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Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series

Reviewed by Dr. Charles C. Kolb, Ph.D.

This innovative series of well-researched, highly-illustrated hardcover volumes provides detailed combat narratives of the 7 December 1941 Japanese attacks on United States military bases in Hawaii which would, within days, lead to American declarations of war against Axis powers and entry into both the Pacific and European Theaters of World War II. The Pearl Harbor series is co-authored by three well-regarded historians: Military historian J. Michael Wenger has co-written eleven books, as well as numerous journal articles and newspaper features.  His primary interest focuses on Japanese carrier aviation and doctrine in World War II. Robert J. Cressman is an award-winning naval aviation historian whose primary research led to the publication of The Official Chronology of the United States Navy in World War II (1999, reprinted 2016) winning the esteemed John Lyman Book Award (1999). He has written more than a dozen articles for the journal Naval History and his body of work on U.S. naval aviation history has been recognized by the Admiral Arthur W. Radford Award (2008). John F. Di Verglio is a military historian who focuses on Pearl Harbor battleship damage and Japanese naval ordnance. Together, they are an impressive group of scholars bringing a variety of skills to author the series.  

To date, this series includes three volumes. It is unknown if the authors are planning additional books in the series as the Naval Institute Press considers such information as “internal and confidential.” As readers will note, there are several potential volumes that might be added. Initially, I shall summarize the basic characteristics and contents of each volume in order of their publication:

“No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941, 2015, Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. Four chapters, xx + 186 pp., 211 illustrations, six lists, 307 endnotes, a nine-page bibliography, and an eight-page index.

This is No Drill”: The History of NAS Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941, 2018, Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. Ten chapters, xiii + 260 pp., 329 illustrations, six lists, 485 endnotes, a 10-page bibliography, and a 14-page index.

They’re Killing My Boys”: The History of Hickam Field and the Attacks of 7 December 1941, 2019, Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. Twelve chapters, xix + 272 pp., 246 illustrations, nine lists, 579 endnotes, a 12-page bibliography, and a 16-page index.

A cursory glance indicates that the volumes in the series have, since 2015, grown in pagination; numbers of chapters and references; as well as lengths of bibliographies and indices. The first book refers to “Attack” and subsequent volumes to “Attacks,” likely indicating that the success of the 2015 book set the stage for the subsequently published volumes in the series.

The “Lists” vary from volume to volume but include USN and IJN aircraft names, Hawaiian place names, notes on ship names, lists of abbreviations, glossaries, and ranks and ratings of naval personnel, as well as other significant materials. Notably, the authors have consulted materials not only in the US National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri but also those at the National Personnel Records Center (official personnel files, service photographs, and survivor interviews), also in St. Louis, and early Congressional hearings. The references include these primary source materials and a variety of books, articles, and manuscripts. The authors were among the first historians to be allowed access to previously unavailable service records. A unique component of their studies is that they examined the backgrounds and personalities of key Japanese participants, and translated and incorporated the Japanese aircrew rosters from the attack. Hence, the reader is presented with a more “balanced” view of the events from both American (and Hawaiian) as well as Japanese perspectives – much in the way that the writers, directors, and cinematographers presented the still unique and largely accurate 1970 motion picture “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (bilingual with subtitle translations). The more recent highly accurate rendition of the Battle of Midway in the 2019 motion picture “Midway” likewise focuses on both American and Japanese individuals as opponents and the political contexts of those eras.      

Typically, military histories of the 7 December 1941 attacks focus on the destruction sustained by the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. However, the Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series provides a detailed, well-documented combat narrative of the 7 December 1941 Japanese attacks and includes descriptions of the aerial actions as well as on the ground responses at strategic and tactical — and often personal — levels from both the American, Native Hawaiian and Japanese perspectives. Documents and images from Japanese sources are published for the first time and newly drawn maps and diagrams prepared by co-author John Di Verglio clarify aspects of the attacks and responses. Information from the Japanese air group and aircraft carrier action reports has never before been published. In general, the books are divided into three sections: 1) pre-attack background, 2) the Japanese aerial attacks in minute detail including suppositions, errors, and accomplishments on both sides; and 3) responses to the attack, again illustrating mistakes and successes. Each volume in the series can “stand alone” as a partial history of the events of that day but collectively provide a more substantive and detailed account.

“No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941, 2015. [abbreviated NAS K-B for this review]. The four chapters are of varying lengths (19, 64, 44, and 21 pages).  NAS K-B was a new naval air station on Kane’oha Bay as of April 1939 with hangars, other buildings, and seaplane ramps for Consolidated PBY patrol aircraft completed by March 1941; newer PBY-5s were to replace older VP-11 and VP-24 craft and become an integral component of Hawaiian defenses. Admiral Kimmel assumed command as CinCUS on 1 February 1941 as the US established embargos on oil and scrap iron following Japan’s occupation of Indo-China. A major flaw in defenses at NAS K-B was the lack of AA. The authors report the locations of Japanese and American aircraft on 7 December and the Navy’s mistaking Japanese Zeros for aircraft from the USS Enterprise; attack plans are detailed as is the disbelief, panic, and lack of weapons and ammunition with many casualties resulting from the First Wave strafing. All fires were extinguished just prior to the Second Wave when Hangar One was attacked. Overall, 27 seaplanes were destroyed and six were damaged; 18 personnel lost their lives (four officers and 14 seamen) – almost ten percent of the total complement. Reinforcements arrived by land that afternoon. One Japanese officer, Lt Iida Fisata, also died. Because NAS K-B was located on the Windward side of the island of O’ahu15 miles from the main Pearl Harbor attack, military historians have generally ignored the station’s combat history. Nonetheless, it was a devastating attack and this is the first extensive and detailed report of this event at NAS K-B.       

“This is No Drill”: The History of NAS Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941, 2018. [abbreviated NAS P-H for this review]. The ten chapters are roughly of equal length. The authors begin their historical account in 1792 emphasizing the history of Ford Island, an “Island in the Pearl River,” the multi-ethnicity of the region, and development of the military base in 1914 with the construction of the seaplane base, hangars, quarters (CPO, BOQ, MOQ, and SOQ), fueling pier, and fuel storage facilities The Japanese first visited in 1921 but by 1930 the US began an expansion program including administrative and operations buildings, and on 25 October 1939 Ford Island was transferred from the Army to the Navy, becoming NAS P-H. A second chapter reviews interservice cooperation, personnel, defense plans, the implications of Japanese governmental changes, rising tensions, naval preparations (including strengthening Midway Island), and US land and carrier air groups. The “romantic” view of Pearl Harbor is offset by military housing deficiencies, problems with PBY aircraft, a dismissive attitude about Japanese military capabilities, and worries about submarine attacks and potential sabotage. Chapter 4: “From Peace to Hell in a Matter of Seconds,” provides information regarding seaplane deployments and Japanese naval strength and attack plans; the subsequent essay documents the actual attack including notification of US naval personnel, Japanese dive bomber attacks and the bombing of Ford Island, and information on Japanese attack personnel (leaders and aviators). Admiral Kimmel’s offices were located among the buildings in the submarine depot but were not attacked. Incipient American military orders and responses are documented as are personal experiences of survivors.

Chapter 6 is an assessment of First Wave damage, fires, the loss of USS Arizona, problems in securing fuel systems, damage to water mains, and real damage compared with overstated damage to facilities (Hangars 6 and 36 ) and ships. At 0830 the USS Enterprise and Task Force 8 was returning from Wake Island and incoming American aircraft were subjected to attack by friendlies.  The USS Monaghan (DD 354) was deployed from the north shore of Ford Island and sank a Japanese midget submarine. The Second Wave is also detailed, including loss of the USS Shaw, Japanese assessments of earlier damage and intensified attacks by American ships and aircraft on the subsequent wave; AA ordnance outstripped American supplies at NAS P-H while fighting fires, repairing damage, and mounting PBY searches for the Japanese fleet. Unexpected assistance at NAS P-H came from Pan American Airways Clipper tenders. Initial search patterns by VP-14 were directed erroneously to the south and southwest; VJ-1 searches were sent to the north and northwest, and Enterprise SBD short range searches were sent north and south from Pearl Harbor on 8 December. Chapter 10: “How in God’s Name Could Something Like this Happen” is a summary of the NAS-PH losses. Clearing the wreckage, casualties (American and Japanese), destruction of equipment and facilities, and other grim statistics are reported; only three PBYs survived.

“They’re Killing My Boys”: The History of Hickam Field and the Attacks of 7 December 1941. [abbreviated Hickam for this review]. This 12-chapter volume in the series is also the most detailed. The authors comment “Dr. Gordon W. Prange’s papers remain an unparalleled source of information” (p. xiii). [I can personally attest to this source and will comment on it later in this review.] The initial chapter focuses on the Halawa site near Fort Kamehameha and the authors point out that Hickam Field’s history is intertwined with that of its “sister base” and predecessor, the US Army’s Luke Field on Ford Island. In 1916, the northwest portion of the island was allocated to the Army while the southern half became NAS P-H. By April 1935 the War Department recommended the purchase of 2,225.46 acres of private estates be purchased at a cost of $1,091,328.12 to become Hickam Field on Ford Island. Construction after July 1935 included a main gate, runways, water tower, mess hall, administrative buildings repair hangers, a fire station, a gasoline fueling system, barracks, and a PX. From 1939-1940, the Hawaiian Air Force was formed at Hickam and personnel assigned; a 23 September 1941 photograph depicts Army General Short, Lord Mountbatten, and Admiral Kimmel. Four bombardment groups and one reconnaissance squadron were to be assigned – all equipped with B-17Ds. War plans anticipated a 360º aerial search pattern based at Hickam but only 8º was attainable by late 1941. Hickam was also a key element on the air transit route from California to the Philippine Islands, with other refueling stops scheduled for Midway Island and in Australia. Aircraft maintenance issues also presented problems for the plan and a difficulty – the War Warning message of 17 November 1941 complicated the picture. Chapter 3 provided detailed information on B-17Ds, B-18s, B-24As, and A-20A – all in short supply, and PBY seaplane bases. Another chapter documents the Special Photographic Mission to Truk and Jaliut islands which sought to locate seaplane bases for shuttling aircraft to the Philippines. Shakedown (test) flights for these South Pacific flights were practiced in the American Southwest, with Salt Lake City, Tucson, Sacramento, and San Francisco (Hamilton Field) serving as surrogates. A squadron of B-17E aircraft were stripped of armor and armaments, and scheduled leave for O’ahu on 6 December and would ultimately reach the Philippines — but with a secret photographic reconnaissance mission over Japanese Mandate islands. 

Chapter 5 is devoted to the pre-attack phase: the arrangement of aircraft at Hickam on the morning of 7 December, notably the author’s more accurate deployment diagram rather than the spurious document furnished to the Roberts Commission (Pearl Harbor Attack, Part 25, item 95). The new rendition is based on a Japanese document recovered on O’ahu. The First and Second Waves of the attack are reviewed as are problems with the American deployment plans. The initial Japanese attack wave on Hickam by Lts. Fujita and Yamagushi focused, in the main, on the hangars rather than the flight lines. This are correlated with actions taken by Hickam personnel against dive bombers’ attack on Hangar 7, the undispersed flight line, the machine shop in Hangar 51, and water main break. The fate of the explosive’s laden Haleakala anchored at the Hickam Wharf, and the Army Air Corps barracks are recorded. Casualties were transported initially to the Base Hospital and the seriously injured to Tripler General Hospital. At this point during the attack, the flight of B-17s (B-17Es and B17Cs – all sans armor and armaments and low on fuel) led by Major Truman Landon arrived from California after a 14-hour flight. The greatest losses during the First Wave came on the parking apron that fronted the hangers, while fires also ignited ruptured gas mains. The authors recount personal stories: the tragic deaths of Navy flight surgeon Lt Schick and Japanese aviator Hirano flying a Mitsubishi AI-154 fighter, and the friendly fire shoot downs of two SBD dive bombers flying in from Enterprise.

The Second Wave included multiple approaches by Japanese horizontal bombing units unhampered by American defensive AA fire but mitigated by a change in the weather. Nonetheless, the bomb runs and fighter strafing attacks were generally successful on the Air Corps barracks, the mess hall, hangers, and other facilities. The narrative also reports that an American AA shell unfortunately struck the Base Chapel; other casualties among seamen, mechanics, and civilian fire fighters are documented. Chapter 11 details mounting the initial searches for the Japanese carriers during the morning, afternoon, and evening of 7 December. Searches were undertaken to south, southeast, north, and southwest but hampered by a lack of intelligence, aircrews and flyable planes; the later included a variety of A-20A, B-17D, and B-18 aircraft (a table records aircraft availability). The final chapter summarizes the havoc and carnage reported in survivors’ oral histories, the demoralizing effects of the attacks, and includes memories from medical and graves registration personnel. 

The three books describe actions in the air and on the ground at personal and tactical levels from both American and Japanese perspectives. A variety of sources, some newly available, were consulted to provide a better in-depth understanding of the conflict. The narratives are accompanied by hundreds of photographs of both Japanese and American personnel (most never before published), air station facilities, and perspective of the attacks recorded by both Japanese aviators and American aircrew and military personnel. The authors provide highly detailed analyses of aerial and ground combat and engage the reader with reminiscences and interviews, as well as photographs and unique illustrations. These three volumes constitute an extremely valuable new resource on the attacks and provide a balanced perspective from American and Japanese combatants. Each book is more detailed than its predecessors and evidence of extensive, careful scholarship, informing the reader of significant aspects of the attack. The series adds to our understanding of the events and the individual volumes are among the best military works published during the past decade. Given that the volumes cover the three air stations, it is hoped that the authors may undertake and publish additional research on Army, Army Air Corps, Hawaiian Air Force, and Hawaiian defense facilities and create a holistic view of the “Day of Infamy.”

Reviewer’s Note:  Gordon Prange (1910-1980) was a Professor of History at the University of Maryland (1937-1980) with a military service as a naval reserve officer and Chief Historian in General Douglas MacArthur’s staff during World War II and in the postwar military occupation of Japan (1942-1951). He interviewed many Japanese military and naval officers, enlisted men, and civilians, with the information later utilized in preparing voluminous manuscripts which would be published by his two collaborators at Prange’s request after his death from cancer. One of Prange’s students, former Air Force Lt Col Donald Goldstein (1931-2017), and CWO USAF (ret.) Katherine V. Dillon (1916-2005), who served as Prange’s secretary, edited and published Prange’s writings. Goldstein ultimately wrote 28 books, often co-authored with Dillon; a few have an additional author: J. Michael Wenger – the senior author of the Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series. Don Goldstein and I were friends for more than 30 years, mostly while he was Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh; he would have applauded the three books in this series. Libraries at the University of Maryland and University of Pittsburgh are repositories of, respectively, the Prange and Goldstein et al. archives.  

“No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack of 7 December 1941, 2015, Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. Four chapters, xx + 186 pp., 211 illustrations, six lists, 307 endnotes, a nine-page bibliography, and an eight-page index.

This is No Drill”: The History of NAS Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941, 2018, Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. Ten chapters, xiii + 260 pp., 329 illustrations, six lists, 485 endnotes, a 10-page bibliography, and a 14-page index.

They’re Killing My Boys”: The History of Hickam Field and the Attacks of 7 December 1941, 2019, Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies Series, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. Twelve chapters, xix + 272 pp., 246 illustrations, nine lists, 579 endnotes, a 12-page bibliography, and a 16-page index.

Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb, Ph.D.

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