Key point: The operation prompted the United States to tighten its national security efforts in the decades that followed.
“You are probably the nearest to war that you’ll ever be without actually being in it,” said Commander Harold M. “Beauty” Martin as he addressed his men on the morning of December 6, 1941, at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on Mokapu Peninsula, located less than 15 miles east-northeast of Pearl Harbor. “Keep your eyes and ears open and be on the alert to every moment,” said the well-respected commander.
One fellow who was keeping his eyes wide open that day was Japanese spy Takeo Yoshikawa. He closely observed the Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor on the south side of Oahu late in the afternoon from vantage points at Aiea Heights and the Pearl City Landing. Later the same day he sent a coded report to Tokyo noting that the U.S. Army had ordered equipment for barrage defense balloons, but none was yet on scene, and he opined that torpedo nets probably were not in place to protect the battleships at anchor in Pearl Harbor. “I imagine that there is considerable opportunity left … for a surprise attack,” he added, as the clock continued ticking.
Meanwhile, Commander Martin’s somber, cautionary message earlier in the day was being widely debated by the American sailors, a number of whom belittled the racial and intellectual capabilities of the Japanese, especially their ability to handle fast-moving aircraft. Some even argued that any aggressive Japanese actions against the United States would be quashed within two weeks.
But within 24 hours those men and their American compatriots at Pearl Harbor would be in the fight of their lives against two waves of incoming Japanese bombers and fighters. Within 90 minutes of the first attack early on December 7, the Japanese had sunk four battleships and damaged another four of the large ships, three cruisers, and three destroyers and consigned nearly 200 American aircraft to the scrapyard. Worse yet, more than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,175 wounded in the surprise attack.
Raid on Kaneohe Naval Air Station