HAWAII - THE PEARL HARBOR STORY

 

Three hundred and fifty-three Japanese planes took off from the flight deck of six Japanese carriers on the morning of December 7, 1941; one hundred and eighty-three at 6.00 a.m. and a second wave of 170 followed at 7.15 a.m. Pearl Harbor was the objective of their attack.

 

           

 

As the planes approached the island, they split into three groups. Some dove on Pearl Harbor from the west, strafing the Marine Airfield at Ewa, others from the north hitting Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Field as they came in low towards their main target, and the rest zoomed in from the east past Diamond Head.

At 5 minutes to 8.00 o'clock they converged on Pearl Harbor and by 1.00 p.m. all but 29 were back aboard their carriers.

 

THE HISTORY OF PEARL HARBOR

Legends of ancient Hawaii tell of waters called Puuloa, which was the home of the beneficent Shark Goddess Kaahupahau. Her sharks were man's protectors against many evil spirits and also against the other "man-eating sharks."

The legends, when first recorded in the 19th Century, refer to Ewa as the first area populated on Oahu by the immigrant Polynesians. One Ewa king, Chief Keaunui, is credited with deepening the entrance of the harbour to 15 feet in about the year 1650. During those years and into the 20th Century numerous fish ponds and fish traps were in the entrance and in the many lochs of that body of water. Most were maintained for royal use only.

As early as 1796 European visitors recorded that those waters produced oysters which were used for food, and that pearls were frequently found in them. The pearls were milk white, spherical, and of exquisite lustre. By 1810 the king had found the trading value of the pearls and kept them under royal control.

In the same year (1810), the river leading into the bay was referred to as Wymumme, and in 1819 as Wy Momi which, translated to English, is Pearl River. (The difference in spelling is that of the person recording the spoken word.) Again in 1836 it was recorded that the small pearl oyster was quite abundant and common on the table. From about that time on, the large area of water at the mouth of the river was called Pearl Harbour.

For generations the land surrounding Pearl Harbour was subject to natural erosion and the attrition of "civilization" which allowed much of the harbour to be filled with mud. The oysters could not survive in the mud and were nearly extinct by the late 19th Century.

A visitor from the United States noted in 1840 that there was a depth of 15 feet over the coral bar at the harbour entrance. He suggested to the U.S. Government that they attempt an agreement with the Hawaiian king for the use of the harbour for U.S. ships. This was not acted upon until 1873 and not agreed until 1898. Then the actual work of deepening and widening the channel wasn't started until 1901, at which time a coaling station for the fuelling of ships was erected just inside the entrance.

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The USS Condor was on routine minesweeping patrol duty offshore near the island of Ohau in the early morning of 7th December, 1941.

At about 3.45 a.m. men of her crew spotted a submarine in the restricted waters near the entrance to Pearl Harbour. Condor's skipper signalled to the destroyer Ward, which was also on patrol close by, giving the Condor's position and what they had seen.

As the Condor was only equipped for minesweeping, and the Ward was armed with guns and depth charges, they proceeded into Pearl Harbor as their patrol duty time was over. The anti- submarine nets in the channel had been opened for the Condor as she was scheduled to come in at that hour.

 

The USS Ward responded to the message from the Condor by speeding to the area named but could not locate the submarine. Both the Condor and the Ward considered the idea that one of their own submarines might be in the restricted area by error. The Ward went to battle stations anyway but found nothing.

In the daylight at about 7 o'clock, the Ward sighted a submarine and again went to action stations. They sank the midget Japanese submarine near the Pearl Harbour channel entrance and the commanding officer of the Ward sent the following tense message to the commandant of the 14th Naval District in Pearl Harbor.

 

We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon a submarine operating in defensive sea area.

 

Neither the text nor the implications of this message were distributed to the fleet in time to warn them of the impending enemy attack.

USS Ward - the destroyer Ward is officially recognized as having fired the first shots of World War II.

 

The first minutes of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are shown in this captured Japanese aerial photograph. "Battleship Row" along the east side of Ford Island had received its first torpedoes.

Two Japanese planes are in view, one over the NEOSHO and one over Southeast Loch.

The fuel tanks in the background went untouched during the attack as did the submarine base off Southeast Loch on the upper right.

 

The first and very disastrous blows were made by two torpedo planes that made a low approach from the east over Southeast Loch. The torpedoes were fitted with specially made wooden fins that made it possible to launch them in shallow water. None of the ships had torpedo nets rigged because they thought the shallow water protected them against torpedoes. The ships destroyed included the USS Utah and the USS Arizona as well as the USS Shaw which received a devastating bomb hit late in the attack.

The USS Nevada was the only battleship to get underway during the air attack. In order to avoid sinking and blocking the canal, she was ordered to beach herself and deliberately went aground. In the shallow water and on the hard sand bottom of what is now called Nevada Point, repairs and salvage work went ahead rapidly. 

The USS Arizona was shattered in two and settled to the bottom of the harbour in less than nine minutes. Oil in parts of the hull and on the water burned as a holocaust for hours. The bodies of more than 1,100 men are still entombed within the rusting hulk of the Arizona. It was decided to let the Arizona remain as a nautical tomb in memory of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country on December 7th, 1941.

The USS Arizona Memorial, dedicated on Memorial Day, 1962, spans the sunken hull of the Arizona. It encloses an assembly area large enough for 200 people, a museum and a shrine with the names of those killed. 

Pearl Harbor, 4th August 2002 courtesy brothers Ian & Andrew Gray

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