuchida considered this information so critical he was willing to take the chance that the Americans would not discover the scout aircraft. Not only were the scout planes spotted, five different radar stations on Oahu tracked one of them across the island. Unfortunately, these stations had no idea how important this contact was and did nothing about it. The scout planes encountered no opposition and radioed back that the weather over the target was clear, no ships were anchored at Lahaina, and no changes in the ships at Pearl Harbor had been made.

Just north of Kahuku Point the first wave formed into attack formations, turned west, and paralleled the island for several miles. On reaching the Haleiwa area, the force split into two groups. Fuchida took direct command of the horizontal bombers and the torpedo planes under the command of Lt Cmdr Shigeharu Murata and headed toward Kaena Point. Just short of the Point, Fuchida again changed direction, heading south, staying west of the Waianae Mountains. These two groups of aircraft split again before the actual attack on Pearl Harbor; so they hit the facility from the west and south. Other than uncoordinated strafing passes on Hickam Field and other targets of opportunity, none of these aircraft directly attacked the Hawaiian Air Force facilities on Oahu; their targets were the Navy ships in the harbor.

Lt Cmdr Shigeru Itaya's fighters escorted various units including the dive bomber force under Lt Cmdr Kakuichi Takahashi. After separating from Fuchida, Takahashi's bombers flew straight down the center of Oahu, with the fighters providing top cover. Their route took them over Wheeler Field, where they divided, and part of the force attacked the field from the east and west, while the rest continued on down the island to Hickam Field and Ford Island, where they again divided and attacked from several directions. From there they moved on to Pearl Harbor, Ford Island, and finally Ewa Field Auxiliary Base.

The first Hawaiian Air Force installation to be hit by this attacking force was Wheeler Field. Approaching the field from the north, the dive bombers split into two groups. Takahashi took 26 aircraft and continued south to hit Hickam and Ford Island, while Lt Akira Sakamoto took the remaining 25 into Wheeler. Part of Sakamoto's force turned west and then south, paralleling the Waianae Mountains until abreast of the base, then headed east and began diving on the base from the west. The rest of his aircraft turned east, then south, then west, and hit the field from the east. No one on the ground sighted these aircraft until they had made the final turn for the attack. Eyewitness accounts would claim the aircraft coming in from the west had flown through a pass in the Waianaes called Kolekole. To someone standing on the ground, they would indeed have appeared to approach through the mountains, but all the aircraft that hit Wheeler Field came from the north and stayed east of the Waianaes.


Map: Japanese Aircraft Deployment, First Attack
Japanese Aircraft Deployment
First Attack


Wheeler Field in 1941
Wheeler Field in 1941, with hangar row at extreme left across from the concrete barracks that housed pursuit squadron enlisted personnel. The Waianae mountain range is in background, and the deep cut is Kolekole Pass. This natural cleft took its name from a large stone which Hawaiian legend depicted as a beneficial guardian of the pass to whom offerings of flowers and maile were made by travelers. (Harry P. Kilpatrick)

The Japanese took Wheeler Field completely by surprise. The first wave of dive bombers lined up on the hangars paralleling the aircraft parking area. Releasing their bombs from 500 to 1000 feet, they scored direct hits on Hangars 1 and 3 and additional buildings in that area. One bomb struck the 6th Pursuit Squadron barracks, destroying it. After completing their bomb runs, the pilots began making strafing passes on the parked aircraft. Once Itaya realized that they had taken the Americans completely by surprise and there would be no fighter opposition, he released the fighters from their role of protector and they began strafing ground targets. The 20mm cannons of the Zero fighters would do considerable damage to ground targets. To increase the amount of damage caused during the strafing runs, the Japanese had loaded their machine gun ammunition in the following order: two armor-piercing, one tracer; two armor-piercing, one tracer; two armor-piercing, one incendiary. With this loading the bullets would puncture things like gasoline tanks, and then the tracer and incendiary rounds would explode or set them on fire. They started many fires in this manner, and a thick pall of black smoke quickly covered the area. From the air it appeared that they had severely damaged the base and had destroyed all the aircraft on the ground.6

Aircraft and maintenance facilities at Wheeler Field were the primary targets of the attack. The pilots had been too well trained to waste their bombs and ammunition on insignificant targets. One bomb did land in the front yard of a house, but it probably resulted from a miss rather than a deliberate attack on the housing area.* At times there were over 30 fighters

* The authors, along with Maj John W. Boozer III, Commander, 15th Air Base Squadron, located the bombed area using photographs taken immediately after the attack. The crater was located on a line running east to west through an aircraft hanger and a large building used as a barracks at the time of the attack. The attacking aircraft was probably aiming at one of these two buildings when he overshot his target and hit the housing area.


burning hangars and aircraft at Wheeler Field
Above, burning hangars and aircraft at Wheeler Field, as photographed by a Japanese pilot participating in the attack. The thick black smoke that covered the area served to conceal some of the parked aircraft from the Japanese attackers.

Below, bomb crater in the front yard of family quarters at 540 Wright Avenue, across the street from the Wheeler flight line. (Joe K. Harding)
bomb crater in the front yard 
of family quarters at 540 Wright Avenue


and dive bombers attacking Wheeler from every direction. In the confusion a missed target or a long strafing run was to be expected. Schofield Barracks, located next to Wheeler Field, also appeared to be under attack with all the aircraft flying in the area; however, other than a possible isolated individual strafing attack or two, on targets of opportunity, the Japanese did not specifically target Schofield.7

After making several strafing attacks on Wheeler, Lt Akira Sakamoto led the dive bombers south to the Marine Corps base at Ewa. The fighters continued a little longer and then left for other targets. While they were attacking Wheeler Field, the remaining dive bombers and fighters of the first wave continued south, where they again split and headed for either Kaneohe Naval Air Station or the Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor areas. During the attack on Kaneohe, Lt Tadashi Kaneko flew off and made a single strafing pass over Bellows Field, then rejoined his unit. Why he made this lone strafing attack is not known, because Bellows Field was not on the initial target list for his group.8

The dive bombers and fighters that struck Hickam Field were not the first indication that personnel there had of the attack. When some of Murata's torpedo bombers hit Pearl Harbor, they flew directly over Hickam on their way out from the targets. Before anyone had a chance to react to the noise coming from Pearl Harbor or identify the low flying aircraft, the dive bombers and fighters were upon them. As at Wheeler Field, the first targets were those in and around the hangar area. The attack then widened to include supply buildings, the consolidated barracks and dining hall, the base chapel, the enlisted men's beer

A Nakajima B5N (Kate) horizontal bomber flying over Hickam's burning flight line
A Nakajima B5N (Kate) horizontal bomber flying over Hickam's burning flight line.


garden, and the guardhouse all in just the first few minutes. This was in addition to machine gun attacks by both the dive bombers and the fighters on all visible aircraft and personnel in the area. Within minutes the base was ablaze with many fires, and the Americans lost any chance of launching aircraft to attack or quickly locate the attacking carriers.9

Approximately 30 minutes later the second wave of 35 fighters, 54 horizontal bombers, and 78 dive bombers sighted the coast of Oahu. This group also approached from the north but was several miles east of the first attack. Roughly ten miles east of Kahuku Point, the second wave split into various attack groups. The dive bombers, under the command of Lt Cmdr Takashige Egusa, banked slightly to the right and approached Oahu just to the west of Kaneohe Bay, heading directly for Ford Island. Later, this group, after completing their bombing runs over Ford Island and the Pearl Harbor area, made strafing runs on Hickam Field and the Marine Corps base at Ewa.10

Lt Cmdr Shigekazu Shimazaki's horizontal bombers split into three groups, with 18 aircraft coming straight in to hit Kaneohe Naval Air Station. The other two groups continued flying south, passing Diamond Head to the east and circling out over the ocean, where 27 struck Hickam Field and the remaining 9 hit Ford Island. Several individuals on the ground spotted this group approaching Hickam from the south, reinforcing rumors that the enemy carriers lay to the south of the island.

A B-24, serial number 40-237, en route to the Philippines from the 44th Bomb Group, was caught on the ground and destroyed by the Japanese during the attack
A B-24, serial number 40-237, en route to the Philippines from the 44th Bomb Group, was caught on the ground and destroyed by the Japanese during the attack. (Denver D, Gray, US Army Military History Institute)


Map: Japanese Aircraft Deployment, Second Attack
Japanese Aircraft Deployment
Second Attack


Dividing again into two groups, the horizontal bombers hit Hickam from both low level, around 150 feet, and high level, about 1,000 feet. Targets of this attack continued to be buildings close to the flight line, the consolidated barracks, and the baseball diamond located next to the fire department facility.* 11

Staying with the horizontal and dive bombers, the fighters under Lt Saburo Shindo struck Kaneohe, Hickam, and Pearl Harbor. Seeing no resistance, Lt Sumio Nono led nine fighters away from Kaneohe toward Bellows Field. Attacking from the ocean side of the base, the fighters made repeated strafing attacks, destroying or damaging most of the aircraft parked there, the tent city area, and hitting several buildings. After completing their attack on Bellows, the fighters returned to Kaneohe and from there, worked their way back to their carriers.12

In less than an hour the Japanese had destroyed or damaged more than fifty percent of the Hawaiian Air Force's aircraft, many buildings and support facilities, and left over 600 casualties on the three main airfields. The only people who saw the attack coming were the radar operators, and even they were not exactly sure what they were looking at.

Radar Intercepts

The radar systems in use on 7 December were SCR-270-B radio sets. They were mobile units housed in two trucks. The unit's heart was the oscilloscope that gave a picture similar to a heart monitor in hospitals today. The operator would move the antenna through a given arc until the line across the bottom showed a small spike or "pip." By adjusting the antenna and the controls on the set, the pip was enhanced until the operator could tell the approximate distance to the target. Next, the operator would look out the window to a plate mounted on the antenna base, with an arrow on it that would give the direction of the contact. Unlike today's radar scopes the antenna did not oscillate and there was no constant repainting of the picture on the scope. This system could not tell an incoming target's altitude, its size or number, nor could it differentiate friend from foe.13

In July 1941 these radio sets began arriving on Oahu. Signal Company personnel began assembling them at Schofield Barracks and then began learning how to operate them. Once assembled, personnel moved them to prepared sites throughout the island. The Signal Corps planned to put up six sets. On the morning of the attack, five were operational, with the sixth still at Schofield. The five operational sets were at Kaaawa, Opana, Kawailoa, Fort Shafter, and Koko Head. The sets began operating at 0400 on 7 December except at Opana, which came on the air at around 0415 due to a delay for maintenance on the generator first thing in the morning. The operators had been on duty since noon Saturday. They divided their tour between standing guard, maintenance, and operating the sets. The schedule called for each site to have a crew of three: one operator, one plotter, and one person to maintain the power generators. Because several units worked off commercial power and used the generators as standby power, some crews cut back to two people per shift on the weekend. Opana had two crew members that Sunday morning.14

* See Chapter V for an explanation why the baseball diamond was targeted.


Above, an oscilloscope display at Opana radar site, showing the pip resulting from contact with the island of Kauai 89 miles away. Only distance and relative size of the target could be determined. A large flight of incoming aircraft would have generated a similar picture on the morning of 7 December. To the right, Pvt Joseph LaRue Lockard, the young Signal Corps member who was on duty at the Opana radar site with Pvt George E. Elliott (no photo available) the morning of the attack. Below, temporary information center built on top of Building 307 (a Signal Corps warehouse) at Fort Shafter to coordinate activities of the SCR-270-B radar sites. (All three photos courtesy of the US Army Museum of Hawaii)

an oscilloscope display at Opana radar site, showing the pip resulting from contact with the island of Kauai 89 miles away
Pvt Joseph LaRue Lockard, the young Signal Corps member who was on duty at the Opana radar site with Pvt George E. Elliott
temporary information center built on top of Building 307 (a Signal Corps warehouse) at Fort Shafter to coordinate activities of the SCR-270-B radar sites


During the first two hours, no radar contacts were made. At 0613, Koko Head and Fort Shafter began picking up sightings south of the island. Then at 0645, Kaaawa, Opana, and Kawailoa picked up a target approximately 135 miles north of Oahu heading south. All three stations called the Information Center with the targets, which were then plotted on the master plot board. Personnel at the center included five plotters (one for each radar site), a historical information plotter; PFC Joseph P. McDonald, the switchboard operator; and Lt Kermit Tyler, a pursuit pilot. The radar sites phoned the plots to the five plotters, and no one present found anything unusual with the information. McDonald had worked the switchboard for several months and knew the radar operators, while Tyler had been to the Information Center only once before. On 3 December he had worked from 1200 to 1600 with just the switchboard operator. On that occasion nothing had happened, because the sites were not operating. Therefore this was the first time he had actually seen personnel plot targets. When the reports began coming in, Tyler went to the historical plotter's position and talked with him about how he recorded the information. These first plots were probably the scout planes sent ahead of the main attacking force.15

At 0700 all the radar sites began shutting down. At the Information Center the five plotters and the historical information plotter shut down and left the area, leaving McDonald and Tyler behind. At Opana, Pvts George E. Elliott and Joseph L. Lockard had been scheduled to work until noon, but the next shift had come back early from a pass to town so they could relieve them at 0800. This meant that when the truck arrived to take them to breakfast, they would be through for the day.

However, the same call that informed them about getting off early also let them know the truck would be late picking them up. Lockard was a trained radar operator and had been with the 270s since they arrived on the island, while Elliot had just transferred into the Signal Corps from the Hawaiian Air Force and only knew how to operate the plotting board. Because the breakfast truck would be late and they were going to be off for the rest of the day, the two decided to use the time to work on Elliot's training. A few minutes after seven, Elliot got a large spike on the screen; thinking he had done something wrong, he immediately began to check the settings. Lockard then took over the operation and also rechecked the controls. This was the biggest sighting he had ever seen since learning how to operate the system. Elliot then tried to call the Information Center, using the phones connected directly to the plotters. No one was there to take the call. He then called on the administration line and got McDonald. The switchboard operator knew both of the radar operators and tried to explain to them that there was nobody on duty in the Center after 0800. McDonald then spotted Lt Tyler and called him over to talk to Elliot; meanwhile, Lockard got on the phone and tried to explain that this was a large target and might be significant. McDonald interjected at this point that if the targets were so large, maybe they should call back the plotters so they could practice handling a big aircraft movement. Tyler thought about this for a moment and then told Lockard and McDonald not to worry and closed the conversation.16

Because the breakfast truck still had not arrived, Elliot and Lockard continued tracking the incoming target until about twenty miles from the coast of Oahu. At that point ground interference blocked the


signal, and the target was lost. This was around 0745. Just then the breakfast truck pulled up, so the two young radar operators shut their unit off and headed down the mountain to breakfast, not yet realizing that they had discovered the first wave of the Japanese attack.17

Why had Lt Tyler told the operators not to worry, and why had he not followed McDonald's advice to call back the plotters? Tyler saw no reason to change the normal operations that morning. First, there was no alert or warning of an impending attack. Second, the US Fleet's carriers were at sea and the sightings could well have been the carrier's aircraft returning to port.* Third, a bomber pilot friend had explained just a few days before that one could always tell when aircraft were arriving from the US because the local radio stations would play Hawaiian music all night. The incoming aircraft would use the music to tune their directional finders and thus locate the islands. (This was exactly what the Japanese did.) On the way to the Center, Tyler had heard the Hawaiian music, so he assumed a flight was coming in. Finally, although Lockard had said this was the biggest flight he had ever seen, he did not say how many aircraft he thought it might contain. Later, Lockard would claim he knew the flight had to number over 50 aircraft to make that large of a pip on the screen, but at the time he did not give that information to anyone. Had Tyler known that the sighting was over 50 aircraft, he might have reacted differently; but with the information on hand, second lieutenants do not wake up commanding officers at seven o'clock Sunday mornings with wild speculations.18

Lockard and Elliot heard about the attack when they returned to their camp. After a quick breakfast, they returned to Opana and helped keep the site operating 24 hours a day for the next several months. The first Lt Tyler heard about the attack was a telephone call from someone at Wheeler Field shortly after 0800. The plotters were immediately called back, and soon a full complement began to arrive. Tyler would stay in the Center except for short rest breaks for the next 36 hours. During the morning's activities, two plots began to form 30 to 50 miles southwest of Oahu.** Not knowing what these were and thinking they could be the retiring Japanese circling before landing on their carriers, the senior controller passed this information on to bomber command as the possible location for the Japanese attack force. No one remembered to check the early reports coming in before 0700 or the Opana sighting after 0700. It wasn't until several days later that people assembled this information and realized the radar stations had located the direction from which the attack had come.19

B-17 Arrivals

As part of the American buildup in the Pacific, Washington scheduled 16 B-17s to deploy to the Philippines through Hawaii in late November 1941. The 38th Reconnaissance Squadron from Albuquerque, New Mexico, would supply eight aircraft and the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron from Fort Douglas, Utah, would furnish the remaining eight. The aircraft would take off from Hamilton Field, California, for the long flight to Hawaii. Modifications to the aircraft, installing long-range fuel tanks in

* The Navy would launch their carrier aircraft prior to arriving in port and have them land at one of the airfields so they could be used while the carriers were tied up in port.

** The plots may have been American aircraft looking for the Japanese or even an atmospheric phenomenon; no one was ever quite sure where they came from.


the bomb bay, and high head winds combined to delay the flight until the evening of 6 December. General Marshall became alarmed over the delay, and sent General Hap Arnold to California to impress upon the crews the urgency of their mission and the potential danger they faced. Maj Truman H. Landon, flight leader for the 38th, questioned General Arnold about why--if the flight was so dangerous--were they not carrying ammunition for their guns. Arnold explained that the distance to Hawaii was so great, the B-17s needed to carry as much fuel as possible. The real danger would be during the second leg of the trip. It was a calculated risk that war would not start until after the aircraft arrived in Hawaii, where the protective grease would be removed from the guns and the aircraft armed for the final flight into the Philippines.20

As the flight prepared to leave Hamilton Field, two aircraft from the 38th experienced engine trouble and didn't make the mission. One aircraft from the 88th also developed problems and aborted the takeoff. Once airborne, another aircraft from the 88th had problems and returned to Hamilton Field. In all, four B-17Cs and eight B-17Es, spaced about ten minutes apart, made the flight to Hawaii.*

The long flight over the water was uneventful, and no one experienced any major difficulties. The Navy had positioned ships across the Pacific for the aircraft to use as directional indicators, and as they neared Hawaii, radio station KGMB was playing Hawaiian music for them to use in locating the island. Capt Richard H. Carmichael from the 88th contacted the Hickam Field tower at 0745 but was still too far away, and the transmission was too garbled for anyone to understand.21

A few minutes later the B-17s from the 38th sighted the Hawaiian Islands and spotted a flight of fighter aircraft coming out to meet them. Thinking they were Americans, the pilots were glad to have escorts for the remaining miles into the field. Suddenly, what they had thought to be friendly aircraft began firing at them, and each bomber took whatever evasive action it could. The Japanese attacked at least five aircraft, destroying two. 1st Lt Robert H. Richards tried to land his B-17C at Hickam, but the Japanese harassed him so badly that he aborted the landing and headed east out to sea. He then turned the aircraft and attempted a downwind landing at Bellows Field, but came in too fast and ran off the end of the runway into a ditch. Zeros repeatedly strafed the aircraft after it was on the ground. Initially maintenance personnel thought they could repair the aircraft, but they eventually used it to supply replacement parts for other aircraft, and it never flew again. Capt Raymond T. Swenson managed to land his B-17C at Hickam, but a strafing Zero hit the flare storage box in the middle of the aircraft, igniting the flares and causing the aircraft to burn in two. The crew all reached safety except for the flight surgeon, 1st Lt William R. Schick, mortally wounded by a passing Zero while he was riding in the observer's seat. Maintenance crews pushed the separated back portion of the aircraft away from the taxi area and eventually salvaged all four engines from the front half. The four remaining aircraft landed at Hickam Field, having experienced various attacks which caused minor damage. Maintenance

* Appendix D lists the aircraft serial numbers, pilots, crews, and landing locations in Hawaii on 7 December 1941.


two Aichi D3A (Val) dive bombers photographed over Hickam Field

Above, two Aichi D3A (Val) dive bombers photographed over Hickam Field by SSgt Lee R. Embree, a combat photographer aboard one of the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron B-17Es that arrived from California in the middle of the attack.

Below, the wreckage of Captain Swenson's B-17C which burned in two after a strafing Japanese Zero hit its flare storage box.

the wreckage of Captain Swenson's B-17C


Closeup view of front half of the burned B-17C
Closeup view of front half of the burned B-17C. In left foreground is a straw helmet which identifies this as a picture taken by well-known photographer Tai Sing Loo, Pearl Harbor's main cameraman from 1918 to 1948.

personnel worked around the clock to have all four repaired within 24 hours.22

The 88th arrived shortly after the 38th and met a similar fate. Capt Carmichael and later 1st Lt Harold N. Chaffin passed up Hickam Field, flew over Wheeler and landed their B-17s at the small auxiliary field at Haleiwa. 1st Lt Frank P. Bostrom attempted several landings at Hickam, only to be attacked each time by the Japanese, so he headed over to Barbers Point and eventually flew to the northern part of the island where he was again attacked by the Japanese and forced to land at the Kahuku Golf Course. General Martin had planned to build an emergency air strip in that area, but it had not been completed when Bostrom landed there. Two more aircraft from the 88th eventually landed at Hickam Field, timing their landings between Japanese attacks. The sixth aircraft's route was a bit more confusing.23

The maintenance records for Hickam Field on that day show three aircraft from the 88th in commission at Hickam Field. Still, several eyewitnesses, including General Davidson and 2d Lt Henry Wells Lawrence, claimed a B-17E landed at Wheeler Field (see Chapter VI for the eyewitness accounts). They described how the aircraft came in cross-wind over the highway and landed along the width of the grass field at Wheeler, stopping just short of the hangars. General Davidson stated that when he asked the pilot why he landed at Wheeler Field, the pilot replied that by then all he was looking for was a flat piece of land to set the aircraft down. Lt Lawrence described the aircraft perfectly and added that when he came down from his mission later that


morning, he did not remember seeing it again. In fact no one remembers seeing the aircraft after it landed. At the same time this B-17 was landing, a B-18 that had flown from the island of Molakai landed at Wheeler. It is possible that the personnel at Wheeler mistook the B-18 for the B-17. Even Capt Brooke E. Allen, a B-17 pilot at Hickam Field, admitted that when he first saw the B-17s arriving, he thought they were Japanese. The Hawaiian Air Force had kept the flight from the coast a secret, and the B-17E model was new to the islands so most people had never seen one before. If a B-17 pilot could become confused during the attack and misidentify an aircraft, so could fighter pilots under attack. A second, more plausible explanation is that the B-17 did land at Wheeler Field but sometime during the morning took off and flew to Hickam. This would explain the eyewitness accounts of its landing, why no one remembers seeing it after the attack, and why the maintenance records written at 1300 recorded three B-17Es at Hickam.24

Regardless of where this sixth aircraft initially landed, the 88th was extremely lucky, with five out of six aircraft in commission by the next day. Maintenance personnel repaired Bostrom's aircraft at the Kahuku Golf Course and flew it back to Hickam Field within a week.25

Air Force Opposition

The Japanese caught the Hawaiian Air Force completely by surprise. There was no coordinated, systematic, island-wide air defense that morning. Instead, 14 individual pilots attempted to engage the enemy with varying degrees of success. Later in the morning, after the attacks, another dozen pilots took off not knowing the Japanese had left the area. Those involved in the attack considered it quite an accomplishment just to get a fighter in the air that morning, much less to do any damage to the attackers.26

The first confirmed takeoffs by American pilots against the attack occurred at Haleiwa Auxiliary Field. 2d Lts George S. Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor traveled by automobile from Wheeler Field to Haleiwa when they realized the island was under attack. Their squadron had deployed to Haleiwa for gunnery practice, and the Japanese had not attacked there. Ground crews got the P-40s armed and ready to go when Welch and Taylor arrived so they could immediately take off. The time was around 0830. Ground control directed the two pilots to head for the southern tip of the island where the Japanese from the first wave were still strafing the Marine base at Ewa. Spotting a group of enemy planes in a long line, both pilots jumped into the line and began shooting down aircraft, each getting two confirmed kills during this first engagement. Taylor fired on a third plane but did not see the crash. Both pilots were running out of ammunition and low on fuel, so they returned to Wheeler Field to rearm and refuel.

At Wheeler, things were in turmoil. The Japanese attack had destroyed or damaged most of the P-40s. One hangar had received a direct hit and secondary explosions from the ammunition stored in it continued for several hours. As ground personnel reached the flight line, they began pulling the aircraft away from the immediate area into the protective revetments around the field. Once the aircraft were clear, they returned to the hangar area to gather up as much


ammunition as they could find and returned to the aircraft to arm and prepare them for flight. By this time there were many more pilots available than aircraft ready to fly, so it became a contest as to who would get which aircraft. 1st Lt Lewis M. Sanders picked three experienced pilots and told them to grab the first available aircraft and follow him for a four-ship attack. Lts John M. Thacker and Philip M. Rasmussen stayed by their aircraft until they were ready to go and then jumped in and began to taxi. Lt Othneil Norris assisted in getting an aircraft ready, but left it to go get a new parachute; 2d Lt Gordon H. Sterling, Jr. spotted the unattended aircraft, jumped in, and taxied out to join Sanders and the other two pilots. This practice of grabbing any aircraft ready to fly would happen several more times before the day was over.

Once airborne, around 0850, Sanders led the flight east toward Bellows Field. Spotting the Japanese second wave over Kaneohe, the four P-36s immediately engaged. Sanders got on the tail of an enemy aircraft and shot it down. Coming off the attack, he spotted Sterling in hot pursuit of a Japanese plane that was diving toward the water. Behind Sterling another Japanese had gotten into the fight and was shooting at Sterling. Sanders came up behind this aircraft and opened fire. Rasmussen observed the four aircraft: the plane that Sterling was attacking crashed; Sterling, close behind, also plunged into the sea, shot down by the Japanese on his tail; Sanders meanwhile had set fire to this fighter, but Rasmussen did not know whether it, too, went into the water. Just before witnessing Sterling's death, Rasmussen had charged his guns, only to have them start firing on their own. While trying to stop the guns from firing, a Japanese aircraft passed directly in front of him and exploded. Things began to happen fast after that, and he soon had two Zeros on his tail. Taking evasive action, he lost them in some cloud cover. Meanwhile, Thacker dove into the battle, only to discover his guns had jammed and would not fire. He kept making passes at the Japanese until hit several times, then broke off the engagement and returned to base. Sanders found himself alone with a Zero and was quickly losing the flying contest. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he broke off the one-sided contest and headed back to Wheeler Field. So far the Americans had managed to get six aircraft airborne and had shot down seven Japanese with two more probables at the cost of one P-36.

From that point on, the story became confusing; and, because pilots were taking off individually from two different fields and then joining up after getting airborne, takeoff times were difficult, if not impossible, to verify. About the same time Sanders' flight was mixing it up with the Japanese over Kaneohe, Welch and Taylor were ready to head out on their second flight that morning. Welch got off first, and just as Taylor was ready to go, another Japanese attack hit Wheeler Field. Taylor waited until what he thought was the last in the line of Japanese aircraft and took off after them, guns blazing. Just after he became airborne, another Japanese got on his tail and opened fire. For a few seconds it looked grim; but Welch had stayed in the immediate area, saw what was happening to Taylor, and came to the rescue. He jumped behind the aircraft that was shooting at Taylor and scored his third kill for the day. This allowed Taylor to break free and gain altitude. Although wounded in the action Taylor was still able to fly, so he continued attacking Japanese aircraft wherever he


could find them, damaging at least one more. Welch, meanwhile, headed back to Ewa and got a confirmed kill on another Japanese, bringing his total for the day to four.

Meanwhile, at Bellows Field, 1st Lt Samuel W. Bishop and 2d Lt George A. Whiteman attempted to take off to join the defense. Whiteman was hit as he cleared the ground and crashed just off the end of the runway. Bishop managed to get his P-40 into the air; but before he could gain altitude, several Zeros attacked him, and he crashed into the ocean. Whiteman was killed instantly, but Bishop was only wounded and managed to swim to shore. While this was going on, Haleiwa launched aircraft as fast as pilots showed up. Lts John Dains and John Webster both got off at different times in P-40s, while Lts Harry Brown and Robert Rogers each took off in P-36s. From Wheeler Field, Lts Malcolm Moore and Othneil Norris entered the fight, also flying P-36s. Brown and Rogers headed out to Kahuku Point, where they engaged the enemy without any confirmed kills, but Rogers damaged one enemy aircraft. From there they joined up with Moore and Webster and headed west. At Kaena Point, Webster damaged one aircraft, but could not confirm a kill. Rogers was cornered by two Japanese; and Brown plowed into the fight, shooting down one attacker. As the action started to wind down, Moore opened up on one retreating Japanese aircraft but failed to down it. Brown spotted the smoking ship and also fired but, like Moore, could not hit a vital spot, and the aircraft got away. Rogers started to run low on fuel, so he returned to Haleiwa where he took off on his second mission in a P-36. Dains also returned to Haleiwa and got off on a second mission in a P-40.

By this time the Japanese had completed their attack and were returning to their carriers as fast as they could. Wheeler Field and Haleiwa kept launching aircraft for the next hour with little coordination or direction for the pilots. No additional combat with the Japanese

Five Army Air Forces pilots from Wheeler Field
Five Army Air Forces pilots from Wheeler Field who downed a total of nine Japanese planes the morning of 7 December 1941. Left to right: 2d Lt Harry W. Brown, 2d Lt Philip M. Rasmussen, 2d Lt Kenneth M. Taylor, 2d Lt George S. Welch, 1st Lt Lewis M. Sanders.


occurred. One mystery still remains concerning the action that occurred in the air that Sunday morning. Radar operators at the station at Kaawa watched a P-40 shoot down a Japanese Zero during the height of the battle. The operators were positive the American aircraft was a P-40, and they identified it both from its distinctive silhouette and the sound of its engine. None of the pilots that survived that morning's action remembered flying in the Kaawa area. The only pilot whose action was unaccounted for was Lt John Dains, who flew two missions that morning in a P-40. Both times he was separated from the other American fighters and fought by himself. After landing the second time, he switched to a P-36 and joined up with George Welch for a third mission. Neither pilot spotted anything because by that time the Japanese had cleared the area, so they decided to return to Wheeler Field.

On the return flight, antiaircraft guns at Schofield Barracks opened up on the two aircraft, killing Dains. There were three plausible explanations. First, the radar operators could have been mistaken in what they saw; second, some other P-40 pilot downed the Japanese plane and was unaware where the action occurred; or third, we suspect that Dains did get the enemy plane as the ground personnel observed and just never got the chance to tell his story.

The Japanese would concede the loss of twenty-nine aircraft from all causes that morning. The Hawaiian Air Force claimed ten of those losses with four more probables and two Japanese aircraft damaged. If Dains' kill is added to the list, the score comes out to eleven Japanese aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat with a loss of four American planes, which were flown by Whiteman, Sterling, Bishop, and Dains.

Japanese plane shot down by Lt George Welch
Japanese plane shot down by Lt George Welch, crashed at 711 Neal Street, Wahiawa, located next to Wheeler Field. Photo by CWO Joe K. Harding, USAF, Retired. He was a master sergeant at the time he took this picture.


Sterling was the only pilot lost in actual combat with the enemy; the Japanese downed Whiteman and Bishop during takeoff, and friendly fire shot down Dains. Could the American fighter forces have made a difference that morning had they known about the attack? The above information would certainly seem to suggest they could. But it is important to remember that the Japanese had committed over half their force just to deal with the American fighters. They abandoned their whole fighter defense system when they encountered no initial reaction from the Americans. This meant that the few aircraft that did get airborne that morning hit an almost unprotected attacking force. Welch and Taylor's encounters over Ewa during their first flight provided an example of this. Had the American forces met the Japanese from the beginning, the formation over Ewa would certainly have had Zeros flying top cover for them. As Sanders discovered over Kaneohe, the P-36 was no match for the Zero; and without special training or good luck, neither was the P-40. But these are matters of speculation. More important under the circumstances that morning, however, was how the personnel of the Hawaiian Air Force in fact responded. From the lowest ranking ground personnel to the hottest fighter pilot in the command, everyone did the best they could with what they had. The men of the Hawaiian Air Force might have been caught by surprise, but they most certainly did not give up.


Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (3) * Next Chapter (5)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Alan Clark, for the HyperWar Foundation