Text: Jan Bobek
Illustration: Piotr Forkasiewicz
Cat. No 84189
The Japanese attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, is one of the decisive milestones of the Second World War and of the entire twentieth century. It was the catharsis of a long-standing crisis in Japanese–American relations and brought the United States into the World War 2. United States as a global economic and military power had until then kept aloof from the war in Europe, even they were preparing for it and supporting their future allies.
Japanese task force launched 350 machines into action out of the 414 available on board of six carriers. In the first wave were lost three Zeros, one D3A and five B5N bombers. In the second wave, six Zeros and fourteen D3As were lost. Fifty-five pilots were killed, none were captured, except for the ironic situation of fighter pilot PO1c Nishikaichi. A total of 74 aircraft returned with damage. Nine midget submarine crews also lost their lives and one was captured. Of the 79 fighter pilots who took part in both attack waves, only 17 lived to see the end of the war.
The airstrike killed 2,335 members of the US armed forces and injured 1,143. 68 civilians also lost their lives and 35 others sustained injuries. In addition to the sunken and damaged ships, nearly 350 aircraft were destroyed or damaged. Three civilian machines were also shot down.
During the two waves of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, 21 US Navy ships were sunk or damaged, but 18 were recovered or repaired and returned to service. For example, the badly damaged battleship USS Nevada was combat deployed in October 1942.
The USS Enterprise, as one of the carriers that escaped the raid on Pearl Harbor, fought in the Battle of Midway six months later and participated in the sinking of four of the six carriers that participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
During this raid, which was unprecedented both in terms of scale and the manner in which a large carrier group was deployed, a number of dramatic moments occurred. One was the landing of B-17 bombers at Hickam Field. Their arrival from the U.S. had been expected, and the first wave of the Japanese raid was initially mistaken by the Americans for the very B-17 bombers that were to arrive in Hawaii.
The unarmed B-17s arrived at Hickam just as the base was being targeted. B-17s were attacked not only by Zeros, but even by crews of D3A Val dive bombers. One of the four-engine machines they deployed for the landing was a B-17C (40-2074) of the 7th Bombardment Group, 14th Bombardment Squadron, whose first pilot was Captain Raymond T. Swenson.
Their aircraft was attacked by commander of the first wave fighter escort, Lt. Cdr. Shigeru Itaya of the aircraft carrier Akagi. His second wingman, who was PO1c. Shinaji Iwama, managed to set fire to a crate of flares in the fuselage of Swenson's bomber just before landing and a fire broke out on deck. Swenson decided to abort the landing manoeuvre, regained altitude and hid in the low lying clouds. On the second landing attempt, Swenson's machine broke in two shortly after touchdown. As it did so, it was still under attack by Japanese fighters, who opened fire on the fleeing crew.
The wounded passenger, who was a surgeon, 1st Lt. William R. Schick, was strafed by Itaya's first wingman, PO1c Takashi Hirano. Unfortunately, Schick was hit again and soon succumbed to his injuries. Hirano, however, struck the surface of the airfield with his propeller and auxiliary tank. His engine stopped and the Japanese airman crashed in a nearby street, causing the deaths of four soldiers.
People flocked to the wreckage of his Zero, shouting “kill him, kill him!”. However, Hirano died when he crashed into one of the buildings. His plane AI-154 became the first Zero to be examined after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Among other things, a map was found in its cockpit, which led the Americans to attempt to attack the Japanese as they sailed away.