Jump to content

USAF Museum: Pearl Harbor Exhibit


Recommended Posts

As most of our readers will know, US forces were poorly prepared for the attack that came on Pearl Harbor and neighboring military bases on December 7, 1941.


The National Museum of the United States Air Force acknowledges that day with a striking exhibit based on a true story.


From their website:




"Destruction of the Airfields
The destruction of the Army Air Forces fields on the island of Oahu was a vital part of the Japanese battle plan. Though the target of the attack was the Pacific Fleet, the Japanese did not want to engage in an all-out battle with Army and Navy pilots. Japan feared that long-range American aircraft could trace departing Japanese aircraft back to their ships. Quick and complete destruction of the aircraft on Oahu was crucial for the Japanese attack to succeed.

Three Army airfields -- Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows Fields -- were targeted by the Japanese. The initial attack struck Wheeler and Hickam Fields, destroying aircraft, maintenance hangars and other structures. The base chapel, mess hall and barracks at Hickam also suffered serious damage. A second wave of Japanese aircraft struck Wheeler and Hickam Fields about one hour after the first attack ended. During the second attack, Japanese aircraft also strafed tents, buildings and aircraft at Bellows Field. At the conclusion of the Japanese offensive, almost 700 Army Air Forces personnel were dead and wounded, and more than two-thirds of the air power on Oahu was damaged or destroyed.

Dogfight Over Kaneohe
Opposition to the Japanese attack was scattered and disorganized. Army personnel shot at Japanese aircraft with everything from antiaircraft guns to pistols. One of the few pilots who managed to engage enemy aircraft was 2nd Lt. Philip M. Rasmussen of the 46th Pursuit Squadron. He had just arisen when the attack began. Still wearing his pajamas, Rasmussen sped toward the flight line.

At the flight line, all of the aircraft were destroyed or burning except for a few P-36 Hawks. Rasmussen jumped in one and taxied to a revetment at the edge of the airfield, where he joined three other pilots also preparing undamaged P-36 fighters. The pilots took off under fire, and were directed by radio toward Kaneohe Bay where they engaged 11 Japanese fighters in battle.

After shooting down one Japanese aircraft, Rasmussen was attacked by two Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters. Gunfire and 20mm cannon shells shattered the canopy, destroyed the radio and severed the P-36's hydraulic lines and rudder cable. Rasmussen sought refuge in nearby cloud cover and began flying back toward Wheeler Field. He landed the P-36 without brakes, rudder or tailwheel, and with more than 500 bullet holes.

For his actions, Rasmussen received the Silver Star. He survived the war, shooting down a second Japanese aircraft in 1943. He retired from the Air Force in 1965."


These photos are from the museum website.


AA 3.jpg

AA 5.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Other views of the exhibit, and the rare Curtiss P-36A. Although painted to portray Lt. Rasmussen's aircraft on that day, this is actually the first P-36A delivered to the Air Corps.


Note the photo of the destroyed P-40 in the background.

AA 10.jpg

AA 15.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A handful of other pilots also made it into the air that day.


In addition to Col. Sander's flight jacket, he museum has another interesting artifact: "Tuxedo trousers worn by the donor, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Harry W. Brown, when he was one of the few USAAF pilots in Hawaii to take off to engage attacking Japanese planes."




Flight jacket photo is from the museum website:



BB 10.jpg

BB 12.jpg

BB 16.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Per the museum website, it was of course, a very one sided battle:


"At 7:55 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, a Japanese force of 183 airplanes attacked U.S. military and naval facilities on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands without warning. For 30 minutes, dive bombers, level bombers and torpedo planes struck airfields and naval vessels.

After a 15-minute lull, a second wave of 170 planes launched another attack at 8:40 a.m. that lasted an hour. Casualties to U.S. service personnel were 2,343 killed, 960 missing and 1,272 wounded; Japanese aircraft destroyed 151 U.S. planes on the ground and sank or damaged all eight U.S. battleships at anchor in Pearl Harbor. At a cost of only 28 airplanes shot down, the Japanese had dealt the United States a staggering blow."

But to the credit of the men remembered here, the Japanese did not escape unscathed.


"The museum's P-36A exhibit depicts Rasmussen preparing to take off under fire in his P-36A. The actions of Rasmussen and his fellow pilots, while unable to change the course of the battle, were heroic examples of how American forces kept fighting even in the midst of crushing defeat."


This photo is captioned as the first Japanese plane to be shot down during the raid. If I recall correctly, it crashed in the middle of the US Army's Coast Artillery complex at Fort Kamehameha further down on the Pearl Harbor channel.









Link to comment
Share on other sites

Later, surviving American aircraft similar to this Seversky P-35 would be defending US forces in the Philippines.


"... the United States diverted a second order for 60 to the USAAC in 1940 and assigned them to the 17th and 20th Pursuit Squadrons in the Philippines. These aircraft, redesignated P-35As, were all lost in action early in the war. Ironically, the Japanese Navy ordered 20 two-seat versions of the P-35 in 1938, and these became the only American-built planes used operationally by the Japanese during World War II.

The aircraft on display, the only known surviving P-35... It is marked as the P-35A flown by the 17th Pursuit Squadron commander, 1st Lt. Buzz Wagner, in the Philippines in the spring of 1941."




""Lt. Boyd D. "Buzz" Wagner, commanding officer of the 17th Pursuit Squadron in the Philippines, was the first AAF ace of World War II. Flying against overwhelming odds, he was one of the handful of American fighter pilots who engaged vastly superior numbers of Japanese aircraft as the enemy overran the Philippines.

Flying a Curtiss P-40, he scored his first two victories on Dec. 12, 1941, and six days later, he shot down three more enemy fighters.

In April 1942 Wagner shot down three additional Japanese planes over New Guinea while flying a P-39 from Port Moresby. Although he wished to remain in combat, he was sent back to the United States where it was believed he would be of greater value in training new pilots. However, on Nov. 29, 1942, he crashed to his death on a routine flight from Eglin Field, Fla., to Maxwell Field, Ala."



AA 1.jpg

AA 5.jpg

AA 7.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looking like a Bond Drive poster... stalwart and determined....


Around the corner from the P-36A and the P-35 is a very haunting portrayal of one of the US Airmen who would be drafted into the ground defense of the Philippines.


"This mannequin depicts some of the makeshift characteristics of the USAAF personnel fighting on the ground. He is wearing a mismatched uniform that is a combination of a khaki service shirt and the more durable blue denim work pants. Others went into combat wearing work or flying coveralls or their khaki service uniform.

Weapons used by USAAF personnel on the ground varied considerably. This serviceman is equipped with a bolt-action Philippine Army issue M-1917 Enfield rifle. Other weapons used by USAAF on the ground included World War I Marlin and Lewis machine guns, .50-cal. aircraft machine guns on makeshift supports, and U.S. Army issue Springfield bolt-action rifles."


Foreshadowing what is to come is a photo of US personnel with their hands raised in surrender.


Museum website photo.




DD 5.jpg

DD 7.jpg

DD 3.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But out of defeat, after four terrible years, a hard fought victory would come...




(Currently the flag is reportedly not on display and is undergoing conservation.)


There is a lot more content on the museum's website. Even if you cannot visit in person, I encourage anyone with an interest in this period to follow the links and take the virtual tour.


Thanks for reading!

CC 1.jpg

cc 3.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...