Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941- A Date That Will Live In Infamy

In spite of increasing tensions in the Pacific, and over two years of war in Europe, the morning of December 7, 1941 found the Navy, Army, Army Air Forces and Marines at Pearl Harbor and various installations across Oahu enjoying the usual peacetime Sunday routine, with many men on liberty or pass, and others just stirring for Morning Colors.

The peace and quiet were shattered by an enormous raid by the splendidly trained carrier pilots of the Kido Butai. From just before 8am to around 9:30am, a total of 353 Japanese warplanes ravaged ships, airfields, and installations throughout the island, most famously devastating the ships of Battleship Row, gutting the heart of the Pacific Fleet. Of 390 US aircraft on the island that morning, over three hundred would be destroyed or damaged.

Two thousand and forty-two American sailors, soldiers and Marines died in the perfidious attack. Another fourteen hundred were wounded. The single largest loss of life would come with the sinking of the battleship USS Arizona early in the attack. The explosion of her magazines shattered her, sank her, and killed a stunning 1,177 sailors.

The US had a decidedly isolationist sentiment in the years leading to the attack. Even as America slowly came to rearm in the face of the European war and an expansionist Japan, there was little public support for joining the great conflagration beyond our shores.

That sentiment ended abruptly with the Japanese attack. The American people would become united in a campaign to visit vengeance, retribution and retaliation upon Japan. As Yamamoto had predicted, Japan had awakened a sleeping giant. It had sown the wind, and within three and a half years, it would reap the whirlwind.

The USS Arizona came to symbolize the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our first major loss of the war, she went down with her colors flying, and guns firing. She was never decommissioned, and never stricken from the Naval Register. Every day, a color guard raises the colors of this still serving warship. And every day, Americans visit the memorial built across her hull, to pay tribute to those who rest the eternal rest within her shattered hull. Oil from her bunkers still slowly seeps into the waters of the harbor, as if the mighty ship weeps for the sacrifice of so many.

*Update- changed “day” to “date” in the title. I *knew* what FDR said in his address, but my fingers this morning didn’t, and Mr. Coffee wasn’t there to correct them.

Updates from the Submarine Services

We don’t tend to write much about the submarine service. It’s mostly outside our wheelhouse. Also, the generally well run procurement of the Virginia class ships means there isn’t a lot of headline news to write about.

Here’s a presentation on the  state of the ongoing major programs in the sub fleet.

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Photo-tour of USS Iowa and the LA Maritime Museum

Popular lore says that prior to the debacle at Pearl Harbor, US doctrine focused on Battleships, and carriers were slighted as a striking weapon.

In fact, it was a little more nuanced than that. Carriers were seen by the fleet (even the Big Gun Admirals) as both the primary scouts of the fleet, and as a potent striking weapon.  While the assumption was still that a major fleet engagement would consist of both the US and Japanese lines of battle engaging in a gun duel reminiscent of Trafalgar or Jutland, the presumption on the US side was that carrier attacks would whittle down the enemy fleet through day long strikes, and then the main body of battleships would close to shoot it out the next day. Japanese doctrine was remarkably similar, with the exception that they planned for heavy torpedo attacks by cruisers and destroyers  the night proceeding the main engagement.

The primary escort for carriers was the heavy (8” gun) cruiser, as only they had the speed and endurance to dash forward at over 30 knots with the carriers to launch attacks. Destroyers lacked the gunpower and fuel to adequately serve as escorts, and battleships were too slow to accompany the carriers. Note that the primary threat seen to carriers in the prewar days was enemy surface ships, primarily cruisers. While carriers were seen as potent striking weapons, the fleet understood that they were incapable of launching strikes in poor weather or at night, leaving them vulnerable to surface attack. Hence the cruiser escorts.

After the Washington Treaty moratorium on battleship construction expired, the US began building “fast battleships” which were generally capable of a speeds of around 26 knots. Simply being faster than an enemy line of battle conferred advantages.

But the desire for battleships to be able to accompany fast carriers with their speeds of over thirty knots lead to the final US class of battleships to be built- the Iowas.

Roughly a hundred feet longer than previous fast battleship classes, and with an enormous bump in horsepower, the Iowas balanced installed armor protection with firepower and speed, over 33 knots, the fasted battleships ever built. This made them ideal to operate with the fast carrier task forces. As it turned out, they rarely needed to call on their giant 16” main battery to protect the carriers. Instead, they used their massive secondary battery of 5” guns, and vast numbers of 40mm and 20mm guns to provide close in anti-aircraft support to the carriers.

The Iowas were comparitevly expensive to operate in peacetime, both in terms of fuel and manpower, so they were fairly quickly placed in reserve. But the power and accuracy of their massive gun batteries saw ships of the class recalled for duty in Korea and Vietnam.

And with the Reagan buildup of the 1980s, facing the growing Soviet effort to build a blue water fleet, the Navy was willing to pay the price to modernize and recommission all four ships for service.

With new radars and communications, the Iowas traded a portion of their secondary 5” battery for 16 Harpoon missiles, and eight armored box launchers for a then staggering total of 32 Tomahawk missiles. The conversion made them formidable threats to both surface and shore targets.

After a final shoot at Iraqi targets during Desert Storm, the collapse of the Soviet threat, combined with the still staggering expense of manning the ships, lead to a final decommissioning of the class. While technically by law two of the class are still subject to reactivation, in fact, all four are now museum ships.

The USS Iowa, recently transferred from the Bay Area to San Pedro at the Port of Los Angeles, is now open to the public. To be honest, I was a touch disappointed with the tour. Most of the tour is of the main deck, and the superstructure up to  the navigation bridge level, and briefly down to the mess decks. The ship has yet to open tours of the turrets, Combat Information Center, or the ship’s engineering plant. As the foundation running the museum gathers funds, they plan to add those spaces to the tour.

The Los Angeles Maritime Museum is a separate entity, but located just down the street from the Iowa, and is very much worth the very modest suggested donation, with a nice array of ship models, and a historical overview of the history of the port of Los Angeles.

Pearl Harbor


A date that will live in infamy.

The Imperial Japanese Navy struck  the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, and associated military installations across Oahu. It was a devastating strike, slashing our airpower in the Pacific, and crippling the main line of battle of our fleet.

Every US battleship in Pearl Harbor was sunk or damaged.

It was a tactically brilliant raid, and a strategic blunder. Few things could have more aroused the population to support the war effort against Japan, and even stir enough rage that support for the war against the Nazis in Europe was strong.

And while the battle line was crippled, eventually all but two of those ships would again steam into battle, visiting a terrible vengeance upon their erstwhile attackers.  Already building or planned were millions of tons of newer, faster, better armed warships. The hundreds of aircraft destroyed would be replaced by thousands, tens of thousands, that would darken the skies over the Empire. The soldiers strafed would see their ranks swell with millions of their countrymen called to arms, and ready to repay the blood debt with interest.

The iconic image of the attack on Pearl Harbor is the loss of the USS Arizona.  From queen of the fleet, to funeral pyre, to tomb to many, when Americans today think of Pearl Harbor, they think of this ship, still to this day in commission, and a somber reminder that, sometimes, war comes to our shores.


For almost 60 years, the attack on Pearl Harbor remained the single deadliest attack on US soil. It would be another lovely day when perfidious enemies struck from the sky without warning, without quarter, without honor. Another reminder that no matter how much we may wish for peace, there are others who wish for death.

Never forget.

Pearl Harbor

69 years ago today, the US suffered a  crippling  attack at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor, and other installations throughout Oahu,  in the Territory of Hawaii. It would be the most devastating attack on US soil until 9/11.

The Army took its lumps, to be sure, but the primary target of the Japanese air armada was the US Pacific Fleet, and specifically the ships of Battleship Row. Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia. Some were lost forever. Some would rise again to avenge their mates.

A nation was stunned, but at the same time, it was also steeled for the hard, horrible task ahead.

Lex, CDR Salamander, and the excellent US Naval Institute Blog all have worthy posts.