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're Kicking the Hell Out of Pearl Harbor

Although the Japanese accorded the battleships and air facilities priority as targets for destruction on the morning of 7 December 1941, it was natural that the onslaught touched the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard as well.

Colonel William E. Farthing, Army Air Forces, commanding officer of Hickam Field, thought that he was witnessing some very realistic maneuvers shortly before 0800 that morning. From his vantage point, virtually next door to the Navy Yard, Farthing watched what proved to be six Japanese dive bombers swooping down toward Ford Island. he thought that MAG-21's SB2Us or SBDs were out for an early morning practice hop. "I wonder what the Marines are doing to the Navy so early Sunday?"

Major Harold C. Roberts

Major Harold C. Roberts

Major Harold C. Roberts had earned a Navy Cross as a corpsman assigned to Marines during World War I, and a second award in 1928 as a Marine officer in Nicaragua. As acting commanding officer of the 3d Defense Battalion at Pearl Harbor on 7 December, he was a veritable dynamo, organizing it to battle the attacking Japanese. He was killed at Okinawa in June 1945 while commanding the 22d Marines, but not before his performance of duty had merited him the award of his third Navy Cross.

Over at the Marine Barracks, the officer of the guard, Second Lieutenant Arnold D. Swartz, after having inspected his sentries, had retired to me officer-of-the-day's room to await breakfast. Stepping out onto the lanai (patio) at about 0755 to talk to the field music about morning colors, he noticed several planes diving in the direction of the naval air station. He thought initially that it seemed a bit early for practice bombing, but then saw a flash and heard the resulting explosion that immediately dispelled any illusions he might have held that what he was seeing was merely an exercise. Seeing a plane with "red balls" on the wings roar by at low level convinced Swartz that Japanese planes were attacking.

Over in the squadroom of Barracks B. First Lieutenant Harry F. Noyes, Jr., the range officer for Battery E, 3-inch Antiaircraft Group, 3d Defense Battalion, heard the sound of a loud explosion coming from the direction of the harbor at about 0750. First assuming that blasting crews were busy — there had been a lot of construction recently — Noyes cocked his ears. The new sounds seemed a bit different, "more higher-pitched, and louder." At that, he sprang from his bed, ran across the room, and peered northward just in time to see a dirty column of water rising from the harbor from another explosion and a Japanese plane pulling out of its dive. The plane, bearing red hinomaru (rising sun insignia) under its wings, left no doubt as to its identity.

Col William J. Whaling
Col William J. Whaling, seen here circa 1945, was an observer to the Pearl Harbor attack, being awakened from slumber while staying in Col Gilder Jackson's quarters on the morning of 7 December. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 65746

The explosions likewise awakened Lieutenant Colonel William J. Whaling and Major James "Jerry" Monaghan who, while Colonel Gilder D. Jackson, commanding officer of the Marine Barracks, was at sea in Indianapolis (CA-35) en route to Johnston Island for tests of Higgins landing boats, shared his quarters at Pearl Harbor. Shortly before 0800, Whaling rolled over and asked: "Jerry, don't you think the Admiral is a little bit inconsiderate of guests?" Monaghan, then also awake, replied: "I'll go down and see about it." Whaling, meanwhile, lingered in bed until more blasts rattled the quarters' windows. Thinking that he had not seen any 5-inch guns emplaced close to the building, and that something was wrong, he got up and walked over to the window that faced the harbor. Looking out, he saw smoke, and, turning, remarked: "This thing is so real that I believe that's an oil tank burning right in front there." Both men then dressed and hurried across the parade ground, where they encountered Lieutenant Colonel Elmer E. Hall, commanding officer of the 2d Engineer Battalion. "Elmer," Whaling said amiably, "this is a might fine show you are putting on. I have never seen anything quite like it."

Meanwhile, Swartz ordered the field music to sound "Call to Arms." Then, running into the officers' section of the mess hall, Swartz informed the officer-of-the-day, First Lieutenant Cornelius C. Smith, Jr., who had been enjoying a cup of coffee with Marine Gunner Floyd McCorkle when sharp blasts had rocked the building, that the Japanese were attacking. Like Swartz, they ran out onto the lanai. Standing there, speechless, they watched the first enemy planes diving on Ford Island.

Marines began to stumble, eyes wide in disbelief, from the barracks. Some were lurching, on the run, into pants and shirts; a few wore only towels. Swartz then ordered one of the platoon sergeants to roust out the men and get them under cover of the trees outside. Smith, too, then ran outside to he parade ground. As he looked at the rising smoke and the Japanese planes, he doubted those who had derided the "Japs" as "cross-eyed, second-rate pilots who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door." It was enough to turn his stomach. "They're kicking the hell out of Pearl Harbor," he thought.

Meanwhile, unable to reach Colonel Harry B. Pickett, the 14th Naval District Marine Officer, as well as Colonel Jackson, and Captain Samuel R. Shaw, commanding officer of Company A, by telephone, Swartz sent runners to the officers' respective quarters. He then ordered a noncommissioned officer from the quartermaster department to dispense arms and ammunition.

While Swartz organized the men beneath the trees outside the barracks, Lieutenant Noyes dressed and then drove across the parade ground to Building 277, arriving about 0805. At the same time, like Swartz, First Lieutenant James S. O'Halloran, the 3d Defense Battalion's duty officer and commanding officer of Battery F, 3-inch Antiaircraft Group, wanted to get in touch with his senior officers. After having had "assembly" sounded and signalling his men to take cover, O'Halloran ordered Marine Gunner Frederick M. Steinhauser, the assistant battalion communications officers, to telephone all of the officers who resided outside the reservation and inform them of the attack.

In Honolulu, mustachioed Major Harold C. Roberts, acting commanding officer of the 3d Defense Battalion since Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Pepper had accompanied Colonel Jackson to sea in Indianapolis, after taking Steinhauser's call with word of the bombing of Pearl, jumped into his car along with his neighbor, Major Kenneth W. Benner, commanding officer of the 3-inch Antiaircraft Group and the Headquarters and Service Battery of the 3d Defense Battalion. As Roberts' car crept through the heavy traffic toward Pearl, the two officers could see Japanese aircraft flying along the coast. When they reached the Water Street Fish Market, a large crowd of what seemed to be "Japanese residents ... cheering the Japanese planes, waving to them, and trying to obstruct traffic to Pearl Harbor by pushing parked cars into the street" blocked their way.

Meanwhile, as his acting battalion commander was battling his way through Honolulu's congested streets, O'Halloran was organizing his Marines as they poured out of the barracks into groups to break out small arms and machine guns from the various battalion storerooms. After Harry Noyes drove up, O'Halloran told him to do what he could to get the 3-inch guns, and fire control equipment, if available, broken out and set up, and then instructed other Marines to "get tractors and start hauling guns to the parade ground." Another detail of men hurried off to recover an antiaircraft director that lay crated and ready for shipment to Midway.

Marines continued to stream out onto the grounds, having been ordered out of the barracks with their rifles and cartridge belts; they doubled the sentry posts and received instructions to stand ready and armed, to deploy in an emergency. Noyes saw some Marines who had not been assigned any tasks commencing fire on enemy planes "which were considerably out of range." At the main gate of the Navy Yard, the Marines fired at whatever planes came close enough — sailors from the high-speed minelayer Sicard (DM-21), en route to their ship, later attested to seeing one Japanese plane shot down by the guards' rifle fire.

Tai Sing Loo, who was to have photographed those guards at the new gate, had left Honolulu in a hurry when he heard the sound of explosions and gunfire, and saw the rising columns of smoke. He arrived at the naval reservation without his Graflex and soon marveled at the cool bravery of the "young, fighting Marines" who stood their ground, under fire, blazing away at enemy planes with rifles while keeping traffic moving.

Finally, the more senior officers quartered outside the reservation began showing up. When Colonel Pickett arrived, Lieutenant Swartz returned to he officer-of-the-day's room and found that Captain Shaw had reached there also. Securing from his position as officer of the guard, Swartz returned to his 3-inch gun battery being set up near Building 277. Ordering Marines out of the building, he managed to obtain a steel helmet and a pistol each for himself and Lieutenant O'Halloran. Captain Samuel G. Taxis, commanding officer of the 3d Defense Battalion's 5-inch Artillery Group, meanwhile, witnessed "terrific confusion" ensuing from his men's efforts to obtain "ammunition, steel helmets, and other items of equipment."

smoke-darkened skies
Smoke darkens the sky over the Marine Barracks complex at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard; Marine in foreground appears to be holding his head in disbelief. Marines at far left in background appear to be unlimbering a 3-inch antiaircraft gun. Naval Historical Center Photo NH 50926

Meanwhile, the comparatively few Marines of Lieutenant Colonel Bert A. Bone's 1st Defense Battalion — most of which garrisoned Wake, Johnston, and Palmyra — made their presence felt. Urged on by Lieutenant Noyes, one detail of men immediately reported to the battalion gun shed and storerooms, and issued rifles and ammunition to all comers, while another detachment worked feverishly assembling machine guns. Navy Yard workmen — enginemen Lokana Kipihe and Oliver Bright, fireman Gerard Williams, and rigger Ernest W. Birch — appeared, looking for some way to help the Marines, who soon put them to work distributing ammunition to the machine gun crews. Soon, the Marines at the barracks added the staccato hammering of automatic weapons fire to the general din around them. Meanwhile, other Marines from the 1st Defense Battalion broke out firefighting equipment, as shrapnel from exploding antiaircraft shells began to strike the roof of the barracks and adjacent buildings.

At about 0820, Majors Roberts and Benner reached the Marine Barracks just in time to observe the beginning of the Japanese second wave attacks against Pearl. Robert found that Lieutenant O'Halloran had gotten the 3d Battalion ready for battle, with seven .50-caliber and six .30-caliber machine guns set up and with ammunition belted. Under Captain Harry O. Smith, Jr., commanding officer of Battery H. Machine Gun Group, 3d Defense Battalion, the 3d's Marine gunners had already claimed one Japanese plane shot down. Lieutenant Noyes was, meanwhile, in the process of deploying seven 3-inch guns — three on the west end of the parade ground and four on the east.

Sergeant Major Leland H. Alexander, of the Headquarters and Service Battery of the 3d Defense Battalion, suggested to Lieutenant O'Halloran that an armed convoy be organized to secure ammunition for the guns, as none was available in the Navy Yard proper. Roberts gave Alexander permission to put together the requisite trucks, weapons, and men, Lieutenant Colonel Bone had the same idea, and, accordingly dispatched a truck at 0830 to the nearest ammunition dump near Fort Kamehameha. Bone ordered another group of men from the 5-inch battery to me Naval Ammunition Depot at Lualualei just in case. he hoped that at least one truck would get through the maelstrom of traffic. Marines from the 2d Engineer Battalion made ammunition runs as well as provided men and motorcycles for messengers.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division