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This Is No Drill—the second of three

14 December 2020

“This Is No Drill”: the History of NAS Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941, J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John F. Di Virgilio, 2018, ISBN 9781682471814, 260 pp.

“This Is No Drill” is the second title (the first book was reviewed in the previous post) of a trilogy centered upon the disastrous series of attacks by the Japanese Empire bringing the U.S. directly into World War II. The authors create a unique approach, as well, by researching the details of a myriad of individual actions—both U.S. and Japanese—and knitting them into the tapestry of the actions at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The three authors collectively possess expertise and proficiency beyond most individual analyses. Photographic images are investigated with every detail extracted and matched to individual events which creates an extraordinary comprehension of the day for the reader. The title is a quote from an urgent public announcement made on the base at the opening of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) attack—as the U.S. Navy (USN) had been preparing for war, from a decidedly peacetime footing, during the previous months with many drills.

The trilogy is:

  • “No One Avoided Danger”: NAS Kaneohe Bay and the Japanese Attack on of 7 December 1941 (see the previous post for a review)
  • “This Is No Drill”: the History of NAS Pearl Harbor and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941
  • “They’re Killing My Boys!”: the History of Hickam Field and the Attacks of 7 December 1941 (see the subsequent post for a review)

The unique writing and presentation by this trio of authors continues from the first title in this trilogy. Their method brings both an overall understanding of events combined with a feeling of relatable experience since the U.S., as well as IJN, personnel become unusually well known to the reader—intimately combined with details of their lives and service or family photographs.

Located on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, NAS Pearl Harbor served as a scouting base with nearly 80 Consolidated PBY Catalina aircraft mixed with shorter ranged utility and scouting aircraft. It was also adjacent to Pearl Harbor Naval Base where warships were tied up as well as in dry dock. NAS Pearl Harbor underwent quite a transformation through the pre-war years as well as build up in the few months prior to December 1941. The authors describe this history quite well and provide a solid feel of service life there by describing the off-base haunts, costs, duty schedules and command thinking. That thinking at the time had little illusion about Japan’s intent to initiate war, somehow. Likely an attack in the Philippines as well as Malaysia. Efforts, then, at NAS Pearl Harbor were concentrated on patrol crew training, pushing aircraft and crews to other facilities such as the Philippines, Midway and Wake. Submarine patrols were in designated areas—submarines detected in non designated areas were to be immediately attacked—as submarines along with saboteurs were deemed the primary threats at the time. The capability of the IJN was unknown through lack of intelligence or underestimated due to racial bias—which was especially prevalent in the day.

To say Pearl was a target rich opportunity would be a tremendous understatement. The IJN’s chief objective was to eliminate the USN’s Pacific Squadron, especially the battleships and aircraft carriers—as well as aviation assets in order to protect their carrier task force from reprisal efforts. And to say the IJN aerial attack went off without a hitch, though it was quite quite effective, would be incorrect and is one of the many revelations in “This Is No Drill”—and there are many more, a few of them are:

  • The initial attack was planned to first lead with torpedo bombers (Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 “Kates”) but a section of dive bombers (Aichi D3A1 Type 99 “Vals”) went on ahead of them. Why? We cannot know for sure but the authors describe the events and the pilots for the reader to decide.
  • Readers learn of heroic actions taken during the actual waves of attacks to save aircraft (about half of the PBY Catalinas were thus saved) and fellow servicemen. Lighters and whaleboats constantly making way among the strafing, bombing, fires and spent shrapnel as well as debris constantly raining down—rescuing sailors, fighting fires, collecting the grist of war. The photo of a whaleboat towing a sailor away from the USS West Virginia is striking. The sailor’s face is quite easy to miss but the authors ferreted the detail and is another example of their extraordinary method.
  • A number of IJN bombs failed to detonate or even missed, notably those from the dive bombers (Aichi D3A1 Type 99 ”Vals”). Many bomb hits were individually catalogued by the authors—an amazing level of detailed analysis and well presented.
  • USN pilots and aircrew (often impromptu) flew patrols as soon as possible though flying aircraft which were all but defenseless (e.g., Curtiss SOC Seagulls, Grumman J2F Ducks, Vought OS2U Kingfishers and a single Sikorsky JRS-1 [S-43 in civilian role] flying boat). They flew these aircraft knowing, if they found the IJN forces, they would not live long after their radio report—yet there was no shortage of volunteers for these imperative missions.
  • Ensign Theodore Marshall commandeering a Vought SB2U Vindicator during the raid to follow the IJN aircraft as they returned to their carriers. And that was after he was shot out of a Grumman F4F Wildcat while on the ground under taxi.
  • The post-raid and tragic destruction of five F4F Wildcats lost due to friendly fire, with the loss of three of the pilots, after the flight leader apparently ignored specific instructions from the tower on Ford Field.
  • The killing of an IJN aviator who had survived a crash into the waters of Pearl Harbor by a Marine sentry with the attendant, possibly not required, loss of a potential intelligence asset.

These and many more significant details are presented in this book and in the trilogy overall. To better understand the scope of the attacks (which simultaneously occurred at NAS Kaneohe as well as Hickman Army Air Field)—and the context of the times—this trilogy is vital, a necessity. The final book in this trilogy will be reviewed in the next post.

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