On the morning of December 7, 1941, there were five mobile radar sites in operation on O‘ahu. The sixth site, at Ft. Shafter, was not yet in operation. At 7:00 AM, all the sites except the one at Opana were shut down (later to be reopened).
The operators at Opana were Privates Joseph Lockard and George Elliott. They tracked the Japanese planes from 7:02 AM until the signal was lost at about 7:40 AM due to background interference.
Army Private Joseph Lockard was with Private George Elliott at the Opana Radar Site on the morning of December 7, 1941. After they calculated that there was a large flight of planes coming toward the island, they notified the information center at Fort Shafter, where Private Joseph McDonald and new Air Corps Lt. Kermit Tyler were on duty. The plotters had left a few minutes earlier.
Lockard told Tyler what he and Elliott had seen on the radar. Tyler was on his second day of training as an observer and told the radar operators not to worry about the contact. A flight of B-17s was scheduled to come in from the West Coast, and Tyler assumed these were those planes.
The Opana radar operators created this plot showing the incoming Japanese planes approaching the North Shore of O’ahu on December 7. The five mobile radar units around the O’ahu coast were meant to supplement the lack of patrol plane capability. But while the equipment did detect the attack force, the operators were helpless to recognize the threat.
“A few plots showed up [on radar] starting about 0615, which could have been Japanese scout planes,” 1LT Kermit A. Tyler explained, “but there was no way of telling what they were. The problem was, we had no identification people on staff yet.”
7:02 AM: The first wave of Japanese aircraft appeared on the radar 137 miles north of O’ahu.
7:06 AM: Pvt. George Elliott called the Information Center at Fort Schafter to report a large target 113 miles out.
7:15 AM: Planes were 92 miles out with an air speed of 180 mph.
7:23 AM: Although the airplanes flew directly toward O’ahu, the radar showed planes approaching in a slight zigzag pattern. This feature of the radar was one of many that added to the difficulty of reading the plot.
7:45 AM: The radar signal was lost as aircraft flew close to the radar station.
7:50 AM: The Japanese air attack on O‘ahu began at Wheeler Army Airfield.
The Opana Radar Site, shown here, was located just inland from the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
Privates George Elliot and Joseph Lockard followed the temporary echo until 7:39 AM, when it was lost in the permanent echo created by the surrounding mountains.
A short time later, the truck came to take them to breakfast. On their way back to camp, Lockard and Elliott could see the black, oily smoke down in the harbor. Once they got to camp, they knew immediately what they’d seen on radar.
Last updated: June 1, 2017