December 07, 2015

An Unlikely Outcome, 74 Years Ago Today

December 7, 1941: Two SOC Seagulls from U.S.S. Northhampton were patrolling near the island of Ni'ihau, (westernmost of the permanently inhabited Hawai'ian Islands) when they began to receive reports that all was not well at their home port of Pearl Harbor 150 miles to the east .   What had been a peacetime training and observation mission was suddenly a war patrol.

After some time, they noted a a plane with a big red meatball on it trailing black smoke and approaching from the east. As it turned out, it was a Zero from IJNS Hiryuu. The little biplanes were completely obsolete and had no hope of besting a modern fighter in a dogfight, but this one was obviously damaged and might be easy pickings...or lead them to the Japanese task force...and in any event, the odds were two against one. Of course, they had no idea what the Mitsubishi plane was capable of....and even less of an idea about the undamaged Zero from IJNS Akagi that was escorting its companion far above them all....

Yeah...things got very interesting for the floatplane crews, very quickly. The odds were now one and a half of the most formidable fighters then in the Pacific verses two planes that were frequently used as target tugs. The dogfight lasted about twenty minutes, with the two biplanes dropping to just above the water, jinking wildly and covering each other with the flexible rifle caliber machine guns in their rear cockpits. All the while the pilots tried to present their observers with a good broadside shot. The little planes were so slow that it was hard for the Zeroes to get them in their sights and their lack of any armor, an extra set of wings and rapidly emptying fuel tanks made them sufficiently maneuverable that Radioman First Class Robert Baxter was able to get a bead on the undamaged Zero and pump it full of enough .30-06 that its status changed from "undamaged" to "little Japanese flag on side of utility floatplane"*. The already damaged Zero was beginning to come apart and its pilot made a desperate bid to reach the nearby island. The two shot up Seagulls limped back home having achieved a small victory against great odds on one of the darkest days in U.S. Navy history. 

There is an odd postscript to this story: The damaged zero made it to Ni'ihau, which was (and still is) a cattle ranch. The cowboys took in the pilot, one Shigenori Nishikaichi  and threw a luau for him until they got access to a news report and realized the situation. They then held him in the house of a ranch hand of Japanese origin named Harada (to facilitate communication) until the authorities could arrive. While they waited, Harada armed the pilot, helped him escape and assisted him in taking over most of the ranch and holding the island hostage, threatening to begin killing people if they could not account for everyone on the island, the names of whom Harada had given him. Since one guy had gone to get help the killing was set to commence starting with the wife of a cowboy named Ben Kanahele. This proved to be a poor choice for victims as Mr. Kanahele tackled the pilot, getting shot 3 times in the process, but while Nishikaichi was shooting him Mrs. Kanahele jumped on the pilot and bit him until the perfidious Harada pulled her off, by which point the profusely bleeding cattleman was able to get to his feet and slit the pilots throat. Yoshio Harada fled and committed suicide. ben Kanahele was hailed as a hero and the traitorous actions of Mr. Harada during this incident may well have contributed to the awful Japanese internment that started the next year. 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 12:07 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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