The 2nd Raid On Pearl Harbor

Most people know that aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Navy (and a few small submarines) attacked the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941 resulting in the United States' entrance into World War II.

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USS Arizona burning.

From listening to first hand accounts by family and friends who had witnessed the attack, as well as my personal visits to the Arizona Memorial (including one with K), and as a long time resident of Hawaii, it is an event that has long been of interest to me.

The attack was devastating to the U.S. and would have secured Japan's dominating position in Asia (the so-called "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere") for a long time had the American aircraft carriers not been at sea at the time.

As President Roosevelt said, it was a day that would live in infamy. But how many people realize that Japan mounted a second raid on Pearl Harbor? I sure didn't, until doing some research on aircraft a few years ago.

Hitting America's aircraft carriers was an important part of the plan to keep the U.S. at bay. The first raid, while a victory for Japan, did not accomplish that. The point of going to war with America was not to try to conquer her. Rather, it was to consolidate Japan's conquests in Asia by crippling the American fleet. Admiral Yamamoto correctly concluded that the attack had only bought about six months time for Japan. If they could not defeat the American navy in that time, they would lose.

Another raid was planned just three months after the initial attack. The idea was to hit the carriers while in port and to disrupt the repairs of battleships that had been damaged in the December attack. This time, a large naval fleet would not be practicable as the element of surprise was lost. Instead, two giant flying boats - the most advanced in the world at the time - would make a daring attempt to attack Pearl Harbor at night.

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Cutaway view of H8K2 "Emily" flying boat

The airplanes were designated H8K1 and called "Emily" by the allies. Built by Kawanishi, they were huge, with a wing span of 38 meters (124 feet), and a gross take off weight of 32,500 kilograms (71,650 lbs). They were powered by four 1,850 horsepower engines which gave them a top speed of 296 mph. With a crew of ten and defended by ten machine guns and ten 20mm cannons (allied pilots later called it "the flying porcupine") it could fly missions of as long as 24 hours duration. As an anti-submarine plane it carried two torpedoes; as a bomber, eight 550 pound bombs. [A flying boat, by the way, can takeoff and land only on water. Wheels are attached by a ground crew to move it into and out of the water. An airplane that can takeoff and land on either water or a runway is called an "amphibian".]

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Ground crew dwarfed by the massive flying boat.

The two planes used in the raid were based at Wotje in the Marshall Islands, some 2,000 miles from Honolulu. Fully loaded, they could not make the round trip without refueling, so it was arranged to have two submarines at a rendezvous point to refuel the planes at sea.

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On March 4, 1942, the planes took off for a night bombing raid on Pearl Harbor. They flew to the French Frigate Shoals in the north western part of the Hawaiian Island chain, where they were refueled by the submarines I-17 and I-19, which had been modified with special tanks for carrying aviation fuel. Seven hours later, the planes approached Oahu.

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Rendezvous with a submarine. "Got Avgas"?

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, the Americans were of course on high alert ever since the December attack. The women of WARD - Women's Air Raid Defense - were operating radars on Oahu and new stations on Kauai, Mt. Haleakala on Maui, and Hawaii. By March, they had been on the job twelve weeks. In the early hours of March 5th, they had their skills put to the test by the approaching Japanese flying boats. Kaui radar first picked up the flying boats about twenty miles off the coast, headed toward Oahu. The alert went out. Fighter planes were scrambled, searchlights turned on, and anti-aircraft guns manned. But it was a moonless, rainy night and even with vectors from the WARD radar operators, the fighter planes had no success in finding the flying boats.

Due to the cloud cover, the Japanese planes also could not find their targets and had to drop their bombs blind, some of which hit inland from the harbor and two at the harbor entrance. No ships were damaged. The flying boats returned to their base.

Yet another attempt was made a few months later, but was cut short as American ships were patrolling the rendezvous point so the planes could not be refueled and had to return to Wotje.

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Pandabonium and the H8K2 in Tokyo

In June, Admiral Yamamoto attempted to lure U.S. carriers into a trap at Midway, but the plan backfired and planes from the American carriers sank four Japanese carriers and a cruiser. It was a pivotal defeat for Japan. Without those carriers, the Japanese plans to attack Samoa and Fiji, and to invade Hawaii had to be scrapped. While not decisive in and of itself, the battle for Midway marked the beginning of the end for Japan in WWII.

One wonders what may have happened if the weather over Oahu on the night of March 4th to 5th, 1942 had been better. Would the fighter planes directed by WARD have downed the bombers, or would the Japanese planes have found their targets and done sufficient damage to change the outcome of the battle of Midway? The outcome of historic battles sometimes do hinge on such seemingly small points. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for the want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for the want of a horse the rider was lost..."

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167 of the Kawanishi HK8s were built during the war. Some conducted (unsuccessful) raids on the Australian mainland. During one of those raids, a lone Emily showed just how tough the plane was by surviving continuous attacks by P-39 Airacobras until the fighter planes ran out of ammunition. Most saw duty as reconnaissance aircraft and some in an anti-submarine role. A transport version was also built, the H8K2-L Seiku (clear sky) which could carry over 60 troops.

After the war, the Americans took one back to the USA for testing, which as it happened was never carried out, and the plane was put into storage. That plane became the sole surviving "Emily", and in 1979 it was returned to Japan where it was finally completely restored as a static display at the Musuem of Maritime Science in Tokyo. K and I visited there in 2003. I marvelled at the plane, not only as a pilot and someone who likes the lines of propeller driven airplanes, but also because my father was an aeronautical engineer during WWII and did a lot of work on Consolidated flying boats such as the PBY Catalina and the four-enginned PB2Y Coronado.

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ShinMaywa US-1A STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) Air Sea Rescue Amphibian

Not many flying boats are manufactured these days, as runways have been built most everywhere in the world. They are still useful for rescue at sea however, and the largest flying boat now in production in the world is actually one with a design layout similar that of the Emily and built by the same company (now ShinMaywa Industries). It's the US-1A, a highly advanced design and the only amphibious plane capable of handling the rough seas around Japan. It would take too long to explain here, but its sea worthiness is largely due to its STOL capability. So the "Emily" lives on in a way, but now with life-saving mission.

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The H8K2 that we visited has since been moved to Kanoya Naval Air Station in Kagoshima Prefecture in south-western Japan where many of the type had originally been based. I feel lucky to have been able to see it in person. A beautiful aircraft, the Emily was an aviation achievement that also played an interesting part in the history of the war for control of the Pacific Ocean and her islands.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this is something I've never heard of....very interesting.

Pandabonium said...

I'm glad you found it of interest, Reena.

Don Snabulus said...


That was vrey informative. I am going to send the link to my Dad. My grandfather was in the Navy in Pearl Harbor during WWII (although on on 12/7/41), so I find this all very interesting.

Don Snabulus said...

oops. I meant... (although NOT on 12/7/41)

The Moody Minstrel said...

What a beautiful machine.

Just great...you tell me where I could have gone to see it, then inform me that it's now on the opposite end of the country.


LH said...

Great post! A novel historical fact that I haven't read before. People prefer to write about fighters like the Zekes and Nates, rather than workhorse aircraft, because fighters are more glamourous.

Indeed many important events hinge on tiny details. Strategians accustomed to too much big picture analysis should take heed.

Cheers dude!

Pandabonium said...

Don - I hope your dad finds it of interest. When I was in college a neighbor of mine had served on the Pennsylvania which was in dry dock on 12/7/41. It was hit, but not as badly as others.

Moody - sorry about that. I was disappointed to read that it had been moved so far away, but I guess it really belongs there. On the other hand I feel like more people should have the opportunity to see it. I hope they take care of it.

If you have any interest in maritime history, technology, and ships in general, the Maritime Science Museum is well worth a visit anyway. K couldn't drag me out of there and we stayed until closing.

LH - thanks for visiting from Singapore and for the compliment. You are right - fighters do get the spotlight most of the time, but larger aircraft can capture the imagination too, as I think this one illustrates. Looking down on the high aspect ratio wing and slender fuselage, I can't help but think about how the artistic beauty of it correlates to its amazing capabilities. It is a great example of the design rule "form follows function".

LH said...

Yes, Pandabonium, that is an awesome machine. I've read many popular books on the comparison of Japanese and American fighters, giving me the impression that the Japanese can only make fast, agile and flimsy aircraft.

In contrast, your article emphasizes just how tough they made this 'boat. So it's a more a matter of design philosophy rather than technological ability.

Pandabonium said...

Perhaps Japanese attitudes are evident in the differences you point out. The fighter plane, like the Zero, is for attack and had little in the way of defensive design elements that might have compromised its speed and agility as a weapon of attack. The H8K on the other hand was primarily for recon missions or transport, so it had a lot of defensive armaments, armor plating, self sealing fuel tanks, etc. Again - form follows function. In retrospect it might have been a better idea to provide fighters with defensive elements in the design, but the Japanese warior mindset at the time - Bushido - was not about protective measures for its combatants.

So, yes, it was about design philosophy to a great degree. Japan's technological ability at the time was almost on a par with other nations.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Don't know anything about planes but I am wondering about attitudes these days and forgiveness. How do the people of Hawaii feel about the whole story today? Forgive, forget. Or remember that we are all part of a mixed up world and stuff happens.

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - Hawaii is perhaps different from the rest of the US on this, as they felt the war a lot more. Not just due to the attack, but also because Hawaii was put under martial law and run entirely by the military during the war. The large Japanese immigrant population were affected too. Buddhist temples were closed, ministers sent to camps on the mainland, along with many other ordinary citizens. I know a number of Nisei men who joined the army and fought in Europe partly to prove their patriotism, partly because they were just as mad as everyone else.

One positive result of the war for Hawaii, was more interaction between the diverse immigrant groups, which led to more union and political activity and in turn better working and living conditions for them all.

In addition, in recend decades Hawaii has benefitted more than the mainland US from Japanse tourism and investment.

Now days, those that lived through that time, see it largely in the last way you suggested - part of the stuff that happens. There is a recognition that Japan's government mislead the people, as usually happens when a country's leaders have military adventures in mind. (ahem).

Martin J Frid said...

Great post, I had never heard about the second attack on Pearl Harbour. One thing I have been wondering is how the Roosevelt was able to claim that the attack on Pearl Harbor was an attack on the US since at that time, Hawaii was not a US state. Any thoughts?

I liked the Ben Franklin quote a lot. We have a similar saying in Swedish: "A tiny tuft can turn over a huge cart" (my English dictionary gives it as "Small strokes fell great oaks"!)

I'm reading Philip K. Dick's novel The Man in the High Castle, a story about what might have been if the US had lost WW2. The book is from 1962 and it won a Hugo Award in 1963, so it must have touched a nerve back then. Anyway, war is awful.

Pandabonium said...

Great question, Martin!

Though not a state at the time, Hawaii was claimed as a territory by the USA. I think I'll do a post about that some time. But this is how that came about:

Hawaii had friendly relations with the USA for 70 years. In 1887, the white land owners and business men, many of whom were descendents of American missionaries, staged a coup d'etat and forced then King Kalaukaua to agree to a new constitution which gave the right to vote to soley to land owners, thereby disenfranchising 75 percent of the native people. Not satisfied with that and determined to take down the monarchy entirely, in 1893 they got the cooperation of the US Minister to Hawaii, John Stevens, who unilaterally ordered 162 US Marines from a visiting warship to march to the palace. He said "the Hawaiian pear is now fully ripe, and this is the golden hour for the United States to pluck it."

The Queen, Liliuokulani, facing the Marine force as well as the guns of the ship being trained on the palace, decided to surrender rather than see her people slaughtered in war.

The US State Department did not learn of the events until they received Stevens' letter months after the fact. President Cleveland was outraged, investigated the coup and fired Stevens, but soon after that Cleveland left office and President McKinley signed off on an official annexation.

It is an interesting bit of history of which even most Americans are unaware - that one man (Stevens), acting without the authority of the State Department, illegally overthrew a sovereign nation in the name of the United States, and the US government accepted it!

It sounds like an interesting book you are reading. Let me know what you think of it when you're finished.

Yes, war is terrible. I fear much more of it is just around the corner.

Martin J Frid said...

Wow, that is quite a story. Wonder what happened to John Stevens! He probably got a medal or something. Sigh...

Pandabonium said...

I am glad to report he got no medal. Another investigation, this time by the US Senate, found him innocent of any role in the overthrow (surprise). He died two years later.

Martin J Frid said...

I did some more searches, and found that in 1993, the US actually issued an official apology for what Stevens did. A bit late, but... Maybe a good story for Hollywood one of those days?

Pandabonium said...

1993 was during the Clinton era. He also apologized to the Japanese Americans who were interned in prison camps. Probably wouldn't happen under the Cheney/Bush Junta.

It would be a good story. There are some native Hawaiian groups would love to see this given more public attention as well. It really was disgraceful.

Happysurfer said...

Thank you for the interesting history lesson. I learned much both from your post and the exchange here.

Pandabonium said...

Happy - thanks for reading! 'Glad you found it of interest.

diverDave said...

Nice article on the Emily flying boat. Dove a few of the wrecks in Truk (Chuuk) and Kwajalein. Too bad politics was dragged into the conversation.

Steve Wilcox said...

My father was stationed in Hawaii several months after the attack and said they heard bombs exploding at Pearl Harbor. He said this was a second attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Strangely, it was never reported, possibly to keep morale up.


War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks, GREAT MILITARY BATTLES, for the comment and compliment. :)
I am glad you found it of interest.