Sunday, December 7th, 1941
Japan's first act of war that day is not the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but the laying of mines off the coast of Malaya to cover the
British planes on Malaya had difficulties with low thick clouds, yet on several occasions they could see the Japanese
invasion fleet steaming toward Malaya.
The reports were, however, so unclear, that they couldn't make a clear picture of which place they were sailing toward.
At the end they dispatched two Catalina flying boats further to the north to observe the bays on the west coast of Indochina.
One plane returned, not noticing anything, while the second plane never returned.
The PBY Catalina flying boat of No.205 RAF Squadron captained by Flying Officer Bedell was shot down by Japanese aircraft whilst
attempting to monitor the progress of the Japanese fleet and all his crew died.
They were the first Allied casualties of the war with Japan.
Shortly after midnight the Indian guards at Kota Bharu observed three large transport ships dropping
anchor approximately 3 km from the coast.
Several minutes afterwards the shelling started.
Rough seas and strong winds hampered the operation and a number of smaller craft capsized.
Several Japanese soldiers drowned.
Despite these difficulties by 12.45 the first wave of landing craft carrying troops under the command of Colonel Masu were heading for the
beach in four lines.
The Japanese soldiers, the veterans of the 56th Infantry Regiment, came ashore, and ran into stiff machinegun fire from British and Indian
troops of the 8th Indian Brigade (Brigadier B.W. Key).
After a short and tough fight with Key's Indians, the Japanese managed to create a solid bridgehead.
Having been alerted of the Japanese landing, Hudsons of No.1 RAAF Squadronn began taking off to bomb the transports.
Despite the intensity of the AA gunfire, the Allied planes scored several hits and severly damaged the ships.
In the meantime, thousands of sea miles away from Kota Bharu, the Japanese Striking Force (Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo)
consisting of six large aircraft carriers (Zuikaku, Shokaku, Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu and Kaga),
two battleships, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser and nine destroyers reached its final point, approximately 275 miles north of the
Hawaii Islands from where the attack planes would take off.
Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo hoists a battle flag on his carrier Akagi's signal block, the same one the famous Admiral Heihachiro Togo
flew at the battle of Tsushima in 1905.
Shortly after that, his six aircraft carriers dispatch 366 planes in two waves at Pearl Harbor.
The first wave (189 planes) is led by Captain Mitsuo Fuchida.
Each plane is greeted with a loud battle cry "Banzai" by flight-deck personnel aboard the carriers.
At 7:50 a.m., Fuchida's group (36 Val dive bombers) arrived over Pearl Harbor to find the defenses unmanned, no AA fire or fighter patrols.
"We've made it!" he says, and sends the famous "Tora,Tora, Tora," message, which is heard by Nagumo on Akagi and in Japan.
Only then do the Japanese drop their first bombs on Ford Island and torpedoes in the water.
One of the first torpedoes hit the light cruiser Raleigh and the old battleship Utah.
The Japanese planes attacked simultaneously from three directions, grooving torpedoes up the harbor.
They sink five battleships, the pride of the US Pacific Fleet, in only 20 minutes.
From Ford Island they could see USN battleship Oklahoma being hit by a torpedo and exploding.
Several minutes afterwards the USN battleship Arizona meets her fate when a bomb hits her ammunition depot, causing a
horrible explosion, immediately killing 1,117 sailors, including Rear-Admiral Isaac Campbell Kidd.
Also USS California and USS West Virginia are hit by torpedoes and bombs, and sink while USS Nevada
is forced to ground herself at Barber's Point.
Shortly after that the second wave (171 planes) under the command of Lt.Cdr. Shigekazu Shimazaki arrived and finished the job.
Around 9:45 a.m., the last Japanese planes withdraw.
They leave behind complete devastation in the harbor.
All battleships, including many other ships, in the harbor were either sunk or in flames and covered with thick black smoke.
The burning oil on the water was everywhere and the air was full of voices of wounded who were seeking help.
In the meantime Nagumo orders his fleet to withdraw.
He concludes that the attack was successfull and that he won't press his luck with a second attack, as he fears any counter-attack by
US carriers and submarines who were not present in the harbor at the time of the attack.
Four battleships, one minelayer and one target ship are sunk:
Killed or missing:
Out of an attack force of 31 ships and 353 raiding planes the Japanese lost "only" 29 aircraft, five midget submarines, and 64 men (55 airmen). Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, unable to find the entrance into Pearl Harbor, abandons his small midget submarine, swims ashore, becoming the first, and for a while the only Japanese Prisoner Of War. In a way the Japanese were disappointed with the results of the attack, as they also hoped to sink any of the large US aicraft carriers, which were at the time of the attack on various duties on the open sea. The Enterprise was returning to Pearl Harbor on 7 December after having flown off VMF-211's fighters to Wake Island, the Lexington, enroute to Midway with VMSB-231's planes, turned back when news of the attack was received, and the Saratoga was in a dockyard on the West Coast of the United States.
Shortly after the raid, the staff of the Japanese consulate in Honolulu (including Consul-General Mr. Nagao Kita, Vice-Consul Mr. Otojiro Okuda, and chancellor Takeo Yoshikawa alias Tadashi Morimura - a naval intelligence officer), were being interned by FBI and local police in the consulate building, until being transported in March 1942 to an internement camp in Arizona. The spy Yoshikawa and his superiors ultimately were exchanged for American diplomats being held in Japan.
Midway Atoll is bombarded by Japanese destroyers Akebono and Ushio, but they're repulsed by the island defenders commanded by Commander Cyril T. Simard. The enemy fire has cost the 6th Marine Defense Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Harold D. Shannon) two killed and ten wounded, and in addition two men from the naval air station were killed and nine wounded.
Just a few hours before the Pearl Harbor attack, Brigadier E.F. Lind, receives orders to move his Gull Force (a battalion size unit) to Ambon Island. The Gull Force numbered approximately 1,170 men (2/21 AIF Battalion plus some other auxiliary troops), and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel L.N. Roach. He had no idea what he was expected to accomplish and had received no clear orders.
At 2:30 p.m. in Washington, an hour after the attack begins, Japanese Ambassador Admiral Kichisaboru Nomura finally presents his note (declaration of war) to Foreign Secretary Cordell Hull, who already knows of the attack. President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders mobilization.
At dawn two flights of Hudson bombers, No.13 Squadron RAAF, flew to Laha Airfield at Ambon and one flight, No.12 Squadron RAAF, to Koepang (Dutch West Timor).
Monday, December 8th, 1941
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the Government and its Emperor looking towards the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after the Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While the reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
Address to a Joint Session of the Congress
December 8, 1941
The United States of America, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua declare war on Japan.
The Striking Force (including USS heavy cruiser Houston) of the US Asiatic Fleet (Rear-Admiral W. A. Glassford) departs the port of Iloilo, Philippines, for Makassar Strait, Netherlands East Indies.
In Shanghai, the British-American International Settlement, falls quickly into Japanese hands. The British gunboat HMS Peterel (Lt. Steve Polkinghorn), is scuttled. However, the US gunboat USS Wake (PR-3), after a stiff fight, is captured after an attempt to scuttle fails. It is later pressed into Japanese service [Wake is the only United States Ship to surrender during the World War Two]. The US Marine detachments in Tientsin (Major Luther A. Brown) and Peiping (Colonel William W. Ashurst), in total approximately 200 men, including the embassy marine guard at Beijing, are swiftly overwhelmed. The Japanese troops surrounded their barracks in strength and demanded their surrender. Colonel Ashurst, after a short consideration, ordered his men to lay down their arms. The Japanese intern all American Marines and civilian nationals at Tientsin and Shanghai, China.
The S.S. President Harrison, en route to evacuate Marine detachments and an embassy guard in China from Chingwangtao docks, runs aground at Sha Wai Shan, and is captured by the Japanese.
Japanese aircraft in widely scattered operations bomb several targets - Guam, Wake, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Philippine Islands.
At dawn the first Japanese troops (a naval combat unit of 490 men) on Philippine soil went ashore on Batan Island in Luzon Strait, north of Luzon, Philippines.
British Admiral Sir Tom Phillips takes his striking force consisting of battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle cruiser HMS Repulse, accompany by destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Express, HMS Tenedos and HMAS Vampire, to sea to destroy the Japanese convoys off Kota Bharu and Singora (Thailand).
Tuesday, December 9th, 1941
Shortly after 03:00 hours, Japanese aircraft attack Nichols Field. The US Far East Air Force strength is practically reduced by half. Only 17 of 35 B-17s still remain in use. More than 55 P-40s have been destroyed.
China declares war on Germany, Italy and Japan. The Netherlands breaks off diplomatic relations with Thailand.
Japanese troops occupy Bangkok, Thailand's capital. Thailand under the leadership of General Piboen Songgram promptly signs an alliance with Japan. The Japanese troops (5th Army Division and 18th Army Division) land at several places on the Thai coast, heading into north Malaya, through dense jungles. Their final destination is Singapore.
At 15:15 hours the officer at the periscope of Japanese submarine I-65 (Cpt. Harada) noticed the shadows of two unknown ships, which he at first mistakes for destroyers. Also aboard the vessel is Captain Teraoka, commander of the 30th Submarine Flotilla, who concludes, after a long search through various manuals, that the "shadows" belong to a British battleship and a battle cruiser. The captain immediately sent a telegram to the high command in Saigon, but Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa didn't receive it until two hours later.
Guam Island is again bombed by Japanese Saipan-based bombers. The Insular Force Guard (the 80 men strong Guamanian infantry unit) is posted to protect government buildings in Agana. The US Marines from Sumay military barracks continued to improve their rifle range defenses for forthcoming invasion.
Wednesday, December 10th, 1941
Guam falls! At 04:00 hours some 400 Japanese troops of the 5th Defence Force from Saipan Island came ashore at Dungcas Beach, north of Agana. While advancing toward the island's capital, Agana, some Japanese troops clash with the Insular Force Guard unit. In the meantime the South Seas Detached Force (app. 5,500 men) under the command of Major-General Tomitaro Horii made separate landings at Tumon Bay in the north, on the southwest coast near Merizo, and on the eastern shore of the island at Talafofo Bay. At Agana, the lightly-armed Guamanians, commanded by Marine First Lieutenant Charles S. Todd, stood off the early Japanese attacks, but had to retreat. The Japanese were simply too strong. The island's governor and military commander, Captain G.J. McMillin, decided not to endanger the lives of the thousands of civilians and soldiers in his charge by any further resistance. Shortly after 06:00 hours he surrendered the island to the Japanese naval commander and sent orders to the US marine detachment of approximately 122 men (Lieutenant Colonel William K. McNulty) at Sumay Barracks not to resist. The word did not reach all defenders, and scattered fighting continued throughout the day as the Japanese spread out to complete the occupation of the island. Soon all resistance ended, and the entire garrison of approximately 430 men surrendered. The total garrison losses were 19 killed and 42 wounded, including four Marines killed and 12 wounded. Apparently only one Japanese soldier was killed.
Japanese troops cross Thai-Malaya border and met no resistance. The British-Indian troops felt back to Jitra defence position.
Japanese troops, the 2nd Formosan Infantry Regiment (Colonel Tohru Tanaka), also came ashore in the Philippines at Aparri, Gonzaga, and Vigan. They quickly overwhelmed weak units of 11th Philippine Army Division (Colonel William E. Brougher). Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft completely destroy the US Navy Base at Cavite, near Manila, destroying almost all harbour facilities (including 200 torpedoes), and sinking the submarine USS Sealion. About 500 men have been killed or wounded. After this, the US Asiatic Fleet commander Admiral Thomas C. Hart orders the remnants of his fleet to sail for the Dutch East Indies or Singapore.
Black day for the British Royal Navy! HMS Prince of Wales (Cpt. John Leach), one of Britain's newest King George class battleships,
and HMS Repulse (Cpt. William Tennant), have to abort their mission to attack Japanese shipping off Singora and Kota Bharu.
During the night the reconnaisance plane piloted by Lieutenant Takeda drops a flare rocket above the
cruiser Chokai, which he has mistaken for a British battleship.
Admiral Phillips saw the flare and concludes that he was spotted by the Japanese, therefore, he set course back to Singapore.
The irony is, had the British held their course for a few more minutes, they would have met with the Ozawa's fleet.
On their way back to Singapore, the British fleet is, after a long search, finally spotted by a Japanese G3M2 reconnaissance plane Mitsubishi,
piloted by Sergeant Masame Hoashi of Genzan Air Corps.
Rear-Admiral Sadaichi Macunaga, the commander of 22nd (Formosan) Koku Sentai hurls 94 planes (9 reconnaissance, 34 heavy bombers and 51
torpedo bombers) at the two battleships and four destroyers, which have no fighter cover.
Phillips knew the fact, that he can't get any fighter cover, even before he sailed out on the open sea, as Air Vice-Marshal Pulford,
the RAF commander for Malaya, promptly informed him that the Royal Air Force would be in no position to provide any fighter cover to his fleet
due to the Japanese air superiority in Northern Malaya.
The Japanese planes, guided by highly trained Japanese naval aviators, quickly cripple HMS Prince of Wales with six torpedoes in the
propeller flats, which flood the engine room, while another series of five torpedoes slam into Repulse.
Both ships are sunk.
In all, 840 officers and men drown, including Captain John Leach and Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, who makes no attempt to leave the ship.
Saved are 2,101 men, from both ships.
Many of them are wounded or covered with oil.
The last moments of HMS Prince of Wales were watched by eleven Brewster Buffalo fighters of 453rd RAAF Fighter Squadron
(Flt.Lt. Tim Vigors) from Sembavang airfield.
They had to quickly fly back to their base due shortage of fuel.
The Japanese lose only three aircraft:
Off the coast of the Philippines, two surviving B-17s of the 14th Heavy
Bombardment Squadron tried to bomb a Japanese convoy at Gonzaga. They
had taken off from Clark Field at about 0:930 hours with orders to
attack and sink the naval vessels and transports off Aparri and
Gonzaga. A B-17 piloted by Captain Colin P. Kelly Jr. decided to attack
what he thought was a large battleship, later presumed to be the Haruna.
Of the three bombs, one is supposed to have been a direct hit, and two
are near misses. As the plane flew away from the ship, they could see
black smoke rising in a heavy cloud about it.
Enroute back, Kelly's plane is heavily attacked by two Japanese
fighters Zeros and shot down. All of the crew (including bombardier
Meyer Levin) except Kelly bailed out safely. Then his B-17 crashes.
Captain Kelly's body was later recovered in the wreckage. He is later
posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for
"destroying a battleship". However, later information and research
reveals that he probably attacked the heavy cruiser Ashigara, probably scoring some near misses.
Japanese troops land on Camiguin Island, north of Luzon.
American carrier-based aircraft sink the Japanese submarine I-170 off the Hawaii Islands.
Japanese naval troops (Gillberts Invasion Special Landing Force with ca. 300 men plus labourers) landed on Makin Island and Tarawa Island, Gillbert Islands (a British colony) and occupied them without resistance.
Thursday, December 11th, 1941
Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy declare war on the United States of America. The Netherlands declares war on Italy.
The hour of truth has come for the heroic defenders of Wake Island. The island is defended by a garrison of 38 officers and 485 enlisted men (449 Marines and 68 Navy Sailors), who are reinforced by approximately 1,200 civilian contract employees finishing the island's airfield. On the airfield is stationed Marine Air Squadron VMF-112 (Major Paul A. Putnam) with 12 F4F Grumman Wildcats. The commander of Wake Island was USN Commander Winfield S. Cunningham (also commanding the U.S. Naval Air Station), while Major James P.S. Devereux commanded the marine detachment of 1st Marine Defense Battalion (app. 450 Marines). The Japanese invasion force, consisted of three light cruisers, six destroyers and two transports carrying an Imperial Marine detachment (app. 450 SNLF troops), approached Wake cautiously, continuing on a northwesterly course through the heavy sea and high winds. The invasion force was under the command Rear-Admiral Sadamichi Kajioka. Approaching from the south, the cruisers and destroyers began shelling the atoll at 5:22 hours in the morning. About forty minutes later the force had approached to within 2,500 yards of Wake, and the transports were moving in, closely escorted by the destroyers. At 6:10 hours the Marine coastal artillery opened fire. At the southern tip of Wake Island - on Peacock Point - Lieutenant Clarence Barninger's battery engaged Kajioka's flagship, the light cruiser Yubari, and scored four direct hits. The Marine gunners from tiny Peale Island commanded by Sergeant Henry Bedell scored a direct hit on the IJN destroyer Hayate, which exploded, broke in two and sank within two minutes with all its crew. Resuming fire, Bedell's gunners on Peale Island, scored further hits on the other three destroyers steaming nearby. In the last phase of the battle Major Paul Putnam with his four remaining Grumman fighters attacked the retreating Japanese ships: the Grumman fighter piloted by Captain Herbert C. Freuler bombed and set on fire the transport ship Kongo Maru, while another plane piloted by Captain Henry T. Elrod strafed the IJN destroyer Kisaragi, detonated the depth charges on the destroyer's aft deck, and sank in a tremendous single explosion with all his crew. Kajioka, who was already retreating with his flagship Yubari, cancelled the assault. The total Marine casualties of that day numbered only four men wounded in action, while the Japanese had lost approximately 700 men, many of them were killed. The IJN destroyer Hayate became the first Japanese surface vessel to be sunk during the World War II by United States naval forces. Captain Henry T. Elrod was posthumously awarded with the Medal of Honor for his outstanding bravery over Wake Island, thus becaming, with Captain Kelly, one of America's first war heroes.
Early in the morning the assault units of Japanese 38th Infantry Division attacked the main British defence line in Hong Kong, the Shing Mun Redoubt. This complex of five pillboxes, connected by trenches and underground tunnels, is defended by 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. The battalion is very under strength as large numbers of Royal Scots are on sick call due to a flu epidemic, malaria, dysentery, and pneumonia. At 12:30am, the Japanese 3rd Battalion of 228th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Teihichi) launched their assault on the redoubt. It falls in five hours. Later that day, exhausted Royal Scots (Lieutenant Colonel S. White) retreated from Golden Hill, another key point in the Hong Kong defence line. A few hours later D Company of the Royal Scots (Captain Pinkerton) carried out a successfull counter-attack and re-captured Golden Hill. The Japanese are furious, and by 10:00am the hill was again in Japanese hands. Very few of the Royal Scots survived. The capture of Golden Hill and Shing Mun Redoubt made the situation of British forces on the Mainland extremly difficult, and at 12 noon, Major-General Christopher M. Maltby issued orders to begin the evacuation of the Mainland to Hong Kong Island. The Canadian troops, the Winnipeg Grenadiers (Captain Allan Bowman), were ordered to cover the withdrawal of the troops from the New Territories and Kowloon.
Poland declared a state of war with Japan.
Japanese troops commenced their first military operations against Burma. An infantry battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment of the 55th Infantry Division crossed the Burma-Siam border. The regiment had arrived at Joombhorn (Siam) on December 8th, 1941.
In Malaya, under heavy rain, Japanese troops reach the Jitra defence line, which the British troops have been building for at least last six months prior the war. Only one Japanese infantry battalion (app. 500 men) attack the 11th Indian Division's positions along the defence line, crumbling all except for the Leicesters and the 22nd Gurkhas. The 11th British-Indian Division (Major-General D.M. Murray-Lyon) retreats in panic. The 15th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier K.A. Garrett) lost a fourth of its men, while 28th Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier W.St.J. Carpendale) lost more than 700 men - more than 3,000 British and Indian troops surrendered to the victorious Japanese. The Japanese also captured large quantaties of ammunition, fuel and other war material. The Japanese casualties: only 27 killed and 83 wounded. The British military historians look at the battle of Jitra as "a major disaster, a disgrace to British arms". Yet, more "disasters in the British army" may be expected in the forthcoming days. The Japanese troops advance very quickly and the British have no ideas how to stop them.
Copyright © Klemen. L. 1999-2000
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942