Monday, December 7, 2015

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor: The Day of of Infamy -- an Illustrated History
© 2001 Dan van der Vat,  illustrations by Tom Freeman
176 pages

Seventy-four years ago,  the Pacific Ocean became awash in the blood of war. Six carriers, operating for days under radio silence, parked north of Hawaii and unleashed a complete airborne arsenal -- fighters, torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and conventional straight line bombers at the small island of Oahu. Their target was the US Pacific Fleet, moored in Pearl Harbor. though the island's US Army defenders would also be savaged by the surprise attack, and the ordinary citizens of Honolulu would be stung by the debris of war. The day following, Franklin Roosevelt declared December 7 to be a day which would live in infamy -- and so it has, to a degree.  Being one of the greatest military disasters in American history, it has at least not been forgotten, 'inspiring' a movie as recently as 2001, and serving as the subject of scores of books.  Dan van der Vat's textual history is light, but rich,delivering on the 'illustrated history' premise. Like the Japanese, van der Vat works Pearl Harbor over location by location, focusing in turn on the key targets: Battleship Row, Hickham Field, Wheeler Field, and so on.  Firsthand accounts from Japanese airmen, US servicemen, and Hawaiian civilians appear with photographs of events as they unfolded, and pictures of artifacts -- the sword of a captured Japanese submariner, the scorched Red Cross patch worn by an aide worker, that sort of thing. Fulls-spread photographs of the Navy's mighty battleships crumbling under bombs and torpedoes abound, but the book also features art by Tom Freeman.  Despite generally depicting scenes of destruction, these pieces fetching to the eye and impressive in their detail, especially near Battleship Row.  There are also full-page spreads of Pearl Harbor itself, which -- given the book's proportions --   make it an excellent visual reference. The author included many "then and now" shots; it's surprising how much of the base has survived since the 1940s.  This illustrated history serves quite well as an overview for the Pearl Harbor attack,  especially given the first hand accounts and the ending chapter which points out that despite the loss of life, for Japan ultimately December 7 was a strategic flub.   The third wave against oil tanks and repair facilities was called off, and most of the ships damaged were revived. Even those which were never restored, like the Arizona and Utah, contributed parts to repair other ships. Within six months the Japanese fleet had been checked and reversed, and the long and grim work of rooting the Empire out island by island had begun.  The extravagant amount of visual media makes the book quite attractive to WW2 buffs, as well.


  1. Pearl Harbour was an almost perfect attack on an enemy base - from the Japanese side. Just imagine how things might have turned out if the carriers had been there and the third attack had gone in as planned. It wouldn't have won the Japanese the war but I think it would've taken the US a lot longer to get going in the Pacific.

    Of course from a strategic point of view it was a very stupid thing to do - First Rule of Warfare: Don't wake the sleeping giant!

  2. This author believed that US leadership expected war with Japan, but it had to make the first move. They probably didn't expect as overwhelming an attack as they received, though.

    I was going to read a novel about Pearl Harbor, but it turned out to be alt-history instead....something to return to later, I think!

  3. I think that war was expected with Japan but I don't think anyone expected the actual attack - despite later conspiracy theories!

    Of course we thought of the original idea. The Japanese just copied our attack at Taranto in Nov 1940.


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