by Tom Sturgill
On 0755 hours Sunday morning December 7, 1941 the United States Navy’s Pacific
Fleet was attacked by Imperial Japanese Naval forces. By 0945, just shy of 2 hours, the attack was over, leaving in it’s wake all of the USN Pacific Fleet 8 battleships either sunk, capsized, or run aground. It’s three aircraft carriers were saved by not being in harbour that day.
In total of the 96 ships in harbour that day, 18 were sunk or heavily damaged. 188 Naval and Army Air Corp planes were lost and a total of Naval, Army, Marine and civilian casualties for the day were 2,403 dead and 1,178 wounded.
On Monday, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan and the US had
entered World War 2.
Despite President Roosevelt’s desire to enter the war sooner and his preparations to increase the Armed forces, the US found itself facing a war with an under strength military force. They also found their military lacking in enough modern military equipment, ranging from tanks, planes and even the soldiers individual weapon, the rifle.
Much like the big guns of the Navy battleships, the soldier relied on his rifle to help protect him and to defeat his enemy. On January 9, 1936 the US had adopted the US Rifle, Caliber .30 M1, or more commonly called the Garand, after it’s designer John C. Garand. Because of production delays and slight redesign requirements the first M1's didn’t begin reaching US troops until 1940 and they wouldn’t be fully equipped until 1942. With the adoption of the M1, America would become the first nation to fully equip it’s soldiers with a semi-automatic rifle.
However, on December 7, large amounts of US armed forces were still armed with the standard US shoulder arm the Springfield Model 1903, a bolt operated, 5 shot .30 caliber rifle based on the Mauser action. This rifle had been the standard weapon since 1903 and served during WW1 and the inter war years. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of the troops were in fact armed with the ‘03 Springfield, as were all of the nations National Guard units. The US Marine Corps would not be fully armed with the M1 rifle until late 1943, better than 60 percent of the Marines fighting at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 were armed with the 1903 Springfield. During WW2, the ‘03 would be the standard sniper rifle of the US Army, as a suitable sniper M1 wouldn’t be fully developed until late 1944.
In fact the Springfield Model 1903 would soldier on into the Korean War and as late as the Vietnam War and can still be seen serving as ceremonial rifles for honor guards, drill teams and parades.
In addition to a shortage of up to date rifles, the US found themselves also lacking in enough handguns to equip it's forces. Serving along side of the reliable 1911A1 .45 ACP caliber semi- auto handgun were the First War vintage Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers, also in .45 ACP caliber. Besides the odd Colt and Smith and Wesson revolver carried into combat by individual soldiers, most of these were assigned to rear-echelon troops such as military police and prison guards freeing the 1911A1 to be issued to front line troops.
Also issued and used would be the Smith and Wesson Military and Police Model revolver in .38 Special caliber. In the Army most of these would be issued to MP’s and some air crews. The US Navy would issue these to their fighter pilots and it was called the Victory Model, but in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, it was likely they would have been seen along side the above mentioned handguns.
Also in use during the early days of the war was the Model 1928 Thompson sub-machine gun, also in .45 ACP caliber. Many could still be found using the heavy and cumbersome 50 round drum magazine. The Marines, always lagging behind the Army in procuring the newest weapons, would still be using the M1928 with the drum magazine during the Battle of Guadalcanal. The TSMG would serve until the end of the war but would undergo many redesign changes.
The Browning Automatic Rifle, the venerable BAR, was a squad automatic weapon first designed in 1918 and was also seen in large numbers on December 7th as was the First War designed 1917 water cooled light tripod mounted machine gun and the .50 caliber M2 water cooled heavy machine gun. Many of these would have been used during the attack mounted on an anti-aircraft stand abound naval ships and at ground locations.
Besides these issued weapons, many different firearms would have been pressed into service in the chaotic first days of America’s entry into the war. As mentioned, many Guard units would still be issued with older weapons dating back to the First War and perhaps even earlier.
As America geared up for the war many new and modern weapons would enter into use, such as the M1 Carbine, the rocket launcher, a.k.a the bazooka, and of course the Atomic Bomb.
All of the above weapons, with the exception of the M1 Rifle and the 1911A1 pistol, would undergo many updates and improvements during the war, but on Sunday December 7th, 1941 the old tired and true weapons of the First World War would again stand ready to defend the Nation.