USS California and other US battleships hit

by Japanese attackers at Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941.

in June, while VF-3 aboard USS Saratoga

(CV-3) exchanged their F2A-1s for F4F-3s in October 1941, as did VF-5. Marine

squadrons VMF-121 and VMF-211 equipped

with F4F-3s while VMF-111 flew F4F-3As

that fall. In November 1941, the fighter received the emotive name „Wildcat,“ becoming the first of the Grumman “cats” that

would dominate Navy fighter squadrons

for the next 50 years.

Opening Blow at Pearl Harbor

The flight deck of Enterprise echoed with

the command over the loudspeaker from

the bridge: “Pilots! Man your planes!” Thirty-one year old Lt Richard H. “Dick” Best

Jr., operations officer of Bombing-Six,

watched the crews of the twelve Douglas

SBD-3 Dauntlesses of Scouting-Six and

five SBD-2s of Bombing-Six board their

airplanes and wished he was one of the

Bombing-Six crews, since he was eager

to go on leave with his wife and four-year the first two Enterprise fliers to die in the

old daughter who were waiting for him in Pacific War, Weber dived away and escaped his pursuers by flying 25 feet over the



Soon the throbbing rumble of 18 R-1830

Back aboard Enterprise, Admiral Halsey

radial engines filled the air. For the first


just poured a second cup of coffee

time since November 28 when Task Force

16 had departed Pearl Harbor, the sky was when his aide dashed into the cabin. “Adclear and the rising sun could be clearly miral, there’s an air raid on Pearl!” Halsey

seen. Enterprise had been scheduled to told him to radio Pacific Fleet Commandrop anchor in Pearl Harbor the previous der Admiral Kimmel that the Army was

afternoon, December 6, but was a day “shooting down my own boys!” A second

late after transporting 12 F4F-3 Wildcats aide entered with a message direct from

of VMF-211 to Wake Island, due to heavy Admiral Kimmel: “AIR RAID PEARL HARseas on the return. Here she was on Sun- BOR X THIS IS NO DRILL.”

day, December 7, 1941, launching a full- Officer of the Deck Lt John Dorsett or-scale search to ensure the safety of the dered General Quarters. Seaman Jim

ships as they returned to the major Ame- Barnill, one of Enterprise’s four buglers,

rican naval base in the Pacific. She tur- sounded the staccato notes of “Boots and

ned into the wind and commenced laun- Saddles.” Boatswains Mate 1/c Max Lee

ching aircraft At 0615 hours. At the same played his pipe over the 1MC then called

time, 500 miles to the north, six Japanese “General Quarters! General Quarters! All

aircraft carriers that had departed Hok- hands man your battle stations!” After the

kaido on November 26, began launching war, he remembered that he then turned

183 fighters, dive bombers and torpedo to Dorsett and said “We’re at war and I’ll


never get out of the Navy alive.”

Best returned to his office near the Bom- Dick Best came onto the flight deck mobing-Six ready-room. The compartment ments later and looked up. “The first thing

had a speaker that relayed the radio I saw was the biggest American flag

messages from airborne aircraft. Short- I had ever seen, flying from the masthead

ly after 0800 hours, his paperwork was and whipping in the wind. It was the most

forgotten when he heard Ensign Manuel emotional sight of the war for me.”

Gonzalez’s high-pitched shout over the

radio, “Don’t shoot! This is an American Enterprise’s fighter commander, Lt Cdr

Wade McCluskey, urged that his 18 F4F-3s

plane! Do not shoot!”

be launched to help protect Pearl Harbor.

Gonzalez and wingman Ensign Fred We- Halsey refused; the Wildcats were needed

ber had been assigned the northernmost to defend the ship. At 1645 hours, a searsearch area. Just as they finished, six ch-and-strike mission by VT-6‘s TBD Destrange aircraft with fixed landing gear vastators, with an escort of six Wildcats

appeared. Before rear seater Aviation Ra- was launched; they found nothing and

dioman 3/c Leonard Kozalek could deploy the six Wildcats were ordered to fly on in

his gun, the Dauntless was hit by fire from to Ford Island. It was a fatal order. They

the strange planes and caught fire. As it arrived at night, with lights out and and

headed toward the ocean below, carrying maintaining radio silence. As Ford Island

August 2022

came into sight, they switched on their running lights. On the ground, trigger-happy

gunners saw the lights and immediately

opened fire. Two Wildcats went down with

one pilot dead while the other four flew

away from the storm of fire. Two pilots

bailed out rather than try to land in the

confused situation below and spent the

night in the canefields where they tried

to convince scared soldiers they were on

the same side. The last pair managed to

land on Ford Island. The gunners still fired at Ensign Gale Herman as he taxied

in from the runway; 18 bullet holes were

later found in the Wildcat.

Defending Wake Island

On Wake Island, 2,298 miles west of Honolulu and only 1,991 miles southeast of

Tokyo, it was Monday, December 8, 1941.

The American force on Wake was pitifully small to face the oncoming enemy:

Island commander USN Cdr Cunningham

with nine officers and 58 naval personnel;

six officers and 173 men of the 1st Marine Defense Battalion, fleshed out by nine

officers and 200 men who had arrived on

November 5, commanded by Major James

P.S. Devereux; and 12 F4F-3 Wildcat fighters detached from VMF-211, commanded

by Major Paul A. Putnam which had arrived four days earlier, supported by 47 Marine ground support personnel from Marine Air Group 21 (MAG-21) who had been

dropped off by the seaplane tender USS

Wright (AV-1) on November 28.

There was a single paved runway, 5,000

feet long, so narrow that aircraft could

not take off while recently-landed aircraft

turned around and taxied back on the

runway. The protected revetments the civilian workers had started the week be-

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