Joseph Lockard: The Hours Before the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Joseph Lockard was a radar operator in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He spotted the incoming Japanese forces an hour before their surprise attack, but his warnings were dismissed.
I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors in Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
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Today, we’ll hear from Joseph Lockard. Lockard was a radar operator in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He spotted the incoming Japanese forces an hour before their surprise attack, but his warnings were dismissed.
A friend and I enlisted in the Army in August of 1940. At that time, you had to be sworn-in in Harrisburg. So we rode a train to Harrisburg, were sworn-in and were transported with a group then from there down to Fort Slocum, that was the port of debarkation at that time for overseas. And spent much too much time between there and Fort Wadsworth. In November, we sailed for Hawaii, from New York, through the Panama Canal. I was 19 at the time. We arrived on Oahu in December of ‘40.
We were formed as a company, it was called Signal Company Aircraft One in Hawaii. Hawaii was a territory at that time, of course. And while we were formed as an Aircraft Warning Company, we didn't have any actual radar equipment to work with until August of 1940. At that time, we had received six mobile units, mobile 270B units. These were located at various points around the island. There was one on Koko Head where I spent some time. There was one at [indiscernible location], there was one at, I believe Waialua, and there was one at Fort Shafter. I don't know how many of that amounts to, but that's the ones I remember off hand. The one at Opana was not put there until November of 1941, that was one that had been moved from Schofield.
We received these units and of course, with instruction manuals, and we spent time at Schofield on one unit which was set up for everybody to learn about, because none of the people in the company had actually seen one of these units until that time. Then most of the training was actually done on the job, at the different locations around the island. There were regular programs of training exercises run on these machines. As I said, I spent some time at Koko Head first, before I was moved to Opana. Opana wasn't there at that time, the unit wasn't at Opana at that time.
We were a rather small company, and of course, I think initially there were 202 officers and men, there was a lot of support people. I was one of the technical people, and there were a crew of six, maybe six or seven, at each of these locations. So why was I selected? I was selected for, I guess, because of my technical competence. I don't know. I'd like to think so.
The 270B was a mobile radar unit. It was mounted on wheels, there was an operating van, a power van, an antenna trailer, a motor power unit for that trailer, and a stake body truck, which carried the antenna bays. All of this was demountable and capable of being transported to any location, whether it was a road or a reasonable facsimile of a road. The antenna was a mast on a trailer, which could be cranked erect after it was mounted with the nine bays that were bolted to it. These were connected by a series of quarter inch copper tubing that formed the transmission line. This then, set in an upright position at the base, had an azimuth ring, and the whole antenna was driven by a couple of motors so that it could be operated from the operating van in a rotation.
There was a transmission line of two quarter inch copper tubing lines that ran from a coupling underneath the antenna which was simply two coils of tubing that faced each other. They ran to the operating van and to the transmitter in the operating van, which meant that the operating van and the antenna had to be within 20 feet of each other, roughly.
In the operating van, there was an oscilloscope with a five inch tube, a receiver and a transmitter, and a unit called a keyer, a water cooling mechanism for the magnetrons, which were in the transmitter, and a desk for a plotter, and that sort of thing. These trucks were designed so that all the sides could be open, the sides were supported by chains, and the top section was supported by braces so that you could open them up. In the power van was located a diesel electric generator and a rectifier. And then of course there were power cables that ran from the rectifier to the operating van, so they all had to be in close proximity to each other.
Today's radars, comparison with the oscilloscope then, sort of like comparing a Model T with a new Cadillac. It was black and white, and gave only distance. It had a baseline, a main pulse from the baseline, which was the antenna source, and then spikes in the grass, as we called it, which indicated targets. You measured this distance by the fact that the transmitter was pulsed, it was on for a period of time, then it was off for a period of time, during which you received any responses from targets, and this was shorted out at the receiver using a spark gap. The receiver would then process that information, feed it to the oscilloscope, and you would get a blip on the baseline indicating a target. You would measure the distance with the oscilloscope control that was just beneath your right hand, so that you could actually measure a distance, based of course, on the travel of the speed of radio waves.
There was no way of determining the elevation of a target. In fact, in order to determine the exact azimuth, you rotated the antenna by means of a rheostat that was down beneath the oscilloscope between your legs, sweeping back and forth with the antenna until you peaked the signal. At that point, you would cry mark to the plotter, who would then look out the window, or the side of the truck if it was open, and read the azimuth off of the ring on the base of the antenna. He would then plot this azimuth, and accept from you the distance which you would call out, in miles, and that way you would get a location. But again, there was no way of determining elevation, except by pre-plotted antenna lobes, you could get a rough idea of altitude.
It required some experience to know that you had, for example, the right azimuth. Again, as I said, you moved the antenna back and forth, swept an arch in order to maximize the signal. And keeping all of this in hand required a little experience, but it wasn't anything anybody couldn't learn.
The radar equipment, while primitive, was very good equipment. And we actually outperformed the specs with it. For example, we could home in on Haleakala on another island, which was supposedly beyond the range of the equipment, 150 miles easily detectable, which is what we did in this case. Of course, it depends somewhat on altitude, but the equipment worked very well. We had maintenance problems, of course, it was relatively new, and we were new too. In fact, on the island at that time, we only had one spare rectifier tube, for all of the units. These were all vacuum tubes in those days, and rectifier tubes are not noted for long life. So we had some restrictions on our operating just merely to conserve equipment, but I would have to say that the equipment performed satisfactorily, we felt that we were on the leading edge of technology.
Well, when we were set up for exercises for actual operation, we were connected to an information center at Fort Shafter by landline. In the van, we, of course, had a telephone. And over the telephone, we would report to an operator at the information center, the positions of any targets that we had. This information was displayed on a large map on a board that lay horizontally in the room, depicting the island, and marked off in a grid, the surrounding water. The operators of this board would place little targets, little objects on the map and shove them around with sticks to the proper position, so that in a balcony that surrounded this table, observers could get a picture of the air activity and the ship activity in the area.
We had various operating schedules, but around the time that we're talking about, we were operating a schedule all day through the week. But on Sunday, we had a schedule from 4:00 AM to 7:00 AM, at which time we would close down. We generally operated in the morning, primarily because of the fact that the Air Corps in those days had morning flights, dawn patrols out. And this would give us something to practice with. You’ve got to remember that the level of air activity was nowhere near as extensive as it is today. In fact, the air activity was most exclusively military around Oahu at that time. So we had to count on the military training flights to give us our practice. Clippers came in, of course, but they weren't like streetcars.
Well, if I remember correctly, three or four sightings would probably be about as many as we'd get, normally, in morning's exercise. I think if you see the plots, the actual plot sheet, or the copies of the actual plot sheet, you'll see that there were three or four other flights recorded on that document as well as the main flight, of course. That was typical.
Well, we had no knowledge, of course, of any possible attack. We certainly weren't looking for anything like that.
The events in which I participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 started the night before when George and I went up to the radar site located on Opana Ridge on the north tip of Oahu. We spent the night up there because we were going to open up the station for operational exercises between 4:00 AM and 7:00 am in the morning, and it was easier to stay up overnight than it was to be taken up early in the morning. We arose in time to be an operation by four o'clock, and we continued to operate from 4:00 until 7:00. I don't recall, we only had a couple of sightings, I believe, if I remember correctly. Now, George Elliott was a new man in our company, he'd only been with us a couple of weeks, and he needed training on the equipment. So we decided to keep the equipment operating past the 7:00 time period to give him some practice while we were waiting for the truck to come and take us back to our base camp.
Shortly after 7:00, while we were still operating, George had just sat down at the scope I believe. If I remember right, we got this indication of what seemed to be a very large flight. In fact, it was the largest display I'd ever seen on the scope. I thought at first there was something wrong with the equipment, so we ran through a series of checks and decided that the equipment was functioning properly. We then decided to track it. I kept tracking it, and George was plotting it on the board, and we followed it for a while, and decided that maybe we better tell somebody about it. So George called on the landline and got Joe McDonald, the operator at the switchboard in Fort Shafter, which is just outside Honolulu, where our information center was located.
Joe told him that everyone had left, but that he would look around and see if he could find anybody. And he left the switchboard and looked around the information center and finally located an Air Force officer, young Air Force officer, Kermit Tyler. He relayed the information to him, and was told that, well, it was okay, forget it. So Joe came back and relayed the information to George, and we continued to plot it. And we were, again, impressed by the size of this thing. It was, as I said, obviously, the largest thing I'd ever seen on the equipment. So I called back again, and this time I spoke directly to the officer, I told him what we had. And again, he said, well, don't worry about it. I forget what he said exactly, but that was the intent of the message.
Now I have since been under the impression that he felt that it may have been a flight of B-17s that were coming in from the West coast that were due that morning. It was a custom to have early morning broadcasts when planes were coming in from the West coast to give them something to beam in on. He had heard the radio, he assumed that's what it was. But this was coming directly out of the north, which seemed to be a strange way to come from the Western coast of the United States. Actually, in those days, a B-17 had to be stripped down and extra fuel tanks put on board to make that flight. If he'd have been that far off coast, maybe he would never have made it.
But, we followed them then until they disappeared in the reflective grass of our equipment. And by that, I mean, we get a certain amount of interference from objects behind the radar antenna that project out in front of the antenna. In our case, it was about 20 miles, so we couldn't follow them much closer than that to the island. Of course, it was about at that point that they divided and went to their different targets.
When we first reported it, we actually reported it twice. When we first reported it, the response was negative, not to be concerned about it. But we felt so strongly that it was something that somebody ought to know something about because of its size, when we reported the second time, yes, I tried to convince him that, "Hey, we have something outstanding here. Somebody ought to know about it." But again, we were put off. There wasn't much more we could do, of course, there was nobody else in the information center but that Air Corps officer.
There was no precedent for this sort of thing, of course. You've got to remember that this was the first, I think it's a fair statement to say, that this was the first operation of American radar in battle. And I believe that there were many people in higher command at this time who had some reservations about the value of this equipment. They thought it was a pretty nice toy, but I'm not sure they believed that it was anything much more than that. I think this convinced them it was, but after the fact. We did what we could. We reported it. We reported it twice. We stressed the fact that it was unusual, but there wasn't much else we could do.
After that, the truck appeared and we shut the unit down and started back to our base camp. We were about halfway there, I guess, or around there somewhere, when the rest of our outfit in another vehicle passed us going toward the radar station, as fast as they could go, everybody waving their arms at us and yelling, but we couldn't understand what they were saying. As we drove on down the road, we saw black smoke appearing from over the area where the harbor was located. And of course, we still didn't know what was going on. We got to the base camp and we were told we were under attack. Of course, we both immediately knew what we had seen and what we had tracked.
We were too far away to hear explosions. We could see the smoke rising in huge billows over the harbor. We could not see the harbor, of course, because the Waianae range is between where we were and the harbor itself. We could see airplanes flying around, but other than that, no, we were not in the attack.
We had no idea that it was an enemy attack. None. We were speculating what it could be, but we really had no idea. I don't even know if we even mentioned that it could have been an enemy attack. You’ve got to put yourself in the timeframe to understand, nobody on the island was expecting an attack, that I know of.
When we heard what had happened, I immediately knew what we had seen. There was no question in my mind that, yes, that was indeed the attack coming in that we had witnessed on the oscilloscope. So I guess you can say we were the first Americans to know.
Well, of course, the first emotion is shock. And then after that, you wonder what comes next. I never could understand why they weren't equipped with troop transports to land on the island because I really think that an organized troop effort at that time would have taken the island.
If they'd have taken our first report, they'd have had almost an hour, three quarters of an hour certainly anyway, notice. What they could have done with that is anybody's guess. They certainly couldn't have got the battleships out of the harbor, but maybe they could have manned the anti-aircraft artillery, maybe they could have moved the planes around so they weren't all lined up like sitting ducks, maybe they could have got a few more planes in the air. Of course, they would have been greatly outnumbered in any case, maybe they could have saved a few lives, I have no way of knowing that.
Well, the Hawaiian Islands before the war- it's hard to relay to you the general attitude, the general conditions, of an Army post before World War II. You have to remember that at that time, I believe there were only about 185,000 officers and men in the entire United States Army. And this was a well-established, old line post. We were a relatively new company, but it was a rather relaxed lifestyle for the most part. And Sunday, of course, was a day of rest, followed Saturday night, which was a typical GI night on the town, if you had any money. And Sunday was peaceful, just like any other Sunday in any other part of the United States. Again, it's difficult to convey an image of the pre-war military establishment. There's a lot of spit and polish and all of that sort of thing, but the United States hadn't been in a war since when? World War I, and it was a very relaxed atmosphere I would say.
I know the tensions were building up between Japan and the United States. We know also that there was a war going on in Europe, but the war in Europe, from the Hawaiian Islands, was a half a world away. And while we read the newspapers, it was a little unreal, I would say, to the people there. As to the upward level of negotiations going on between Japan and the United States, of course, we had no knowledge of that. And then you got to give the Japanese credit for a very bold endeavor. After all, the Hawaiian Islands are a long way from Japan, and to take a battlefleet all that distance and never be seen by anyone is a pretty outstanding achievement. They maybe would have been less surprised in the Philippines, which is a lot closer to the war, and to Japan, than the Hawaiian Islands.
I think you need to recognize that we're now talking about a whole new kind of warfare. What started there was the key to the whole of World War II, that was pretty much unknown in warfare, certainly unknown to the United States in warfare up to that time, and that is massive air attack. Massive air attacks may have been going on in Europe, but we had no experience with it. We had coastal batteries of artillery, we had large gun emplacements for artillery. We had, I don't think there were more than 100, 150 airplanes on the Islands at that time. Most of them were trainers, and I know it wasn't too long before this that the first P40s appeared on the island.
I always considered it a footnote in history. Another one of those what if questions, history books are full of those, for want of a nail, how that goes. I felt it was a pure coincidence. Maybe lives could've been saved, probably lives could've been saved, had've been heeded, but again, I've always been fond of history and I realize that hindsight is always 20/20. And it's difficult, after you know something, to go back and evaluate a situation without that knowledge, you can't unlearn something. And it's never really haunted me. How much it's changed my life, I have no idea because in many subtle ways, I suppose it could have or did. For one thing, it brought me back to the States, it gave me an opportunity to become an officer. How that changed my life, who can say?
Lieutenant Tyler was a young officer at that time, a Second Lieutenant, I believe, I think with very limited experience. It certainly didn't hurt his career, I guess, because he went on to become a Colonel, at least I believe that's the case. I've never met him.
I don't know if he was ever reprimanded or not. It couldn't have been too severe because he went on to a career in the service, becoming a Colonel eventually I believe. On a personal level, I have no animosity. He didn't know any more about it than I did, apparently. Second Lieutenants are not privy to upper echelon information any more than Privates are. I know, I've been a Second Lieutenant.
Well, I have no firsthand knowledge of what the brass thought about radar. To second guess their reliance on this equipment is something I wouldn't be able to do. I do feel that there were many in the service who didn't believe that the equipment was much more than an elaborate toy. It had never been used, until now, in an actual engagement, until this episode. The equipment was so new that I suspect that knowledge of it and its capabilities were not really widespread. In those days, the Signal Corps was a separate organization from the rest of the Army, if you will, under a Chief Signal Officer in Washington. All of this was centered in that area, and it's questionable how much firsthand knowledge that certainly a lot of the field commanders even had of this equipment.
There was equipment installed in Panama, of the same type that we had, but, well, there was none outside of equipment we had in the Pacific. And again, we had only had it since August of that year. So, how much reliance a man responsible for defense could put on equipment that he had no knowledge of? You'd have to draw that conclusion yourself.
Have I ever pondered what else we could have done to have more emphasis placed on what we had seen? Not really, because we were 20 miles, as the crow flies, from Pearl Harbor. Our only connection with the outside world was a land line that ran directly to a telephone operator in the information center, and we had already used that avenue twice. There really wasn't anything else we could have done. I don't think smoke signals would have helped.
When we arrived back at our base with the truck, returning us from the radar unit, most of the contingent, we had already passed them going back to the equipment on our way back. We were, of course, then made aware of what was going on. We knew instantly that this was what had happened, but we discussed it, and we told the people, the few that were left there, what we were talking about. They, I'm not sure, fully understood what we were talking about at the time, but eventually Lieutenant Caserez who was in command of that detachment at the time, came to us and asked us, and we relayed all this information to him.
And then, we didn't hear anything more about it for quite some little while, until a Colonel Murphy I believe his name was, came with a series of questions and interrogated us. And then we didn't hear anything more for a while. And meanwhile, we had moved from the camp on the beach to a group of worker's shacks located nearer to the radar unit. What it was, was an abandoned pineapple plantation worker's camp, and we were there when I first heard over the radio that I was going back to the States.
After I came back to the States, I was sent to Officer's Candidate School. Even before that, and after, while I was still in the States, on a few occasions, I spoke to gatherings of people to help with the morale, if you will, to encourage the population, whatever. Whatever I could contribute. Of course, I went back overseas after I received my commission.
I think the significance of the entire episode was that, again, this was the first demonstrated ability of the equipment in an actual combat situation. And I think that it may have helped considerably to make a lot of people realize the tremendous potential of the instrument that we were using, and how useful it could really be in warfare. Of course, we all know today it's useful in a lot more than warfare, no plane could fly without it. Those days, if you look at this equipment as primitive, you also have to look at the fact that, from that standpoint, it was a tremendous leap forward from what existed prior to this. Radio beacons were about all they had before, and this was a vast improvement on that.
Of course, it was all dependent upon development of technology, which was in its infancy, and of course, without technology such as magnetrons, which were capable of generating this microwave energy, none of this would have been possible. So that there's a great deal of technology here that was in the vanguard in electronics that was just appearing, and it was greatly accelerated by the rest of World War II.
That was Joseph Lockard.
Next time on Warriors In Their Own Words, we’ll hear from Captain Joseph K. Taussig Jr. who lost his leg defending the USS Nevada during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He earned a Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for his bravery.
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Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.
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I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Warriors In Their Own Words.