Maritime Topics On Stamps :

The Attack on Pearl Harbor!

Due to the political events in China, tensions had mounted between the United States and Japan as early as 1930. Japans's 1937 invasion of China, the 1940 alliance with the Axis powers, Germany and Italy, and, finally, the occupation of French Indochina in 1941 led to the U.S. embargo against Japan of oil and other important raw materials. All commercial and financial relations with Japan were frozen, and the Pacific Fleet was moved from California to Pearl Harbor. To have sufficient supplies of oil was imperative for Japan's expansionist designs on supremacy in South East Asia. The nearest source was in the Dutch Indies. Therefore, the Japanese General Staff adopted Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's plan for a surprise attack to cripple the U.S. fleet stationed at Oahu, giving Japan free reign throughout the Pacific. The stamp shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt and, underneath, Admiral Yamamoto. the leaders

The Japanese Navy had trained for the attack in one of the bays on Kyushu Island. On Nov.26 1941 the battle group departed six aircraft carriers with 423 planes, two battleships, three cruisers, nine destroyers, and eleven fleet oilers. With strict radio silence, this group kept to a northerly route while a submarine pack with mini-submarines strapped to the decks sailed to Oahu directly. (See stamp at left.) On Sunday, December 7, 1941, the first Japanese wave of attack took off from the carriers (see stamp at right), reaching Oahu around 07:51 a.m.
The planes were detected by U.S. radar at a distance of 212 kilometers, but mistook them for squadrons of American B-17 bombers expected to arrive around that time from the U.S. West Coast.

At 4 a.m. USS Ward received news of submarine sightings in the area. Around 06:40 a.m. USS Ward detected one of the mini-submarines, raced to the observed location, fired the first two shots of the war and loosened depth charges. The Japanese sub was sunk (stamp on the right). None of the five mini-subs was successful, they were all destroyed.

Us attack sub

port scenery

This miniature sheet depicts Pearl Harbor. Ford Island is located in the center, with the landing strips of the U.S.Naval Air Station. Anchored towards the front are several destroyers, cruisers, target ships, and support craft. On the far side we see 'battleship row' with seven battleships, several cruisers, submarines, and mine sweepers. The first aerial wave of attack consisted of 183 bombers, torpedo planes, and fighters. To report a successful surprise the pilots were to radio 'Tora, Tora, Tora', which went back to the carriers at 07:53 a.m., when the assault began (see stamp at lower right). Fighters and bombers descend on Oahu's six air bases; torpedo planes target the battleships.

US stamp
tora, tora
07:55 a.m.: Huge explosions rock cruiser USS Helena and mine layer USS Oglala. Aerial torpedoes are hitting USS Utah, and the battleships USS Oklahoma, California and West Virginia. The ships start listing and begin to sink.
07:57 a.m.: The radio signal heard around the world: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR. THIS IS NO DRILL.
08:02 a.m.: Anti-air batteries on USS Nevada down two torpedo dive bombers.
08:10 a.m.: Battleship USS Arizona blows up in a gigantic ball of fire and starts to sink. An 800 kg bomb had pierced the forward decks and detonated inside the forward magazines. The death toll is 1102 members of the crew. (Stamp towards left.)

air bases
08:37 a.m.: USS Moningham, a destroyer, rams a Japanese submarine inside the harbor, drops depth charges and heads out to sea.
08:50 a.m.: The second Japanese attack, with 167 planes descending on Oahu.
09:00 a.m.: Renewed bombardments of the landing fields.(Stamp at right.) This time around, U.S. air defense is ready for the enemy. (See stamp on left).

USS Nevada
USS Shaw
09:02 a.m.: Direct hit on drydocked battleship USS Pennsylvania
09:10 a.m.: Heavily damaged USS Nevada attempts to reach the open sea (stamp on left).
09:30 a.m.: An explosion spells the end for the destroyer USS Shaw (stamp at right).

burning ships
The attack on Pearl Harbor ended at 09:45 a.m.
These two stamps show the eight battleships on fire; Nevada, Maryland, Tennessee and Pennsylvania had sustained heavy damage, while California, Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia were sunk.

This miniature sheet is based on a photo depicting the burning West Virginia. In the foreground, a sailor is taken aboard a pinnace sent by the California.
The sad outcome:

  • U.S. casualties were 2,403 dead and 1,178 wounded.
  • Of the 96 vessels at the base, 18 were sunk (21 according to other sources) or heavily damaged, seven of the eight battleships among them.
  • On the airfields, of a total of 394 planes 188 were destroyed completely, and 159 were damaged.
  • The Japanese lost less than 100 pilots, 29 planes and some (6?) submarines.
One of Japan's most important objectives was not achieved: All three aircraft carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were safely out at sea.


The sneak attack's inevitable aftermath is shown on the stamp at left: War ! On December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt signed the Declaration of War against Japan. On the same day Great Britain did the same. Germany and Italy, allied to Japan, declared war on the United States on Dec.11, 1941. The Second World War had begun on a truly worldwide scale!

The stamp on the right shows today's 'Arizona Memorial' in Pearl Harbor. This National Historic Site was erected above the wreck of the battleship Arizona, resting 12 meters deep on the harbor's bottom. The names of 1,177 fallen sailors are engraved on a marble wall. And, still today, traces of fuel oil keep escaping from he wreck...

Arizona Memorial

invert stamp

© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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