Today marks the 60th anniversary of the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbour that brought the United States into the Second World War. A few diary extracts recording the event are available online. East Carolina University has one of the best collection of digital resources on Pearl Harbour; the editor of Skagit River Journal has made available the diary entry of his father; and Brandon University has web pages honouring one of its professors, who was a student in Hawaii on the fateful day. At the political level, the US Secretary of War at the time kept a diary, and entries from this have been used to support the idea that the US and British governments knew of the attack in advance but let it happen so as to draw the US into the war.
The American military base at Pearl Harbour on Hawaii was attacked by Japan during the morning of 7 December 1941. Japan’s aim was to keep the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with its own actions against the overseas territories of several European nations in Southeast Asia. Some 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo planes, launched from six aircraft carriers, caused huge damage: 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 wounded; four US battleships were sunk, and four others damaged (six of these eight, however, were raised and/or repaired for further service); other vessels, including cruisers and destroyers, were also damaged; and 188 aircraft were destroyed. By contrast, Japanese losses, in personnel and hardware, were very light.
The Japanese aggression shocked the American people, which hitherto had been pro isolation and against American involvement in the European war, and it led directly - on the following day - to a US declaration of war on Japan. Clandestine support of the UK turned into active alliance, and within three further days, Germany and Italy had declared war on the US and vice versa. For more information see Wikipedia or the BBC.
East Carolina University’s Joyner Library has an online exhibition commemorating the 60th anniversary of the attack. It provides access to a large number of digital resources, including official and personal texts, biographies, and pictures. However, there are very few actual diary texts. One was written by Robert Hailey on USS Indianapolis; and another by Louis P. Davis, Jr. on USS Reid. There is no biographical information about either sailor. Although Davis’s diary extract sometimes reads as though it was written while the action was happening, the photographs of the diary pages, on the exhibition website, suggest the entry was written all at one time.
Robert Hailey’s diary
7 December 1941
‘G.Q. [General Quarters] at 0538 - routine drill! Shortly before 0800 no. 1 Higgins boat was placed over the side after we had anchored just off Johnson Is. Before other boats could be placed over the side or any trys made dispatches were received that P.H. [Pearl Harbor] Had been bombed by Japanese planes. All plans for landing on Johnson Is. were abandoned. Boats and planes hoisted aboard - no fuel to the 5 DMS with us - course set for interception of enemy forces south of Hawaii - these forces proceeding from the south, last reported near Palmyra - 8 large ships and one Jap sub sunk by planes off PH. - two carriers engaged just outside P.H. several miles - Hickam - Ford Island - residential Honolulu near the Pali bombed. - G.Q. about noon because of what appeared to be a sub - false alarm but not a drill. War has been declared - now there is to be much required from us all.
Afternoon - dispatches, newscasts and “scuttlebutt dope” has kept the day a busy one. Division put on a full wartime basis - all excess gear stowed below. We have changed rendezvous several times - mostly in an effort to intercept the fleeing carriers. P.H. seems to have suffered severely, Hickam damaged badly - 350 men killed in a bombed barracks, oil tanks at P.H. afire Oklahoma hit by bomb, is afire - no word on other damage-rumors Honolulu also damaged.
Manilla definately bombed - Wake & Guam uncertain. Condition II throughout day & tonight - Everyone excited but with only one thought - glad to get things underway and have uncertainty over. No one can understand how this attack was executed and the Japs gotten so close - why carriers not sunk is also not understandable.
Anticipate with what the chance that we may encounter then and get a whack at them- it would be an enjoyable sensation after today’s activity.’
Louis P. Davis, Jr.’s diary
7 December 1941
‘Was peacefully reminicing in my bunk about last night. Had been to a party with the Wilhmots at the Hickam Field Officer’s club. Several alarm sounded the clock said 0800 so I surmised that they must be testing it. Heard a yell from passageway “Mr Davis, we are being attackd” I jumped up ran to the door of the Wardroom. As I went up a Japanese plane bellied up over Ford Island clearly showing the rising sun on it’s wings. Made the director in nothing flat to get battery firing. I am senior gunnery officer aboard and only one who knows how to work the director. I got the machine guns going about 0803. God damn locks on magazine.
Had a hell of a time getting 5” firing. About 0820 I got them ready with ammunition. During time I was getting ammunition for 5” battery I saw Utah capsize astern of us. We are second DD in Harbor to open up with machine guns, first with 5” Arizona is burning fiercely. Her back is broken. Raleigh is torpedoed astern of us Quickly gets bad list to port. All DDs are firing now. This is hottest part of harbor. Plane is attacking our west. “All guns fw’d train 45” “Fire when hearing” Fw’d machine guns are firing steadily. Several Machine seen bullets ricochet off sides of director and mast. One 6” from my head a bunch about a foot away. Glad this is my lucky day.
Gun #2 is firing. Machines guns hit planes burst into flame and crashes on hill dead ahead of ship. No one hurt yet. Port fw’d machine gun burning up “Fire until it blows up” Johny is getting ready to get underway. Plane just connected with 5” shell over Curtiss. Nothing left of him. 2nd attacks starting must be only about 0845. God it’s cold only have on skinny troa [trousers] Plane coming over “Give to him All guns fw’d” Tally two for us today; hope he fries in hell Quickest hangover I ever got rid of in my life. Jesus we need water and everything is shut off. Comparitive lull now. About ten planes shot down during their last visit near the DDs. These ships can sure shoot.
High altitude bomber. No power for director! Engines have been secured Whitney cannot supply enough for 5 ships. Cannot get near them with local control “Cease firing” Wonder whats happening over on battleship row? All DDs out here are safer. Cassen and Downes, other half of hour division burning furiously. Monaghan just sunk sub in harbor. My clothes got here. Must be 0945 California and West Virginia are sinking. Sub just torpedoed Nevada. She is burning fw’d. Wonder how Joe Taussig is? Am so mad am crying. First time in years. Damn dumb admirals and generals. Locking up all the ammunition Good thing we belted machine guns ammo yesterday 200 rds 5” expended no casualties 10,000 rds 50 Cal. expended one gun burned up. “Cut off all magazine locks.” God damn good thing no carriers and crusiers are in.
Only Helena is slighlty damaged and Raleigh Curtiss hit by bomb aft. Oklahoma just capsized. Poor S.O.B.’s
Captain and rest of officers returned.
“Mr. Davis single up.” 1005 under way “Mr Davis report to executive officer” Exec bawled me out for cutting locks off magazines. Says I act too quickly should wait and reflect first Goddamn fool sits home on his fat ass then comes out and tells we are all wet and gives us hell for the way we fought the battle. Ted says he was too scared move coming out. Hope he gets one in the gut So the big thing will spill all over the deck.
“Mr. Davis Captain says clear ship for action” Am hungry as hell. No breakfast. Thrown over all wood and canvas, all excess gear topside and below. “Mr Davis report to Executive officer” “What the hell are you doin you fool”
“Captain’s orders clear ship for action sir.”
Hope he fries in hell. They are bombing Honolulu. Can see them from ship. We are forming up to attack 77 destroyers and Detroit all that’s left of battle force. Passed Nevada in channel burning furiously “secure from GQ set condition three watch one” Rest at last its 1500. Of all the stupid cowards are exec is the worst. Ford at last. Have mid better get some sleep. What a day 5 battleships sunk 2 cruisers hit Agala sunk Half of our division sunk. All because people try to kid themselves.’
Victor Andrew Bourasaw was another sailor at Pearl Harbour on the eventful day. He was born in Festus, Missouri, in 1901, but left home in his early teens to mine boron by hand on the Mississippi river. In 1922, he joined the US Navy, and, in 1941, was a chief petty officer on the destroyer, USS Ramsay. The following diary entry can be found on the Skagit River Journal website edited by Victor’s son, Noel V Bourasaw.
7 December 1941
‘This morning at a few minutes before eight the Japanese began an air raid on Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. The Utah and the Raleigh was hit by torpedoes launched by torpedo planes and dive bombers. Bombs of all kind - incendiary, shrapnel and high explosives - were dropped. The hangars on Ford Island and Hickam Field were set afire and all the grounded planes staffed. Also numerous oil tanks were set afire, burning for two days and nights.
About 0815 a submarine was discovered inside of the harbor astern of the Medusa and the Curtis (two destroyer tenders). A nest of destroyers were alongside of the Medusa, and all were taking pot shots at [the sub’s] conning tower. One 3-inch shell hit her bow and tore it off. She then submerged and reappeared again. The Monaghan, DD-354, had got under way and made for her, ramming her and letting go two depth charges. A mighty cheer went up from the crews of the ships around. Of course she has never reappeared since. Unfortunately the Monaghan ran her bow onto the beach on Ford Island and she had to back her engines full speed and, at that, had difficulty backing off.
The Ramsay crew acted like veterans under fire. Each man to the lowest rating did his duty and did it well. Am proud to be a member of a crew like this.
The enemy aircraft, having dropped their bombs, now turn to strafing. They sure are bum shots. We were strafed five times and have only one bullet hole to show on the ship, through the rail on the flying deck.
It was terrible to have to go through that oil-covered water on the way out, seeing our shipmates struggling in it and not being able to help them. We threw life buoys to the ones we saw that needed one.
We found submarines in wait outside. We dropped depth charges as did the other destroyers. The navy authorities are sure that we got four subs. The subs evidently were waiting for the battleships to come out but of course they never did. It would have been suicide. We have heard that the West Virginia and the Oklahoma were damaged. We could see the West Virginia listing considerably as we were leaving port. All this morning the destroyers were busy tracking down subs, pounding them with depth charges. All this morning destroyers are busy tracking down subs, pounding them with depth charges.
Afternoon 7 Dec: Two o’clock, dropping depth charges. We must be getting some for there are usually bubbles and oil. 1430, no word yet from Task Force One, who went to engage the enemy. Still dropping ash cans [depth charges]. Are now in Condition Three at 1500. Two light air attacks on Pearl harbor between 2000 and 2100. Very little sleep for the crew tonight.’
At the time of the Pearl Harbour raid, Robert W Brockway was 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Hawaii. His father was in the Army Air Corps, serving on a ground crew, and the family lived in quarters at Hickam Field, where Robert identified with the soldiers from an early age. After being evacuated, he went to Washington, D.C. to continue his studies. He served as a church minister until 1959, and as a teacher thereafter, first at Coventry Technical College in England, then at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. From 1965, he taught at Brandon University in Canada, as a professor of religion. He died in 2001. Brandon University has an extensive website in memory of Brockway, including extracts from his Pearl Harbour diary (photographs and transcriptions).
7 December 1941
‘As I write today from the home of Mr. O’ Sullivan who very kindly took us in, we have experienced a Japanese raid. This morning at 8:00 a.m. I was awakened by loud booming. Believing them to be maneuvers I paid little heed. On going outside, I saw stukas diving and circling, but still paid no heed, until I saw the Rising Sun on wing tips. By then the depot hangars were in flame and gasoline blazed. We went to Burkes [?] and then returned home - everyone telling me that war was on. We then got the Haltermanns in our car and Mr. Willy and I hurried up Aiea heights. We saw a carrier burned to the water edge. Fren [friends?] at Hickam [Hickam Field]. We waited there and then returned. Most of our planes had been destroyed. Our fleet force crippled. The radio had just pronounced martial law. Our forces are supposed to be dealing with the sit[uation].’
8 December 1941
‘As the dawn came after a long weary nite spent anxiously waiting for Japanese bombers which never came, we got the paper stating that some 340 fellows from Hickam were killed. One of them was probably Tony Mariaschella since he was in the 42d. After a morning spent uneventfully Mother, I, Mrs Haltermann and Mr. Wiley went to the field [Hickam] and got the remainder of our stuff. The British are in it too. A parachutist is up back here somewhere and they couldn’t find him. Hickam Field looked hit but not shattered. Purdin’s house is gutted out. So are several friends’. Auers’ all messed up inside. Probably we will never go there again. Pop is in the hospital [he was there with an unspecified complaint at the time of the raid]. Pres. Roosevelt declared war against Japan today. Under martial law Habeus Corpus is suspended.’
Finally, it’s worth noting that the US Secretary for War at the time, Henry L Stimson, kept a diary, and that certain extracts from this diary (see paragraph below) have been employed repeatedly over the years by those who believe there was a conspiracy - the Pearl Harbour advance-knowledge conspiracy theory - involving high officials in the US and UK who knew of the attack in advance and may have let it happen so as to force America into the war.
25 November 1941
‘Then at 12 o’clock we went to the White House, where we were until nearly half past one. At the meeting were Hull, Knox, Marshall, Stark and myself. There the President . . . brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what should we do. The question was how much we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.’
After the attack, Stimson wrote in his diary: ‘When the news first came that Japan had attacked us my first feeling was of relief that . . . a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people. This continued to be my dominant feeling in spite of the news of catastrophes which quickly developed.’ (This is widely quoted as being dated 7 December 1941, but the sense of the quote seems much later, and without access to the diary itself, I cannot check the date.)
For more on this topic see Institute for Historical Review articles by Charles Lutton and David Irving; and Srdja Trifkovic on the American Patriot Friends Network. Irving, in particular, has a lot to say about Stimson’s diary, claiming there is evidence for post-Pearl Harbour deletions and revisions. Wikipedia, however, has a detailed and well-referenced look at the facts.