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Posted on Sep 22, 2004 in Stuff We Like

Pearl Harbor – An Alternate History

By Wayne Cassell

Dawn found Oahu preparing for another day. To some it was a Sunday like all other Sundays, but to others it was a duty day. The alert pilots and their backups reported to the various airfields where their planes were checked for ammunition and fuel. The alert fighter pilots ran up their engines, and then settled down in the ready shack drinking coffee and napping. The radar operators were on duty and searching the sky. They started at 0400 and would remain on duty until 0900. This was in response to the heightened alert designated by General Short. They made a communication check by land line to the fighter direction center and settled in, wrapping blankets around their shoulders to keep out the predawn chill. Soldiers on duty at the anti-aircraft guns stirred and waited for their replacements to arrive.


At Kaneohe Naval Air Station (NAS), the first PBYs were taxiing into the water to take off and start their patrol. They would be patrolling primarily southwest to southeast towards Maui, looking for submarines. On board ship, it was the daily routine. Since the fleet was at Condition II, the designated gun crews manned their anti-aircraft positions on the battleships. While Condition II pertained mainly to the battleships, many cruiser and destroyer captains, correctly interpreting the increased tension in the higher command, also manned a portion of their anti-aircraft batteries.

At 0630, the stores ship Antares, towing a target barge, spotted what appeared to be a conning tower nearby. They immediately signaled Ward and Lieutenant Outerbridge commenced to attack the identified submarine with gun fire and depth charges. He also signaled 14th Naval District at 0653. Lt. Commander Kaminski informed the fleet duty officer, Commander Vincent Murphy, and was just about to hang up when Lt. Commander Logan Ramsey of Patrol Wing 2 called in with a submarine sighting by one of his planes in the same area at the same time.

That was all verification the 3 officers needed to start making decisions. The junior officers took matters into hand.

“We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area” (Smith 38).

Lt. Commander Kaminski, on his own initative, ordered additional anti-submarine patrol planes launched while his assistant called Captain Earle. Commander Murphy notified other fleet duty officers, ordered the on-call destroyer Monaghan to sortie and support Ward, and called Captain Smith. Lt. Commander Kaminski followed the newly established communications protocol and called the fighter direction center and alerted Lieutenant Kermit Tyler, the duty officer. While a submarine was not in the purview of the Army, the sense of urgency expressed by Lt. Commander Kaminski came across over the phone. Lieutenant Tyler ordered his assistants to alert the airfields and radar sites while he called Colonel Phillips. While Lieutenant Tyler was making these calls the Opana Point radar phoned in a sighting of 50 plus aircraft at a bearing of five degrees at a range of 132 miles. This was too big for the B-17 flight due in from the mainland. As the plotters at the fighter direction center laid out the path of the approaching aircraft, Lieutenant Tyler pondered his next move. Surely these were American planes from a carrier. But he remembered in the briefing before assuming the duty, that the carriers were all away. He also remembered that General Martin had stressed the need for speed in decision making and that young pilots needed to act as decisively on the ground as they did in the air. That settled it. He verified the plot and ordered his assistants to contact all the airfields and launch the alert fighters immediately and prepare to launch the rest of the fighters. In all his excitement and nervousness, he failed to inform the Navy of his decision. But it didn’t matter.

Events started moving at a rapid pace, though at times it seemed like slow motion. The newly established communication procedures worked as planned. By 0715, Admiral Kimmel ordered General Quarters. Throughout the fleet, sailors rushed to their battle stations. Boilers came on line, ammunition was broken out, and the ships prepared to execute the next orders. At Kaneohe NAS, every available PBY was prepared for take-off. General Short, on receiving the news of a possible air attack, ordered every fighter airborne to join up over the northern tip of Oahu near Kahuku Point. He put the Army on full alert and ordered the ammunition for the mobile anti-aircraft guns delivered. Lieutenant Tyler, much relieved that his decision was being acted on, reviewed the alert procedures and realized he had forgotten to call the Navy about the radar intercept. He phoned Lt. Commander Kaminski, who passed the word to Commander Logan at Ford Island who forwarded the message to Kaneohe NAS where the operations officer on duty devised a hasty patrol plan based on the reciprocal course of the intercept.

Opana Point radar continued to transmit reports, which were plotted at the fighter direction center. Unfortunately, the center could not talk directly to the airborne interceptors. At 0740 the alert fighters intercepted the Japanese first wave, which consisted of 183 aircraft. Fortunately, the Americans had an altitude advantage because they were outnumbered ten to one and the attack was uncoordinated. The P-40s made a slashing dive through the Japanese formation, hoping to disrupt the Japanese plan and use speed and confusion for protection from the Japanese ZEROs. They managed to shoot down seven bombers while only losing one of their own. As the Americans pulled out of their dives they were jumped by ten escorting ZEROs and eight American planes were shot down. As more American fighters took off, they were intercepted by the Japanese fighter escort. The planes from Haleiwa and Wheeler suffered the most as they were on the direct path of the first wave. Unable to gain altitude and unable to out turn the agile Zeros, many were shot down before getting close to the bombers. The six P-40s based at Ewa, along with 16 Marine F4Fs faired better as they were able to gain altitude. Unfortunately, they focused on the 14 ZEROs heading towards Ewa and completely missed the torpedo bombers flying down the west coast of Oahu prior to turning in towards Pearl Harbor. They initially shot down three ZEROs and lost five of their own in the first pass, but were caught low to the ground and lost another six aircraft. The ten P-40s from Bellows formed up over their airfield before flying west and engaging the flight of 26 dive bombers heading towards Pearl Harbor. Coming in from the sun, they eluded the 11 Japanese fighter units heading towards Bellows and slammed into the dive bombers, shooting down six VALs and disrupting the formation. Unfortunately, two P-40s were hit by friendly anti-aircraft fire while pulling out of their dives.

At Kaneohe NAS, the PBYs were getting airborne as fast as they could. Six were already on increased anti-submarine patrol, leaving 30 on the ground. By 0753, ten had successfully taken off before 11 ZEROs appeared. Despite the fire from many .50 caliber machine guns, the Japanese fighters strafed the base, damaging or destroying the remaining 20 PBYs, including three in the process of taking off.

Ship Positions, Pearl Harbor December 7 1941

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  1. I strongly disagree.

    While I am no historian I do believe that if the citizens knew Pearl Harbor were prepared for a sneak attack they would be less incline to believe in FDR’s push to join the war and likely protested harder knowing Pearl Harbor did it’s damn best.

  2. What a total ass! He should’ve kept it (Our US Navy) in San Diego far out of reach of any possible attack and closer to back up from air support that’s always there!

    It doesn’t take a pair of geniuses to figure out that putting our navy in one spot in the middle of the Pacific far from outside help is a dangerous path at best. If not from WW2 a different event would’ve done it later such as Korea maybe.

    At least in San Diego the fuel carriers of the Japanese had no chance of penetrating that far without worry of fuel loss and since it’s in mainland would be much closer to resistance if San Diego were attacked for whatever reason our US Air force would be right there!.

    It would be pure suicidal to Japan both it’s people and economy (whatever was left of it) to attempt a sneak attack on San Diego.

  3. BTW: Did you know weather forecasting other then basic temps of yesterday’s high and low and precip was banned due to war measures?