About 60 airplanes were on the ground at Hickam Field, the headquarters of the Hawaii Air Force, and a flight of 12 B-17s was expected to arrive from Hamilton Field, Calif., on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
To personnel at Hickam, which is adjacent to Pearl Harbor, the Japanese raid seemed to unfold in three waves, starting at 7:55 a.m. when nine single-engine, low-wing monoplanes carrying torpedoes flew southeast of the hangar line toward Pearl Harbor at an altitude of 50 feet. Although these planes did not attack Hickam, dive bombers came in shortly afterward and hit the Hawaiian Air Depot buildings and the hangar line. After a lull, the Japanese bombers returned at about 8:25 a.m. and struck again, then once more at about 9 a.m.
Japanese “Zero” fighters and “Val” dive bombers strafed and bombed Hickam’s flight line and hangars, focusing on bombers.
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Later, 12 U.S. B-17s arrived unarmed and low on fuel during the attack. Some succeeded in landing at Hickam where they were attacked on the ground.
One of the B-17 pilots, George L. Newton recalled, “Our landing pattern took us from the north, down Battleship Row, between Ford Island and Hickam Field. … Huge amounts of smoke were engulfing the whole area.”
He continued, “Every type of anti-aircraft gun that would shoot was turned on us. We ran this gauntlet successfully only to be jumped by some (Japanese) fighters while on our final approach.” Later that day, Newton said, “our crew chief said he counted more than 1,700 holes in our aircraft.”
By 9:45 a.m. the attack was over. Nearly half of the airplanes at Hickam Field had been destroyed or severely damaged. The hangars, the Hawaiian Air Depot, several base facilities — the fire station, the chapel and the guardhouse — had been hit.
The big barracks had been repeatedly strafed and bombed, and a portion of the building was on fire. Thirty-five men were killed when a bomb hit the mess hall during breakfast.
Hickam’s casualties totaled 121 men killed, 274 wounded and 37 missing. Spared in the attack were critical repair facilities and gasoline storage tanks at Hickam, Pearl Harbor and elsewhere on Oahu.
Sources: Pacific Air Forces, Office of History, Hickam Air Force Base (Leatrice R. Arakaki and John R. Kuborn); National Park Service