6 December 2016
This week, America remembers the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This remembrance is particularly meaningful to the U.S. Navy, and even more to Sailors serving at Pearl Harbor. But it should have the greatest significance to the Submarine Force, because it was our contributions to the Second World War that suggest that December 7th, 1941, was actually the day that Imperial Japan won a battle, but lost the war.
Submariners are well-aware that World War II provided some of our greatest challenges, our greatest successes, our greatest heroes, and also our greatest sacrifices. And here in Pearl Harbor, we can stand atop the Dive Tower on the Submarine Base and actually see the most visceral reminders of the complete cycle of the war: its opening salvo, the seeds of our eventual victory, and even the war’s conclusion. That makes Pearl Harbor unique – where else in the world is there such a singular vantage point for the breadth of such a major conflict?
The Opening Salvo.
Visual reminders of the start of the war are obvious, and infamous. In the harbor lies the USS Arizona Memorial, which honors the nearly 1.200 Sailors and Marines who lost their lives onboard that fateful day. Seaward of Arizona sat the battleships that comprised Battleship Row, remembered now by a line of white caissons. These caissons remind us not only of the Sailors of those battleships, but of the sheer number of casualties: the nearly 2,400 men, women and children, both service members and civilians, who lost their lives on that “day that shall live in infamy.”
The War’s Conclusion.
Sweeping to the left of the Arizona from the Dive Tower, those caissons now bracket the most powerful symbol of the war’s conclusion: the battleship USS Missouri. Today, we can visit the very place on board that ship where in September 1945 the peace treaty was signed that ended the war. That signing ceremony marked both a beginning and an end. As an end, it meant that the war had been won. But it also marked the beginning of the equally important challenge of how to win the peace. And as a result of having won the peace, the United States of America and our former adversary of Japan are now close friends, partners and allies – committed to each other’s success, to each other’s defense, and to promoting freedom and democracy throughout the Pacific.
The Seeds of Victory.
So the USS Arizona reminds us of the start of the war, and USS Missouri reminds us of the end of the war, but the reminders of how the war was won are also visible from the Dive Tower. Although the results of December 7th were horrific, they did not prevent us from prevailing. There were three significant targets that were not struck, and the omission of the fuel farm, the shipyard and the submarine base had strategic consequence.
From the Dive Tower, we can see some of the many fuel tanks that supplied the fleet. Adm. Nimitz observed that had these tanks been struck, and their four million barrels of fuel lost, it would have taken two years to replenish our supply such that the fleet could prosecute the war across the vast, vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
From here, we can also see the dry docks and the incredible industrial capacity of the Navy’s “No Ka Oi” shipyard, the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. After the attack, 12 ships including five battleships had been sunk or beached and nine ships including three more battleships had been damaged. Yet within only three months, most of the smaller ships and all three of the damaged battleships were returned to service or refloated, and all of them eventually returned to the fight in the Pacific.
Lastly, Pearl Harbor submarines and the Submarine Base weren’t struck. Within hours of the attack, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold Stark ordered, “EXECUTE AGAINST JAPAN UNRESTRICTED AIR AND SUBMARINE WARFARE;” our submarines were the only forces able to immediately begin war patrols. They carried the battle across the Pacific and into Japanese home waters while the fleet was repaired.
Our submariners did their deadly business very well. Although submarines made up only two percent of our entire Navy, they sank 30 percent of all Japanese warships, and 55 percent of all Japanese merchant ships sunk during the war. But submariners also paid the heavy price of the heaviest casualty rate of any American branch of service in the war: 52 submarines were lost, and 3,628 submariners (22% of the force) remain on eternal patrol.
The Pearl Harbor horizon has many memorials containing much history, but this important story of submarine force success and sacrifice is hard to find within the Pearl Harbor narrative already on display. Until now. Today, we begin to share that story – honoring our heroes and educating the public – with a new display located in front of the USS Bowfin Memorial, free and accessible to anyone visiting Pearl Harbor’s iconic landmarks.
It’s important to remember though that the history of our submarine force didn’t begin on Dec. 7th, 1941; and the submarine force’s significant contributions to our nation’s security didn’t end in September 1945. Throughout the hostile peace of the Cold War, our strategic forces proved undetectable and invulnerable to threats, while our attack submarines demonstrated the ability to hold at risk what other nations’ hold most dear. And strategic deterrence and undersea superiority are just as important to our national security today as they have been in the past.
That makes this an incredibly exciting time to be a submariner, and an incredibly important time for our submarine force to maintain its undersea superiority. Our
Navy and our Nation should expect no less. So although the history of our submarine force is impressive and is to be celebrated, that history is not complete. Our history is being made today, and every day, by every one of today’s submariners. Because throughout the 116-year history of the U.S. Submarine Force, the most important factor in all of our many successes and in all of our nation’s conflicts has been the submarine Sailor. It is our submarine Sailors, supported by our families, then as now, that are our greatest asset; our secret sauce; our competitive advantage. They are the envy of every would-be competitor on the high seas – or below them.
So on this Pearl Harbor Day, let us remember the debt we owe to the veterans who preceded us – veterans who have won our Nation’s wars and who have also won the peace. But perhaps their greatest legacy is their example of honor, courage and commitment that is now proudly carried forward and embodied in today’s generation of submarine veterans. This is another greatest generation; one that continues to preserve that hard-won peace. It is their service that should now give us all great confidence that Gen. MacArthur’s words delivered on board USS Missouri in 1945 should prove to be prophetic: “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world, and that God will preserve it always.”
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Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park Unveil New Submarine Exhibit
COMSUBPAC Public Affairs, DVIDSHub.net, December 6
USS BOWFIN SUBMARINE MUSEUM AND PARK—Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Rear Adm. Frederick “Fritz” J. Roegge, in partnership with Chuck Merkel, executive director of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, unveiled a new submarine exhibit in honor of the 75th commemoration of the attack on Pearl Harbor at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Dec. 6.
Roegge spoke to more than 150 guests, military and civilian, about the importance of the submarine force during World War II.
“Within hours of the attack, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark ordered, ‘Execute against Japan unrestricted air and submarine warfare.’ Our submarines were the only forces able to immediately begin war patrols. They carried the battle across the Pacific and into Imperial Japanese home waters while the fleet was repaired.”
He explained that while the submarine forces made up only two percent of our entire Navy, they sank 30% of all Japanese warships, and 55% of all Japanese merchant ships sunk during the war.
“Submariners also paid the heavy price of the greatest casualty rate of any American branch of service in the war,” Roegge said. “Submariners are well-aware that the challenges of World War II produced some of our greatest successes, our greatest heroes, and our greatest sacrifices.”
Roegge explained the intention behind the exhibit by noting that, “It’s hard to find that important story within the existing narrative on display across the many museums and memorials that fill the horizon, and failing to highlight those details reflects a missed opportunity – not only to honor our heroes, but to share our story here at Hawaii's most popular tourist and historical destination until today.”
Today, we begin to share that story – honoring our heroes – with a new display located in front of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, free and accessible to anyone visiting Pearl Harbor’s iconic landmarks.
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