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Offering a unique approach to history, this series of individual encyclopedias will delineate and explain the people, places, events, chronology, and ramifications of pivotal days in history. One Day in History: December 7, 1941 will provide a comprehensive and engaging overview of this date in history as well as an examination of the theme related to the date—the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. This volume will cover all aspects of December 7, 1941, including background information explaining what led ...
Offering a unique approach to history, this series of individual encyclopedias will delineate and explain the people, places, events, chronology, and ramifications of pivotal days in history. One Day in History: December 7, 1941 will provide a comprehensive and engaging overview of this date in history as well as an examination of the theme related to the date—the attack on Pearl Harbor and World War II. This volume will cover all aspects of December 7, 1941, including background information explaining what led to the date's events and post-date analysis discussing the effects and consequences of the day's events.
The weapon that won the day at Pearl Harbor for Japan never sailed within sight of the Hawai'ian Islands. When Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo launched the first of 353 planes on the morning of December 7, it represented the apotheosis of Japanese naval power and the triumph of 30 years of naval design and experimentation.
The idea of launching and recovering aircraft from ships dates back to 1910, when American aviator Eugene Ely's 50-horsepower Curtiss biplane took off from a temporary 57-foot platform on the light cruiser USS Birmingham, lying at anchor in Hampton Roads, Virginia. On January 18, 1911, Ely became the first man to land on a warship when his biplane slapped down on a 102-foot platform on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania, in San Francisco Bay.
The French, British, German, and American navies preferred seaplanes, which could be stored in protected hangars, shot from catapults, or lowered by cranes into the water before take-off. The Germans also preferred their massive Zeppelins, with vast ranges.
The Royal Navy shot Short biplanes from battleships in 1912, mounting guns and radio sets on them, and on July 28, 1914, Squadron Commander Arthur Longmore launched the first aerial torpedo.
The British converted three fast cross-channel steamers intoseaplane tenders, and on Christmas Day 1914 their Short biplanes launched the first aircraft-carrier attack in history, raiding the German bases at Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven. The following year, the converted steamer HMS Ben-my-Chree's seaplanes torpedoed and sank a Turkish transport in the Gallipoli campaign.
In 1915, the Royal Navy converted the Isle of Man packet USS Vindex to carry two Bristol Scout fighters. They saw their first action in 1916, when the pilot dropped Ranken incendiary darts on a Zeppelin. As World War I droned on, the Royal Navy kept trying by converting the cruiser USS Yarmouth to accommodate the Sopwith Pup fighter. One of USS Yarmouth's Pups was the first to shoot down an enemy aircraft, incinerating the Zeppelin L-22 on August 21, 1917, with incendiary bullets.
Success in hand, the Royal Navy converted the battle cruiser HMS Furious into the aircraft carrier role, removing her forward 18-inch gun turret and replacing it with a flight deck and a hangar. She hurled six Sopwith Camels at the Tondern Zeppelin base on July 18, 1918. Still, the Royal Navy was not through with aircraft carriers. They converted a liner into the carrier HMS Argus, the first carrier with a full-length unobstructed flight deck. The carrier made her trials in October 1918, and was operational before the Armistice.
The HMS Argus was the first modern carrier, replete with arresting ropes and a hangar deck below the flight deck, but funnel gases spewing over the stern still made deck landings a tricky affair. The Royal Navy's answer was deck-landing trials with a temporary superstructure erected on HMS Argus's starboard flight deck, representing masts, bridge, and funnel. Pilots reported no problem landing with this design, and the standard look of aircraft carriers was born.
The success of British carriers inspired the Americans and the Japanese. The Americans converted the collier USS Jupiter into the small carrier USS Langley. She looked like USS Argus, and her funnels were on hinges, so they could flip down during flight operations.
The Japanese, however, beat everybody. Their Naval Air Service had begun training in 1912 and operated seaplanes from the tender Wakamiya against the German colony of Tsingtao. They launched the first carrier built from the keel up, the Hosho, on November 13, 1921, putting her in operation the following year, beating Britain'sHMS Hermes into service. At 7,420 tons displacement, with a flight deck 500 feet, Hosho had horizontal funnels and no bridge. She also used mirrors and lights to assist landings--a forerunner of the system the British developed in 1954.
Nations that had carriers operated them singly, usually with an escort of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Initially, the British carriers covered convoys and hunted down German warships. The carrier HMS Victorious was the first to attack an enemy ship at sea, hurling nine Swordfish torpedo bombers at the German battleship Bismarck as she fled to France. The attacks did no damage, but HMS Ark Royal's Swordfish punched out the battleship's propellers and rudder, sending the dreadnought helplessly to the waiting guns of the British Home Fleet.
Nevertheless, armchair strategists did not take carriers seriously. Despite maneuvers and wartime operations that showed carriers could deliver tremendous long-range punches and slip away, they were seen merely as reconnaissance arms of the fleet. Pre-war American and Japanese naval planning called for a tremendous dreadnought duel to decide the fate of the Pacific Ocean, with battleships slugging it out in best Trafalgar style, and carriers taking a backseat, operating singly.
Those ideas changed when Japan's Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto ordered his staff to plan an air attack on Pearl Harbor, to cripple the U.S. Fleet at the outbreak of war. One of the officers assigned to develop the plan was the brilliant Minoru Genda, who was the navy's greatest advocate of aviation.
Sometime in November 1940, while working on the Pearl Harbor plan, Genda watched a newsreel that included footage of four American carriers sailing in a majestic single column. Genda did not think much of it until a few days later, when, while jumping off a streetcar, he considered, "Why should we have trouble in gathering planes in the air if we concentrate our carriers?"
He wrote that the task force being sent to Pearl Harbor should consist of Japan's six fleet carriers, with the aircraft massed in "two big attack waves," each of about 80 bombers with 30 fighters for protection, the planes all pooled for a greater punch.
The idea was accepted. When Japan's task force sailed for Hawai'i a year later, it was the first multicarrier task force in history. (See also Airplanes Versus Ships.)
Excerpted from One Day in History: December 7, 1941 by Rodney Carlisle Copyright © 2006 by Rodney Carlisle. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 2, 2013