On 7 December 1941, the "Day of Infamy," the United States and its armed forces were plunged into the most costly war in history. The Air Force story of 7 December is told in its entirety for the first time in this fascinating volume. Often times the heroism and anguish of airmen at Wheeler, Hickam, and Bellows have been overshadowed by the main event, the attack on Pearl Harbor itself. 7 December 1941: The Air Force Story corrects this oversight. The Japanese attack on the airfields of Oahu was an integral part of their overall plan, and their objectives were achieved. The Hawaiian Air Force was dealt a crippling blow, despite often heroic efforts to counter the attack. But we recovered quickly, and soon air power was to play a major role in winning the war in the Pacific theater. Today 7 December stands as an important symbol in our history. The day of infamy reminds us of the need to maintain the nation's defense at a high state of readiness. It also symbolizes the beginning of nearly four years of war in the Pacific, in a geographical area stretching from the Aleutians to Australia.
Few people understand why the Hawaiian Air Force was so unprepared to accomplish its air defense mission or realize the extent of the damage and casualties it sustained on that "Day of Infamy." This book is an attempt to remedy that situation, and the events and actions of the US Army Air Forces on 7 December are told in the following pages. In this writing we have attempted to answer several important questions. Why was the Imperial Japanese Navy able to devastate the Hawaiian Air Force with little to no opposition? Why was the American air arm with over 200 aircraft, including long-range bombers, six radar stations, a trained ground observer unit, and extensive antiaircraft weapons units unable to perform its primary job of protecting the fleet? Why were all available aircraft unarmed and lined up like sitting ducks on the flight line at each base? Why were the radar stations shut down at 0700 on the morning of the attack? Where was the central fighter control unit, and why was it not activated prior to the attack?
To a large extent this work is based on primary source documentation. We have included numerous anecdotes from firsthand accounts of individuals who were stationed at Hawaiian Air Force installations prior to and during the attack. They provide insight into military life during an assignment in "Paradise" which turned into a "Hell in Paradise" on 7 December 1941. We hope these tales of horror, heroism, fear, and even humor bring to life the events of that day.
Our story begins with a look at the overall position of the Hawaiian Air Force before that fateful morning—its leadership, assigned personnel and aircraft, and air defense system. Next, we examine in detail the three main airfields on Oahu—Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows—to determine what duty was like at these installations, training activities, the condition of equipment, and morale of the men. We then go into the actual attack, first describing the overall action, then detailing what occurred at each of the major bases, concluding with a discussion of events that took place after the attack.