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December 7, 2004 > This Is Not a Drill...

This Is Not a Drill...

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

At 0342 hours on December 7, 1941, the U.S. Minesweeper Condor saw a periscope near the harbor. It was the early morning hours and Oahu slept, unaware of the trouble that was approaching. At 0600 hours, the first wave of fighter planes took off from a Japanese warship located 235 miles north of Hawaii. Forty-five minutes later the U.S. Destroyer Ward aimed it guns at a Japanese submarine spotted off the coast of Pearl Harbor. The initial shots of the American-Japanese war were fired.

The U.S. Destroyer Ward sent an encoded message back to Navy headquarters stating it had just shot at an enemy submarine. Code clerks decoded the message into a paraphrased form so that it would not be intercepted by the enemy. The message was sent along to the ranking officers, finally reaching Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet. There had been numerous false reports of submarine sightings and Kimmel decided to "wait for verification of a report." Meanwhile, radar operators told of incoming aircraft but an officer shrugged off the warning.

At the Command Center on Ford Island, Cmdr. Logan C. Ramsey looked out a window and saw a low-flying plane. Initially, he thought it was a reckless pilot. Then he saw "something black fall out of that plane" and realized it's a bomb. Ramsey ran to a radio room and ordered the telegraph operators to send out a hurried message to every ship and base. The message simply read, "Air Raid on Pearl Harbor X This is Not a Drill."

From a decoded Japanese message, President Roosevelt and General George Marshall learned that Japanese negotiators had been told to cease all negotiations. Washington sent a warning to Lt. Gen. Walter Short, commander of the U.S. forces in Honolulu, Hawaii. The message was blacked out due to atmospheric pressure and the communications were transmitted via slow, commercial telegraph. The warning reached the islands at 1145 hours; nearly six hours after the attack began, five hours after the first Japanese fighter planes entered Hawaiian sky.

Eighteen months earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had transferred the United States Fleet to Pearl Harbor as a presumed deterrent to Japanese aggression. The Japanese military was deeply engaged in the seemingly endless war it had started against China in mid-1937. In July 1941 the Western powers effectively halted trade with Japan. From then on, as the desperate Japanese schemed to seize the oil and mineral-rich East Indies and Southeast Asia, a Pacific war was virtually inevitable.

By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed U.S. officials fully expected a Japanese attack into the East Indies, Malaysia and probably the Philippines. Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack further east, as well.

The Japanese intended for the invasion of Pearl Harbor to cripple the U.S. Fleet so that they could more easily attack and capture the Philippines and Indo-China thus securing access to the raw materials needed to remain a global military and economic power. In doing so, Japan hoped to gain control over Australia, New Zealand and India creating what they called the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." The Japanese government believed that the combined powers of Germany and Italy controlling Great Britain, all off Europe, Western and Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, paired with the United States' non-involvement in the European war, would create a power structure with the world divided in to three major spheres of political influence and control. The United States, the Japanese thought, would remain autonomous, controlling North and South America.

When the attack ended shortly before 10:00 a.m. on December 7, less than two hours after it began, the American forces had paid a fearful price. Twenty-one ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged and five of the eight battleships sunk or were sinking. Several other ships and most Hawaii-based combat planes were also knocked out and over 2,400 Americans were dead. Soon after, Japanese planes eliminated much of the American Air Force in the Philippines, and a Japanese army was ashore in Malaysia.

Japanese losses were comparatively light with only 29 planes, less than 10 percent of the attacking force, failing to return to their carriers. Although the Japanese had succeeded in attacking the U.S., they had not accomplished their main goal - to damage American aircraft carriers. By a stroke of luck, the carriers had been out to sea. The Japanese had also neglected to damage the shore side facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, which would play an important role in the Allied victory in World War II.

Advanced American technological skill raised and repaired all but three of the ships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona (BB-39) was considered too badly damaged to be salvaged, the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was raised and considered too old to be worth repairing, and the obsolete USS Utah (AG-16) was thought to be not worth the effort. The shock and anger caused by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor united a divided nation and was translated into a wholehearted commitment to victory in World War II.

One man, however, spoke out against the plan to attack the United States. Imperial Admiral Yamamoto, who had conceived, designed and promoted the attack against Pearl Harbor, warned against going to war with the world power. Yamamoto had held naval attachˇ positions within the Japanese embassy at the U.S. Capitol and had been witness to the industrial strength, material wealth and temperament of the United States. The admiral was overruled by his superiors and, reluctantly, dedicated himself to making the attack successful. It has been reported that upon completion of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yamamoto stated, "We have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in him a terrible resolve."

Within days, Japan's allies, Germany and Italy, declared war on the United States, and the country began a rapid transition to a war-time economy in building up armaments in support of military campaigns in the Pacific, North Africa, and Europe.

The Japanese had shaken the global giant from its slumber and the beast was ready to fire back. The United States was forced to join the Second World War as a reluctant, yet infuriated, combatant. On the morning of December 8, 1941, curious and frightened Americans tuned their radios to President Roosevelt's address to Congress and listened as he christened December 7 as, "a date, which will live in infamy."

On November 1, 2004, just in time for the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, archeologists from the Submerged Resources Center of the U.S. National Park Service initiated a three-week investigation of the wreck of USS Arizona, one of the battleships that sank in to the waters off of the Oahu coast.

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