Pearl Harbor Day
Posted by Euroranger on December 7, 2010
Today is December 7 and the 69th anniversary of the surprise Japanese naval air attack on the American military and civilian facilities in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. For the past few years, I’ve used the annual observation of Pearl Harbor Day to shed light on some lesser known or odd facts about WW2 that most aren’t aware of. Today though, let’s talk about the attack on Pearl Harbor itself and a lesser known and obscure incident associated with the attack…and learn two fun and associated facts about them. The Japanese thinking behind the attack on Pearl Harbor was to cripple the U.S. Navy’s ability to intervene in Japan’s other attacks they planned to execute on December 7 (actually December 8 as the remainder of the attacks were across the international date line). Those attacks were the invasion of the American held Philippines and attacks on American, English, French and Dutch holdings in the southwest Pacific. These would be Malaya, Burma, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies and several small islands and island groups throughout the south Pacific. These attacks, therefore, were where Japan’s real interests lay and their attack on Pearl Harbor was merely their insurance that the U.S. Navy couldn’t dash across the Pacific specifically to relieve the Philippines and further to interfere with their conquest of the other territories mentioned. All in all, seemingly laudable planning on the Japanese’ part.
Anyway, Japan sailed their attack fleet through the North Pacific and arrived at Hawaii undetected early in the morning on December 7 (Hawaii time). They launched 176 planes in their first wave and arrived just before 8AM that Sunday morning led by torpedo bombers so they could take full advantage of the surprise of the attack and get their blows in before the Americans could put up effective anti-air fire. They did indeed achieve initial surprise and lost only 9 planes in the first attack wave while much damage was caused to the American Army Air Force assets at Ford Field (nearby air base) and several bomb and torpedo hits were scored on the assembled ships in Pearl Harbor. Owing to the reported success and total surprise of the first wave, the Japanese commander Nagumo ordered the second of three planned strike waves launched and another 171 planes arrived at Pearl Harbor around 10AM. They too did extensive damage but this time they were met by much stiffer resistance by the now aroused American defenses and by the end of the second wave the Japanese had lost 20 more planes (29 total) with 74 damaged by anti-aircraft fire. It was this much stiffer than expected defense reaction coupled with the presence of American carrier air assets (dive bombers from the nearby American carrier Enterprise had been caught on a training mission during the first raid and had participated in the air defense) with no sighting of the carriers themselves that caused Nagumo to ignore the pleas of his strike commanders, cancel the planned third wave and sail home with his partial victory. Canceling the third wave had a ripple effect throughout the Japanese fleet: rearm and refuel personnel on the carriers stood down, pilots retreated to their sickbays or ready rooms for post battle debriefings, fleet tenders suspended refueling operations and the entire fleet turned 180° and headed back to Japan. This included one Japanese submarine (of the 23 fleet submarines attached to the attack fleet) that was detailed to retrieve downed Japanese aircrew. You see, the Japanese were meticulous planners and had designated the small Hawaiian island of Niihau as a location for pilots of damaged aircraft to land after the attack and then rendezvous with the rescue submarine after the third attack. Japanese planners thought the island was uninhabited but in reality it had 136 residents, almost all of whom were indigenous Hawaiians. Almost all. When the Japanese fleet abruptly turned around early and sailed off, Niihau was one resident greater than it was the previous day…and the presence of that one additional person, it can be argued, led directly to the United States interring 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans during the war.
Meet Shigenori Nishikaichi. He was the pilot of a Mitsubishi Type 0 Carrier Fighter (otherwise known by the Allies as a “Zero”) from the Japanese carrier Hiryu. During a strafing run during the second Japanese attack wave, his aircraft was damaged by ground fire from the defending Americans and he tried to nurse his Zero back to his carrier. Realizing he wouldn’t make it back, he diverted to the designated rendezvous recovery area: Niihau island…where he crash landed in a field just 20 feet from where one Mister Hawila Kaleohano, a native Hawaiian resident, was standing. Kaleohano was unaware of the attack at Pearl Harbor, but recognizing the pilot and his plane as Japanese, Kaleohano thought it would be a good idea to relieve the pilot of his pistol and papers before the dazed airman could react. He and the other Hawaiians who gathered about treated the pilot with courtesy and the traditional Hawaiian hospitality, even throwing a party for him later that Sunday afternoon. However, they couldn’t understand Nishikaichi, who spoke only Japanese with a limited amount of English. So they sent for a Japanese resident, Ishimatsu Shintani who was married to a native Hawaiian, to translate. Having been briefed on the situation beforehand and approaching the task with evident distaste, Shintani exchanged just a few words with Nishikaichi. He turned paled. Nishikaichi froze. Shintani left. The puzzled Hawaiians then sent for Yoshio Harada. Harada and his wife Irene (both Hawaiians and second generation Japanese immigrants) constituted the remainder of the Niihau population of Japanese ancestry. Nishikaichi told Harada about the attack on Pearl Harbor, a revelation Harada decided not to share with the non-Japanese Hawaiian natives. Nishikaichi desperately wanted his papers returned, which he had been told should by no means fall into American hands, but Kaleohano (the farmer he crashed near) refused to return them. Later that night the Hawaiians heard a radio report about the Pearl Harbor attack and confronted the pilot. This time Harada translated what was said about the attack. The owner of Niihau, one Aylmer Robinson, was scheduled to arrive on his regular weekly visit the next morning and it was decided that the pilot would return to civilization with Robinson. However, Robinson didn’t arrive on Monday or in the days that followed because the U.S. military had instituted a ban on boat traffic in the islands within hours of the attack. The Niihauans, knowing nothing of the ban, were puzzled and very uneasy that the normally dependable Robinson had not been seen since the attack. The Haradas requested to have the pilot stay with them as his departure was by now going to be delayed. The other islanders agreed but placed five guards around the Harada’s home. There was now ample opportunity for the Haradas to converse with Nishikaichi.
At four o’clock on Friday the 12th, Shintani (the Japanese immigrant who was the first translator) approached farmer Kaleohano in private with about $200 in cash (a huge sum for the islanders) and offered to buy the Japanese pilot’s papers. Kaleohano refused to sell them and Shintani angrily departed, saying there would be trouble if the papers were not returned. However, Harada and Nishikaichi, not waiting for Shintani’s return, attacked the lone guard who had been posted outside the Harada house (3 other guards, apparently not taking their duties seriously, were elsewhere) while Irene Harada played music on a phonograph to cover up the sounds of the struggle. The guard was overpowered and locked in a warehouse, while Harada acquired a shotgun and the pilot’s pistol that had previously been stored there. Thus armed, they proceeded to farmer Kaleohano’s house. Having parted from Shintani only five or ten minutes before, Kaleohano was in his outhouse (what, don’t the most inopportune things happen to YOU while yer on the crapper?) when he saw Harada and Nishikaichi coming with a gun. Kaleohano stayed hidden in the outhouse, and when the conspirators, unable to find him, turned their attention to the nearby plane, he burst out of the outhouse and started to run away. The farmer heard, “Stop! Stop!” and the boom of a shotgun, surely inspiring him to his top speed. Kaleohano reached a nearby village, warning the residents to evacuate. Many could not believe that their good friend and neighbor, Harada, whom they knew so well and who had been living amongst them for almost three years, could do the things that Kaleohano related but when the captive guard escaped, arrived in the village and confirmed the farmer’s story, the residents fled to caves, thickets and distant beaches. Harada and Nishikaichi headed to the downed Zero where Nishikaichi tried unsuccessfully to make contact with the long departed Japanese fleet using the aircraft’s radio. They then torched the plane and proceeded to Kaleohano’s house and set it ablaze at about 3 a.m. In between, Kaleohano had gone home and retrieved the pilot’s papers giving them to a relative for safekeeping and set out around 12:30 a.m. to paddle the arduous ten-hour trip to neighboring Kauai to inform the authorities of the events on Niihau.
The next morning, Saturday, December 13, Harada and Nishikaichi captured Ben Kanahele and his wife, Ella, also natives of the island. They ordered Ben to find farmer Kaleohano while keeping Ella as a hostage. Kanahele knew that Kaleohano was rowing toward Kauai but pretended to look for him. Eventually Nishikaichi realized he was being duped and through Harada told Kanahele that the pilot would kill him and everyone in the village if Kaleohano was not found. Ben Kanahele, noticing the fatigue and discouragement of his two captors, took advantage of the brief distraction as the pilot handed the shotgun to Harada and he and his wife tackled the pilot. Nishikaichi managed to pull his recovered pistol from his boot and took aim at Ben Kanahele but Ella grabbed his arm and brought it down. However, Harada pulled Ella off the pilot and then Nishikaichi casually and deliberately shot Ben Kanahele three times: in the groin, stomach, and upper leg. However, while you and I might be made of lesser stuff, Ben Kanahele was not and he picked Nishikaichi up in the same manner that he picked up the sheep that were commercially raised on the island, and hurled him into a nearby stone wall. Mrs. Kanahele then bashed the pilot in the head with a rock and Ben slit his throat with his hunting knife. Harada, likely noticing that both Kanaheles were EXTREME BADASSES, turned the shotgun on himself, committing suicide.
The next afternoon, the military authorities, the Hawaiians who had rowed to Kauai, and Robinson arrived together. Once they could locate a boat big enough to accommodate him and his enormous balls, Ben Kanahele was taken to Waimea Hospital on Kauai to recuperate. He was later decorated for the part he played in defending his country. The grieving Irene Harada and Ishimatsu Shintani were taken into custody. Shintani was sent to an internment camp and later rejoined his family on Niihau after the war, where he attained U.S. citizenship in 1960. Irene Harada was imprisoned for thirty-one months, being released in June 1944. She was never charged with treason, nor any other crime resulting from her complicity in the affair. She maintained her innocence when speaking in English but said she felt sorry for the pilot and wanted to help him when speaking in Japanese for a Japanese audience.
So that was the end of what came to be known as The Niihau Incident. However, two more things need to be mentioned about it and December 7 in general. The first is that the incident, during the early dark days of America’s entry into the war, was publicized widely and was a source of good news for Americans back home. However, after Pearl Harbor there was a general outrage that the American armed forces had been caught so flat-footed on December 7. The behavior of Shintani and the Haradas were included in the official navy report, dated January 26, 1942: “The fact that the two Ni‘ihau Japanese who had previously shown no anti-American tendencies went to the aid of the pilot when Japan domination of the island seemed possible, indicate likelihood that Japanese residents previously believed loyal to the United States may aid Japan if further Japanese attacks appear successful.” Roosevelt, Congress and the American people in general concurred and the decision to round up and detain some Japanese and many American citizens, without charges or a hearing, was made. It is still controversial to this very day.
The second point is one that’s almost never discussed. Early in 1941, President Roosevelt moved the Pacific Fleet to Hawaii from its previous base in San Diego and ordered a military buildup in the Philippines in the hope of discouraging Japanese aggression in the Far East. As I mentioned earlier, the Japanese high command was certain any attack on the British Southeast Asian colonies would bring the U.S. into the war. Therefore, a devastating preventive strike and an invasion of the Philippines appeared to be the only way to avoid U.S. naval interference. However, while the official U.S. War Plan (Plan Orange) had envisioned defending the Philippines with a 40,000 man force, the American commander in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, felt he would need a force ten times that size and so Plan Orange was never implemented and by 1941, U.S. planners anticipated abandonment of the Philippines at the outbreak of war and orders to that effect were given in late 1941 to Admiral Thomas Hart, commander of the Asiatic Fleet…based at Pearl Harbor.
In short, the Japanese never needed to attack Pearl Harbor in the first place as the United States had never planned to rush the fleet to confront Japanese aggression in the Far East. Roosevelt and America was focused on Hitler and Nazi Germany and had Japanese planners known this, they might have decided to not attack Pearl Harbor, declare war on the United States on December 7…and Adolf Hitler may not have been forced to honor the terms of the Axis’ Tripartite Pact and declare war on the U.S. on December 12. The war might indeed have turned out very differently altogether but, it didn’t…and today we observe the biggest Axis blunder of the entire war as a result.
My name is Euroranger and I approved this message.