Operation K: A Second Pearl Harbor Attack

March 06, 2020
by Chris 

On December 7, 1941, the United States suffered devastating losses during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The assault launched the War in the Pacific and put the entire nation on edge, waiting for a possible follow-up attack or full-on invasion. Though the US mainland remained virtually untouched, Oahu again became a target on March 4, 1942, when Japan launched a second strike on Pearl Harbor. Known as Operation K, the objective this time was to disrupt the repairs and salvage operations resulting from the original assault four months prior.

Operation K: An All-Around Failure…

Two Kawanishi H8K “Emily” Flying Boats set off for Oahu, each carrying four bombs. Due to a lack of accurate weather intelligence, the attackers were unable to even locate Pearl Harbor, and one of the two ended up dropping his bombs near Tantalus Crater, north of Honolulu, and the second is presumed to have dropped his in the ocean. Unlike the first attack on Pearl Harbor, Operation K was a failure, with no damage being done to the naval base and only minor damage to a high school several miles away. There were no American casualties, though it did, once again, raise fears about the potential of a Japanese invasion. The attempted attack was something of a fiasco for both sides, with the US Navy and Army each blaming the other for the mysterious explosions near Theodore Roosevelt High School. There were also completely unsubstantiated reports from Los Angeles that claimed “considerable damage” had been done at Pearl Harbor, including many Americans killed or wounded.

…But They Kept Trying

While Operation K had no effect on operations at Pearl Harbor, that didn’t stop the Japanese from attempting to orchestrate another surprise on the United States fleet. This time, the goal wasn’t to cause damage but gather intelligence on the whereabouts of American aircraft carriers. The reason? Japan was planning to surprise them at Midway Atoll in what would later be known as the Battle of Midway.

Japanese carrier Hiryu burning during the Battle of Midway
Japanese carrier Hiryu burning during the Battle of Midway

That action was scheduled for May 30, but Admiral Chester Nimitz wound up throwing a wrench into Japan’s plan. In the wake of Operation K, the United States had learned that the French Frigate Shoals, an atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, had become a possible rendezvous point for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Fearing what could happen if left unchecked, Nimitz ordered that naval patrols in the area be stepped up. For the Japanese, that meant holding off on its May 30th operation.

When a Japanese submarine surveyed the region, it found the area mined and patrolled by two American warships. Although they were unable to gather intelligence and keep track of the aircraft carriers for the surprise assault on Midway, the Imperial Japanese Navy continued with its plan anyway.

What the Japanese didn’t know was that they weren’t the only ones gathering intelligence, and that its actions at Midway would change the course of the war, just not in the way they had hoped.

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