I ENJOYED “The Pearl Harbor Myth” in your November/December issue, as I have all of your articles for many years. But I was surprised that the author omit ted what is perhaps the most serious error the Japanese made: their failure to hit the oil storage tanks and the sub marine yards. Those two mistakes cost the Japanese dearly.
ALAN D. ZIMM’S ARTICLE on Pearl Harbor was essentially accurate, but combat is messy. All of us who have been under fire know that a battle plan goes out the window at the first shot. From then on, the force with the best leadership and combat power, along with the training, experience, and morale required to improvise effectively, will carry the day. All credible naval historians acknowledge that the Japanese had the best led, trained, equipped, and battle-experienced navy in the world on December 7, 1941. They recovered from their mistakes to strike a devastating—if imperfect—blow.
MY FATHER, Frank Little, was a crew man aboard the Oglala, the oldest ship in the Pacific Fleet, moored outboard of the cruiser Helena. According to him, the ship was ordered to California to pick up a load of mines, and it returned to its home port of Pearl Harbor a day early, on the evening of December 6, 1941. The captain gave the crew the choice of unloading several hundred 900-pound mines that evening or waiting until the next day. The crew chose to get the job done rather than put it off. The next day, one of the first Japanese torpedoes headed straight for the Oglala.
I hadn’t realized until I read the article by Alan D. Zimm that the Japanese mistook the rusty minelayer for a battle ship. Because the Oglala was virtually empty, the crew having unloaded all of its mines, the torpedo went under the minelayer and struck the Helena. The concussion sunk the Oglala and it became known as the “ship that sank from fright.” That’s amusing, but if the Oglala’s crew hadn’t taken the initiative to unload the mines the evening before, God only knows what kind of hole it would have made.
STEPHEN D. LITTLE
ALAN D. ZIMM’S ARTICLE is exceptional, and provides a new perspective on an attack that I, too, believe to have been historically overrated in its effectiveness and planning.
The article missed one major Japanese blunder that I’ve always felt could have ruined the attack: the two mini-subs used by Japan both failed dismally, and in using them Japan risked losing the element of surprise. Also, before the attacking aircraft arrived, an American destroyer spotted and sunk one of the mini-subs attempting to enter the harbor in the destroyer’s wake. The discovery and sinking of a sub attempting to sneak into a vital American base should have been cause for the entire harbor and all related installations to be put on alert.
THANK YOU FOR placing Duane Schultz’s article “American Samurai” in the November/December issue. The timing was perfect. The Joint Memorial Services at Hawaii’s Punch Bowl Cemetery were held on September 25 to honor the fallen and those who have since passed on from the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd, and the Military Intelligence Service. Also, last November 2, Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest honors, to those who were members of the units.
I READ WITH interest “A Few Square Inches of Home” in your November/ December issue, about the pocket-sized books that were sent overseas to troops. While serving with the 87th Division in the Ardennes, I read three or four of them. Most soldiers in my company kept the books in their back pocket, to use already-read pages as toilet paper. And since we often had the “GIs” (diarrhea), sometimes it was nip-and-tuck to get the book read ahead of Mother Nature’s call!
BLISS O. BIGNALL JR.
COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO
Speaking for the Shadow Man
THE “SHADOW MAN” picture featured in the “Challenge” department from the November/December issue [see p. 79 in this issue] is very familiar to me, since I was a young boy in Germany during the war. The image was often accompanied with a description on a placard that read: “Achtung. Feind hoert mit,” which means “Attention. The enemy is listening.” As a member of the Hitler Youth, I personally distributed and fastened many of the placards and handbills in public places.
Thinking back, I have come to the conclusion that it was just one of many ways the Nazi regime kept everyone on edge and ignorant of the serious problems Germany was facing during the war years.
THE NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2011 travel article “Enter the Wolf Pack’s Baltic Lair” brought back fond memories of my 1960 trip to Kiel Week aboard the Rhode Island–based destroyer Barry.
It had been decided in D.C. that a U.S. Navy ship should be sent to several European ports that summer on a “goodwill cruise.” Barry got the lucky assignment, and I wrangled a ride as photographer and press release writer. I spent 19 years in the navy but those weeks aboard the Barry were the most fun I ever had in uniform. We visited two ports between Gothenburg, Sweden in the north and Gibraltar in the south. Kiel was my second favorite port, right after Helsinki.
Thanks for stirring up a lot of very fond memories.
KINGSLEY R. WOODHEAD
The Frank family hid in an upper floor of their family business, not in a secretary’s attic, as stated on page 10 in our November/December issue. On page 12 of the same issue, Zeros escorted the Betty bombers, not vice versa.
Originally published in the April 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.