'This means war' _ New AP book draws on Pearl Harbor reports

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Seventy-five years after the Japanese attack on Hawaii that brought the United States into World War II, The Associated Press is publishing "Pearl Harbor: An AP Special Anniversary Edition." The e-book explores the historic relationship between Japan and the U.S. and details events of Dec. 7, 1941, drawing on reporting from the time, including iconic photography, as well as material from AP archives. Here is an excerpt.


That December, Americans were reading Edna Ferber's best-seller, "Saratoga Trunk," at $2.50 a copy. For 55 cents, they could get a matinee seat on Broadway to see Lillian Hellman's anti-Nazi play, "Watch on the Rhine." For $38 you could buy an expensive suit at Rogers Peet in New York. Or "miracle" nylons for $1.65.

Against the "noise" of such everyday facts of life, President Franklin Roosevelt was trying to cajole a reluctant, isolationist nation into his belief that the world's wars would eventually reach it. After consultation with the British, the American military had decided that the war in Europe was its first concern and anything that might eventuate in the Pacific, second. But the nation was ill prepared for either.

The technological marvel of radar, which for the first time gave commanders battlefield vision beyond the horizon, had just been developed. Since Thanksgiving, five sets had been stationed on Hawaii ... The Army had asked permission to put them atop high points where they could see farthest. Gov. John Poindexter and the National Park Service refused. They would blemish the landscape.

Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, Army commander in Hawaii, thought the best use of radar, for the moment, was for training. Nonetheless, after receiving a "war warning" from Washington on Nov. 28, Short had the sets fire up at 4 a.m. instead of 6. They were to stay on until 7 a.m. Short thought dawn the most dangerous time for any attack.

While Short's primary duty was to protect the huge Pearl Harbor naval installation, his real worry was potential sabotage from the 157,905 residents of Japanese blood in the islands. One-quarter of the first generation immigrants were still Japanese citizens. Two-thirds of the nisei, or second generation, had dual citizenship. As a safeguard, he had his Army Air Corps fighters, including 90 top-line P-40s, disarmed and bunched together so they could be guarded more easily against saboteurs. He did the same with his Flying Fortresses, the four-engined B-17 bombers.

The Army anti-aircraft unit that protected Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor was actually stationed 15 miles and a ferry ride away at Camp Malakole. Daily they carted the guns in and reassembled them. On Dec. 7 the men were given a day off. Indeed, only one-quarter of the anti-aircraft guns at Pearl Harbor were manned, only four of the Army's 31 batteries. For fear of sabotage and because it "was apt to disintegrate and get dusty," the ammunition was in storage under lock and key. It was often hard to find who had the keys. Particularly on weekends.

Short's counterpart, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander of the Pacific Fleet, had also cut down the daily 300-mile oil patrols set up by his predecessor, Adm. James O. Richardson. The pilots protested that flying seven days a week was wearing out them and their 60 PBY Catalinas.

When Army fighters buzzed a ceremonial aloha as the steamer Lurline left Honolulu Dec. 3, they returned to Hickam Field where they were once again bunched together. The estimate was they could be dispersed in 30 to 35 minutes and be gassed, armed and airborne in four hours, plenty of time after any foreseeable attack warning.

Not all heads were in the sand at Pearl Harbor. Capt. Ellis Zacharias, formerly in naval intelligence and now skipper of cruiser Salt Lake City, said in November there would be no sabotage from local Japanese. "The attack would conform to their historical procedure, that of attacking before war was declared," he told a friend. Tipping off civilians in advance risked losing surprise through leaks.

It was obvious, however, as the weekend of Dec. 7 began that the Japanese were going to jump somewhere. And Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox told a private group in Washington Dec. 4: "The Navy is not going to be caught napping."

Two days later at a Saturday meeting at the Navy Department, Knox asked his admirals: "Gentlemen, are they going to hit us?"

"No, Mr. Secretary," replied Rear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, "they're going to hit the British. They aren't ready for us yet."

Knox accepted this even though earlier he had written War Secretary Henry Stimson: "If war eventuates with Japan, it is ... easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the fleet or the naval base at Pearl Harbor."

Early in December Kimmel had told Joseph C. Harsch of the Christian Science Monitor: "Moscow is not going to fall this winter. That means that the Japanese cannot attack us in the Pacific without running the risk of a two-front war. The Japanese are too smart to run that risk."

The evidence farther west was to the contrary. Catalinas of Adm. Thomas C. Hart's Asian Fleet in Manila had spotted on Dec. 2 about 20 Japanese transports and warships in Cam Ranh Bay in Indo-China. Next day there were 30. And the next day they were all gone. On Dec. 6, U.S. Ambassador John G. Winant sent an "urgent" to Washington from London that 35 transports, eight cruisers and 20 destroyers in two armadas were headed for the Kra Peninsula in British Malaya. The significance was lost but there were no carriers.

Flight Lt. John Lockwood of the Royal Australian Air Force had been one of the spotters from an RAAF Hudson. In fact, he got so close the Japanese shot at him. On landing he told his mates: "I'm the first to be fired on in this war." Except for millions of Chinese and, unofficially some Russians, he was right.

That same day Hart had been host to his counterpart for the British Asiatic Fleet based in Singapore, Vice Adm. Sir Tom Phillips. Hart told him unidentified planes had overflown Clark Field the last three nights. This was home base for Gen. Douglas MacArthur's air force. Believed to be closer to any Japanese target, he had priority over Hawaii for new planes. MacArthur so far had received 107 new fighters of a promised 240 and 35 of 165 B-17s.

Phillips told Hart he'd better be getting back to Singapore and would leave the next morning, Dec. 7, Washington time.

Said Hart: "If you want to be there when the war starts, I suggest taking off right now..."


The Honolulu Star-Bulletin front-paged for its Saturday edition, Dec. 6, a story fittingly illustrated by an Army sentry standing by an American flag. The caption read: "Army on the alert."

Lt. Cmdr. Edwin T. Layton, intelligence officer for the Pacific Fleet, was worried. The radio eavesdroppers who monitored Japan's naval signals to try and track warship movements hadn't been able to pinpoint the location of their carriers. This was not unprecedented. The Navy had "lost" the carriers 12 times in the last six months. Usually this was because they were in home port in contact by land telephone lines instead of radio. Nonetheless, coupled with much radio "noise" and intercepted codes that indicated Japan's fleet was moving south, the carriers' absence in the picture was bothersome. Layton had prepared a report on the carriers for Kimmel a few days before. He had to confess he could only assume they were in home waters but couldn't be sure.

"What!" the admiral exploded. "You don't know where Carrier Division 1 and Carrier Division 2 are?"

"No, sir, I do not. I think they are in home waters, but I do not know. . . The rest of these units, I feel pretty confident of their locations."

Halfway between jest and cold eye from the bridge, Kimmel said: "Do you mean to say that they could be rounding Diamond Head and you wouldn't know it?"

"I hope they would be sighted before now," said the abashed intelligence officer.

On that last Saturday of peace, Layton took Winant's warning of the Malaya-bound Japanese armada over to Vice Adm. William Pye on Battleship Row. Pye asked his opinion on the significance. Layton said the question was whether the Japanese would take the Philippines on their way south.

"Do you think they will leave their flank open?" asked the admiral.

"They never have," Layton replied.

"They will never go to war with the United States," said the admiral. "We're too big, too powerful. Too strong." He turned to his chief of staff, Capt. Harold C. Train. "Harold, do you agree?" ''Emphatically."

Pearl had received its war warning a week ago, but this did not mean peacetime life did not go on under the aloha trade wind skies. That afternoon, locals cheered on the University of Hawaii as they took visiting gridders from stateside Willamette University, 20-6.

Uncle Sam's two carriers in the Pacific (the third, Saratoga, was in a yard on the West Coast under repair) were playing a deadlier game. Lexington was delivering planes to Midway Island to beef up its defense. Enterprise, Adm. William "Bull" Halsey commanding, was doing the same for the garrison at Wake Island. Lexington, in fact, had been spotted by Japanese sub 1-74 which began tracking her. The sub could not fire torpedoes, however. Orders were to lay low until 8 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 7, Hawaiian time. No explanation was given.

Halsey assumed the worst and ordered his Task Force 8 to operate under war conditions. Any Japanese shipping was to be sunk, any of their planes shot down.

His operations officer, Cmdr. William A. Buracker, protested. "Goddamit, admiral, you can't start a private war of your own. Who's going to take the responsibility?"

"I'll take it," said Halsey. "If anything gets in my way, we'll shoot first and argue afterward."

Maneuvering, however, had cost Enterprise time. It was going to be late for its scheduled Sunday morning docking at Pearl. The crew moaned at losing half a weekend liberty. They took consolation in watching Gary Cooper play Sergeant York on the ship's movie screen. There would be no carriers in port that Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor.

Some 2,300 miles away, Maj. Gen. H.H. "Hap" Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps, had traveled to Hamilton Field near Sacramento to personally see off a flight of 13 B-17s destined for MacArthur in the Philippines by way of Hawaii. The first leg to Hickam Field took 14 hours, so the big bombers flew with only four-man crews and were unarmed. One of the pilots objected. At least they ought to carry their bomb sights and machine guns. Arnold said they could be put aboard but without ammunition to save weight.

So the bombers could home in on its signal, Maj. Gen. Frederick L. Martin, head of the Hawaiian Air Force, had his staff ask station WGMB in Honolulu to stay on all night. Sure thing, general. Another night of ukuleles and Glenn Miller drifting out across the Pacific courtesy of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

When Lt. Col. George W. Bicknell of Army intelligence heard about it, he blew up. Why tip our hands whenever we have planes coming in? Why not keep WGMB on the air every night?

One of those who caught the station was Lt. Kermit Tyler on his way to work the graveyard shift at the radar coordinating station at Fort Shafter. Must be planes coming in from the States, he told himself.


Washington was tense that Saturday. Code breakers had already read 13 parts of a 14-part message from Tokyo to its negotiators in Washington, Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo Kurusu.

Nomura, was a former admiral who had been summoned from retirement in 1940 to be ambassador to Washington. He was an unlikely choice. He was well disposed to the Americans, who admired his sincerity ... He walked with a limp, having been wounded by a terrorist in Shanghai in 1932. Nomura had low expectations that he could bring peace between his homeland and a nation he admired. After the war he told Gordon W. Prange, perhaps the definitive chronicler of Pearl Harbor: "When a big house falls, one pillar cannot stop it."

This Saturday his embassy was doing its best. A reduced staff was hung over from a farewell party given departing colleagues. Because stenographers were not allowed to read top-secret messages, embassy staffer Katsuzo Okamura was drafted to type out the 14-part message. And he was not the best typist in the world. In fact, the code breakers had read copies of the text before the Japanese embassy did.

The text said that the 14th and last part of the message would be transmitted later. Sometime after 9 p.m., Lt. Cmdr. Alwin D. Kramer of the Navy's translation section delivered the pouch with the first 13 parts to the White House.

The president's wife, Eleanor, was hosting a party, but Roosevelt preferred the seclusion of his White House study and the company of his chief aide, Harry Hopkins. Roosevelt read the message, then turned to Hopkins: "This means war."

"Since war is undoubtedly going to come at the convenience of the Japanese, it's too bad we can't strike the first blow," Hopkins mused.

"No, we can't do that," Roosevelt cautioned. "We are a democracy and a peaceful people. But we have a good record."

Roosevelt was about to pick up the phone and inform Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold R. Stark, but thought better of it. Stark was attending a performance of "The Student Prince," and Roosevelt didn't want to upset the audience by publicly paging the Navy's commander.

Roosevelt had other things on his mind as well. He had just sent a last-minute message to Emperor Hirohito hoping the two leaders could head off war. ". . . Both of us. . . have a sacred duty to restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world," the president had written.


EDITOR'S NOTE — This is an excerpt from "Pearl Harbor: An AP Special Anniversary Edition," which is available in print and e-book at Amazon.com .