Pacific News Minute: The Pacific Fleet After December 7th

Dec 8, 2016

The U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6), November 10, 1942
Credit Wikimedia Commons

On December 8, 1941, fires still burned in the wreckage of the battleships that lay in the mud of Pearl Harbor while crews in small boats continued the gruesome work of recovering the dead. Hidden amid the smoke, many of the seeds of the eventual American victory. More from Neal Conan, in the Pacific News Minute.

On the afternoon of December 8th, U.S.S. Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor, one of the three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers luckily not in port the day before. The Big E would be the only one of the three to survive the harsh lessons of 1942 to take its place in the unstoppable armadas of 1944.

Famously, the Japanese failed to launch a second strike on December 7th, so missed tank farms filled with precious fuel, irreplaceable maintenance and repair facilities and did not touch the submarines that would prove far deadlier than battleships.

Another target missed that day, the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet and many of the officers who would play key roles in the war to come. None more important than Lieutenant Commander Joe Rochefort, who lead the team that broke the Japanese Navy code, which lead directly to the crucial American victory six months later at Midway.

Six of the eight battleships sunk off Ford Island would be raised, repaired, and return to the fight. Three years later, five of them stood in the battle line that annihilated a Japanese force at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. 

And there's a footnote, on a Pearl Harbor survivor. The light cruiser U.S.S. Phoenix escaped the attack to fight across the South Pacific, then was sold as surplus to Argentina and renamed the General Belgrano. Forty-one years after Pearl Harbor, she was sunk with loss of 323 men by a British submarine during the War over the Falkland Islands.