Pearl Harbour

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Visiting Pearl Harbor had long been on my bucket list.  It was an early start, with a 6.00am pick up, which at least meant a respite from the heat of the day. However it seems that there is no escape from the crowds!

Pearl Harbor was recognised as strategically important as far back as 1887, when the US first established a presence there. As the war spread beyond Europe to the Pacific in the 1940s, the importance of Pearl Harbor was clearly recognised, and the US had moved its Pacific Fleet from San Diego to discourage Japanese aggression.

Pearl Harbour

Pearl Harbor

The Japanese mastermind of the attack, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was opposed to war with the US as he believed that long-term, the Japanese could not win.  However he also believed it was necessary to attack Pearl Harbor to prevent the US from hampering their plans for expanding their empire in South East Asia.

In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain, I will run wild and win victory upon victory.  But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” – Admiral Yamamoto, in 1940. 

The attack itself was well planned by the Japanese, and a major tactical victory.  They launched two waves of attacks, a total of 353 fighter planes, bombers and torpedo planes on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941.  All were launched from six aircraft carriers which had traversed the Pacific over the previous few days, undetected by the US and her allies.  The devastation to the Pacific Fleet was overwhelming.  All 8 battleships were hit, two of which were totally lost and another two were sunk but later recovered. 188 aircraft were destroyed and a further 159 aircraft were damaged and there were other losses too.  In all, more than 2400 people lost their lives, mostly young American soldiers however 68 civilians were also killed.

Pearl Harbour

The USS Arizona Memorial site

The surprise attack is one of the greatest intelligence failures of all time by the US.  Despite mounting tensions and general agreement that war with Japan was imminent, the Americans were ill prepared and made several errors.  The military leaders based in Honolulu were more concerned about the potential for a ground attack, so they parked their planes nose to tail and wingtip to wingtip to reduce the patrol area.  This meant it was almost impossible to quickly launch aircraft and made it easier for the Japanese to swiftly destroy them.  The US also had an early form of radar which detected the Japanese planes flying in from the north, but they were also expecting some B17s to fly in from California, so took no action.  In reality there may not have been enough time for a different outcome.  And tragically in the panic immediately after the attack, weapons were loaded incorrectly and instead of launching into the air they launched ground attacks.  The civilian casualties were almost all as a result of friendly fire.

Pearl Harbour

Remembering those who lost their lives on the USS Arizona

Today when visitors go to Pearl Harbor there is a memorial over the sunken USS Arizona where 1177 men lost their lives.  Around 900 men’s bodies were never recovered and remain buried at sea, so it is a sombre place when visiting.  To this day it still leaks oil ….. the “tears of the Arizona”.  It was a beautiful morning at around 8.00 am on a Saturday when I visited, nearly the exact same time as the first wave of the Japanese attack.  Yet I couldn’t imagine the shock, chaos and destruction in those hours.

Pearl Harbour

On the USS Arizona memorial site

Pearl Harbour

The tears of the Arizona – every day oil still leaches from the wreckage site

Ultimately however, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was also their downfall, as when a few hours later the US declared war on Japan and entered the war, Japan could not defeat the night of the US and the Allies.  Nearly four years later, in September 1945, they surrendered to the US in Tokyo Bay on the USS Missouri.  The “Mighty Mo” as she is also called is now based at Ford Island and faces the sunken Arizona, so Japanese victory in the battle and Japanese surrender of the war sit bow to bow. 

It was fascinating to visit and learn more of the history.  Having visited Hiroshima only a few months earlier, it felt like I had come a full circle.  Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor resulted in tragic loss of life, but even then they are but a drop in the ocean of the impact of war.  The total number of casualties in WW2 was around 63 million, and of that, around 50 million were civilians.  It made me think again about the futility of war and the impact on ordinary, everyday people.  I didn’t mind the crowds so much in the end, hopefully it is something that more people are considering too.

Pearl Harbour

The USS Missouri

Pearl Harbour

Looking from the USS Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered, to the memorial site of the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese in Pearl Harbour




2 Responses to “Remembering Pearl Harbor”
  1. Jackie says:

    Hi Rachael,

    Tom and I went to pearl harbour in 1987. It was the most moving thing I think that we had ever done. We went by boat and the museum was not opened then. We had a Japanese man sitting in front of us giving a demonstration on plane zooming in and we had the impression that he could have been a Japanese airman he was of that age. The last post was played and a wreath was dropped into the water. The Americans were literally sitting ducks. A very worthwhile site to go to. I brought home books for papa to look at, I don’t know what became of them.

    Hoping your holiday is going well. It is drizzling and freezing here. Have just played golf and Tom and I both won our matches, so we feel pretty pleased with ourselves, hope it continues next week.

    Love Jackie

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