December 6, 1942 – The Navy Reveals the True Damage at Pearl Harbor

Within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor, news started filtering back to anxious families on the mainland that something horrible had happened to the country. The banner headlines from the eighth of December would forever be changed with news of the encroachment of the Empire of Japan across the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.

Pearl Harbor was a U.S. possession that had come to stand for the security of the country in a world that was increasingly dangerous. This base in the sleepy Hawaiian Islands was an outpost of defense for a navy that was still dependent on vast quantities of oil and supplies. The Pacific fleet had been moved to Hawaii from the West Coast earlier in the year as war rumors swirled around the world.  The Japanese had signed treaties with Germany and Italy to form part of an evil tripartite. Germany and Italy had already tasted blood and Japan had spread her troops over parts of China and Southeast Asia.

It was only a matter of time before the dreaded attacks would begin. But no one thought they would be successful in attacking a numerically superior American fleet. At least superior on paper. The Americans still put much reliance on battleships and had still not completely learned the lessons of other navies. The lesson of speed and maneuverability of the air fleets.

On December 8th, the smoke was still rising from many battered hulls in Pearl Harbor. The truth of the devastation had to have been so stunning that even close observers struggled to accept it.

Moms and Dads listened to the radio and only knew that their son and perhaps their daughters were probably effected. But unlike today with our instant satellite communications, all news came from the same telephone and telegraph sources.

In the Detroit Evening Times, bulletins reflected the state of uneasiness:

War Bulletin:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7. 1941—The War and Navy departments issued the following announcement tonight: “The War and Navy departments are receiving many inquiries regarding personnel stationed in the Hawaiian island area. No information has been received about casualties. Families will be notified promptly as soon as definite word regarding casualties become avail- able. Both departments request individual inquiries be not sent at this time.”

“Up to 350 U. S. soldiers killed and more than 300 wounded at Hickam Field, Hawaiian Islands; The U. S. battleship Oklahoma set afire and two other U. S. ships at Pearl Harbor attacked; Heavy damage to Honolulu residence districts, where there were unnumbered casualties;”

The public still did not have an accurate picture of what they were up against. Official views of the Japanese at that point still reflected a general view that they were not all that capable. In the United States, generations of people had been groomed to believe that the Japanese were an inferior people who were only capable of imitation of superior western ways and mannerisms. The coming months would change that view forever. But even as the smell of burning airplanes on bases around the Pacific filled the air, supposedly knowledgeable journalists were trying to perpetuate the myths.


Experts Believe Nation Has Not More Than 3,000 Planes of All Types

LONDON, Dec. 7.—M—The Japanese air force was described today as the weakest of any of the great world powers by the British  Press Association’s air correspondent. Press Association added, however, that the addition of a dozen destroyers in the last 18 months had made the Japanese navy the world’s third strongest, those of Britain and the United States being greater.

The air correspondent said London experts believed Japan had not more than 3,000 airplanes of all types, and quoted an authority as estimating her fighter strength at not more than 1,000 planes, the fastest of which would not make more than 310 miles an hour.

All Japanese planes were “inferior copies of the world’s second best aircraft designed six years ago,” the correspondent wrote. (The United States Army air force was recently said by Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold to possess 2.500 or more modern combat-type warplanes despite the diversion of planes abroad, with 800 or more ready for action in advanced bases outside continental United States.

A year ago the Navy had another 1,500 planes and the Marines and Coast Guard 400.

A year had passed since the attack.

Families had been notified by telegraph and in some cases in person that their relative had been killed. Stories were circulated by returning soldiers and sailors that were no longer able to fight. Some were sent back to help raise funds during War Bonds drives like Dorey Miller. So the devastation was becoming well known.

The Navy explained later that they did not want the Japanese to know how effective their surprise attack was. Tacticians were concerned that a strengthened Japanese Navy would return with enough soldiers to crush the little outpost. SO the true nature of the defeat was kept as quiet as possible.

Finally, on December 6, 1942 the navy released the official Navy Department Pearl Harbor Release

Hold for release-a.m. paper-Sunday, December 6, 1942.  Radio release 9 p. m., e. w. t.-December 5, 1942


On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft temporarily disabled every battleship and most of the aircraft in the Hawaiian area.  Other naval vessels, both combatant and auxiliary, were put out of action, and certain shore facilities, especially at the naval air stations, Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, were damaged.  Most of these ships are now back with the fleet.  The aircraft were all replaced within a few days, and interference with facilities was generally limited to a matter of hours.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, 2 surface ship task forces of the Pacific Fleet were carrying out assigned missions at sea, and 2 such task forces were at their main base following extensive operations at sea. Discounting small craft, 86 ships of the Pacific Fleet were moored at Pearl Harbor.  Included in this force were 8 battleships, 7 cruisers, 28 destroyers and 5 submarines.  No U. S. aircraft carriers were present.

As result of the Japanese attack five battleships, the ArizonaOklahomaCaliforniaNevada, and West Virginia; three destroyers, the Shaw and Downes; the mine layer Oglala; the target ship Utah, and a large floating drydock were either sunk or damaged so severely that they would serve no military purposes for some time.  In addition, three battles, the PennsylvaniaMaryland, and Tennessee, three cruisers, the HelenaHonolulu, and Raleigh, the seaplane tender Curtiss and the repair Vestal were damaged.

Of the 19 naval vessels listed above as sunk or damaged, the 26-year-old battleship Arizona will be the only one permanently and totally lost.  Preparations for the righting of the Oklahoma are now in process, although final decision as to the wisdom of accomplishing this work at this time has not been made.  The main and auxiliary machinery, approximately 50 percent of the value, of the Cassin and Downes were saved.  The other 15 vessels either have been or will be salvaged and repaired.

The eight vessels described in the second sentence of paragraph three returned to the fleet months ago.  A number of the vessels described in the first sentence of paragraph three are now in full service, but certain others, which required extensive machinery and intricate electrical overhauling as well as refloating and hull repairing, are not yet ready for battle action.  Naval repair yards are taking advantage of these inherent delays to install numerous modernization features and improvements.  To designate these vessels by name now would give the enemy information vital to his war plans; similar information regarding enemy ships which our forces have subsequently damaged but not destroyed is denied to us.

On December 15, 1941, only 8 days after the Japanese attack and at a time when there was an immediate possibility of the enemy’s coming back, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the ArizonaShawCassinDownesUtah, and Oglala had been lost, that the Oklahoma had capsized and that other vessels had been damaged.  Fortunately, the salvage and repair accomplishments at Pearl Harbor have exceeded the most hopeful expectations.

Eighty naval aircraft of all types were destroyed by the enemy.  In addition, the Army lost 97 planes on Hickam and Wheeler Fields.  Of these 23 were bombers, 66 were fighters, and 8 were other types.

The most serious American losses were in personnel.  As result of the raid on December 7, 1941, 2,117 officers and enlisted men of the Navy and Marine Corps were killed, 960 are still reported as missing and 876 were wounded but survived.  The Army casualties were as follows: 226 officers and enlisted men were killed or later died of wounds; 396 were wounded, most of whom have now recovered and have returned to duty.

At 7:55 a. m. on December 7, 1941, Japanese dive bombers swarmed over the Army Air Base, Hickam Field, and the naval air station on Ford Island.  A few minutes earlier the Japanese had struck the naval air station at Kaneohe Bay.  Bare seconds later enemy torpedo planes and dive bombers swung in from various sectors to concentrate their attack on the heavy ships at Pearl Harbor.  The enemy attack, aided by the element of surprise and based on exact information, was very successful.

Torpedo planes, assisted effectively by dive bombers, constituted the major threat of the first phase of the Japanese attack, lasting approximately a half-hour.  Twenty-one torpedo planes made 4 attacks, and 30 dive bombers came in in 8 waves during this period.  Fifteen horizontal bombers also participated in this phase of the raid.

Although the Japanese launched their initial attack as a surprise, battleship ready machine guns opened fire at once and were progressively augmented by the remaining antiaircraft batteries as all hands promptly were called to general quarters.  Machine guns brought down two and damaged others of the first wave of torpedo planes.  Practically all battleship antiaircraft batteries were firing within 5 minutes; cruisers, within an average time of 4 minutes, and destroyers, opening up machine guns almost immediately, average 7 minutes in bringing all antiaircraft guns into action.

From 8:25 to 8:40 a. m. there was a comparative lull in the raid, although air activity continued with sporadic attack by dive and horizontal bombers.  This respite was terminated by the appearance of horizontal bombers which crossed and recrossed their targets from various directions and caused serious damage.  While the horizontal bombers were continuing their raids, Japanese dive bombers reappeared, probably being the same ones that had participated in earlier attacks; this phase, lasting about a half-hour, was devoted largely to strafing.  All enemy aircraft retired by 9:45 a. m.

Prior to the Japanese attack 202 U.S. naval aircraft of all types on the Island of Oahu were in flying condition, but 150 of these were permanently or temporarily disabled by the enemy’s concentrated assault, most of them in the first few minutes of the raid.  Of the 52 remaining naval aircraft, 38 took to the air on December 7, 1941, the other 14 being ready too late in the day or being blocked from take-off positions.  Of necessity therefore, the Navy was compelled to depend on antiaircraft fire for its primary defensive weapon, and this condition exposed the fleet to continuous air attack.  By coincidence, 18 scout bombing planes from a U. S. aircraft carrier en route arrived at Pearl Harbor during the raid. These are included in the foregoing figures.  Four of these scout bombers were shot down, 13 of the remaining 14 taking off again in search of the enemy. Seven patrol planes were in the air when the attack started.

It is difficult to determine the total number of enemy aircraft participating in the raid, but careful analysis of all reports makes it possible to estimate the number as 21 torpedo planes, 48 dive bombers, and 36 horizontal bombers, totaling 105 of all types.  Undoubtedly certain fighter planes also were present, but these are not distinguished by types and are included in the above figures.

The enemy lost 28 aircraft due to Navy action.  In addition, three submarines, of 45 tons each, were accounted for.

The damage suffered by the U. S. Pacific Fleet as result of the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, was most serious, but the repair job now is nearly completed, and thanks to the inspired and unceasing efforts of the naval and civilian personnel attached to the various repair yards, especially at Pearl Harbor itself, this initial handicap soon will be erased forever.



Insert in 2d sentence, 1st paragraph, page 1:

. . . facilities, especially at the Army Bases, Hickam and Wheeler Fields, and the naval air stations . . .

Insert after paragraph 3, page 3:

There were a total of 273 Army planes on the Island of Oahu on December 7, 1941.  Very few of these were able to take off because of the damage to the runways at Hickam and Wheeler Fields.

Insert in 1st sentence, last paragraph, page 3:

. . . Navy action, and the few Army pursuit planes that were able to take off shot down more than 20 Japanese planes.

You can read the original article here:

From December 8th 1941 until December 6th 1942, the American Navy along with her allies slowly stopped the forward movement of the Japanese. The critical battles of the Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal and many smaller defensive moves finally put the Western Allies on a strong footing.

The cost was tremendous in both ships and manpower. But by December 6th 1942, the aggression of the Japanese was being thwarted in a way that would lead to ultimate victory. Commissaryman Dorie Miller wold be sent back to the states to help raise money for war bonds. While he was awarded the Navy Cross, many feel that he should have been awarded the Medal of Honor.

From the Pearl Harbor Web Site: “Doris Miller was a true patriot like many others during the war, and continued to serve his country well after the events of the Pearl Harbor raids. Eventually assigned to the USS Liscome Bay, Miller was killed by a torpedo from a Japanese vessel off of the coast of Butaritari Island, along with over two-thirds of the sailors on board. The first African American in United States history to be awarded the Navy Cross, Doris Miller was an inspiration to all, proving that the bonds formed between brother in arms are much more than skin-deep.”

Doris “Dorie” Miller

The next nuclear powered aircraft carrier has been designated as the USS Dorie Miller.


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