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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
Tune in every Friday for a brand new episode of the Galveston Unscripted podcast.
On the morning of December 7th, 1941, far from Galveston, the island of Oahu, Hawaii, was quiet. Without notice, the Japanese had sprung an attack on Pearl Harbor, and in under four hours, the Pacific Stronghold for the United States Navy in Honolulu Harbor was nearly destroyed.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 marked the entrance of the United States to World War II. This swift surprise attack by the country of Japan killed more than 2,400 people and injured another 1100, both military and civilian. The Japanese attack successfully damaged 159 aircraft and 16 ships, including six battleships. Although the American fleet was surprised, the Japanese lost five midget submarines and 29 aircraft.
Admiral Yamamoto of Japan was aware that for this attack to be successful and to prevent the United States from operating in the Pacific in a significant naval capacity, Pearl Harbor needed to be rendered completely inoperable. To the dismay of the Japanese, the aircraft carriers that gave the United States the ability to launch a counterattack were not in port. The submarines at Pearl Harbor were not targeted, and the fuel storage tanks that would make it possible for the United States Navy to traverse the Pacific Ocean remained further inland and were relatively untouched.
The United States Navy started rebuilding the bulk of the Pacific Naval fleet and planning decisive countermovements. While Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz from Fredericksburg, Texas, rebuilt battleships, destroyers, and the Pearl Harbor infrastructure, a smaller naval vessel so easily unnoticed that the bulk of them escaped damage during the attack were holding their ground and were assisting the aircraft carriers in defending the Pacific until the fleet was back at full force. These smaller vessels were submarines. During World War II, Submarines were responsible for vital reconnaissance, sinking over 1300 enemy ships and over 5 million tons of enemy supplies. They were also responsible for general humanitarian aid and rescuing downed pilots, like former President George H.W. Bush on September 2nd, 1944, after his squadron of torpedo bombers was attacked. American Submarines had tremendous success in World War II. However, they did not make it through the war without losses. 52 United States submarines were lost throughout the war. When a submarine and its crew are lost, the vessel and crew are considered to be on eternal patrol.
In the 1970s, each state was designated a lost World War II sub to memorialize the submarine's contributions during World War II. The state of Texas was granted the lost submarine USS Seawolf, which was presumed lost, along with her 83 crew and 17 army passengers on December 28th, 1944. This vessel's memorial is on our own Pelican Island at Seawolf Park. The Galveston Naval Museum is located at the park. It exhibits a World War II era Destroyer Escort, the USS Stewart, and the World War II submarine, the USS Cavalla. The USS Cavalla has a remarkable history. Nicknamed the Lucky Lady, she was launched in late 1943, and on her maiden patrol, she gathered and relayed the intel which led to the United States Victory in the Battle of the Philippines Sea.
During her six World War II patrols, her efforts included escorting a damaged U.S. Submarine to safety. She earned four battle stars, sank upwards of 34,000 tons of enemy cargo, and was present in Tokyo Bay for the signing of the surrender documents of Japan on September 2nd, 1945. The Cavalla is also responsible for the sinking of the Japanese aircraft carrier, the Shōkaku. This Japanese aircraft carrier was involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor. After World War II, She was decommissioned but returned to service and refitted to face the Cold War threat.
In 1971, she was transferred from the United States Navy to the Texas Submarine Veterans of World War II and is now looked after by the Cavalla Historical Foundation. Located on the far east end of Pelican Island, both the USS Stewart and the USS Cavalla can be seen while riding the ferry or by driving over to Seawolf Park. The USS Cavalla and the USS Stewart. Teaching American and world history right here in Galveston.