Remember Pearl Harbor Tour – Aviation During the Attack
This week marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into World War II. In 2016 I was privileged to visit Pearl Harbor with my husband. This week I’m sharing photographs from our visit, plus some historical background.
I hope these posts help you reflect on the gravity of the attack and the sacrifice of the 2403 servicemen and civilians who died that day. Let’s never forget the lessons of that day.
Today I’ll share about the role of aviation during the attack and show photos from the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. On Tuesday, I’ll share about the Navy’s role during the attack, along with photos from the USS Arizona Memorial. On Wednesday, I’ll discuss the road from Pearl Harbor to victory, along with photos from the submarine USS Bowfin and the battleship USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed the surrender documents officially ending World War II on Sept. 2, 1945.
Aviation during the Pearl Harbor Attack
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is most known for its disastrous effect on the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet. However, aviation played an important role.
The attack itself, of course, was carried out by aircraft – 353 Japanese carrier-based fighters and bombers in two waves. A handful of American planes were able to take off and defend Pearl Harbor, downing a few Japanese planes. In all, 29 Japanese planes were lost. But 188 American planes were lost, most of them destroyed on the ground.
On December 6, 1941, twelve B-17 Flying Fortresses left Hamilton Field, north of San Francisco, bound for the Philippines, via Hickam Field at Pearl Harbor. My great-uncle, Roderick M. Stewart, served as a second lieutenant on one of the crews. Weighted down by gasoline for the thirteen-hour flight, they were unable to carry guns or ammunition. But why would they need them? The United States was at peace.
The next morning, the B-17s arrived in the middle of the Japanese attack. The bombers dodged both enemy bullets and friendly antiaircraft shells and landed where they could on fields cratered by bombs. Eight landed at Hickam Field, two at Haleiwa Field, one at Bellows Field, and one put down on Kahuku Golf Course. One of the planes was destroyed, and three were damaged. Six men were wounded, and one man was killed. My great-uncle went on to fly combat tours from Australia and England.
In an interesting historical side note, the brand-new Opana Radar Station detected the Japanese planes coming in for the attack, but the officer in charge, who had started duty that very morning, dismissed the findings, certain the radar blips depicted the expected B-17s. We’ll never know if an extra half hour of preparation could have prevented some of the day’s tragedy.
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
One of the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites is the excellent Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Located in Hangar 37 on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, this museum chronicles the role of aviation in the attack on Pearl Harbor and throughout World War II in the Pacific. Nicely done with aircraft in dioramas and plenty of explanatory material, this museum is well worth a visit! The buildings date from the WWII-era and bear the scars of the attack. Please note the bullet holes from the attack in the windows of Hangar 79!
In the main building, Hangar 37, you first see exhibits about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, including a Japanese A6M Zero fighter and a US P-40 Warhawk fighter. The P-40s were responsible for downing several Japanese aircraft.
The museum follows the war in the Pacific. An exhibit commemorates the daring Doolittle Raid on Tokyo by carrier-based B-25 Mitchell medium bombers – which were not meant to be carrier aircraft – led by the famous Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. Other exhibits tell of the Battle of Midway (the turning point of the battle in the Pacific) and the “Cactus Air Force” which fought valiantly on Guadalcanal.
Hangar 79 is a treat. Full of historic aircraft, not just from World War II, it also contains a restoration shop. One of the aircraft undergoing restoration is the Swamp Ghost. This B-17 Flying Fortress served with the US 7th Bombardment Group based in Townsville, Australia – my great-uncle’s group! After a raid on Rabaul, New Britain on February 23, 1942, the plane was damaged by enemy fighters and made a forced landing in a swamp on New Guinea. The crew made an astounding six-week trek through the jungle to safety. The B-17 lay in that swamp until rescued by aviation enthusiasts in 2006. I’m privileged to have read a manuscript about the Swamp Ghost by one of my great-uncle’s colleagues, Glen Spieth, written in 1986 when they were hoping to recover this plane. I know Uncle Rod and the men of the 7th BG would be thrilled to see this plane being so lovingly restored as they wanted. It was an honor for me to see such an amazing piece of history.
Thank you for joining me on my tour! And please visit the other posts: