“AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR”
DECEMBER 7, 1941, AS REPORTED BY RADIO
One of the most momentous events to occur during the 20th Century was the December 7th, 1941 surprise attack by Japan on United States military installations located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. On that day, most Americans relied on radio to keep them informed about the latest developments in an unfolding crisis that everyone knew would result in war.
The following is a summary of what was reported by radio on that day. Bracketed annotations have been included to provide a better understanding of what was taking place while these programs were going out over the air, and to help clarify and expand upon what was being discussed by the news commentators and military analysts. (Please note: all times will be given in Eastern Standard Time which was five and a half hours ahead of Hawaiian time.)
1:00 a.m. Radio Station KGEI in San Francisco reports that President Franklin Roosevelt “had sent or was sending a message to the Emperor.” [Japan’s refusal to withdraw its military forces from China and its threatening moves towards Thailand, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies had made war with the United States almost inevitable. As diplomatic relations with Japan continued to deteriorate, the President hoped that a direct appeal from him to Japanese Emperor Hirohito would keep hostilities from breaking until some sort of settlement could be negotiated.] In Tokyo, American Ambassador Joseph Grew hears the KGEI broadcast at 3:00 p.m. local time.
11:45 a.m. [at 6:15 a.m. local time, the first wave of 183 Japanese aircraft are launched from six aircraft carriers located 220 miles north of Oahu. Using their radio direction-finding equipment, Japanese fliers set a course for Hawaii using the signal from Honolulu radio station KGMB, which had been broadcasting a special all-night program of music as a navigational beacon to a flight of Army B-17 bombers, in-bound from the West Coast.]
12:31 p.m. [At 7:01 a.m. local time, two enlisted men on duty at an Army mobile radar station located at Opana Point on the northern tip of Oahu, observe “an unusually large response” on the oscilloscope. They judge it to be a large flight of approaching planes coming in from almost due north and at a distance of some 132 miles. The Opana Station calls the Information Center at Fort Shafter (the nerve center of the Army’s Aircraft Warning Service) to report what they have observed. Believing that Opana is tracking the fight of B-17s, which is due to arrive at 8:00 a.m., the officer on duty tells them “Well, don’t worry about it.”]
1:03 p.m. [at 7:33 a.m. local time, the RCA cable office in Honolulu receives a message sent from Washington by Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall advising Lieutenant General Walter C. Short and Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the two senior military commanders on Oahu, that Japan would be presenting what amounted to an ultimatum to the State Department at precisely 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Marshall’s message concludes with, “Just what significance the hour set may have we do not know, but be on the alert accordingly.” Since the message has no indication of priority, its delivery is handled as “routine” by the cable office.]
1:25 p.m. [At 7:55 a.m. local time, the first wave of Japanese aircraft begins an island-wide attack. As Japanese dive-bombers strike the airfields Kaneohe, Ford Island, Hickam, Bellows, Wheeler and Ewa, aerial torpedo planes begin their runs on ships in Pearl Harbor. Commander Logan Ramsey of the Ford Island Command Center instructs all radiomen on duty to send out in plain English “AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NO DRILL.”
1:30 p.m. [At 8:00 a.m. local time, the flight of B-17’s from the West Coast arrives at Oahu after a 14-hour flight. At this same time, aircraft from the carrier Enterprise arrive at Ford Island. Both flights are caught between enemy and friendly fire.]
1:38 p.m. At 08:08 a.m. local time, KGMB interrupts its musical program with a special announcement ordering all Army, Navy, and Marine personnel to report for duty.
1:40 p.m. [The forward magazines on the battleship Arizona ignite, resulting in a tremendous explosion and fireball. She sinks within nine minutes.
1:42 p.m. [General Short informs Washington and the entire Pacific Fleet that, “Hostilities with Japan commenced with air raid on Pearl Harbor.”]
1:45 p.m. At 8:15 a.m. local time, KGMB interrupts its music program with a second special announcement, ordering all military personnel to report for duty.
2:25 p.m. [At 8:55 a.m. local time, the second wave of Japanese aircraft begins its attack on Oahu’s military bases.In the White House press room, Presidential Press Secretary Stephen Early reads a brief statement to assembled reporters, informing them of the attack.]
2:30 p.m. At 9:00 a.m. local time in Honolulu, Webley Edwards makes the following special announcement on KGMB: “Alright now, listen carefully. The island of Oahu is being attacked by enemy planes. The center of this attack is Pearl Harbor, but the planes are attacking airfields as well. We are under attack. There seems to be no doubt about it. Do not go out on the streets. Keep under cover and keep calm. Some of you may think that this is just another military maneuver. This is not a maneuver. This is the real McCoy! I repeat, we have been attacked by enemy planes. The mark of the rising sun has been seen on the wings of these planes and they are attacking Pearl Harbor at this moment. Now keep your radio on and tell your neighbor to do the same. Keep off the streets and highways unless you have a duty to perform. Please don’t use your telephone unless you absolutely have to do so. All of these phone facilities are needed for emergency calls. Now standby all military personnel and all police -- police regulars and reserves. Report for duty at once. I repeat, we are under attack by enemy planes. The mark of the rising sun has been seen on these planes. Many of you have been asking if this is a maneuver. This is not a maneuver. This is the real McCoy.”
The NBC Red Network makes the following special announcement: “President Roosevelt said in a statement today that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii from the air.” [In Pearl Harbor, the destroyer Shaw explodes, sending debris everywhere.]
2:37 p.m. In Washington, CBS commentator Albert Warner reports that the White House has just announced that all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu in Hawaii have been attacked from the air. A Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would naturally mean war, as there is no doubt that Congress would grant such a declaration. The White House has just reported that Army and Navy bases in Manila have also been attacked. [This report proved to be untrue. The Philippines were not attacked by Japan until December 8th.] Hostilities seem to be opening all over the Southwest Pacific. Japan’s two negotiators in Washington [Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura and special envoy Saburo Karusu] are currently meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull. [The envoys had been instructed to deliver Japan’s ultimatum to Hull precisely at 1:00 p.m., which would have been 7:30 a.m. in Hawaii and prior to the attack beginning. Due to delays in preparing the ultimatum document, they did not arrive at the State Department until 1:45 p.m. By that time Hull had already been informed that the attack was underway. He did not admit them into his office until 2:20 p.m.] CBS in New York attempts to contact Honolulu and then Manila without success. CBS’ chief military analyst Major George Fielding Eliot speculates that the attack was most likely launched from aircraft carriers and that the attack was a “desperate attempt” to prevent the U.S. Fleet from intervening in Japanese military operations in the Far East. Japanese troop landings on Oahu are unlikely because of the logistics involved. [On these two points, Eliot’s analysis was essentially correct.] Calls for Honolulu police and firefighters to report for work might be an indication of some sort of uprising among the Japanese living in Hawaii. [There is no evidence that any sort of uprising by Hawaii’s Japanese population took place on December 7th.] From Manila, Ford Wilkins describes the military preparations that are taking place in various Far Eastern countries. (His report ends abruptly “due to line troubles.”) A report has been received from Singapore that Japanese troop transports have been seen moving into the Bay of Siam, heading for Thailand. Elmer Davis comments that one week ago, the Japanese had asked for two more weeks to negotiate a settlement over the situation in the Far East. In view of today’s events, this was obviously an attempt to stall for time and put the United States off guard. London has been “staggered” by news of the attack. Prime Minister Churchill has promised that Great Britain will declare war on Japan within the hour of the United States doing so. [Churchill was well aware that, by declaring war on Japan, the United States would also be going to war with Japan’s ally Nazi Germany, which the British had been fighting since 1939.] Congress will be meeting tomorrow and will undoubtedly be discussing the possibility of war with Japan. CBS’ affiliate station KGMB in Honolulu has reported that the air raid is still going on.
3:25 p.m. [At 9:55 a.m., the second wave of Japanese aircraft breaks off its attack and returns to the waiting carriers. The air raid on Oahu is over.]
3:30 p.m. [Planes from the first wave land onboard their assigned carriers, which have moved to within 190 miles of Oahu.]
3:15 p.m. On his regular NBC Red Network news program, H.V. Kaltenborn reports that 50 planes are believed to have participated in the attack and that “many were shot down.” [Of the 353 planes that participated in the attack, 29 were lost.] The first news flash telling of the attack was received by NBC at 2:25 p.m. The Navy has refused to comment about the attack and said that all information would be channeled through the White House. [It would be almost a year before details of the attack, including the extent of the damage, were made public.] The State Department has announced that the attacks were made “wholly without warning.” Kaltenborn assures listeners that “our Army and particularly our Navy were not caught by surprise by this attack.” [History records otherwise!] The main targets seem to have been Hickman Field and the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The President has called in the Secretaries of War and the Navy as well as Congressional leaders for an emergency conference at the White House. The air attacks in Hawaii are still believed to be going on. It has just been reported that an Army transport carrying lumber was torpedoed 1300 miles west of San Francisco. The AP has issued an unverified report that an unidentified foreign warship appeared off the coast of Oahu and is firing at Pearl Harbor. [This “unidentified warship” might have been the destroyer Helm, which had shelled a midget submarine attempting to enter the harbor.] Secretary of State Hull’s response to the Japanese envoys was that the Japan’s response was “crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions.”
3:30 p.m. [Planes from the first wave land onboard their assigned carriers, which have moved to within 190 miles of Oahu.]
4:00 p.m. On the NBC Red Network, a sermon by Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick is interrupted by an extended news update that includes a telephone report from a KGU correspondent in Honolulu. (During this report, a telephone company operator breaks in and asks the correspondent to get off the line for an emergency call!) From the White House newsroom, H. R. Baukhage reports that the President will address Congress tomorrow. The cabinet will be meeting at the White House tonight at 8:30 p.m. and will be joined by Congressional leaders of both parties at 9:00 p.m. It has been reported that 5 people have been killed in Honolulu. [It was later determined that most of the “bomb damage” that occurred in Honolulu was caused by unexploded anti-aircraft shells fired from Pearl Harbor, 12 miles away.] Germany had no immediate reaction to the attack. On the West Coast, all military leaves have been cancelled and military personnel have been ordered to report for duty. The FBI is “completely mobilized” to counter Japanese espionage. Beginning on Monday, all active duty military personnel are to report for work in uniform. [During the military build-up that occurred in the months prior to December 7th, military personnel serving in Washington and other major cities were instructed to work in civilian attire, lest the sight of too many uniforms create a “war scare” within the civilian population.] Portions of the message that the President sent to the Japanese emperor on Saturday afternoon, is read. Parachute troops have been sighted along the northern coast of Oahu. [Another false rumor!] Sailors in the New York City area are instructed to report to their ships.
4:30 p.m. NBC News on the Red Network: news of the attack on Hawaii was first reported in London by the BBC about an hour and a half ago. In San Francisco, NBC’s “expert on the Far East” Upton Close reports that the attack came as a complete surprise to the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco and might have come as a surprise to the Japanese Government itself. It is possible that these attacks were carried out under German influence and with German support, or by a small faction within the Japanese Navy that is trying to precipitate war. We cannot be sure as yet that the Tokyo government is behind it. Honolulu has reported that the attack has stopped. In Los Angeles, the sheriff has taken charge of Little Tokyo in order to watch for any Japanese “disorders.” If the Japanese Government is behind this attack, we are in for a bitter war in the Pacific. From KGU in Honolulu, a reporter gives a brief summary of events that are known to have happened so far. Considerable damage has been done to Hickham Field. Lines of communications between the various military bases seem to be down. 350 men were killed in a direct bomb hit on a barracks at Hickham Field. Bellows Field was also heavily damaged. A telegram from David Sarnoff [president of NBC] to President Roosevelt is read. It pledges that all NBC’s facilities are now available to him as needed. Affiliate stations are advised that NBC will remain on the air on a 24-hour basis during this emergency.
4:45 p.m.: At 11:15 a.m. local time, Hawaiian Governor Poindexter comes on the radio to announce a state of emergency.
5:12 p.m. At 11:42 a.m. local time, the Army orders Honolulu’s commercial radio stations to go off the air.
5:14 p.m. The NBC Red Network interrupts Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air with a flash announcement: Japanese Imperial Headquarters has announced a state of war with the United States. In San Francisco, Upton Close reports that Japanese Premier Tojo and other high-ranking Japanese military officials will speak in Tokyo at 7:30 p.m. EST. The extent of the damage done to military facilities in Hawaii is unknown at this time. The attack is believed to have come from the south. [As noted above, it was launched from the north.] Flash: Japan has just announced a state of war with Britain. Ford Wilkins in Manila is heard via shortwave, describing war preparations being made in the Philippines. Manila is still quiet and peaceful. [Ford Wilkins was actually CBS’ correspondent in Manila. NBC apparently picked up his shortwave report to CBS and aired it. Wilkins signs off, “I return you now to CBS in New York.”] From the NBC newsroom, H. V. Kaltenborn reports that a British gunboat in the harbor of Shanghai has been sunk by the Japanese. There has been no bombing attack on Manila and the original White House announcement was evidentially a mistake. It now appears that there has been serious damage in Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. [As noted above, the damage done to Honolulu was mostly from “friendly fire”.] The attack appears to have come as a complete surprise. There is now complete unity here in the United States regarding whatever course of action the President will ask Congress to follow. It is not known what Russia will do if Japan does not attack her. [Already at war with Nazi Germany, Russia did not declare war on Japan until August 8,1945 when the Pacific war was almost over.]
6:00 p.m. The NBC Blue Network reports that the White House has announced that there has been heavy damage and heavy loss of life in Hawaii. Two Japanese planes are reported to have been shot down. Witnesses in Hawaii saw shell flashes out in the ocean, indicating that some sort of naval battle was taking place. Via shortwave from Manila Bert Silan reports that there have been no bombing attacks in the Philippines. General MacArthur will decide if Manila should be evacuated. Navy Intelligence has announced that no more code messages can be sent from the Philippines. All messages must be in plain English. Honolulu was the last place that anyone expected a Japanese attack to occur. It is believed that the Japanese are planning to invade Thailand. MacArthur’s headquarters has announced that all U.S. Army and Navy personnel in the Far East are “on the alert.” [As for “being on the alert,” on December 8th, when the Japanese made their first air attack on Luzon, the principal island of the Philippines, the Americans were again caught by surprise and lost 86 aircraft, against only 7 Japanese Zero fighters shot down.]
6:30 p.m. [By 1:00 p.m. local time, the last of the Japanese planes are back on board their assigned aircraft carriers. A third wave was to have returned to Oahu to complete the destruction of the morning and to search for the American aircraft carriers Lexington and Enterprise, which had not been in port that day. However, unwilling to expose his ships to a possible American counterattack, task force commander Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, orders an immediate withdrawal back to Japan]. (NBC Blue Network):from Washington, Drew Pearson & Robert S. Allen report that the Japanese envoys in Washington have asked for their passports. The President first heard about the attack at 2:25 p.m. EST. [As noted above, General Short’s message advising Washington of the attack was sent at 1:42 p.m. EST. The White House issued its official statement to the press at 2:25 p.m.] Navy Intelligence believes that the attacking planes were launched from at least several carriers. It is believed that three battleships have been hit and that the rest of the fleet has steamed out of Pearl Harbor. [Only a few ships were able to escape from Pearl Harbor during the attack. Eighteen ships, including five of the eight Pacific Fleet battleships were sunk or badly damaged.] British bases in the Pacific have been bombed. The White House has cancelled the press credentials of all German and Japanese newspapermen effective immediately. The War and Navy Departments have been unable to reach their commanders in Manila. Both houses of the British Parliament will meet in an emergency session on Monday. It has been reported that Guam has been bombed and that Japanese planes are over Burma. The U.S. will go on a wartime footing tomorrow. Japan is ruled by an irresponsible military clique, which is responsible to no one. It is unlikely that Russia will declare war on Japan while Hitler’s army is threatening Moscow. A blackout has been ordered for the whole Panama Canal Zone. Pearson and Allen predict that, after little discussion or debate, Congress will pass a formal declaration of war against Japan. Britain will also declare war on Japan and become a full ally of the United States. There will also be a declaration of war against the German government of Adolph Hitler. Flash: it has been reported that a Japanese aircraft carrier has been sunk off of Latin America. [This proved to be another false rumor with no basis in fact.]
7:00 p.m. NBC’s News Roundup on the Blue Network: via shortwave from London, Fred Bates reports that Japanese diplomats in London are burning their official papers. German radio has blamed the war on President Roosevelt’s “war mongering.” The NBC New York newsroom reports that the Secretary of Defense has instructed all U.S. companies involved in war work to take steps to insure that their plants are protected from sabotage. NBC facilities in New York and on the West Coast are being protected by special police squads. From the White House newsroom, H.R. Baukhage confirms that Manila has not been bombed. President Roosevelt is currently in his White House study, working on the message he will delivery to Congress tomorrow. Baukhage describes being present when news of the attack was first announced at 2:25 p.m. EST. When told of the attack, Senator Burton K. Wheeler, the leading isolationist in the Senate was quoted as saying, “We will have to see it through.” The broadcast switches to San Francisco for a shortwave report from Manila by Bert Silan. The Japanese military has announced that it is taking over the International Settlement in Shanghai. The U.S. Consulate in Shanghai has warned all Americans there to keep off the streets. In Manila, troops have been rushed to their battle stations. The Yokohama Bank in Manila is completely surrounded by armed guards with machine guns and sawed off shotguns to prevent sabotage. It is expected that Japanese bank officials will be taken into custody. All Japanese stores in Manila failed to open this morning. Plans are being made to evacuate non-essential civilians from Manila shortly. Schools were closed today and will probably stay closed. Manila is calm, and is confident that U.S. forces will protect it. [Cut off from any assistance or reinforcements, U.S. forces in the Philippines held out until early May 1942 before they were forced to surrender to the Japanese.] It has been rumored that Singapore has been bombed. In San Francisco, Upton Close reports that the Japanese Consul in Portland was surprised and unhappy when he learned about the attack. Attempts by the Japanese Consul in San Francisco to burn confidential papers in a fireplace that was more ornamental than practical resulted in the fire department having to be called in to put out the blaze, which had gotten out of control.
8:28 p.m. [By 2:58 p.m. local time in Hawaii, General Marshall’s warning message has finally been delivered, decoded, and given to General Short and Admiral Kimmel.]
9:00 p.m. (NBC Blue Network): on his Jergens Journal broadcast, Walter Winchell announces that the Department of Justice is moving rapidly to intern all Japanese nationals. Japanese property in the U.S. will be seized at once. The importance of the Japanese attack is that war between the United States and Hitler is imminent. “National Security” is no longer just a phrase. In an editorial, New York’s leading isolationist newspaper The New York Daily News said that, “We should all stick by the President.” The Japanese who attacked Hawaii were probably a suicide force that did not expect to return to base. American anti-aircraft guns went into action on the spit-second. [Once again, history records otherwise!]
11:00 p.m. (NBC Red Network) News: from Washington, D.C., H. R. Baukhage describes talking with Congressional leaders as they emerged from the White House after meeting with the President. None of them would comment on whether or not the President will ask for a declaration of war tomorrow when he speaks to Congress at 12:30 p.m. EST. In Washington, there is almost a sense of relief, now that the “war of nerves” is over. In New York, Robert St. John reports that Canada has declared war on Japan. The Mexican congress will meet tomorrow to consider a declaration of war. There is an unconfirmed British rumor that Wake Island has been occupied by the Japanese. [Once again, this was a rumor with no basis in fact.] The Panama Canal Zone is on a full time war footing. In the U.S., all military leaves and furloughs have been cancelled. Armed troops are now guarding defense plants. John Vandercook describes Pearl Harbor as “not a place but a location.” The sprawling facility is “the most powerful maritime fortress in the world.” Vandercook then reports that Japanese troops have landed in Northern Malaya. Two Japanese bombs fell on Singapore, but did little damage. Japan is now at war with about one-half of the world’s population.
11:30 p.m. On the NBC Red Network, Ben Grauer moderates a round table discussion between some of NBC’s top commentators, who are heard via 2-way radio, speaking from various locations around the country. It is now clear that the attack on Pearl Harbor was only part of a larger military move by Japan. There is speculation as to whether or not Hitler encouraged the attack, since a two-ocean war would benefit the Axis. [There is no evidence that Germany encouraged Japan to attack Pearl Harbor.] It is believed that the President’s message to the Emperor never got through. Protecting the Panama Canal will now be of vital importance. The attack on Hawaii has ended all debate over whether or not the country should become involved in the war. There is speculation on whether the President will ask for a declaration of war just with Japan or with the Axis. [The President’s message, delivered to Congress on December 8th, asked for a declaration of war on Japan only. However, it was generally understood that, as Japan’s ally, Germany would declare war on the United State, which it quickly did.] There is discussion as to how soon the U.S. Navy will go on the offensive against the Japanese Navy. [The commentators were still unaware that the Pacific Fleet had been devastated and that U.S. Pacific defenses were in shambles.] There is discussion on whether or nor Russia will declare war on Japan. [As noted above, this did not occur until August 8, 1945.] It is suggested that the Aleutian Islands could be used to launch bombing raids on Japan, since such raids would cause widespread panic among the Japanese people. [On April 18, 1945, sixteen B-25 bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, carried out the first air raid on Japan. Although the damage done was trivial, the psychological effect on the Japanese people was profound.] The commentators are in general agreement that, given its limited natural resources, Japan cannot possibly win a war against the United States.
On December 8, 1941, in his famous “Day of Infamy” speech, President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare “that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.” Congress took only 33 minutes to approve the President’s request.
Many military historians believe that Admiral Nagumo’s failure to launch the third attack wave against Pearl Harbor, and to find and sink the two aircraft carriers Lexingtonand Enterprise were factors that ultimately determined the final outcome of the Pacific war. The undamaged Pearl Harbor shipyards began repairing damaged ships almost immediately. (Most all of them, including the destroyer Shaw, eventually rejoined the fleet and took part in the war.) Within days, repairs were made to bombed-out hangers and other installations, and Army and Navy airfields were back in operation in short order. With most of the battleships out of action, aircraft carriers became America’s new first line of defense in the Pacific. The effectiveness of their striking power was proven conclusively in June 1942 when carrier-based planes sank four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway. During that battle, which is generally considered the turning point of the Pacific war, Japan also lost a high percentage of its bravest and most experienced pilots. By mid-1945, and after a long and bitter struggle, Japan’s Navy and Air Force had been destroyed. Rather than sacrifice more American lives in an invasion of the Japanese home islands, President Truman authorized the use of nuclear weapons to force Japan into surrendering. Following nuclear attacks on Hiroshima (August 6th) and Nagasaki (August 9th), Emperor Hirohito announced unconditional surrender on August 14th. The occupation of Japan began on August 30th, and the official surrender ceremony was held in Tokyo Bay onboard the battleship Missouri on September 2, 1945.
Most of the December 7, 1941 broadcast day was transcribed and is available in the MP3 format. Heard today, these recordings provide a unique opportunity to relive one of the most profound days of the 20th Century as it was taking place.
Many fine books have been written about the Pearl Harbor attack. Two titles in particular that this writer can recommend are Dec. 7 1941 - The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange, and East Wind Rain - A Pictorial History of the Pearl Harbor Attack by Stan Cohen.
Eric Beheim is a life-long radio enthusiast. A former commanding officer of a Naval Reserve Combat Camera unit based in San Diego, he and his wife Pat live in Southern California..
Eric Beheim is a life-long radio enthusiast. A former commanding officer of a Naval Reserve Combat Camera unit based in San Diego.
Eric Beheim leads a multi-faceted career as a free-lance writer, professional musician, and owner of his own music and sound project studio.
Born in the first wave of "baby boomers" he grew up with radio and remains a life-long radio enthusiast. His particular interests are collecting news and commentary programs from the late 1930s and early 1940s (including World War II news), and programs that feature performances of operettas and musical theater presentations.