This week marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into World War II. Last month 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 2459 servicemen and civilians who died that day. Let’s never forget the lessons of that day.
On Monday I shared pictures from the Pacific Aviation Museum. On Wednesday, I shared from the USS Arizona Memorial, and today I’ll share about 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.
World War II in the Pacific
While the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor struck a devastating blow and caused a horrific loss of life, that tragic day wasn’t the end of the story. Five great battleships had been sunk, but two were raised and repaired. More importantly, none of America’s aircraft carriers were at Pearl Harbor. As time would tell, the naval battle in the Pacific would be dominated by the carriers, with the battleships slipping into obsolescence. Also, the Japanese called off the third wave of the Pearl Harbor attack, which was meant to demolish the dry docks and oil storage facilities. With those intact, the naval base was able to resume operations quickly.
What the Japanese didn’t bargain on was how the attack would galvanize the American will. After years of bickering about whether or not to get involved in “another European war,” suddenly Americans were unified. Recruiting offices were flooded with young men enlisting, and the government, military, industry, and individual civilians turned with singular determination to winning the war.
The Pearl Harbor Historic Sites tell the story of that horrifying and fateful morning of December 7, 1941 – but they also continue the story, from tragedy to triumph. The Pacific Aviation Museum tells the role of aviation, from the brave little Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal to the epic Battle of Midway. And the USS Bowfin and the USS Missouri focus on submarine warfare in the Pacific and on the end of the war.
Submarine Warfare in the Pacific
Silent and stealthy, US submarines accounted for half the Japanese ships sunk during the war – 686 warships and 2346 merchant ships. Over the course of the war, 263 US submarines made patrols in the Pacific, and 52 subs and 3500 submariners were lost. Submarine warfare paralyzed Japanese shipping, reducing shipments of crucial war materials, natural resources, and food to the nation and contributing greatly to Japan’s defeat.
The submarine USS Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and so bears the nickname the “Pearl Harbor Avenger.” During World War II, the Bowfin claimed to have sunk 44 Japanese vessels. In the postwar assessment, the claims were reduced – as they were for all subs – to 38 vessels sunk, still an impressive record.
Today the USS Bowfin is a museum ship at Pearl Harbor and well worth a visit, as is the neighboring Pacific Submarine Museum.
Below decks, you’re immediately struck by the confined quarters – although not nearly as cramped aboard the German submarine U-505 that we visited recently in Chicago (See my pictures and read about the capture of the U-505 here). No space is wasted on board a submarine. Note the crew berthing stashed between stored torpedoes!
Submarines performed many roles during World War II – delivering commandos and supplies, rescuing downed airmen, and performing reconnaissance. However, the main role was to sink enemy ships. Torpedoes were the primary weapon used, but the deck guns were also frequently used.
The “Mighty Mo” was commissioned in June 1944 and served in the Pacific, participating in the bombardment of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and the Japanese home islands. But she’s most famous for serving as the site of the surrender of Japan which officially ended World War II on September 2, 1945. Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur headed the US delegation, and high-ranking military men from Britain, China, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and the USSR were present to receive the Japanese surrender. Almost four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the war in the Pacific finally came to an end.
Today the USS Missouri is a beautiful museum ship at Pearl Harbor, her guns angled as if guarding the USS Arizona Memorial.
Both guided and self-guided tours are available for the USS Missouri. The approach to the ship is marked by flags and a statue of Admiral Chester Nimitz. A statue of the “Kissing Sailor” is a nice touch – a reminder of the joy in America on V-J Day when the war was over.
The main deck is dominated by the battleship’s massive 16-inch gun batteries. You can also explore the superstructure and below decks.
The highlight of the tour is seeing the exact spot where the surrender documents were signed, as well as replicas of the documents.
Thank you for joining me on my tour! And please visit the other posts: