The Cradle of American Airpower – Columbus, New Mexico
Two of These World War II Myths Are Often Still Believed
The following short (2:00 minute + 33 second ad for the SMITHSONIAN) video clip is of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor which began the overt entry of the United States in WWII. The two videos in this story may be seen without going to YouTube, because they are “embedded” right here – on this page. You might enjoy seeing them more impressively in FULL-SCREEN mode by clicking on the small ‘box’ in the lower right corner of each video.
Former US Marine Corps Pilot, long time FASF member and Officer of Flight 24 of the Daedalian Society, FASF Aviation Reporter, Jerry Dixon (L) sent this story to us:
Two Pearl Harbor myths that seem to have real staying power – even today.
1 –The U.S. was “lucky” that the aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
Not sure how this one got started but it’s been around as long as I can remember. The problem is, there was little to no chance that a US aircraft carrier would have been in Pearl Harbor in 1941.
It was rare to have one in port anytime . . . and no chance for two (2) to be there.
In 1941, the US had 7 CV (aircraft carriers), and of those, two were operating out of Pearl Harbor. However, Pearl Harbor was not their home port. San Diego, CA was.
So why was it “rare” to have a carrier “in Pearl Harbor”? Well, it was because Pearl Harbor in 1941 was not one of the top bases for the US Navy. It was in fact relatively small and shallow, compared to say, Puget Sound, San Diego, Oakland, or San Pedro. So when one of the pre-war carriers entered the harbor to refuel and restock stores, it created a lot of traffic problems and headaches. Because of this extra hassle, they got a carrier in and out as fast as possible. If either of the carriers needed a longer port stay, it would return to San Diego, not stay at Pearl Harbor.
Because of these traffic and space issues, the carriers were scheduled in and out to avoid having both needing to refuel at the same time. So the ships worked on a rotating schedule that effectively meant, only one need to visit at any given time, and in fact, both were gone the vast majority of the time.
Thus it was never the case that “both” carriers would have been at Pearl Harbor on December 7th. And it was highly unlikely on any given day that even a single carrier would be there. Thus even the Japanese knew it was highly unlikely they would find even a single carrier in the harbor when they decided to stage the attack.
It wasn’t “luck” it was very much against the odds that a carrier would have been in Pearl Harbor for an attack.
2 –The Japanese devised a very original and clever plan for how to attack Pearl Harbor, and they were inspired by the British attack on the Italian Navy.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor followed a very meticulous plan, but it was not a Japanese or British plan. Ironically the attack plan that the Japanese were inspired by and followed closely was in fact created by and executed by a US Navy Admiral and the US Navy itself.
The first Pearl Harbor attack plan and subsequent attack occurred on February 7th, 1932, nine years prior to the Japanese attack. Rear Admiral Harry Yarnell, was assigned the command of the “aggressor” forces in the annual Pacific Fleet exercises in which mock attacks were planned on US facilities. Yarnell was assigned command of the aggressors who were to attack Pearl Harbor.
The standard approach in 1930 was for the aggressors to send their battleships forward supported by aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers. And the battleships would slug it out.
But for this exercise, Yarnellone of the few believers in the power of naval aviation, decided to “not follow the script” as was custom. He took his fleet to sea but ordered his battleships and cruisers to remain out to sea and maneuver off the coast of California.
Yarnellthen took his two aircraft carriers with the destroyers and entered a westerly moving storm hiding in it all the way to Hawaii. (in 1932 the U.S. had not yet develped weather and/or weather piercing RADAR). The storm shielded his ships from aircraft and he travelled in radio silence.
His plan called for his ships to emerge from the storm early on Sunday morning February 7th northwest of Oahu. From this position, Yarnell sent his aircraft east just past the island, had them hook around to the south and then to the west arriving with the sun behind them as they came in over Diamond Head and into their attack on the anchorage and airfields.
Yarnell had picked a Sunday because he expected to catch the fleet unprepared and napping on what was a “day off”.
Despite the Navy and Army knowing an exercise was in progress his plan worked perfectly. Using flower bags for bombs, the aggressors managed to completely disable the airfields and sink all the battleships in the harbor. The attack achieved complete surprise and was an overwhelming success. The umpires awarded the Yarnell forces a total victory and declared the attack completely successful. The ships were “sunk,” and “the airfield was completely disabled.”
Later, Army and Navy brass complained that Yarnell had “cheated” and it was “unfair” and “inappropriate” to have attacked on Sunday morning, so much so that the result was reversed. But while the Army and Navy brass were whining, the Japanese took note.
8 years and 10 months later the Japanese followed a storm to the Hawaiian Island, and on a Sunday morning, emerged from the storm to send their planes east of Oahu to attack out of the sun, against the airfields and harbor. The Japanese Imperial Navy followed Yarnell’s plan precisely – – – and, as did Yarnellalmost 9 years earlier – they achieved complete and overwhelming success.
If any of you readers have other similar WWII myths – – – or similar stories to share, please let us know by commenting in the “LEAVE A REPLY” field at the bottom of this page.
Here is another film (just under 15 minutes long) from the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, This short documentary tells the story of Harold & Eda Oberg, both of whom had just recently arrived on Oahu, where Harold, a US Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant, had been assigned to Hickam Army Airfield. When they awoke that fateful Sunday morning in their Apartment on 16th street, it was to the bedlam of roaring planes and exploding bombs and ships in the close-by Navy Port. Immediatedly, upon recognizing the Emperial Rising Sun insignia on a rapildy diving bomber, Harold donned his helmet and rushed off for his duty post at Hickam. Eda, thinking, after the first wave of planes had left, that the attack was over, grabbed their new 8mm cameral, which was already loaded with fresh color film, and began shooting. This is an extraordinary film, especially since it is in color, and a rare footage of that fateful day’s attack on the Harbor and Airfield by the Japanese.