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Aviation Art Chronology- Pearl Harbour December 7 1941
A chronology of the attack on Pearl Harbour as depicted through aviation art
pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘The Attack on Wheeler Field’  by Tom Freeman

As the attacks on Pearl Harbour, Ford Island and Hickam Field were commencing, further inland on Oahu, the USAAC air-base at Wheeler Field was also coming under attack.

Destroying the air units at Hickam had been a vital part of the Japanese tactical plan as it was necessary to prevent the Americans from launching a land-based counter-attack at the Kido Butai if the latter’s location was detected. However the aerial forces stationed at Wheeler represented a different threat, namely to the Japanese air units themselves. Wheeler was home to the bulk of the single-engine fighters based on Oahu and largest of the island’s air-bases with 162 aircraft based there.

The complement of USAAC fighters at Wheeler included 87 Curtiss P-40B Tomahawks and twelve of the new P-40C models (later dubbed ‘Kittyhawk’) and 39 Curtiss P-36 Mohawks, an older radial-engine version of the P-40. In addition, there were 12 obsolete P-26 Peashooters, three equally elderly Martin B-12 bombers and a pair of Curtiss A-12s along with eight assorted trainers and observation planes.

The fighters were arranged in tightly packed, neat rows along the tarmac, proving irresistible targets for the Japanese pilots. The first to be attacked were the squadrons of P-40s parked at the eastern end of the base. The Zero fighters and D3A dive-bombers focused the initial attack on them with devastating results achieved within the opening minutes. By the end of the morning’s attacks, 42 P-40s were destroyed or written off with another 30 damaged, leaving only 27 still intact. The closely packed P-40s produced raging fires so fierce that a huge column of black smoke billowed from the base, concealing the P-36 units parked along the western end from Japanese attentions. Consequently, the P-36s got off much more lightly- only four were destroyed.

Observers on the ground noted that the attackers quickly lost discipline in the air, coming in randomly from all directions, oblivious to the risk of collision and gleefully shooting at anything that moved. Bizarrely, the sole anti-aircraft defence at Wheeler was a single .50 calibre machine-gun which was located on the roof of the base’s emergency fire-fighting department and which was expected to be manned by firemen who had had only six hours of gunnery training. Not surprisingly, the fire crews quickly decided their skills could be put to better use actually fighting fires so they left the weapon un-manned. However a guard at a nearby army stockade unlocked one of the cells and he and the prisoner manned the weapon, firing at the Japanese planes. Brigadier-General Howard Davidson, commander of Wheeler’s fighter wing, lived at the base with his family. He was shaving in his bathroom when the Japanese attack began. Rushing outside, he saw with horror that his 10-year-old twin daughters were cheerfully running around on the lawn picking up the still-warm bullet cases dropping from Japanese fighters flying overhead. Hurriedly taking his girls to a shelter, Davidson could do little else but watch the devastation of his command.

Meanwhile Staff Sgt Charles Fay climbed aboard several P-40s and taxied them clear of the burning hangars. Other men bravely resisted with rifles and pistols or dragged injured men to safety. Despite the carnage, casualties at Wheeler were fewer than those suffered at Hickam- 43 killed, 53 wounded.

Schofield Army Barracks, located near Wheeler, was also attacked albeit much less severely. Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division climbed up onto the roof of their barracks and mounted .30 calibre machine-guns, firing at the enemy planes passing overhead. Down below in the mess-hall, many of the men were reluctant to leave their breakfast trays as Sundays was when they always received their special servings of pancakes, syrup and fresh milk. Even when the first Japanese fighter flew close by, strafing as it went and the men ran outside, they still held onto their half-pint rations of milk for fear they would be stolen. One of those men was a young company clerk named James Jones who would later use his experiences of army life on Oahu for his famous novel From Here to Eternity.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘Dive-Bomber Attack on Wheeler Field’  by Arkadiusz Wrobel

Aichi D3A dive-bombers attack the parked P-40 fighters on the tarmac at Wheeler Field. This painting has several in-correct details. The D3A portrayed- BI-231- belonged to the carrier Soryu. In reality, the dive-bombers from the Soryu belonged to the second wave and they attacked the warships and naval yard at Pearl Harbour, not Wheeler. It was dive-bombers from the carrier Zuikaku in the first wave that attacked Wheeler Field.

The aircraft’s colour scheme as shown here is also not correct. BI-231 belonged to Lt-Commander Takashige Egusa who, in reality, flew a grey-green D3A with bright red dragon-tail emblems on the fuselage on the Pearl Harbour raid. The olive-drab scheme with the garish red and yellow striped tail seen here in the painting was not actually adopted until 1942.

Egusa, a highly skilled dive-bomber pilot, was a veteran of the war in China. Prior to the beginning of hostilities, he played a major role in the development of dive-bombing techniques in the Imperial Navy. After Pearl Harbour, Egusa led his ship’s squadron on attacks on Wake Island, northern Australia and Ceylon. He was badly burned at the battle of Midway in June 1942 when the Soryu was fatally hit. After his recovery, he returned to flying duties but was killed in action near the Marianas shortly after the battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944.

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‘Aichi D3A1 Type 99’  by S. Fleischer

Another depiction of Egusa’s D3A portrayed as attacking Wheeler Field. This illustration was featured as box-art for a plastic model kit of the D3A.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘The Attack on Battleship Row Begins’  by Jim Laurier

As the attacks on Ford, Wheeler and Hickam commenced, the B5N torpedo-bombers began their attacks on the biggest targets of the operation- the Battleships of the US Pacific Fleet. Eight of the nine battleships of the fleet were moored in Pearl Harbour on Dec 7 (the sole exception was the USS Colorado, undergoing repairs in San Diego on the US mainland).

The first of the B5N pilots began their attack runs at 0755. For the opening six minutes, there was no anti-aircraft fire to greet them before AA guns on the Cruiser USS Helena opened fire at 0801, the first warship to do so. Caught by surprise, many of the ship’s crews still in their bunks, the men on board the vessels took time to recover from their initial shock. Many sailors, often acting on their own initiative as individuals or in small groups, smashed the locks on ammunition stores and manned AA weapons. From the first few scattered shots, the volume of defensive fire grew slowly, then rapidly intensified. But by then, many of the torpedoes had already been launched.

The B5Ns carried torpedoes fitted with specially-designed wooden fins which enabled the warhead to level out quickly after hitting the water, thereby preventing it from plunging into the muddy bottom of the shallow harbour. The so-called ‘Long Lance’ torpedoes were amongst the best in the world in 1941, far superior to the troublesome and unreliable torpedoes used by the US Navy at that time.

The prime target was Battleship Row, a tightly packed row of capital warships moored alongside the south-eastern side of Ford Island, arranged bow to stern. The battleship USS Nevada was moored at the rear, forward of her was the USS Arizona with the repair ship Vestal alongside her outward side. Next, tucked in snugly together were the battleships USS Tennessee and, on the outward side, the USS West Virginia. Forward of them, the battleships USS Maryland and, on the outer side, the USS Oklahoma. The ageing oiler Neosho was parked forward of the Maryland’s bow. Further along the shoreline, lay the battleship USS California.

South of Ford Island, on the navy-yard, the battleship USS Pennsylvania stood in dry dock. On the north side of Ford, was moored the USS Utah, an elderly retired battleship commissioned in 1911 and now used as a target ship for gunnery and bombing practice, her decks covered with heavy timbers to protect it from dummy bombs.

One of the Japanese pilots later wrote, ‘even in the deepest peace, I had never seen warships arrayed so helplessly’.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘Battleship Row’  by Stan Stokes

The USS West Virginia (BB-48) was a Colorado-Class Battleship, commissioned in 1923. Weighing in at over 32,000 tonnes, she had a crew of over 1,400 men and a length of over 190 metres. Her armaments comprised eight 16-inch guns, a dozen 5-inch guns and four 76mm AA weapons along with two torpedo tubes.

The West Virginia commenced her sea trails and working up exercises after her commissioning. In 1924, she was damaged when she accidently ran aground, a incident blamed on faulty navigational charts. After repairs, she performed numerous exercises and fleet manoeuvres in both the Atlantic and Pacific, winning the pennants for the fleet’s most efficient and accurate gunnery on a number of occasions. In 1939, as diplomatic relations between the US and Japan soured, she was stationed at Pearl Harbour in preparations for the war with the Japanese that everyone knew would come but no one believed that the ‘little yellow men’ would strike first.

The B5Ns from the Akagi attacked first and the very first torpedo dropped at Pearl Harbour struck the West Virginia’s outward-facing portside hull, dropped by Lt-Commander Shigeharu Murata flying in B5N no AI-311. In rapid succession, the ship was struck by five torpedoes (and a sixth which failed to detonate). The portside compartments rapidly flooded and the ship would have capsized if not for the quick-thinking of Lt-Commander J S Harper who promptly ordered counter-flooding and the closing of water-tight doors. This ensured the vessel sank slowly, settling on the bottom on an even keel, saving the lives of hundreds of her crew. Shortly after the torpedo hits, the battleship was struck by two bombs dropped by high-level B5Ns. These detonations wrecked the ship’s two Kingfisher floatplanes, leaking gasoline from the aircraft spreading fires across the upper decks. By now, the West Virginia’s Captain Mervyn Bennion was dying and the executive officer Roscoe Hillenkoetter had jumped over the side (saving his own skin did his career no harm as he later became director of the CIA in 1947).

Now the most senior officer left on board, Harper took command of the ship, directing the heroic fire-fighting crews and organising the evacuation of the men from below decks. But their best efforts were to no avail and the last of the men still on board evacuated the vessel at 2pm. A final roll-call revealed that 40 of the crew were dead and another 66 missing. The bodies of the latter were not found until the vessel was raised in 1942. Some of the men had evidently survived for days, trapped in watertight compartments. Three bodies were found in a store-room. Notes they made on a calendar revealed that they had stayed alive until December 23rd.

The West Virginia was re-floated in May 1942 and received extensive repairs in dry-dock in Pearl Harbour before, a year later in May 1943, she sailed for the US mainland to undergo a refit and a modernisation. By the time it was complete, the West Virginia looked like a very different ship with a wider beam, streamlined superstructure and more numerous AA weapons. She re-joined the Pacific Fleet in September 1944. She participated in the US invasion of the Philippines and on October 25th, she led the US Battle-Line at the Battle of the Surigao Strait at Leyte Gulf in which she engaged and shelled a force of Japanese battleships.

The ship later participated in the Philippines Campaign between December 1944 and January 1945. Later, she took part in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and during the latter was hit and damaged by a Kamikaze plane. In September 1945, she was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal signing of the Japanese surrender.

Decommissioned in 1947, the West Virginia was sold and broken up for scrap in 1959.

Lt-Commander Shigeharu Murata was killed in action at the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26th 1942 near the Solomon Islands when he was shot down whilst leading a successful but costly torpedo attack on the carrier USS Hornet.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘Attack on Battleship Row’  by artist- ?

As the torpedo attacks on Battleship Row were under way, high-level B5N bombers were flying overhead, making level-bombing attacks. This illustration, originally produced as the box-art for a Revell plastic model kit set, depicts a Nakajima B5N over the USS Arizona as the first bombs detonate alongside her.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘The Siege of USS Oklahoma’  by R T Foster

The USS Oklahoma (BB-37) was a Nevada-Class Battleship commissioned in 1916. Older and marginally smaller than her sister battlewagons at Pearl Harbour, the Oklahoma weighed in at 27,000 tonnes and was just under 180 metres in length with ten 14-inch guns and assorted smaller weapons and a crew of just under 1,400.

The Oklahoma was old enough to have served in the First World War, having entered operational service in August 1918, escorting US troopships to Britain, although she saw no action and the only casualties amongst the crew were due to Spanish Flu. She spent the next nine years performing ceremonial duties, convoy escort and numerous training exercises before she underwent a major refit and modernisation in dry-dock in 1927 which saw her beam widened, extra armour plating installed, a aircraft launching catapult added to her superstructure and extra AA weapons fitted.

Returning to active service in 1930, she participated in fleet exercises for the next decade. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Oklahoma was despatched to Spain to evacuate US citizens and embassy officials. In 1937, she was stationed in Pearl Harbour and made only a few trips to the US mainland for the remainder of her career. In August 1941, she was damaged in a severe storm whilst en route to the US and she was obliged to remain in San Francisco for repairs before returning to Hawaii in mid-October.

On the morning of December 7th, the Oklahoma was moored alongside Ford Island when the torpedo attack commenced.

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‘The First Hit on Oklahoma’  by Tom Freeman

In rapid succession, ship after ship was hit by torpedoes. The USS Nevada, moored at the rear of Battleship Row, was hit by one warhead whilst the USS California, stationed at the opposite end, was struck by two. Another torpedo passed beneath the repair ship Vestal and struck the Arizona whilst a total of five detonated on the hull of the West Virginia.

Over on the other side of Ford Island, the USS Utah, although the pilots had been instructed to ignore her, proved too tempting a target in the heat of the moment (she was possibly misidentified as a frontline battleship). Six B5Ns launched their torpedoes at her, hitting her with two. The ageing ex-Battleship began to quickly flounder, listing heavily. As she did, the heavy timbers arrayed on her decks slid overboard, crushing several of the ship’s crew in their path. Of the more than 400 men on board, 64 were killed as the ship sank. A posthumous Medal of Honour went to an heroic crew chief who stayed below decks trying to save as many of the engine room crew as he could as the ship went down. Today, the wreck of the Utah remains where she sank.

Another torpedo, aimed at the Utah, struck the Cruiser USS Raleigh instead. The ship began to list, coming dangerously close to capsizing but the crew hurriedly jettisoned anything heavy not nailed down, keeping the ship upright. This ship was luckier, her crew suffering no fatalities. Another torpedo narrowly missed the Destroyer USS Bagley.

 Five other B5Ns, choosing to disregard the Utah, flew over Ford and attacked the minelayer USS Oglala moored at the naval yard on the opposite shore, mistaking her for a battleship. Four of the torpedoes missed but one passed beneath Oglala and struck the Cruiser USS Helena moored on the other side of her. Ironically it was to be the Oglala that suffered more because the concussion from the explosion on the Helena ruptured the un-armoured hull of the ageing minelayer, flooding the ship which soon capsized. As for the Helena, the torpedo struck her starboard side amidships, causing the ship to begin to list but this was corrected by prompt counter-flooding and well organised damage-control which saved the cruiser. A total of 34 of her crew were killed.

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‘The USS Oklahoma Begins to List’  by artist- ?

But it was the Oklahoma which suffered most from the torpedo attack. Three warheads struck her in rapid succession. Unlike the West Virginia, the Oklahoma was unable to counter-flood or close watertight doors in time and she began to list almost immediately. As the list grew steeper, two more torpedoes hit the ship and with an awful moan, the Oklahoma capsized. Many of her crew took to the water whilst others boarded the Maryland alongside, assisting to man the fire-fighting operations and AA weapons on that vessel.

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‘The Last Torpedo’  by Tom Freeman

Large numbers of the Oklahoma’s crew were trapped below decks as the ship rolled over, her barnacle-encrusted keel exposed to the open air. Over the following weeks there were heroic efforts by rescue teams to cut into the hull and save the trapped sailors (one operation, led by a civilian engineer, saved 32 men) but not all could be reached in time. A total of 429 of the Oklahoma’s crew were lost. Two Congressional Medals of Honour were amongst the decorations given to members of her crew.

In July 1942, salvage operations began on the Oklahoma. After eight months of preparatory work, her hull was winched upright, a process that took nearly four months and which was a major feat of engineering. Cofferdams were placed alongside the hull to allow makeshift repairs to be carried out before the ship was towed to Pearl Harbour’s No 2 dry-dock in December 1943.

After several months in dry-dock, the Oklahoma was repaired sufficiently to allow the ship to float of her own accord but by now, plans to return her to service had been abandoned as too long and costly. The ship was decommissioned in September 1944. Anything salvageable was stripped from the ship, including her armaments and most of her superstructure, and the rest was sold to the scrapyard in 1946. In May 1947, the Oklahoma was placed under tow and taken to San Francisco harbour where she would be broken up for scrap. However, en route, the two tugs pulling the battered hull ran into a severe storm and the stripped-down battleship began to flounder, forcing both tugs to sever their towing cables to prevent themselves being dragged down with her. The Oklahoma sank, as if she wished to spare herself the indignity of ending her days in the scrapyard.

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As the torpedo planes carried out their attacks, shortly after 0800hrs, the high-level B5Ns of the carriers Kaga, Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu made a bombing run along Battleship Row. A total of 49 planes flew in the formation, including Fuchida’s aircraft.

The B5Ns carried the special 800kg armour-piercing Type 99 bombs. Flying in orderly ‘vee’ formations, the B5Ns flew along the length of Battleship Row, raining their bombs onto the tightly arrayed warships.

 Already crippled by a torpedo, the USS Arizona was rocked by near misses, sending huge fountains of muddy spray from the shallow waters of the harbour. The repair ship Vestal stationed alongside was hit by two bombs. The Maryland, Tennessee and West Virginia were struck by two bombs each. Then a pair of 800kg bombs, most likely dropped by B5Ns from the Hiryu, hit the Arizona at 0810. One of these penetrated to the forward magazines of the ship, causing the vessel’s supply of ordnance to detonate, igniting a massive explosion, one of the largest man-made detonations ever recorded in the pre-atomic era.

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‘The Final Moment’  by Roy Grinnell

Of the Arizona’s crew of 1,500 men, there were 1,282 who were on board at the time of the attack. Of these, a total of 1,177 men were killed, most of the them in the cataclysmic explosion that destroyed the ship. The Arizona rapidly settled in the shallow waters, its forward superstructure leaning drunkenly forward, its photographed silhouette amidst the dense smoke becoming the most iconic image of the attack.

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‘The End of the Arizona’  by Tom Freeman

The huge explosion caused burning debris to rain down all over the harbour and on Ford Island. Indeed the fires were so intense, they burned for two days. Ironically the force of the explosion actually saved Vestal from destruction as the concussive blast extinguished the fires on the repair ship’s decks.

The Arizona was decommissioned on December 29th and was formally struck off the naval register at the end of 1942 after it was found that she was far beyond any hope of salvage. 229 bodies were removed from the wreck by diving teams working in hazardous conditions before it was decided that the wreck was too unstable and dangerous for any more retrieval operations and the remaining 945 bodies were left entombed in her hull. A number of the ship’s guns were salvaged, as were much of her surviving ammunition and fuel stocks.

In 1962, the Arizona was formally declared a National Shrine. Contrary to popular belief, she does not remain in commission but, as a shrine, she is entitled to fly the national flag above her remains.

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‘Sub Base Pearl Harbour’  by Tom Freeman

By the time the final section of torpedo-carrying B5Ns made their attacks, many warships and shore batteries were unleashing heavy anti-aircraft fire at the low-flying attackers. The final group, all from the carrier Kaga, suffered the most during the torpedo attack phase of the operation which, although planned to take a mere 90 seconds, actually lasted 11 minutes.

Five of the Kaga’s B5Ns were shot down. One was B5N no AII-356, piloted by Lieutenant Mimori Suzuki. As he flew over Pearl’s submarine pen near the south-east loch, his aircraft was hit by machine-gun fire from AA weapons manned by sailors from the submarine SS Tautog. A bullet struck the warhead of the torpedo slung beneath his aircraft, prematurely detonating the weapon. The subsequent explosion severed the engine from the rest of the aircraft and, still attached to the spinning propeller, it continued to fly across the harbour for some distance. The dismembered aircraft then dived into the water.

A week after the attack, US Navy divers descended to the location of Suzuki’s sunken B5N as naval intelligence services were keen to examine the aircraft at close hand. Lieutenant Suzuki’s headless body was found still in the cockpit and its harness was cut loose, allowing the body to float to the surface. The same was done for the rear gunner. Chains were attached to the aircraft and it was raised from the bottom of the loch by crane. The corpse of the middle-seat navigator/observer was found still in the aircraft in a grisly state, its face having been chewed off by hungry crabs. The three corpses were sent to the morgue but not before they had been thoroughly picked over by eager souvenir hunters including one enterprising sailor who, unable to get the boots off one of the Japanese aviators due to the body’s swollen feet, sawed them off instead.

Another of the B5Ns crashed in the vicinity of the Naval Hospital, the aircraft hitting the yard near the senior nurse’s quarters. One of the doctors souvenired a piece of wing fabric from the wreckage and the former’s son recently donated it to the Pearl Harbour museum.

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‘Attack on Ewa’  by Tom Freeman

The Japanese attack on Ewa, the island’s Marine air-base, began almost at the same time as the attacks commenced on Ford Island, some five miles to the north-east and Hickam, which lay directly to the east.

There were 49 aircraft parked on Ewa Field, including eleven Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters, 23 early-model Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, eight obsolete Vought SB2 Vindicator dive-bombers and seven assorted transports & trainers. A formation of 20 Zero fighters arrived shortly after 0755 and made repeated (witnesses counted eight) strafing runs, concentrating on the aircraft. These attackers were followed by a number of D3A dive-bombers which, having expended their bombs on other targets such as Ford Island or Hickam, made low-level strafing runs on the airfield’s buildings and installations. A number of aircraft from the second wave would later do likewise.

By the end of the morning’s events, some 33 aircraft were destroyed or written off, with most of the survivors damaged. With no proper anti-aircraft defences, the Marines had to improvise, detaching .30 calibre machine-guns from wrecked or damaged aircraft and mounting them as AA weapons. Other soldiers fired Thompson sub machine-guns and even men with rifles and pistols joined in. The base commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Larkin, despite suffering a wound in the first strafing attack, hurriedly organised some of the men into impromptu anti-aircraft teams. One man, private William Turner, climbed into the rear-seat of a damaged SBD and fired the .30 calibre MG at enemy planes until he was killed by a strafing Zero. Pharmacist’s Mate Orrin Smith and PFC James Mann drove an ambulance out to the burning planes, intending to retrieve some of the injured men lying on the open tarmac. But the vehicle soon attracted the attention of Japanese planes and the two men were forced to get out and shelter underneath the ambulance. Smith was wounded in the leg and they later counted over 50 bullet holes in the vehicle. Sgt Carlo Micheletto supervised teams of fire-fighters trying to douse the blazing aircraft but when more attackers appeared, he took a rifle and crouched behind a pile of lumber, only to be killed by a round from a Zero.

Casualties on the ground suffered at Ewa amounted to seven men killed (including two civilians) and some 65 wounded.

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‘Close Encounter over Ewa’  by Tom Freeman

Lieutenant Yoshio Shiga led a 9-plane ‘Buntai’ from the carrier Kaga in a strafing run over Hickam Field at 0805. Then, with ammunition still remaining, he led his pilots on a strafing attack over Ewa Field. As he skimmed low over the tarmac, Shiga was impressed to see a lone Marine armed only with a pistol standing upright out in the open, calmly firing single shots at the oncoming attackers. Shiga fired a burst which went wide. As he flew over the lone figure, Shiga raised a gloved hand in a salute out of respect for the man’s courage.

In May 1942, Shiga was later transferred to the smaller carrier Junyo, taking command of its air group. Thus he participated in the Aleutians Operation the following month and did not take part in the Midway battle which claimed his old carrier the Kaga. Shiga fought at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942. Transferred to the carrier Hiyo, he served on board her for nearly a year but was transferred to a land-based naval unit prior to the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 in which Hiyo was sunk. Shiga fought with a home-defence unit for the remainder of the war and he aroused anger from his superiors when he openly voiced his opposition to the Kamikaze operations. Shiga survived the war and afterwards became CEO of a company that manufactured police equipment. He died in 2005.

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‘Akagi Zero over Pearl Harbour’  by Jim Laurier

 The 9-plane ‘Buntai’ of fighters from the flagship Akagi was led by Lieutenant-Commander Shigeru Itaya in Zero no AI-155. Escorting the D3A dive-bombers from the Shokaku, Itaya’s flight orbited south over Honolulu, at least one of the unit’s pilots making a strafing run over John Rodgers civilian airport. Proceeding to nearby Hickam Field, the flight made several strafing runs.

As the attack on Hickam was proceeding, the Zero pilots spotted a flight of American B-17s orbiting as if they intended to land……

Shigeru Itaya, thought to be the very first pilot to launch on the morning of Dec 7, was killed in an accidental crash in 1944.

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‘Early Morning Arrival over Pearl’  by Tom Freeman

Shortly after 0800hrs, a flight of USAAC Boeing B-17s arrived over Pearl Harbour and found themselves un-expectedly in the middle of the devastating attack.

Having departed from Hamilton Air-Base in San Rafael, California on the early evening of December 6th, B-17s belonging to the 38th and 88th Reconnaissance Squadrons flew to Hawaii overnight on what was to the first leg of a journey to US bases in the Philippines. The formation was originally planned to comprise 16 B-17s but four of them had been forced to abort the flight with engine problems, leaving twelve, an assortment of B-17C and B-17E models, to make the long flight. The B-17s were divided into two groups of six, spaced about ten minutes apart. Major Truman H Landon of the 38th Squadron was leading the first flight. Like all of the B-17s, his aircraft contained only a skeleton crew of five men to save weight. For the same reason, the B-17s carried no ammunition for their machine-guns. The 3,840 km flight from California to Oahu had required every drop of gasoline the aircraft could carry. At 0745, the B-17s radioed Hickam Field where they were scheduled to arrive some time after 0800. The reply was garbled but that was nothing un-usual this far out.

The flight had been un-eventful but the weary crews were relieved to see their first glimpse of the rugged blue-green mountain ranges of Oahu rising through the murky low-lying cloud after the nocturnal passage over the vast Pacific. The crews looked forward to landing at Hickam where they could stretch their legs and grab some hot chow and sack-time prior to their next leg to Clark Air-Base in the Philippines. As they neared Oahu, they noticed scattered formations of aircraft above Pearl Harbour. That was nothing un-usual for an island with nearly 400 aircraft stationed on it although they thought it was strange for the Army or Navy to be holding aerial exercises on a Sunday and why hadn’t they been warned by traffic control about it? Then they noticed columns of smoke rising from around the harbour and from Ford and Hickam. Had some accidental fires started during the night, they thought, or were construction crews doing some blasting, maybe?

A group of single-engine fighter planes flew out to meet them. The B-17 crews were initially pleased to see them, thinking that these were American fighters coming to greet them and to escort them in to Hickam. It was only when the fighters, with bright red crescents painted on their wings, began to open fire that the bomber crews finally realised the awful truth of what was happening.

With their fuel almost gone and with no weapons to defend themselves, Major Landon gave the only order he could for his pilots to scatter and to land as soon as possible on any of Oahu’s airfields whose runways were of sufficient length to accommodate the B-17s, namely Hickam, Bellows or Wheeler.

The B-17s tried to put down at Hickam which was still under attack and was the scene of confusion and destruction. Flight Lieutenant Robert Richards tried to land, his aircraft already damaged by a Zero, but enemy fighters were making firing passes at him and he aborted at the last moment, turning his aircraft towards Bellows Field. He overshot the runway at the latter base and rolled into a ditch. The crew hurriedly evacuated the aircraft before Zero fighters strafed it, wrecking it beyond repair. Meanwhile, Captain Ray Swenson managed to get his B-17 down on Hickam’s runway but as he touched down, a bullet from an attacking Zero ignited the signal flares stored in the fuselage, setting fire to the aircraft’s interior. The plane rolled to a stop, the burning tail-section breaking off as it did so. The crew all reached safety but the plane’s passenger, Flight-Surgeon Lt William Schick who had been hitching a ride to the Philippines, was spotted by a low-flying Zero pilot as the former ran across the open tarmac.

The Zero, piloted by Pilot Officer 1st Class Takashi Hirano from the Akagi, saw the lone figure of Schick and, according to eyewitnesses, appeared to become fixated on him, singling out the running man and flying dangerously close to the ground as he did so. Lt Schick was mortally wounded in the head by one of the rounds from Hirano’s guns (he died in hospital the following day). But next instant, the belly tank of Hirano’s Zero struck the tarmac. The jolt caused the Zero’s nose to dip forward, causing the propeller blades to hit the surface, their tips bending backwards in a shower of sparks.

Now out of control, the Zero ‘bounced’ from the impact, its momentum sending it upwards for a few brief moments before the plane began to descend again despite Hirano’s desperate efforts to save himself. Flying towards Fort Kamehameha located south-west of Hickam, the Zero struck a pair of palm trees, the impact killing Hirano and breaking the aircraft in two. The engine and forward section of the fuselage span off in one direction, landing amongst a group of soldiers belonging to the 41st Coast Artillery Regiment, decapitating one man and severing all four limbs from another. The rest of the aircraft crashed onto the loading ramp of a nearby ordnance machine shop, causing more casualties. Four men were killed altogether with a number of others seriously injured.

The other four B-17s of the first flight all managed to land at Hickam including Landon’s plane. All of them were damaged but none severely. One of the pilots, Lieutenant Karl Barthelmess, even after his aircraft was attacked by Zero fighters, still did not comprehend what was happening, commenting after landing that it was the ‘most realistic drill’ he had ever seen!

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‘Flying into a War’  by Stan Stokes

The six planes of the second flight arrived over Oahu a short time later. One pilot, Lieutenant Frank Bostrom, attempted to land at Hickam but was driven off by ‘friendly’ AA fire. After orbiting a short while in nearby clouds, he tried again but his B-17 was hit by AA fire, knocking out two of the engines. He flew to the northern side of Oahu and managed to land his B-17 on an unfinished emergency landing strip adjacent to Kahuku Golf Course. Two of the other B-17s gave up trying to land on Hickam and then passed on Wheeler as well when they discovered that base was under attack, also. Both aircraft managed to land safely on the small airstrip at Haleiwa on Oahu’s north, despite the runways being designed for single-engine planes only. A fourth B-17 landed at Wheeler but then took off again after a brief spell and landed at Hickam, joining the remaining two planes of the second flight who also put down there. By 0820, all of the B-17s were on the ground.

The B-17 flight was fortunate as their losses could have been far worse given the circumstances. Only two of the B-17s were destroyed, the rest were later repaired. Apart from Lt Schick, the only casualty was one man wounded.

Other US aircraft arrived over Oahu during the attack. A lone B-18 flying from Molakai Island arrived at Wheeler Field in the midst of the attack but the pilot managed to land safely. Less fortunate was a Squadron of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers of Scouting-Six from the carrier USS Enterprise. The 18 SBDs had been launched from Enterprise at 0615 that morning, tasked with conducting an aerial search of the route the carrier would take as it approached Oahu. They arrived over Pearl Harbour in the midst of the attack. Some of the Navy pilots managed to land on Ford Island, others put down at Ewa. Four of the SBDs were shot down by Japanese aircraft, a fifth collided with a D3A dive-bomber and a sixth was shot down by ‘friendly’ AA fire from the ground.

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‘Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero’  by artist- ?

By 0825, the aircraft of the first wave had completed their attacks and were heading northwards towards the carriers of the Kido Butai. Only one aircraft still lingered, orbiting at high altitude above Pearl Harbor- the B5N of Commander Fuchida who wanted to observe the second wave attack.

There now came a 25 minute lull prior to the arrival of the second wave which had launched at 0715. Originally comprised of 171 aircraft, one plane had failed to launch and another three had been forced to abort and return with engine trouble shortly after take-off. But the rest- 167 planes in total- formed up into their squadrons and headed south towards Oahu.

There were no torpedo-carrying aircraft in the second wave as the Japanese planners assumed (correctly) that the US defences would now be fully alerted and at maximum effect, making the slower torpedo-bombers simply too vulnerable. The second wave was comprised of 78 D3A dive-bombers, 54 B5N level-bombers and 35 Zero fighters.

Unlike the first wave which had approached Oahu from the north-west, the second wave came in from the north-east, heading in over Kaneohe Bay on the island’s east shore at approximately 0850. The second wave split up as each group headed to their assigned targets. The fighters divided into two groups, 18 of them heading over the central ranges towards Pearl Harbour, whilst the remaining 17 descended to attack Kaneohe air base below, a target still burning after the attentions of the first wave. Eighteen of the B5Ns also attacked Kaneohe whilst a larger group of 27 flew along Oahu’s southern coastline to attack the already badly mauled Hickam Field and the remaining nine planes flew over the Koolau Ranges to attack Pearl. The D3A dive-bombers, all 78 of them, kept together in a single formation and flew en masse over the island’s centre towards the harbour. The fleet had been short of the high-impact 800kg bombs carried by the B5Ns of the first wave so the D3As were armed with smaller 250kg bombs which would have far less effectiveness against the armoured hulls of the warships. 

The above painting depicts the Mitsubishi Zero No AI-101 flown by Pilot Officer 1st Class Tadao Kimura of the Akagi who flew as wingman to Lieutenant Saburo Shindo, leader of the Second Wave’s fighters. This work featured as the box-art for the Tamiya plastic model kit of the Zero.

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‘Attack on Bellows Field’  by Tom Freeman

Bellows was the only one of Oahu’s large air-bases that hadn’t been attacked by the aircraft of the first wave. The sole exception was at 0830 when a Zero fighter, passing overhead on its way back out to sea, made a brief strafing run. Incredibly even this incident did not raise any alarm at Bellows Field. Eyewitnesses saw the plane and misidentified as an AT-6 Trainer, most likely flown by a cocky navy or marine pilot whose idea of a good joke was to shoot up the airfield with blanks. Although the first attacks on Oahu had begun at 0748 and the first large-scale attack on Bellows did not occur until over an hour later at 0900 apparently in the interim no one at any of the other bases or at the harbour thought to radio or telephone Bellows to alert them what was happening. The personnel at Bellows most likely heard the distant rumble of the bombings and explosions from other locations but this did not raise any concerns either. After-all, on a crowded military base such as Oahu such noises were nothing un-usual as there were always artillery exercises going on, or construction teams carrying out blasting, although the volume of it seemed a little odd for a Sunday morning.

Bellows had a considerably smaller contingent of aircraft compared to the other bases already attacked. There were nine reconnaissance aircraft- one twin-engine Martin B-12, two Stinson 0-49s and six North American 0-47s, all belonging to the 86th Observation Squadron. There was also 12 P-40 fighters belonging to the 44th Pursuit Squadron, a unit normally based at Wheeler Field but temporarily stationed at Bellows for training purposes.

At 0900, nine Zero fighters arrived over Bellows and made a series of low-level strafing runs. Three pilots of the 86th Observation Squadron, who had been training on P-40s, sprinted to the parked fighters and attempted to get airborne. Lieutenant Hans Christiansen climbed onto the wing of a P-40, struggling with the weight of his parachute pack. Another pilot helped out by pushing him up to the cockpit but at that moment, a Zero strafed the parked P-40. Christiansen was killed and the other pilot was only saved by the former’s chute pack which acted as a shield absorbing the bullets.

Two other pilots, Lieutenants Samuel Bishop and George Whiteman managed to get aboard P-40s and start their engines, hurriedly skimming down the runways and clawing into the air, trying to gain some height so as to get to grips with the enemy. Whiteman’s P-40 was attacked by a Zero only a few seconds after it left the ground. Fatally hit, it crashed in flames, killing the pilot.

Bishop managed to gain some height but another Zero was soon on his tail. His P-40 was hit and set alight. Although wounded, Bishop managed to bail out of his stricken aircraft and parachute to safety. He came down in Kailua Bay and, despite his injuries, managed to swim ashore and survive.

Apart from Christiansen and Whiteman, another three men were killed during the attack on Bellows and seven others were wounded. Apart from the three aforementioned P-40s that were lost, one of the 0-47s and one 0-49 were destroyed with several other planes damaged.

The leader of the Soryu’s  flight of nine Zeros which had attacked Bellows, Lieutenant Fusata Iida, then led his men over to the already badly damaged Naval air station at Kaneohe. They strafed the base at low-level, several of the Japanese pilots concentrating their attentions on a large fresh-water tank which they had been mistakenly informed was a fuel store. Iida’s Zero was hit by machine-gun fire from the ground and began to trail smoke. The Lieutenant led his wingmen back to where the formation was re-grouping and then signalled to his comrades that he was now saying goodbye and was going to make a final dive at the enemy. With that, he turned his Zero and, at 0912, aimed his aircraft at one of the large buildings at Kaneohe and dived down. His fighter missed the building and crashed into a nearby hillside. Impressed with the enemy pilot’s bravery, the Americans buried Iida the following day with full military honours.

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‘USS Vestal’  by Tom Freeman

The USS Vestal was a Repair Ship of the US Navy Pacific Fleet. Originally constructed as a Fleet Collier, the Vestal served as such between 1909 and 1912 before spending a year in dry dock being converted into a Repair Ship. She was commissioned as the latter in 1913.

She served in the Atlantic Fleet for 14 years before she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet in 1927. In 1940, she was stationed at Pearl Harbour and on December 6th 1941 was moored alongside USS Arizona to assist with routine maintenance to the latter.

On the morning of the attack, Vestal was struck by two bombs dropped by high-level B5Ns at 0804. One hit the ship’s port side, starting a large fire in the stores hold below decks, necessitating flooding to douse the flames. The other bomb struck the starboard side, holing the bottom of the vessel. At 0810, the Arizona’s forward section erupted in a massive explosion as a Japanese bomb detonated the forward magazines. The blast from the explosion blew many of the Vestal’s crew overboard, including her AA gunners.

Burning debris from the dying Arizona rained down on Vestal’s upper decks and, more dangerously, blazing oil and fuel was spreading on the surface around the sinking battleship, threatening Vestal moored close alongside her. At 0830, the Vestal’s Captain, Commander Cassin Young, having swam back to his ship after being blown overboard, made it back to the bridge and ordered the ship to get underway. At 0845, the Vestal’s crew cut the mooring lines, freeing her from Battleship Row and the repair ship eased itself away from the blazing inferno threatening to engulf her. Uncontrollable flooding below was listing the ship to starboard and the vessel was beginning to sink by the stern, but the Vestal continued to move away from Ford Island.

At 0910, the Vestal anchored in shallow water off McGraw’s Point. Although she was now at a safe distance from the burning Arizona, the ship was listing at over six degrees and there were still several fires below decks. The Captain made the decision to deliberately ground the ship for the sake of its own survival. Getting underway again, the Vestal ran itself aground at Aiea Bay shortly before 1000. Commander Young was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour. Casualties on the Vestal on December 7th totalled 16 men killed and 19 seriously injured.

The Vestal was repaired and returned to active service in 1942. Over the rest of the war, the Vestal proved herself to be one of the most hardest working and most relied-upon ships in the Pacific Fleet as she performed emergency and makeshift repairs at sea to over 550 vessels, ranging from PT-Boats to Aircraft Carriers. Many of the jobs were for routine maintenance and repairs for wear & tear issues but she performed a number of emergency repairs to battle-damaged vessels including the carrier USS Enterprise and the battleship USS South Dakota after the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942. The Vestal was credited with saving the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola which had been severely damaged and almost sunk at the Battle of Tassafaronga in November 1942. The end of hostilities in 1945 brought little relief as she was called upon to repair numerous vessels damaged by typhoons off the coast of Japan in 1945-1946.

Decommissioned in late 1946, the Vestal was scrapped in 1950.

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‘USCGC Taney, Pearl Harbour’  by Keith Ferris

The Taney, a US Navy Coast Guard Cutter, was stationed at Pier 6 on the morning of December 7th. During the attack, she used her anti-aircraft guns as Japanese aircraft flew overhead. Shortly after 0900, she got underway and managed to eventually get through the harbour entrance and reach open water. Over the next several days, she patrolled the waters off Oahu extensively, hunting for enemy submarines.

The Taney, which had been commissioned in 1936, saw extensive service in WW2 in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres, escorting UK-bound convoys against German U-Boats and air attack and later participating in US Navy amphibious operations in the Pacific, including the Okinawa Campaign where the Taney’s gunners were credited with shooting down at least five Kamikaze planes. The Taney, a versatile and highly endurable ship, was able to function for many years after most of her larger contemporaries had gone to the scrapyard.  She participated in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and later was used extensively in home waters against criminal activities such as smuggling and drug-running. She remained in service with the Coast Guard until 1986 and is now a museum ship.

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‘Lone Survivor’  by Jack Fellows

As the second wave attackers began to arrive over Pearl Harbour at 0855, a lone PBY hurriedly launched from Ford Island airfield. Piloted by Lieutenant James Ogden of Patrol Squadron 23, the PBY had managed to survive the first wave attack un-scathed and was quickly prepared for take-off in the short lull prior to the arrival of the second wave of Japanese planes.

The Squadron’s CO, Lt-Commander Massie Hughes, was also on board, along with a hurriedly-assembled crew. The PBY got airborne as the Japanese returned and flew at low level towards Barber’s Point and made it out to open sea. Ogden flew a 12-hr patrol, searching for the Japanese fleet but found no sign of the enemy ships. By the time they returned to Ford Island, it was pitch dark and the harbour and surrounding area was in black-out, lit only by the numerous fires still burning.

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‘Aichi D3A1 dive-bomber’  by artist-  ?

This illustration depicts the D3A No BI-267 which was flown by Lieutenant Masai Ikeda of the Soryu. This work was executed for the box-art for a plastic model kit of the D3A.

 The bombers of the second wave, arriving over Pearl Harbour at approximately 0855, commenced their attacks on the warships and harbor installations. The pilots were given free rein to choose their targets depending on which ships remained intact after the first wave.

The attackers soon noted that the anti-aircraft fire over the harbour was much thicker than what had greeted the first wave. Nonetheless the D3A pilots, amongst the most skilled dive-bombing practitioners in the world, rose to higher altitude and then dived steeply at the moored warships. The D3As carried Type 99 armour-piercing bombs and the steep, precise dive-bombing techniques were necessary as billowing smoke was obscuring much of the harbour.

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‘Dive-Bomber’  by Tony Weddell

This painting also depicts a D3A of the carrier Hiryu during the second-wave attack.

The Destroyer USS Shaw located in Floating Dry-Dock No 2 (YFD-2) across the harbour from Ford Island came under attack. Hit by three bombs, her forward decks were engulfed in fires and deliberate flooding of the dry-dock intended to extinguish the fires did not work in time. At 0930, the ship’s forward magazines detonated, creating a massive, fireball-like explosion which a witness with a camera managed to capture, creating the most spectacular photograph of the day. The Shaw’s entire bow section was blown clean off although miraculously the rest of the ship escaped severe damage. However YFD-2 also suffered severe damage in the explosion and slowly sank, taking both the Shaw and the elderly Harbor Tug No.9 Sotoyomo (which was also moored on the dock) with it. A total of 24 of the destroyer’s crew were killed.

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‘Aichi D3A1s over Ford Island’  by Masao Satake

This painting depicts D3A no AI-256 during the second-wave assault on Pearl Harbour. This aircraft was flown by Flying Officer 1st Class Isaku Mochizuki. This work featured as the box-art for the Dragon-brand plastic model kit of the D3A.

The Cruiser USS Raleigh came under attack. Already crippled by a torpedo hit from the first wave, she was hit by two bombs on her aft deck, causing further damage. The Cruiser Honolulu was damaged by a near-miss and the Cruiser New Orleans was badly shaken by another. The Destroyer Helm was damaged by a near-miss but she managed to get underway and escaped through the harbour exit and reached open water, one of a half-dozen warships which managed to do so during the attack. Overall, the dive-bombing efforts of the second wave produced poor results, achieving only a handful of direct-hits, a ratio much poorer than had been recorded during training exercises prior to the attack.

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‘Attack on Pearl Harbour’  by Robert McCall

An illustration depicting Japanese dive-bombers attacking Battleship Row. This work was one of a number of ‘concept’ art works produced by McCall during preparations for the filming of the 1970 motion-picture ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’.

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‘USS California’  by Anthony Saunders

The USS California (BB-44) was a Tennessee-Class ‘Dreadnought’ Battleship commissioned in 1921. She served in the Pacific Fleet for her entire career and was its flagship for 20 years.

Moored at the southern-most berth of Battleship Row on the morning of December 7th, she was hit by two torpedoes during the first wave attack. Shortly before 0900, a 250kg bomb dropped from a D3A of the second wave hit her starboard upper deck, igniting a storage area where anti-aircraft ammunition was stored. Some 50 of her crew perished in the subsequent explosion. A second bomb landed in the water alongside, the near-miss rupturing her bow plates.

The fires burned out of control, smoke filling the forward engine room, forcing its evacuation. This meant that the pumping operations controlling the flooding from the earlier torpedo hits had to cease and the ship began to flounder. After 3 days, the California settled on the bottom, only her superstructure still above the waterline. In total, 100 men of her crew lost their lives and another 62 were injured. Two posthumous Medals of Honour were amongst the decorations bestowed on the crew.

In March 1942, the California was re-floated and placed in dry-dock for extensive repairs. In June, she was able to sail under her own power to the US West Coast for extensive repairs and a major refit. By its completion, she was in effect, a ‘new ship built on the bones of the old’. Changes included larger and more numerous armaments, a wider beam, a streamlined superstructure. The ship re-entered the Pacific War in May 1944 and the following month, her guns supplied artillery support to US Marines invading the Japanese-held island of Saipan. Later, she took part in amphibious operations at Guam, Tinian and the Philippines. In October 1944, she fought at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, her guns engaging Imperial warships in the Surigao Strait. In June-July 1945, the California participated in the Okinawa Invasion.

De-commissioned in 1947, the California was scrapped in 1959.

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‘Day of Infamy’  by James Dietz (detail)

By now, Battleship Row was a scene of utter devastation. The West Virginia had sunk, the Oklahoma had capsized, the Arizona was a sinking, burning wreck, the California was slowly settling. The Tennessee and the Maryland, both damaged by bombs, were trapped, hemmed in by the stricken vessels moored alongside and aft of them. The once proud Battle line of the US Pacific Fleet had been reduced to a shambles in little more than half an hour.

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Detail from same painting as above.

The Fleet Oiler USS Neosho, moored forward of the Oklahoma, managed to get underway during the second wave attack and move a safe distance away from Ford Island. Had she been set alight, her oil stocks would have ignited massive fires that could have added to the carnage at Battleship Row. The Neosho survived the attack intact but only five months later she would be sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea.

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‘Attack on Pearl Harbor’  by Wesley Lowe.

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