Yes, it’s almost here, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’ll have a special post for y’all tomorrow, but rather than dwell on the sadness and loss, I thought I’d give you some of the … less negative? more positive? … facts about that notorious December 7th. For instance:
Of the eight battleships that were docked in Pearl that morning, only two ended up being total writeoffs. Obviously, the USS Arizona still lies on the bottom of the harbour. The USS Oklahoma capsized, and was later refloated and deemed too damaged to recover. She was hauled off for scrap, but sank while under tow, somewhere between Hawaii and San Francisco. Two other ships, USS California and USS West Virginia, sank in water shallow enough to be re-floated, repaired, and returned to service. (Personally, I would include the USS Utah, which also sank and was left on the bottom. While she was classified as a Gunnery Training Ship – AG-16 – at the time of the attack, she retained her original name at commissioning, as battleship, BB-31.)
There was a massive fuel storage facility at Pearl, as well as extensive ship repair and submarine servicing facilities. None of these were touched, allowing the remnants of the Pacific Fleet to be repaired and fueled, and most crucially, allowing the US submarine fleet to cripple the Japanese war effort by sinking their merchant shipping.
Several smaller ships, including two destroyers, were damaged so badly, the navy was going to write them off as irreparably damaged. All were repaired and brought back into service. In addition, another destroyer, USS Shaw, had her bows blown completely off the ship, but was repaired and back in service by July 1942.
Along with the fortunate ships inside Pearl that lived to fight again were the only three US aircraft carriers, who were luckily out of port on that Sunday morning. If those carriers had been lost, we would not have had the forces necessary to stop the Japanese attempting an invasion of Australia a few months later. Considering the significant support of Australia in both manpower and machines, the battle to defeat the Japanese would have been almost unimaginably more difficult.
In closing, let me just say that what I listed above should in NO way minimise the tragedy and loss during the attack. Almost half of all US casualties at Pearl Harbor were suffered by the crew of poor Arizona. I just wanted to show that, despite our grievous losses, good fortune and a cautious Japanese admiral leading the attacking fleet, not to mention truly heroic sacrifices among the American sailors, kept a terrible loss from becoming a horrific defeat. As the last of the survivors leave us, it is up to every American to carry the stories forward, and as one of the US War Bond sales drive proclaimed, “Remember Pearl Harbor!”.