It isn’t often that a book utterly alters my understanding of the past, but the book “ECHOES OVER THE PACIFIC — An overview of Allied Air Warning Radar in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to the Philippines Campaign” by Ed Simmonds and Norm Smith has done just that for me regards for both WW2 in general, and for today, Pearl Harbor.
ECHOS is the story of Australian and wider Anglosphere efforts to field radar in the Pacific during WW2. I am still reading it at page 60 of under 300 pages — but it has these passages regards Pearl Harbor:
Page 18 —
The following is summarized from Radar in WWII by Henry E Guerlac and an article ‘The
Air Warning Service and The Signal Company, Aircraft Warning, Hawaii’ by Stephen L
The strategic importance of Oahu was recognized in late 1939 and the Air Warning Service
(AWS) was to provide warning of approaching enemy aircraft using the newly developed
Extensive negotiations were needed as the sites, for the three SCR271s received in Hawaii on
3 June 1941, were located on land owned by either the Department of Interior National Parks
Service or the Territory of Hawaii. In addition access roads, power supply, water supply,
buildings et cetera had to be constructed – which occasioned even further delay. The net
result was that none of the SCR271s had been installed by 7 December 1941 !
Six mobile SCR270Bs arrived in Hawaii on 1 August 1941 and were shortly thereafter put
into operation because very little site preparation was required. Extensive testing of the sets
was carried out in the next few months on installations at Kaaawa, Kawailoa, Waianae and
Koko Head, Schofield Barracks and Fort Shafter.
On 27 September 1941 the SCR270Bs were tested in an exercise which, in retrospect,
resembled to a remarkable degree the actual attack of 7 December. The exercise began at
0430 hours. Attacking planes were detected by the equipment at Waianae and Koko Head as
they assembled near the carrier from which they had taken off 85 miles away. When they had
assembled, the planes headed for Hawaii. The ‘enemy’ were clearly seen on the cathode ray
tube and fighter aircraft were notified within about six minutes. They took off and intercepted
the incoming bombers at about 25 miles from Pearl Harbour.
Under the control of the Signal Corps, Air Warning, Hawaii, the Schofield training SCR270B
was moved to the site at Opana about two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour. The
construction of a temporary Combat Information Centre (CIC) was in progress and training
of the personnel at the centre was under way with reporting coming from six mobiles
SCR270Bs. Ironically the program was to hand the CIC over to the Air Corps when the
installation had been completed and the personnel had been properly trained – scheduled for
about two weeks after Pearl Harbour.
And from page 38 —
A training period for operators of the SCR270Bs and the Combat Information Centre was
scheduled for Sunday morning, between 0400 and 0700 hours, on 7 December 1941. There
were two operators at the Opana site, George Elliot a recent transferee from the Air Corps,
and Joseph Lockard.23 Because the supply truck did not arrive on time Lockard decided to
give Elliott some more training on the SCR270B.
At 0702 hours a huge echo, almost due north of Opana at a range of 137 miles, appeared on
the screen. Lockard immediately checked the equipment to ensure that it was functioning
properly since it was a maximum size or saturation echo. Having established that it was
indeed moving and needed to be reported, efforts were made to report it to the plotters at the
Information Centre but these proved to be fruitless as the Centre had closed down.
Eventually, on another phone, a Lt Kermit A Tyler was spoken to and he told Lockard not to
worry even though it was a huge echo and travelling towards Oahu – mention was later made
about a flight of B17s being expected.
Plotting continued until 0740 hours when the supply truck finally arrived at which time the
aircraft had disappeared in the Permanent Echoes (PEs) at a range of 20 miles. These PEs
were the result of back radiation from the antenna as the mountains were behind the radar set.
The unit was closed down, the men boarded the truck and proceeded towards Kawailoa for
breakfast meeting another truck travelling at high speed towards the SCR270B. On reaching
the camp they learned that Pearl Harbour had been attacked by the Japanese thereupon they
realized that they had plotted the enemy approaching Hawaii for more than half an hour.
In his reminiscences Lockard summed up the situation:
The incident at Opana is one of those ‘what if’ footnotes in history… What if
the attacking planes had left their carriers 15 minutes earlier?
The book details the similar “misuse of radar” disaster that befell British airpower in Malaya and the organizational failings of American radar units in the Philippines.
But for minutes of reaction time, effective resistance to the Japanese was lost across the Pacific. It is a lesson well worth remembering on “Pearl Harbor Day” seventy-one years on.