The Forgotten Reason Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

October 13, 2017 Topic: History Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IISumatraPacific WarJapanPearl Harbor

The Forgotten Reason Why Japan Attacked Pearl Harbor

Japan had been preparing for an all-out offensive in the Pacific for months.

Eventually, the Dutch and RAF riflemen got the upper hand at the roadblock and managed to chase Major Komura and the others away. Unfortunately, they were too late for the RAF trooper who had been trapped under the fuel truck. By the time the rescue group reached him, he had long since expired.

By now it was after 6 pm, and Lieutenant Ooki’s 20 paratroopers and captured armored car had managed to chase away the 300 Dutch and RAF defenders and capture the airfield office. Leaving a few men behind to guard the office, Ooki sent the armored car back toward the roadblock to inform Major Komura of his success while he took the rest of his men north toward the airfield.

At the roadblock, Flying Officer Macnamara, who had successfully fled from P1, and the others were milling about when the captured armored car suddenly appeared. “We naturally thought that the Dutch had at last broken through to our relief,” Macnamara recalled, “but after many had revealed themselves from the side of the road they were greeted with hand grenades.” Instantly realizing that the car was in Japanese hands, the Allied riflemen opened fire, causing the driver to crash into the other vehicles of the roadblock. “The Japanese,” Macnamara continued, “knowing their game was up … tried to make a break—a volley of fire from small arms—rifles and revolvers—greeted their exit from the turret.”

Perhaps realizing that the airfield might be under Japanese control, a small group of armed British airmen headed toward P1 and soon came upon the captured airfield office and the four or five Japanese paratroopers who had been left behind to guard it. A prolonged firefight then took place until about 20 Dutch reinforcements, one armed with a Bren gun, arrived and helped to overrun the hotly contested strongpoint.

In the meantime, at the airfield the paratroopers continued to arrive from their scattered drop zones and engage the defenders. By late afternoon most of the Allied defenders had either abandoned the airfield or been killed. Only about 60 armed RAF men and a few Dutch soldiers remained. Although they were running out of ammunition, they hung on stubbornly. RAF ground crewman Leslie Baker recalled, “[The] RAF ground crew were ready for them and the RAF lads stuck to their posts mowing down the Japs as they landed. We did, the RAF ALONE. [We] mopped up the Jap parachutists but not before we had had quite a few killed…. [It] made a mess of our aerodrome….”

The prime mover vehicle that had been attempting to pull two 3.7-inch antiaircraft guns to safety reached the main road leading to Palembang before it came under Japanese fire. “Unfortunately,” wrote a U.S. Army historian, “one of these [guns] had to be abandoned on the way, since light machine-gun fire had riddled the tires.” In fact, none of the antiaircraft guns made it out of P1. All 12 guns, most of them disabled by their crews, were captured by the paratroopers.

During a slight lull in the fighting, Wing Commander H.J. Maguire and Platoon Officer O.D. Creegan thought they heard troops on the road to Palembang and, imagining them to be Dutch reinforcements, hurried down the road to greet them. Instead, they met 60 to 70 Japanese soldiers assembling in the roadway. Knowing that they could not overwhelm the enemy by themselves, Maguire and Creegan decided to bluff their way out.

The two officers put down their guns and then walked up to the nearest Japanese soldier. “He looked very surprised but did nothing,” Maguire recalled. “So, sounding as confident as I could, I demanded to see his officer and, to my amazement, he shambled off and produced an officer. This officer had some command of English, and I immediately demanded surrender, saying that I had a large force behind me. He replied that he had a large force and that he would give us safe conduct if we marched out.” Continuing with their bluff, Maguire and Creegan said that they would have to discuss a possible surrender of the Allied command with their “non-existent senior officer” and then, turning around, walked back to their guns, picked them up, and walked calmly back to the airfield.

When the two officers arrived at P1, they discovered that the remaining handful of men had taken advantage of the lull in the fighting to set the fuel dump on fire and burn the remains of a few unserviceable aircraft. Then, using what few trucks remained, the 60 or so stalwart defenders had beaten a hasty retreat to the north, taking the road to Djambi. Maguire and Creegan quickly followed.

By 5 pm, P1 was completely devoid of Allied personnel. When Lieutenant Hirose and his three men finally came out of hiding on the west side of the airfield and approached the same barracks that they had approached before, they found it completely deserted. Looking around, they found cooked rations still on the stove, a fortunate happenstance since they had been unable to locate their drop containers and had only rice wafers and dried compressed fish with them.

An hour later, Major Komura, who had been gathering small groups of paratroopers into larger groups throughout the day, finally arrived at the airfield. Everything was quiet. The Allies had all fled or been killed. By the time darkness fell, P1 was in the hands of perhaps 100 army paratroopers of the 2nd Raiding Regiment.

At 11:30 am on February 14, 1942, six minutes after the paratroopers began dropping on P1, six Thelma transports began dropping Lieutenant Nakao and his 60 men from the 1st and 2nd Platoons, 1st Rifle Company on the west side of the Komering River close to the Shell Oil BPM facilities. At about the same time, the three Thelmas carrying Lieutenant Hasebe and his 39 paratroopers from the 3rd Platoon, 1st Rifle Company began dropping the men on the east side of the Komering, south of the Standard Oil NKPM facility. Although the Bofors and 3.7-inch antiaircraft guns at the oil refineries fired on the planes, all of the transports escaped unscathed. One of nine Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers carrying cargo containers was shot out of the sky.

Unlike the paratroopers at P1 who landed among jungle trees or tall reedy grass that made it difficult to find their cargo containers, Lieutenant Nakao’s men landed in a shallow marshland and located their weapons and supplies with little difficulty. Moving quickly toward the closest section of the BPM refinery near the junction of the Moesi and Komering Rivers, one group of six men led by platoon commander Lieutenant Tokunaga managed to overrun a pillbox at the southwest corner of the facility. Moving forward, the seven men worked their way into the refinery residential area before running into about 60 Dutch soldiers armed with machine guns. Tokunaga and his men quickly sought cover and opened fire.

While Lieutenant Tokunaga was pushing into the refinery, Lieutenants Ogawa and Yosioka were gathering groups of scattered troopers. Once enough men were at hand, the paratroopers followed Lieutenant Tokunaga and caught up with him during the firefight in the residential area. While Tokunaga kept the Dutch occupied, Ogawa and Yosioka took about a dozen men and climbed to the top of the central topping tower, raising the Rising Sun flag sometime between 1:10 and 1:50 pm, about two hours after landing.

Down below, Lieutenant Tokunaga and the paratroopers, who had since been joined by Lieutenant Nakao, commander of the 1st Rifle Company, saw the Japanese flag go up and began to work their way toward the central topping tower. As they moved forward, they hurriedly shut valves, turned cranks, and removed demolition charges placed by the Dutch when they first saw the paratroopers descending.

By the time the Japanese raised the flag over the topping tower, the Dutch and British had gathered enough men to stage a counterattack. The Japanese paratroopers, using the oil refinery air raid shelters as pillboxes, put up stiff resistance. Fighting raged across the compound with the combatants sometimes only 50 yards apart. Fuel pipes were punctured by bullets, and the thick, black, crude oil spilled forth. When an Allied mortar round impacted some of the spilled oil, the whole area burst into flames, sending black smoke billowing into the afternoon sky.

Determined to hold onto their hard-earned prize as the sun began to go down, Commander Nakao ordered Lieutenant Tokunaga to take his platoon and attack northward across the refinery, perhaps hoping to get a toehold in the separated portion of the BPM refinery along the Moesi River. Although they put up a spirited fight, Tokunaga lost a score of men and only managed to move up a short distance. When night finally fell and the bright orange flames of the burning oil fires cast eerie shadows about the area, the Dutch and British soldiers had retaken most of the BPM refinery.

Nevertheless, some of the 1st and 2nd Platoons of the 1st Rifle Company and the 2nd Raiding Regiment were still alive. With the paratroopers holding onto vital sections of the plants, Allied demolition teams found that they could not permanently destroy the areas they wanted to. Unable to destroy the facility, the Dutch and British soldiers quietly slipped away in the darkness.