The Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor was the opening offensive against the United States that spurred the U.S into World War II. The Japanese held the element of surprise and brought their full aviation power to bear upon the island of Oahu and the tactically crucial Pearl Harbor base.

The Japanese had inside information from their spy, Takeo Yoshikawa. Yoshikawa had informed his superiors of American defenses, U.S troop compositions and locations of their primary targets: U.S carriers, cruisers and battleships in that order. The Japanese objective was to cripple the U.S Navy, allowing them control of the Pacific, an area rich in resources deemed vital to their war efforts. They believed that with the United States crippled, they could have the run of Asia. They hoped to topple the Dutch held East Indies and Malaysia before the U.S troops could mount an effective counter attack.

Lysander airplanes during WWII

Lysander airplanes during WWII

To accomplish the difficult task of maiming Pearl Harbor, the Japanese utilized 6 aircraft carriers and more than 350 aircraft, spread over two waves of attacks with roughly 50 held in reserve for defense. The first wave consisted of three different types of planes. The first, the Nakajima B5N bombers, were nicknamed Kates by American troops. The Kates were equipped with 800 KG armor piercing bombs or the MK Aerial Torpedo. The second aircraft was the 51 Aichi D3A carrying 249 KG general purpose bombs and the third was the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero,” utilizing 20mm cannons for air to air combat or strafing ground targets such as U.S fighter planes. The objective of the first two aircrafts were American ships while the “Zero” was supposed to stop American planes from taking off and halting the attack.

While American troops were caught unawares, they were able to form a semblance of opposition made up primarily of two aircrafts, the P-36 Hawks and the P-40 Warhawks. The P-36 Hawk attempted to defend Pearl Harbor with two Browning machine guns, one a .50 caliber M2 heavy machine gun , and the other a .30 caliber M1919 general purpose machine gun. While conventional in design, the P-36 did sport a few forward thinking features such as an enclosed cockpit and fully retractable undercarriage. One interesting facet of the plane was its raised fuselage spine, the raised section of the plane directly behind the cockpit, which made looking behind you rather difficult. The P-40 Warhawk was very similar to the P-36 Hawk with minor modifications made to improve production time, allowing more planes to go into battle more quickly.

P-40 Warhawks on Flight Line

P-40 Warhawks on Flight Line

While the attack on Pearl Harbor was a one sided affair, of the six downed Japanese planes, 4 were credited to two brave airmen George Welch and Ken Taylor. Despite taking fire from the Zeros, Welch and Taylor in their P-40’s, time and again attacked Japanese bombers before taking fire forcing them to land. Thanks to brave military personal like Welch and Taylor, Pearl Harbor was only beginning as planes like the P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk eventually flew victorious at the pivotal Battle for Midway.

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