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“A Pitiful, Unholy Mess”: the Histories of Wheeler, Bellows, and Haleiwa Fields and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941

26 October 2022

“A Pitiful, Unholy Mess”: the Histories of Wheeler, Bellows, and Haleiwa Fields and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941, J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John F. Di Virgilio, 2022, ISBN 9781682476024, 336 pp.

“A Pitiful, Unholy Mess”: the Histories of Wheeler, Bellows, and Haleiwa Fields and the Japanese Attacks of 7 December 1941 by authors J. Michael Wenger, Robert J. Cressman, and John F. Di Virgilio

Authors Wenger, Cressman, and Di Virgilio have gone beyond the trifecta and scored a fourth success in their unique and unusual book series (Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies) about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy. This series is unique for their research and writing skills. And, this series is unusual for their style of successfully detailing strategic and tactical decisions by participants on both sides—all the while addressing the important but small details. It is the small details, personal experiences and impressions of the moment, which makes the humanity of this history visceral to the readers.

Like the three previous books, in this series, the authors start before the beginning. In A Pitiful, Unholy Mess readers understand how the Army established these air fields (recall the Navy was thoroughly written of in previous books of the series) at Wheeler, Bellows and Haleiwa. Not usually discussed in other books the authors describe, with citations and references, discussion between the Army and the Navy to transfer Army aircraft (Curtiss P-40s) to Wake Island and Midway by aircraft carrier. Curiously, no mention was made by either service branch as to how these aircraft might return as they could not land aboard an aircraft carrier though they would have flown off them to deploy. The authors have the facts and the tonnages of the logistics involved as well as how many tents would be required for the additional personnel. An amazing amount of detail to give readers an appreciation of military planning when it comes to logistics and keeping aircraft flying.

Readers will also learn how these air fields were set up, the planning as well as logistics involved, and training schedules. Army aircraft stationed on Oahu began with P-26s but were soon replaced with P-36 and P-40 aircraft.  Drawings of the fields and aircraft placements during the attack are plentiful as well as detailed accounts of dogfights, bombing runs and dozens of photos showing individual combatants of both sides—as well as civilians.

Once again the authors have covered any dimension readers may desire for comprehensive understanding of Imperial Japan’s attacks on these Army air fields during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Additionally, readers will learn the U.S. military was prepared in large part though expected first attacks on Wake or Midway before Hawaii. Also, the incredibly unfortunate timing of full dress inspections and constant alerts is better undertsood. Individual accounts abound—both of heroism and bad luck. The captioning of the images is complete as are the citations as well as the index.

A Pitiful, Unholy Mess  is a proud fourth companion to the book series published by the Naval Institute Press—the Pearl Harbor Tactical Studies series:

I suggest joining the U.S. Naval Institute—it is inexpensive, no requirement for military service and there are significant savings when purchasing from the Naval Institute Press.      

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