The attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating blow to the United States Pacific Fleet’s base, leaving over 2,400 dead, sunken battleships, and demolished structures in its wake. The devastation that day was acutely felt by the United States, and as the country is known for doing, it fought back with everything it had. Though taken by surprise, the men sprang into action to ensure that the incoming fighters were met with a resistance they may not have expected.
While much of the heavy artillery for the ground forces was stowed away and the airfields were targeted in the attack to keep American planes on the ground, the Japanese were met with enough of a fight to incur losses on their side. In fact, as odd as it may sound, the first loss on the morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor was not an American but rather a Japanese fighter.
The Morning of the Attack
At just before 8:00 AM on the morning of December 7th, 1941, Japan’s bombers closed in on the naval harbor on Oahu’s southern coast. Hours before the code word “Tora” was used to indicate the Americans had been taken by complete surprise, the Japanese suffered their first loss.
Prior to the attack, Pearl Harbor was patrolled by Navy vessels manned by men like Will Lehner. It was during that morning’s patrol, which was a precaution to detect and prevent any foreign naval presence from encroaching, that Lehner recalls the moment he heard from fellow crewmen that a Japanese surveillance submarine had entered the harbor.
Considering it was a time of war and the Japanese were fighting alongside the villainized Germans, there was no hesitation on the Navy’s part to fire on the small sub. According to Lehner’s account, the shell that was fired was a direct hit. An hour and a half before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese experienced their first casualty. The patrol ships in the harbor knew the submarine wasn’t just off-course.
It had a mission.
The Japanese Fighters
Leading the attack on Pearl Harbor were over 350 Japanese aircraft, a mix of bombers and fighters that each had its own designated target. On the ground, American forces scrambled to fight back against the surprise attack, and thought it wasn’t easy, the servicemen engaged the enemy.
Firing rifles into the sky, troops on the ground were all but helpless to take down fighters, but Kenneth Taylor took the fight to the sky. Taylor became the first American to take part in the aerial defense against the Japanese and, alongside Lt. George Welch, succeeded in downing somewhere between six and eight planes between them. In total, ten Japanese fighters and bombers were downed by the 14 American pilots who took to the air.
By the time the attack was completed and the attackers returned to their ships, believing they had done the amount of damage that was intended, 29 Japanese aircraft, 65 men, and five midget submarines were lost. These may seem like minuscule numbers compared to the losses inflicted on the Americans, but not only did the United States successfully scramble to fight back on that terrible morning, the Navy recovered and went on to engage the Japanese fleet all over the Pacific.