December 23, 2010

On December 7, 1941, Japanese torpedoes and bombs devastated Hawaii’s warships and air fields. The “Weapons Wall” at Pacific Aviation Museum has full-size models of three of these weapons—the ones used in the first wave of the attack. The wall also shows the aircraft that carried different types of ordnance during the first wave.

This article goes beyond the information shown on the Weapons Wall, to look at the bombs used in the second wave. The Japanese Kates and Vals of the second wave delivered different types of bombs than they delivered in the first wave—including two types of bombs not used in the first wave. Table 1 summarizes basic data about the torpedoes and four types of bombs used during the attack, and about the aircraft that delivered each weapon during the two waves.

Table 1: Japanese Bombs and Torpedoes at Pearl Harbor

Weapon Weight First Wave Second Wave
Type 91 Model 2 torpedo 838 kg
205 kg warhead
1,847 lb
452 lb warhead
B5N2 Kates
Type 99 Model 5 ordinary (anti-ship) bomb 800 kg 1,763 lb B5N2 Kates
Type 98 land bomb 250 kg 551 lb D3A1 Val B5N2 Kates
Type 97 land bomb 60 kg 132 lb B5N2 Kates
Type 99 Model 1 ordinary (anti-ship) bomb: 250 kg 551 lb D3A1 Val

Note: In Imperial Japanese Navy terminology, land bombs were general-purpose bombs used to attack land targets, while ordinary bombs were anti-ship bombs.

Two Waves

It is important to understand that the Japanese had two different types of targets during the attack. Most obviously, their main targets were battleships, carriers, and cruisers in Pearl Harbor. However, they also attacked air fields throughout Oahu to destroy the fighters at Wheeler Air Force Base and Bellows AFB and to destroy the bombers and patrol bombers at Hickam AFB, Naval Air Station Kaneohe and NAS Pearl Harbor. Fighters could intercept the attackers, and big planes could find and destroy the Japanese carriers. Read the rest of this entry »



December 3, 2010

The newest addition to Pacific Aviation Museum’s collection is a Navy SH-60B Seahawk helicopter. The Sikorsky Seahawk is a navalized version of the Army’s UH-60 Blackhawk. The Army began using the Blackhawk in 1979. The Navy quickly saw the Blackhawk as a good foundation for replacing its SH-2 Sea Sprite, which was protecting individual ships such as frigates, destroyers, and cruisers, which often have to operate outside of the fleet’s protection umbrella. In effect, the Sea Sprite was a self-contained antisubmarine warfare (ASW) system. The 1960s-vintage Sea Sprite was too small and underpowered to support the Navy’s new LAMPS II avionics system. The Blackhawk was the ideal size for the new system, and most of its development cost had already occurred. The Navy called its Sea Sprite replacement the SH-60B, where the “S” stands for antisubmarine warfare. The Navy began using the Seahawk in 1984.

Although the AH-6B Seahawk is primarily an antisubmarine warfare aircraft, it has secondary capabilities for rescue and anti-surface warfare. Like all naval versions, it has a personnel winch for rescue purposes. In addition, all Blackhawk derivatives are highly modular, and the Seahawk’s torpedoes can be replaced by hellfire guided missiles, and it can carry machine guns or even a 30 mm cannon (although the cannon is primarily for clearing minefields).

The Navy was very happy with the Seahawk, so it ordered versions to replace many of its other helicopters. For central fleet protection, the Navy used the big Vietnam War-era SH-3 Sea King. The Navy replaced the Sea King with the SH-60F Seahawk. For Marine troop assault, the MH-60S Seahawk replaced the Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight assault helicopter. The “M” stands for “multimission.”

An ASW helicopter needs to find enemy submarines lurking near the fleet. One way to do this is to deploy a long wire behind the helicopter. This magnetic anomaly detector, or MAD, can detect the presence of submarines at considerable depth. The SH-60B has its MAD boom on the right rear of the aircraft. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Would the Enterprise Have Moored?

November 2, 2010
The Pacific Fleet’s three aircraft carriers were fortunately out of port on December 7, 1941. The Saratoga was en route from Bremerton, Washington to San Diego, where she would embark her air wing. The Enterprise and the Lexington were on missions to deliver aircraft to Wake and Midway, respectively. The Lexington had just left on November 5th. The Enterprise had left on November 28 and been scheduled to return on the 6th, but heavy seas delayed her arrival until late in the day on December 7.If the carriers had been in port during the attack, where would they have berthed? Although ships did not always berth at the same location, Commander Lawrence R. Schmeider reported that the biggest ships had “normal” mooring points. For all three carriers, we know these normal mooring points from photographs, and for the Enterprise, we have additional information directly from Schmeider and at least one other source. 

As Figure 1 and Figure 2 show, the Lexington and Saratoga typically moored to the northwest of Ford Island. So did the Utah when she was in port.

Figure 1: The Lexington at Pearl Harbor1941 (National Archives 80-G-379385)

Figure 2: The Saratoga at Pearl Harbor, October 22, 1941 (National Archives 80-G-279370)

The fact that carriers often berthed on the northwest side of Ford Island does not come as a surprise to most docents at Pacific Aviation Museum. We often say that “carrier row” was opposite from battleship row relative to Ford Island. However, Figure 3 shows a photo of the Enterprise at her berthing point. Notice that this is on the southeast side of the Ford Island, between the California’s normal berth and the berths of the other battleships on battleship row.

Figure 3: The Enterprise at Pearl Harbor

This may come as a surprise to many docents. However, in addition to the photographic evidence, we have the statement of Commander Lawrence R. Schmeider, whose detailed report on the normal berthing points of a number of ships at Pearl Harbor included information about the Enterprise. He specifically said that the Enterprise usually moored behind the California. Supporting this, the book Battleship Sailorhas a photograph of the Enterprise moored just behind the California’ stern.

If the Enterprise had been moored between the California and the other battleships during the attack, she would have been impossible to miss. To get long enough low-altitude runs to their targets, the 24 Kate torpedo bombers that approached battleship row had to fly through the narrow Southeast Loch. To hit most battleships, the Kates had to veer to the right when exiting the loch. To hit the California, they had to veer left. However, Figure 4 shows that the Southeast Loch pointed like an arrow almost directly at the normal berthing point of Enterprise.

Figure 4: Southeast Loch and Ford Island (National Archives 80-G-192874)


Information about the location of carriers is from Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 Carrier Locations, Naval History and Heritage Command. Last visited October 29, 2010.

Schmeider, Commander Lawrence R., “The Last Months of Peace at Pearl Harbor,” pp. 51-56 in Paul Stillwell, ed., Air Raid: Pearl Harbor! Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, USA.

All photographs are from the National Archives. They were taken by military personnel and are in the public domain.

U.S. Scout/Observation Floatplanes in World War II

September 20, 2010

OS2U Kingfisher Floatplane


In World War II, aircraft carriers were not the only ships to launch and recover aircraft. Cruisers and battleships each carried a few small floatplanes.[i] Most were Curtis SOC Seagulls or Vought OS2U Kingfishers. Curtis SO3C Seamews and SC Seahawks also saw some use in the war.

Battleships usually carried four. They used them primarily for observation—watching the fall of shells during surface actions to help direct gunfire.[ii] This gave most of these aircraft an “O” in their official designations. Observation was critical in World War II, especially in the early years before radar was perfected because battleships often had to fire on targets far beyond visual range.

The “S” in their designations meant “scouting.” Cruisers used their floatplanes primarily to locate enemy surface ships and submarines. Battleship and cruiser flotillas often had to sail without aircraft carriers. When they did, cruiser floatplanes were their only eyes. Cruisers often gave up some of their deck space to a seaplane hanger, allowing them to carry up to eight floatplanes.

Cruiser Hanger with Stripped-Down SOC Seagull (USN)

Floatplanes had many other missions during the war. An increasingly important role was finding and recovering pilots downed at sea. A single rescued pilot could be carried inside the aircraft. Figure 3 shows an aircraft being prepared to be lifted back onto its ship. The pilot and observer/gunner are fixing a hook to the floatplane. The rescued pilot is sitting the back seat. Read the rest of this entry »


May 20, 2010

Arriving Tiger

This summer, FedEx will deliver a big package to Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor—a World War II P-40E Warhawk. FedEx inherited the P-40 when it purchased Flying Tiger Airlines. As you might expect, the aircraft is painted in the colors of the Flying Tigers. This new arrival will give docents at Pacific Aviation Museum the opportunity to talk about the famous Flying Tigers and the often-overlooked China-Burma-India (CBI) theater.

In preparation for the P-40E’s arrival, this blog gives some background on the Flying Tigers and our new aircraft in particular. At the end of this blog, there are some larger-size pictures of P-40s, the Flying Tigers, and Claire Chennault.

Blood for the Tigers

Pearl Harbor was just the beginning. Just hours after striking Hawaii, Japan decimated MacArthur’s air forces in the Philippines and the British air forces in Malaya. Later that same day, Japan bombed Guam, Wake Island, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and several other targets. During the next weeks and months, the Japanese rolled across Asia and the Pacific in an unbroken string of victories. U.S. morale was at rock bottom.

On December 20, 1941, ten Ki-48 Japanese bombers approached Kunming, China. With all eastern seaports closed, China could only get supplies through the Burma Road. Kunming was the road’s terminus in China, and it was all too familiar with devastating Japanese air raids.

Ki-48 Lily Bombers

This time, however, new fighters dove into the Japanese bomber formation. These were P-40B Warhawks, which had fared poorly against Japanese attackers at the beginning of the war. These P-40s, however, were a different story. They quickly shot down four of the bombers. The surviving raiders dropped their bombs short of the target and fled for home. More crash landed on the way back to their bases. Claire Lee Chennault, who commanded the P-40s, had assured his pilots that if they could shoot down a quarter of the bombers in a raid, the Japanese would not come back to Kunming. He was right. In their first combat, Chennault’s American Volunteer Group had made its mark. The AVG would continue to make its mark in coming weeks and months.

Time Magazine latched onto this small initial victory. In an article “Blood for the Tigers,” Time extolled this victory and introduced the name Flying Tigers. This name had been coined by the AVG’s small staff in the United States. Disney soon produced a logo for the AVG. It was a pouncing tiger jumping out of a V for victory. Of course, the logo had nothing to do the iconic shark’s mouth design on the Flying Tigers P-40s, but who cared? Soon many other news sources were following the exploits of the Tigers.

Read the rest of this entry »

“MiG Alley” Korean Conflict exhibit coming soon

May 7, 2010

See Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor restoration crew at work on our F-86 & MiG-15 as we prepare our “MiG Alley” Korean Conflict exhibit. New display opens June 25, 2010 in Hangar 79. You can see it on the Aviator’s Tour.

PBY Catalinas at Pearl Harbor

March 17, 2010

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, their main targets were battleships and aircraft carriers. However, they were worried about the big PBY Catalina flying boats, which had the range to find the Japanese fleet and track it for hundreds of miles.

The PBY’s role in the attack began at 7 am, when a patrolling Catalina found a Japanese minisubmarine just off the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Along with the destroyer Ward, the PBY dropped its depth bombs on the submarine. The PBY sent a coded message to its base at 7:15, but by the time this message was decoded and passed on to CINCPAC, the Japanese bombs had begun falling.

In fact, the Japanese attack began when a Val dive bomber dropped a 550 pound bomb on Ramp 4 at the south end of Ford Island. This bomb hit among Patrol Squadron 22’s twelve aircraft. In the blast and subsequent fire, seven VP-22 PBYs were destroyed and the remaining five were placed out of commission for several days. Other patrol squadrons did little better. Of the 61 Catalinas that were available on Oahu that morning, all but 11 were destroyed or temporarily knocked out of action.

However, all of these remaining PBYs took to the air to find the Japanese fleet. One actually tracked the retreating Japanese aircraft, but its accurate report on the bearing on the Japanese fleet did not lead to action.

Seaplane tenders were also heavily involved in the attack. The Curtis was attacked heavily and suffered one direct hit and two damaging near misses. During this attack, the Curtis saw a Japanese minisubmarine and fired at it, hitting it twice with 5 inch shells. Seaplane tender Tangiers joined in the attack on the submarine. The two tenders stopped firing when the destroyer Monaghan began its kill run on the submarine.

Within hours, four patrol squadrons began flying to reinforce Oahu, and another began moving to Hawaii the next day. The aircraft of one of these reinforcement squadrons, VP-51, were taken over by VP-22, which was then sent on to Patrol Wing 10 in the Philippines, which had also lost most of its PBYs in the initial Japanese attacks.

Catalinas flew with distinction throughout the war. Their ability to scout over long distances made them the eyes of the fleet. At Midway, it was a Catalina patrol aircraft that discovered the Japanese fleet. PBYs were also invaluable during the Guadalcanal campaign. Unfortunately, the PBYs proved incapable of defending themselves adequately against Japanese fighters. This included the PBY-5 and PBY-5A models, which had self-sealing fuel tanks, armored seats, and minor armor in front of gunners. Many were lost during the war.

PBYs were widely used in search and rescue operations. SAR Catalinas were called Dumbos.

PBYs were organized into patrol squadrons that nominally had a dozen PBYs organized into four three-plane sections. Squadrons were designated by VP, followed by the squadron number. P stood for patrol, while V stood for heavier-than-air. Squadrons were assigned to patrol wings. In Hawaii at the beginning of the war, Pat Wing 1 was located in Kaneohe. It had three squadrons—VP-11, VP-12, and VP-14. Japanese attacks destroyed or knocked out of service all aircraft on the ground and in the bay. Only the wing’s three aircraft on patrol were spared. Pat Wing 2 was based on Ford Island. It had VP-21, VP-22, VP-23, and VP-24. On the day of the attack, VP-21 was operating out of Midway and so was spared during the attack.

Post by Ray Panko