By David Vergun
Army News Service
WASHINGTON — In the decades following World War II, the memories of Pearl Harbor had faded somewhat, said James C. McNaughton, who served as command historian for U.S. Army Pacific from 2001 to 2005.
The attacks of 9/11 changed all of that, said McNaughton, who is now the director of Histories Division at the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
On and after 9/11, “all those bad memories surged forward again,” he said, when people compared those attacks to the surprise attack on the U.S. by the Imperial Japanese Navy, Dec. 7, 1941.
Just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, McNaughton said, he attended a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. At the time, there were still a large number of World War II veterans and Pearl Harbor survivors who attended and both attacks were on their minds.
The fading memory of the events that transpired at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago might be due in part to World War II veterans’ reticence to discuss their own wartime experiences, he commented, noting that his own father, a Marine participating in the Central Pacific campaign, was reluctant to discuss his own experiences.
The story of the devastating Japanese air strike on U.S. naval forces that day has been well documented, McNaughton observed — less so the Army’s involvement.
At the time of the attack, there were 43,000 Soldiers on active duty in Hawaii, tasked with three primary missions, McNaughton said.
First, the Army was to protect the territory of Hawaii from an invasion (Hawaii remained a territory until statehood in 1959).
“It was not beyond the realm of possibility that the Imperial Japanese Navy could carry out an invasion. They didn’t do so, but the Army could not be sure, so it deployed combat troops to defend the beaches,” he said.
Mission two was to defend the fleet with coast artillery and anti-aircraft artillery, he said.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George C. Marshall Jr. had made it very clear to the highest ranking Army officer, Lt. Gen. Walter Short, commander, U.S. Army Hawaiian Department, that his No. 1 mission was to protect the fleet, McNaughton said.
That second mission hadn’t been a big issue until 1940, he said. Before then, the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been based in San Diego.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “for his own diplomatic reasons,” ordered the Navy to re-base itself at Pearl Harbor, McNaughton said, which added to the Army’s defensive responsibilities.
The third mission was training, McNaughton said.
World War II had already engulfed much of Europe and the Pacific by 1940 and Americans were beginning to realize the possibility that war might be inevitable. For the Army’s part, they were organizing and training units from squad to regiment and division. They were even conducting field exercises and basic training concurrently, he said, so crunched for time they were.
Besides training ground forces, the Army at that time also included the Army Air Corps. “They were trying to train flight crews and mechanics and use the limited aircraft they had on hand,” McNaughton said.
“This was a fairly green Army,” he noted. The National Guard and Organized Reserve had only been mobilized in 1940 and the draft, known as the Selective Training and Service Act, wasn’t instituted until Sept. 16 that same year. By 1940, fewer than 270,000 Soldiers were on active duty. That number would climb to about 7 million by 1943.
SETUP FOR FAILURE
By late 1941, the Army in Hawaii was trying to juggle all three missions. “In my judgment, they couldn’t do all three. They spread themselves too thin. Ultimately they failed,” McNaughton said.
Besides being spread thin, there was poor coordination between the services, he said. The Army and Navy on Hawaii had separate chains of command and they did very little coordination in practical terms.
Early Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor and his counterpart Short, were getting ready for their weekly golf game, McNaughton said. Every Sunday morning, the two flag officers would play golf, enabling them to “check the box, that they were doing joint coordination. Well, you need more than that. And that’s what they didn’t do.”
The Congressional Pearl Harbor Joint Committee concluded in 1946: “There was a complete failure in Hawaii of effective Army-Navy liaison during the critical period and no integration of Army and Navy facilities and efforts for defense. Neither of the responsible commanders really knew what the other was doing with respect to essential military activities,” according to the Army’s official history: “Guarding the United States and Its Outposts.”
Senior Navy and Army leaders relieved Kimmel and Short of their commands within days after the attack and they were never fully exonerated.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS
Failure of the services to coordinate had real consequences on the morning of Dec. 7.
In the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 7, a submarine periscope was spotted near Pearl Harbor where there shouldn’t have been any submarines, McNaughton said. At 6:37 a.m., the destroyer USS Ward dropped depth charges, destroying it. They knew something was going on, so they reported it to the Navy chain of command.
Meanwhile at the Opana Radar Site on the north shore of Oahu, radar operators Pvts. Joseph L. Lockard and George Elliott detected an unusually large formation of aircraft approaching the island from the north at 7:02 a.m.
At the time, radar was still considered experimental and was manned from 3 to 7 a.m., McNaughton said, at which hour the radar was shut off for the rest of the day. That the radar was still on at 7:02 a.m. had to do with the truck being late that took them to breakfast.
“That’s interesting,” they thought, McNaughton said of the radar operators seeing the large number of blips. “We’ve never seen that before.”
They then called 1st Lt. Kermit A. Tyler, an Air Corps pilot who was an observer that morning at Fort Shafter’s Radar Information Center. Tyler had heard that a flight of B-17 bombers was en route from Hamilton Field, California, that morning so he told the two Soldiers, “Don’t worry about it.”
“Remember, the Army and Navy weren’t talking to each other,” McNaughton said. “If you were the ops officer and heard about sightings of a large aircraft formation coming in from the north and confirmed sub sightings at the mouth of Pearl Harbor; if you put those two together, you might want to put everyone on full alert. But they didn’t. There was no integration of intelligence from the two services. So the only warning they got was when the bombs started to fall.”
The first of two waves of some 360 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes began the attack at 7:48 a.m., having launched from six aircraft carriers north of Oahu.
While many of the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft attacked the fleet, other planes attacked all the airfields on the island, including Wheeler Field next to Schofield Barracks.
Among the 2,403 Americans killed, 2,008 were Sailors, 218 Soldiers, 109 Marines and 68 civilians, according to a National World War II Museum Pearl Harbor fact sheet.
Of aircraft destroyed, 92 were Navy and 77 Army Air Corps. Two battleships were destroyed and six damaged, three cruisers were damaged, one auxiliary vessel was destroyed and three damaged, and three destroyers were damaged, according to the fact sheet.
The carriers USS Enterprise, USS Saratoga and USS Lexington were out on maneuvers and were not spotted by the Japanese.
Within minutes of the attack, Navy anti-aircraft guns opened up. However, the Army’s anti-aircraft gunners struggled at first to participate because their guns were not in firing positions and the ammunition was in a separate location under lock and key. “You can imagine them looking for the ammunition sergeant who had the keys at 8 a.m. Sunday. It took them a while, but some guns did eventually get into action,” McNaughton said.
A number of stray Navy anti-aircraft gun rounds fell in populated areas of Honolulu killing over a dozen civilians, he said, since the guns were firing at planes in all directions.
Why weren’t the Army guns in position?
Short complained afterward that he’d received ambiguous guidance from Washington instructing him to be prepared to defend against an attack but not to alarm the civilian population, McNaughton said. So he said if he had broken out those anti-aircraft guns and set them up in position, he would have alarmed the civilian population.
The Army, with four regiments of anti-aircraft artillery in Oahu, had rehearsed defense against air raids, he said. “They knew it was a possibility. But certainly they were caught by surprise.”
But Soldiers everywhere found some means to counter-attack.
“At all Army installations attacked by the Japanese, enemy dive bombers and fighters strafed individuals promiscuously, and in return Army men fired back with machine guns and lesser weapons,” according to “Guarding the United States and Its Outposts.”
One of the Soldiers who lived through that day at Schofield Barracks was Cpl. James Jones, who later depicted the chaos in a 1951 novel, “From Here to Eternity,” that was later made into a movie that garnered eight Academy Awards.
As for the Army Air Corps, they did eventually get 12 aircraft in the air and shot down a few Japanese planes, but they were just completely overwhelmed. The vast majority of Soldiers killed in action that day were in the Army Air Corps, McNaughton noted.
The irony of it all was that the Army Air Corps flight of 12 B-17 Fortress Bombers that Tyler thought the radar operators were seeing, arrived in the middle of the attack. They were not armed and almost out of fuel, he said.
All landed at various air fields and one landed on a golf course. One of the aircraft was destroyed by the Japanese and three were badly damaged, according to “Guarding the United States and Its Outposts.”
“Just imagine, it’s supposed to be a routine peacetime flight and you show up in the middle of the biggest air battle the U.S. had ever seen. Not a good situation,” McNaughton said.
NO PLAN FOR
In fact, the Japanese didn’t plan to invade Hawaii, McNaughton said. They wanted to cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet so it could not interfere with their plans to seize European colonies in Southeast Asia.
At the time, Army and Navy signals intelligence personnel were working hard to break the Japanese code, he said.
They were intercepting communications and decrypting what they could, but these gave no clear warning of the impending attack.
What the Japanese misjudged was the tremendous anger of the American people, which gave President Roosevelt and Congress the excuse they were looking for to declare war against Japan, as well as Germany, McNaughton noted.
The Army immediately took over the territory of Hawaii in the aftermath of the attack, declaring martial law, he said. That lasted until October 1944. In this unprecedented situation, all local police, courts and government operated under Army supervision.
The Army, Navy and FBI placed the local Japanese-American population under close surveillance and placed many community leaders under arrest.
As for the Army’s coast artillery guns, the Soldiers in Hawaii, as in various places along the coasts on the U.S. mainland, never had to fire them to repel an enemy fleet, he said.
The Army eventually disbanded the Coast Artillery branch and today uses sophisticated air and missile defense, in coordination with the other services.
One lesson to be taken from Pearl Harbor is the importance of operating as part of the joint force, McNaughton said.
Another is striking the balance between training and readiness. “You just don’t know when your unit will be called to mobilize.”
A further tragedy in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, he said, was the forced internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast in 1942.
“It was really painful to the Japanese-American community at the time. The vast majority of Japanese Americans were loyal citizens. Those who had the opportunity fought for America. And many of those died for their country.”