Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Suddenly Hurled into War
They Caught Us Flat-Footed
They're Kicking the Hell OUt of Pearl Harbor
Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Russel Fox
Major Harold C. Roberts
Tai Sing Loo
Special Subjects
Browning Machine Gune Drill on Board Ship
Antiaircraft Gun Fired to a Range of 14,500 Yards
Pearl Harbor Remembered

INFAMOUS DAY: Marines at Pearl Harbor
by Robert J. Cressman and J. Michael Wenger

They Caught Us Flat-Footed

At 0740, when Fuchida's fliers had closed to within a few miles of Kahuku Point, the 43 Zeroes split away from the rest of the formation, swinging out north and west of Wheeler Field, the headquarters of the Hawaiian Air Force's 18th Pursuit Wing. Passing further to the south, at about 0745 the Soryu and Hiryu divisions executed a hard diving turn to port and headed north, toward Wheeler. Eleven Zeroes from Shokaku and Zuikaku simultaneously left the formation and flew east, crossing over Oahu north of Pearl Harbor to attack NAS Kaneohe Bay. Eighteen from Akagi and Kaga headed toward what the Japanese called Babasu Pointo Hikojo (Barbers Point Airdrome) — Ewa Mooring Mast Field.

Sweeping over the Waianae Range, Lieutenant Commander Shigeru Itaya led Akagi's nine Zeroes, while Lieutenant Yoshio Shiga headed another division of nine from Kaga. After the initial attack, Itaya and Shiga were to be followed by divisions from Soryu, under Masaji Suganami, and Hiryu, under Lieutenant Kiyokuma Okajima, which were, at that moment, involved in attacking Wheeler to the north.

Ewa Mooring Mast Field, later a Japanese target is seen hazily through the windshield of a Battleship Row-bound Kate shortly before 0800 on 7 December 1941. Author's Collection

In the officers' mess at Ewa, the officer-of-the-day, Captain Leonard W. Ashwell of VMJ-252, noticed two formations of aircraft at 0755. The first looked like 18 "torpedo planes" flying at 1,000 feet toward Pearl Harbor from Barbers Point, but the second, to the northwest, comprised about 21 planes just coming over the hills, from the direction of Nanakuli, also at an altitude of about 1,000 feet. Ashwell, intrigued by the sight, stepped outside for a better look. The second formation, of single-seat fighters (the two division from Akagi and Kaga), flew just to the north of Ewa and wheeled to the right. Then, flying in a "string" formation, they commenced firing. Recognizing the planes as Japanese, Ashwell burst back into the mess, shouting: "Air Raid ... Air Raid! Pass the word!" He then sprinted for the guard house, to have "call to arms" sounded.

Browning machine gun

Browning Machine Gun Drill on Board Ship

Marines man a water-cooled, .50-caliber Browning M2 machine gun during a drill on board the gunnery training ship Wyoming (AG-17) in late 1941. The M2 Browning weighed (without water) 100 pounds, 87 ounces, and measured five feet, six inches in length. It fired between 550 and 700 rounds per minute to a maximum horizontal range of 7,400 yards. The two hoses carry coolant water to the gun barrel. The gun could be fired without the prescribed two and a half gallons of cooling water — as Gunnery Sergeant Douglas's men did on board Nevada (BB-36) on 7 December 1941 — but accuracy diminished as the barrel heated and the pattern of shots became more widely dispersed. Experience would reveal that a large number of .50-caliber hits were necessary to disable a plane, and that only a small number of hits could be attained by any single ship-mounted gun against a dive bomber.

That Sunday morning, Technical Sergeant Henry H. Anglin, the noncommissioned-officer-in-charge of the photographic section at Ewa, had driven from his Pearl City home with his three-year-old son, Hank, to take the boy's picture at the station. The senior Anglin had just positioned the lad in front of the camera and was about to take the photo — the picture was to be a gift to the boy's grandparents — when they heard the "mingled noise of airplanes and machine guns." Roaring down to within 25 feet of the ground, Itaya's group most likely carried out only one pass at their targets before moving on to Hickam, the headquarters of the Hawaiian Air Force's 18th Bombardment Wing.

LCdr Shigeru Itaya
LCdr Shigeru Itaya, commander of Akagi's first-wave fighters, which carried out the initial strafing attacks at Ewa Field. Prange

Thinking that Army pilots were showing off, Sergeant Anglin stepped outside the photographic section tent and, along with some other enlisted men, watched planes bearing Japanese markings strafing the edge of the field. Then, the planes began roaring down toward the field itself and the bullets from their cowl and wing-mounted guns began kicking up puffs of dirt. "Look, live ammunition," somebody said or thought, "Somebody'll go to prison for this."

Shiga's pilots, like Itaya's, concentrated on the tactical aircraft lined up neatly on Ewa's northwest apron with short bursts of 7.7- and 20-millimeter machine gun fire. Shiga's pilots, unlike Itaya's, however, reversed course over the treetops and repeated their blistering attacks from the opposite direction. Within minutes, most of MAG-21's planes sat ablaze and exploding, black smoke corkscrewing into the sky. The enemy spared none of the planes: the gray BD-1s and -2s of VMSB-232 and the seven spare SB2U-3s left behind by VMSB-231 when they embarked in Lexington just two days before. VMF-211's remaining F4F-3s, left behind when the squadron deployed to Wake well over a week before, likewise began exploding in flame and smoke.

At his home on Ewa Beach, three miles southeast of the air station, Captain Richard C. Mangrum, VMSB-232's flight officer, sat reading the Sunday comics. Often residents of that area had heard gunnery exercises but on a Sunday morning? The chatter of gunfire and the dull thump of explosions, however, drew Mangrum's attention away from the cartoons. As he looked out his front door, planes with red ball markings on the wings and fuselage roared by at very low altitude, bound for Pearl Harbor. up the valley in the direction of Wheeler Field, smoke was boiling skyward, as it was from Ewa. As he set out for Ewa on an old country road, wives and children of Marines who lived in the Ewa Beach neighborhood began gathering at the Mangrums' house.

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, flown by PO2 Masao Taniguchi in the 7 December attack on Ewa Mooring Mast Field, takes off from the carrier Akagi, circa spring 1942. Author's Collection

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division