Pearl Harbor – Take 2?

Today is December 7th, the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I’m

HMS Illustrious, victor of the Battle of Taranto.

HMS Illustrious, victor of the Battle of Taranto.

sure you’ve heard of it, and probably know it as the major event that brought the US into World War Two. Perhaps you even know it as the turning point, when the big guns of battleships were over-powered by the might of air power. But did you know that the attack was the second time aircraft carriers had triumphed over battleships? And that the first time, it was our allies, the British, who sent the battle-wagons to the bottom?

A year earlier, in November 1940, it was a dark time for Great Britain. All of western Europe had fallen before Germany’s Blitzkrieg = Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France had all been conquered. The Battle Of Britain was still in full gear, with British cities burning every night. At sea, German U-boats were sinking massive amounts of British merchant shipping. In the Mediterranean, Italy’s powerful fleet threatened the Suez Canal and Britain’s lifelines to her colonies in India and Asia. The British Admirals knew they had to do something to minimise the threat of the Italian fleet.

That something was an air strike that took place on the night of 11–12 November 1940, an attack by ancient biplane aircraft, launched from the British carrier HMS Illustrious, against the Italian harbour of Taranto.(Taranto lies at the top of the arch of the Italian “boot”. the furthest southern port available for deep-displacement vessels such as battleships.) Using only aerial torpedoes, the 21 British Fairey

Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Aircraft - "The Stringbag"

Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Aircraft – “The Stringbag”

Swordfish attacked three Italian battleships, the brand-new Littorio and the World War One-vintage Conte Di Cavour and Caio Duillio. TheΒ Cavour sank at her moorings, saved only by the shallow draught of the harbour She was still undergoing repair when, in 1943,Β  Italy changed sides from being aligned with the Axis powers (Germany and Japan) to fighting alongside the Allies. The Duillio and Littorio were both run aground to keep them from sinking – Littorio suffered severe damage, requiring 5 months and all the resources available at Taranto to repair her. The Duillio took another 7 months to repair. All of this damage cost the British 2 aircraft, two aircrew killed, and two others captured. Three of the Italians seven battleships were taken out of action in one single attack, and the Italians moved the remaining ships further north along the coast, sharply reducing the threat to the British they posed.

A year and a few weeks later, six Japanese aircraft carriers would take the lesson of the

Remember Pearl Harbor button

Remember Pearl Harbor button

Battle Of Taranto, and devastate the US Fleet at its’ anchorage in Pearl Harbor. So remember all the brave US servicemen lost that day. Remember the two US Battleships that remain on the harbour bottom to this day (USS Arizona and USS Utah). And remember, as the old saying goes, that those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it – in this case, our failure to learn what we could lose, as shown by British naval airpower.

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12 Responses to Pearl Harbor – Take 2?

  1. Elyse says:

    John you are a wealth of information. I had never heard this story before. Thanks. And, ummm, “Happy?” Anniversary.

  2. whiteladyinthehood says:

    You know, you make a heck of a good History teacher!

    • Nah, I don’t think so. I do love history, but I remember how much of a wise-acre some kids could be in History class! Not me, of course, I was the perfect little angel. πŸ˜‰
      (Yeah, right….. πŸ˜€ )

  3. aFrankAngle says:

    This one is new to me …. all of it … well, accept Pearl Harbor and the consequence of failing to recognize history. Well done, Professor Erickson.

  4. benzeknees says:

    Since Canada was long into the war before Pearl Harbor, this is not quite the same day of remembrance for Canadians. We Canadians started helping long before the Americans.

    • If I recall correctly, the Canadian government signed on within 24 hours of Britain’s declaration on 3 September, 1939. And yes, you guys had already gone through a lot by 1941 – both against the Germans and the Japanese. And you’d go through your worst, in my opinion – Dieppe – before we attacked In North Africa. Not to mention all the RCAF airmen that took the war to Germany alongside the RAF, or all the cargo ships sunk (and some escorts, too) trying to keep Britain going. My personal opinion? Canada is a grossly under-sung hero in WW2, and deserves a LOT more recognition. But then again, I’m slightly biased, having been “adopted” by a bunch of WW2 vets from Hamilton, Ontario. πŸ˜‰

  5. Archon's Den says:

    And another great piece of little-known history. I see why it’s not taught to American students. I too was told that I would be a great teacher, but I too remembered what students were like – you little rascal. πŸ˜€

    • And here I was, singing the praises of Canadians, and guess who shows up! :p Oh, some of the true travesties I’ve heard i my day – WW2 started when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (a lot of Poles and Frenchmen would beg to differ STRONGLY on that one!), we fought the Japanese alone (Really? Look up CBI – China-Burma-India, or as the vets called it, “Confusion Beyond Imagination”), there were no mainland American casualties or territory invaded (balloon bombs in Oregon and the Aleutians, anyone?), and so forth. Amazing how much history has been forgotten.
      Me, a rascal? Never! Always a stooge! πŸ˜‰

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