Forum: "PEARL HARBOR"  - The new movie
Topic: Errors in the movie: pearl harbor
started by: David Aiken

Posted by David Aiken on Mar. 20 2003,11:06
Aloha All,
My friend, Ed Chen, has gathered a long list of errors which follow. How many did you find?
David Aiken

Historical Detail Goofs Appearing in the Pearl Harbor MOVIE
by Edward Chen
DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this thread IS TO NITPICK. If you're reading this and get the urge to scream "It's a movie, not a documentary"--I already know that. However, if you find other historical detail goofs, feel free to add it to this list. Also, my apologies for the long post.

***** SPOILER ALERT! *****

First of all, everything you have seen in the second trailer and TV spots was not fixed. So all the historical detail goofs STILL APPLY (especially the Lexington portraying the Akagi, and not being properly disguised with CGI ***)

- Khaki in December? Shouldn't officers be in dress whites on Sunday morning? What was West Virginia captain Mervyn Bennion wearing when he was fatally hit, and wasn't he outside the protection of the ship's conning tower (struck down by fragments thrown up by bomb hit on the Tennessee?

- Children running around and playing right next to an outdoor conference of the Japanese high command including Admiral Yamamoto, who is insisting on an attack on Pearl Harbor to insure the survival of Japan. Shouldn't it be the other officers insisting on war with the United States? And what are the children doing there? This is where the lengthy, turgid but historically accurate conference scenes from "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (denoted as T3) are meaningful to watch.

- Mako would have made a decent-looking Nagumo, rather than the round-faced ADM Yamamoto. Also there's a closeup of Yamamoto's hands during a staff meeting, showing all ten of his fingers. Yamamoto actually had two fingers missing (the middle and fourth) on his right hand, lost during the 1905 Battle of Tsushima when he was wounded as an ensign aboard the armored cruiser Izumo (this was credibly simulated by Soh Yamamura's portrayal of Yamamoto in T3).

- One scene shows the Japanese tearing off calendar page to mark the change from December 6 to December 7. Except that when the Pearl Harbor attack took place it was December 8th, Tokyo time, and it was 4AM when it was 7:30AM in Hawaii. [In T3, VADM Nagumo says in translation "Hostilities will begin on December 7th, exactly as planned" upon receipt of the famous "Niitakayama" message, but he actually says "December 8th" in Japanese.]

- The aircraft launch from the Japanese carriers happens in broad daylight, with the flight crews running out of the island onto the flight deck in bright sunshine (and surrounded by steam gases which can only be found on a contemporary US carrier with steam catapults). Kido Butai actually turned into the wind around 5:30AM and began launching the first wave at 6:15AM, which would have been just before dawn; the crews should have been manning their planes while it was still dark, as it was shown in T3. T3 also spends five minutes showing at least two dozen planes taking off, which really gives a sense of how massive this airstrike was (actually up to that date it was the biggest carrier launch in history). But then, in 1970 they had 36 T3 replica planes to use, instead of the nine still remaining after 30 years of attrition.

- Visibly shown were the dark asphalt-like surfaces of a contemporary American carrier deck as would be found on the Lexington. Japanese and American WW2 carriers had flight decks covered with a wooden top layer.

- Lt. Kermit Tyler looked bald and overweight. (Sincere apologies to the actor who portrayed him--don't take it personally--if you're reading this!;)

- The Oklahoma looked too narrow, like the size of a cruiser (the actual battleship was 95 feet wide, and 583 feet long). The capsizing scene was rather effective, almost having the feel of a coffin door closing on her crew when the ship completely rolls over. But was there an explosion on the Oklahoma when she capsized, and did her tripod-style aft mast collapse?

- B5N2 torpedo-armed [KATE] carrier attack planes play a big role in this film--TOO BIG of a role in this film, although it's well portrayed. The torpedo attack is stretched out over too much time, when in reality it was done in the first 11 minutes of the two-hour air attack, and in two "sessions".

- 24 Kates from Akagi (led by LCDR Murata) & Kaga (LT Kitajima) attacked Battleship Row at the very beginning of the attack (5 Kaga Kates lost). Nice touch, in PH they show the first torpedo plowing into (according to David Aiken, the West Virginia), and vaporizing two guys on a scaffold painting the side of the battleship.

- 16 Kates from Hiryu (LT Matsumura) & Soryu (LT Nagai) attacked Carrier Row, discovered there weren't any carriers or battleships moored there, and several planes from this group (David Aiken knows exactly how many) circled around to make their runs against Battleship Row instead. One of these planes put the last torpedoes into the Oklahoma and West Virginia. The rest pressed home their attack here, which sank the target ship Utah.

There couldn't have been hundreds of sailors in the water YET when the last torpedos were launched, as the Oklahoma has only STARTED to roll over. PH shows so graphically in TWO scenes (and from the underwater POV). There are also scenes where Kates are shown flying between the Battleship Row ships WITH THEIR TORPEDO STILL ATTACHED. In the scene where "Rafe", "Danny", and the photographer are in their convertible racing towards the satellite airfield (and getting strafed), one of the four aircraft chasing them is a Kate with a torpedo attached (and remember, it carries NO forward-firing machineguns).

- Remember the hand grenades from "Die Hard 2" with the 15-second fuses (allowing Bruce Willis to stare at the grenades, then strap himself into an ejector seat and eject out of the transport plane)? The bomb that destroys the Arizona penetrates several decks into the ship (this is after the famous trailer "money shot"), then sits for what seems like ten seconds, with "Dorie Miller's" African-American mess attendant friend from the boxing match staring in disbelief, before its fuse stops spinning and explodes. Didn't a secondary magazine ignite, which then sent a fireball into the forward magazine, which was what actually destroyed the ship? The CGI destruction of the ship flashed by much too quickly, and the ship looked unrealistically plastic (there should also have been a massive fireball and smoke, as in the famous color documentary footage). ***
 There's another scene at the secondary fighter airfield "Haleiwa", as "Rafe" and "Danny" supposedly mimic Taylor and Welch) where one 250kg bomb from a D3A1 [VAL] carrier bomber lands, then tumbles across the ground into an occupied sandbagged pit, then sits there for 10 seconds before the fuse stops spinning and explodes, while one guy dumbfoundedly says "Don't worry, it's a dud!"

- CDR Genda on the carrier Akagi recommends "order them to attack the smaller airfields that we have missed". How on earth could any of the Japanese ships radio instructions to their aircraft if their shipboard radio TRANSMITTERS have all been locked up insure radio silence (their radio receivers were operational, to receive messages such as the famous "Nobore Niitakayama 1208" and "To-to-to...ra-ra-ra")?

- ALL THE ZEROS IN THIS MOVIE WERE PAINTED GREEN. They should have been light gray (but you guys knew that for months). Basically they used the flyable A6M5 Model 52 Zero (tail-code 61-120) and two flyable A6M3 model 22s.

- Zeros are shown strafing the battleships at Battleship Row and the sailors in the water. According to one thread below, there were NO Zeros strafing any warships (they went after the airfields)-- certainly none of the mano-e-mano plane vs Dorie Miller stuff. Real Zero pilots KNEW their planes were too fragile for this kind of stunt. Even in T3 which still doesn't get it completely right, Elven Havard's Dorie Miller tags a Val (not correct either) as it is passing by and flying away from the ship. There was one correct scene showing a Kate rear-gunner firing away at the battleships below after torpedo release.

- The West Virginia was shown with several of those historically inaccurate twin 50.-caliber MG on mounts designed for 20mm twin Oerlikon cannons, with which Dorie Miller grabs and fires away. See T3 for a more accurate dramatization of Miller's heroics.

- One translation of a statement from CDR Genda mentions "'Colonel' Fuchida states serious damage inflicted on American warships." Since when was CDR Mitsuo Fuchida, Akagi hikotaicho (air group commander or CAG) not in the Navy? [Although, technically, the Japanese use the term "chusa" to denote both Navy CDR and Army COL rank, which are equivalent (in the US military they are known as O-5, more for payscale purposes)].


According to the book "Pearl Harbor: The Movie and the Moment" (PHTMATM), the following full-scale sets were created for use in the Rosarita, Mexico large water tank (aka the Titanic water tank):

- Bow section up to triple-gun turret A of the Oklahoma, attached to "the world's largest gimbal", so that it can be rotated to simulate the Okie's dramatic capsizing. This set is probably the most interesting (my bad for thinking it to be the stern section at first). One photo with post-production work added (CGI background) accurately shows the Okie, rolling over to port, looking towards the stern, with her triple AND twin gun turret shown (the Nevada & Oklahoma were the oldest of the active duty battleships at PH, and were the first to have triple gun turrets).

- Section representing the upturned stern of the Oklahoma, with rudder and 4 shafts.

The actual Nevada-class battleships had 2 shafts.

- Forward section of the Arizona, up to her collapsed tripod mast, including her submerged forward triple-gun turrets. This set actually looks like the real thing; kudos for getting it hauntingly right.

- Forward section of a battleship, with triple-gun turrets and a cage mast, and often shown submerged but upright. This appears in the position where the Arizona's stern section would be, but the Arizona had tripod masts fore and aft. This set could accurately represent the California (which was sunk, but not clustered with the Battleship Row BB's) or her sistership the Tennessee (which wasn't). [BTW, PHTMATM identifies this set as the West Virginia, which still isn't right b/c the WeeVee had twin 16"-gun turrets].

One thing they did not adequately do was mask the individual sets with CGI. Thus, the trailer shot, showing the capsizing Oklahoma from the bow with the collapsed forward mast of the Arizona slanted to the left (where's the rest of the Arizona, let alone the fact that it wasn't in that location?) is still there. In another scene, the Oklahoma's capsized bow AND stern were shown and oriented in the same direction.


The aerial dogfight sequence actually took up almost half of the PH attack scene (but this was supposed to be a love story focussing on our two main heroes, right?)

Well, credit ILM for taking the technology for portraying X-wing fighters (and those alien fighter craft from ID4) and applying it to WW2 aircraft, BUT...

- I found the "green" Zeros hard to distinguish in the "Rafe" & "Danny" dogfight, who were flying dark-olive P-40's, and the latest model N's. LT's Kenneth Taylor and George Welch flew P-40B's with 2 nose-mounted .50's and 4 wing-mounted .30's (though according to one source, only the wing-mounted guns were working).

- Haleiwa, the satellite strip 7 miles to the north of the main fighter base at Wheeler, from which the real Taylor and Welch took off to battle the Japanese, was never attacked by the Japanese. Neither were those two real pilots strafed while in their convertible.

- In the movie "Rafe", "Danny" and the groundcrews at "Haleiwa" are mercilessly strafed by Zeros, and many are killed (including their photographer friend) as they run from some cover to the COVERED aircraft revetments, SPR-style. One P-40 from their squadron is destroyed on the runway attempting to take off. Actually, IMHO Bay did a nice job here, but ideally this scene should have occurred at Wheeler BEFORE "Rafe" and "Danny" get into their convertible to head for "Haleiwa".

- One P-40 at "Haleiwa" was destroyed by gunfire piercing the COVERED revetment. Shouldn't they be bulletproof?

- "Rafe" and "Danny" shoot down 7 Zeros between them (3 in that contrived mid-air collision when our daring duo played a game of "chicken"--the Zeros reminded me of TIE fighters). I guess they should have had enough ammo to actually each shoot down 2 Zeros. Most of the 6 kills credited to the real Taylor & Welch were second-wave Vals (divebombers), so at least they attacked something more valuable, and they did it in two sorties, Taylor landing at Wheeler Field while under heavy fire and Welch at Haleiwa to rearm. A real Zero would not have been able to keep up with "Rafe" and "Danny" going down-on-the-deck (the P-40 has a much greater diving speed). Nor would a real Zero, especially flown by Kido Butai fighter pilots who were China veterans, just simply weave back and forth horizontally like the last one that "Danny" killed--he would have done a vertical loop which was a standard Japanese aerial evasion maneuver, and one the less maneuverable P-40 would not have been able to match.

- "Rafe" and "Danny" killed 7 Zeros, Dorie Miller got two, and Earl (Tom Sizemore) and his groundcrews with their short-ranged weapons (Earl's shotgun and the others' Tommyguns) on the tower got one. That's 10 Zeros, while the actual Kido Butai lost 9.

- They could have shown other real heroics such as CMH recipient USN Lt. John W. Finn blasting away at Japanese aircraft at Kaneohe NAS with a .50-caliber MG, and tagging Soryu kansen buntaicho LT Fusata Iida who then attempts a real "kamikaze" attack (albeit unsuccessfully). Maybe it was the producer's intent that PH should be watched alongside "Tora! Tora! Tora!" to get the full picture.


- In "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again" [p.250] Doolittle says, and at least this is straight from the book: "I know what I'm going to do. I don't intend to be taken prisoner. I'm 45 years old and have lived a full life. If my plane is crippled beyond all possibility of fighting or escape, I'm going to have my crew bail out and then I'm going to dive my B-25 into the best military target I can find" ---

--- Here the Alec Baldwin portrayal immediately adds "and kill as many of the b****** as I can." This extra line phrase, added b/c director Michael Bay wanted the Doolittle character to cuss more a la General Patton, was what attracted all the media attention and will get the entire speech deleted from the Japanese edition of the film. Doolittle's actual reply continues: "You fellows are all younger and have a long life ahead of you. I don't expect any of the rest of you to do what I intend to do."

What should have been emphasized (and this might have appealed to the Japanese audiences watching this film) was Doolittle insisting to strike military targets only--no civilian targets, no hospitals or schools, and especially NOT the Imperial palace, as several of the crews were itching to bomb. However, this was not only out of concern of galvanizing Japanese resistance, but also out of his extraordinary concern for his men should they be captured by the Japanese (which unfortunately happened to eight of the Raiders). This was why the Raiders especially loved the "Old Man", for his humility, generosity and concern for their well-being.

- In PH the famous fake rear-guns (broomsticks painted black) were hurriedly added to the planes in place of real MG's during the frantic premature takeoff following the sinking of a Japanese patrol trawler while still 200 miles away of their intended launch site. Actually, the fake rear guns were already in place when the Hornet left Alameda for Tokyo, as the actual B-25B's had a top turret and didn't have tail guns in the first place (tail guns and side blisters were standard equipment on the B-25J's used in the movie)

- Doolittle's B-25's were all shown bombing the same factory target in Tokyo. Actually they were not in formation but solo flights and struck targets in northern Tokyo, southern Tokyo, southern Tokyo/Tokyo Bay area, Yanagawa/Yokohama/Yokosuka, and individual planes hitting Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe. Which means there couldn't have been 4 planes in any single bombing scene.

- One of "Rafe's" crew ("Goose" perhaps?) was shown painting a duck on the side of their aircraft. I hope it wasn't supposed to be "The Ruptured Duck" flown by LT Ted Lawson, author of "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo."

That's the one's I can recall. Feel free to add others as you see them.

Best Regards,
Edward Chen
Posted by Jon Burdett on Mar. 20 2003,10:53
My Mr. Chen has alot of time on his hands.....
I thought one of the funny errors, was the obvious fact that the producers of Pearl Harbor had been looking at T3 for inspiration....Case in point.....T3 using Pearl Harbor as a film site in 1969-70, caught ships in the background with hull #s in the 1000s..fact is the highest numbered hull in Pearl Harbor on 12/7/41 was the JARVIS's the funny part...Pearl Harbor had to CGI or paint exsisting hulls to match..BUT, here is another ship with a 1000 series hull # ???  
Posted by Chris Friedenbach on Mar. 22 2003,1:34
Those high hull numbers are actually there for the same reason they were in T3.  Special effects was used to recreate the battleships, but many of the scenes involving other ships utilized more modern Navy ships mothballed in Pearl Harbor.  The ones you are referring to are a couple of Knox class frigates.


Chris Friedenbach
Posted by Jon Burdett on Mar. 23 2003,1:14
Thanks Chris,
Not to make an argument.....because I'm am just not sure.
Whereas I know some ships spend many years in mothballs...T3 was done in 1970, and it seems that the Knox class frigates there would most likely not still be there when Pearl Harbor was shot 30+ years later...I was at Pearl Harbor in 1989...didn't notice them then.  I took notice because of the obvious painting over of modern ship hull #s (painted over but not re-numbered) and of course the fact that they were not 30's vintage ships.  Of course I also realize that PH was not, nor intended to be a documentary.
Posted by Chris Friedenbach on Mar. 23 2003,10:46
My point was not that they were the same ships, but that both movies used post-WWII ships that happened to be located in Pearl Harbor at the time.  I don’t know off the top of my head which ship classes were used in T3, but they were likely active ships that happened to be in port at the time.  The Knox class ships were just entering service when T3 was filmed, and the ships seen in the recent movie were decommissioned in the early 90’s.  Check out the link below for photos of the Whipple mothballed in Pearl Harbor in 2000- this is one of the ships seen in the film.

< NavSource USS Whipple page >


Chris Friedenbach
Posted by Tracy White on Mar. 24 2003,4:16
Here's some Star-Bulletin pages on filming/inaccuracies
< The movie 'Pearl Harbor' blasts its way into a 'Week of Infamy' >
< Hollywood bombs Pearl Harbor >

The later link may help a bit with the hsip discussion.
I see an old Forrest Sherman, some "Spru-cans" (spruance class Destroyers), LST's, etc.
Posted by Brian OConnor on Mar. 25 2003,12:17
Actually, in the second link, the first photo shows ( from front to back )the bow of a Knox class frigate, a Charles F. Adams class guided missle destroyer, then a Leahy Class guided missle Cruiser.   Behind them are three Newport class LST's ( Landing Ship, Tank ).

In the second photo, you see three Spruance class  destroyers amid the fireball, and the former USS Mckee, a submarine tender.

When you look at these ships for some twenty plus years, you get to know them like relatives.   Fond relatives.

Posted by Tracy White on Mar. 25 2003,12:25
Hah! I should have known you'd be able to rattle those off Brian!  :p

Come to think of it, I'm surprised you didn't throw in "with the SPS-49" comments ;)

As an aside, I sent one of those pictures (the spruance class) to a friend of mine who used to serve on FFG's without telling him the story behind it... got his attention ;)
Posted by Band22 on Mar. 26 2003,7:23
My favorite "mistake" in the Pearl Harbor movie is the scene where the main character is going to England to fight with the Eagle Squadron. Leaving from NYC, the dramatic good-byes are classically set at a train station! Is this possible? Are there trains from NY to London? Wow, that work on the "Chunnel" advanced farther than I thought! OK, so maybe he was going to Canada by train, then by ship to England, but this is not explained at all, leaving the distinct impression he was taking the "Empire Express" to London. This scene is very funny when viewed with this realization. :p
Posted by Jon Burdett on Mar. 27 2003,1:55
Then again,

While were on the subject....Wasn't the Queen Mary painted grey during the war, as she was used as a troop transport?
I saw film of her taken in late 40 early 41 at New York and she was grey then.

Posted by TMARSHALL on Apr. 16 2003,9:08
You missed the Arizona Memorial in the back ground. When thy first show the girls on the boat in Pearl just as the camra pans down you can see the upper tips of the Memorial in the back ground.
Posted by Ken Hackler on Apr. 17 2003,2:10
Another small item is that nests (groups) of destroyers were not attacked as portrayed in the movie (albiet Knox class frigates).
Posted by Jon Burdett on Apr. 21 2003,9:21
I know a USS DOBBIN (AD-4) survivor that I talk to, and he was quite convinced that the Japanese attackers avoided the nests of destroyers.  Dobbin was nested with destroyers WORDEN (352), HULL (350), DEWEY (349), PHELPS (360), and MAC DONOUGH (351),  just NE of Ford Island at X-RAY 2, and he said they were just back from manuevers and were quite quick to respond to the attack. He states that many of the planes actually turned away from the nest due to concentrated fire.  He also mentions that they shot the shrouds off the DOBBIN's mainmast.
Posted by Dmerritt on May 10 2003,1:20
Here is one, Evelyn goes to the command post and The Major says they will be taking off in a couple of hours. back to the ship they pick up Japanese ship 400 yrds away and the have to decide wether to go or not so the launch. Later the Gen. tells the President they had to launch 12 hours early. So Evelyn was there 12 hours to soon. It looks like the editing or the time line wasn't right in the script.
Posted by Brian OConnor on May 11 2003,6:48
Being a retired sailor, my question on that particular scene is simply "how can another vessel (of any size) get that close to a carrier at sea before anyone says or does something?"
Heck, at 400 yards you can darn near hit them with a wrench!!
Posted by Rememberthearizona on Dec. 05 2004,5:29
- ALL THE ZEROS IN THIS MOVIE WERE PAINTED GREEN. They should have been light gray (but you guys knew that for months). Basically they used the flyable A6M5 Model 52 Zero (tail-code 61-120) and two flyable A6M3 model 22s.

actually most zeros were green, but i saw about 3 gray zeros
Posted by David Aiken on Dec. 06 2004,9:28
The "3 gray Zeros" were replicas of the D3A "VAL" dive bomber.
Posted by Richard Macchia on Dec. 06 2004,12:46
My best recommendation on this subject is for anyone who is interested in the true and falsehoods of the movie is to buy or attempt to rent the National Geographic VHS tape called "Pearl Harbor - Beyond the Movie".

  They do a very good job of sorting out what was accurate and what was inaccurate about the movie and in some cases why they stretched the truth or even made up some situations.  

   There was even a special edition boxed set release of the movi that actually included the National Geographic tape along with the P.H. Movie.
Posted by oscarwildecat on May 18 2005,8:49
My main problem with Pearl Harbor the film id that it shows sailors running around blindly and not returning fire for about 15 minutes. When in reality USS advocet and USS California returned fire in only two minutes
Posted by VMF211 on Sep. 19 2005,9:28
What about the battleship tripod mast collapsing onto another ship?
Posted by Jim Adams on Sep. 25 2005,10:40
When talking to one of the PH Survivors that volunteered at the Arizona Memorial when the movie came out - he said he would probably like the movie if (1), it said the Japanese attacked PH, and (2) that PH was located in Hawaii.  Well, at least they got those two items right.  Guess he understood Hollywood and didn't expect much from them.

Jim Adams

Posted by PPP on Mar. 02 2010,10:29
Painfully Bad movie--they have one of the IJN planes crashing into a mast of a battleship! It was on the USS Curtis that a bomber did crash into the Ships crane.

< >

Also Its :p  pretty hard to believe that a US Vol from the "Eagle Squadrons" {71, 121, and 133} who after nearly being burned alive/drowned could suddenly transfer to  the
95th Bomb Squadron  from fighter to Bomber pilot just like that! {Incidentally "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" is one of the better films-a true life story; in Contrast the dismal "The Purple Heart" is painfully propaganda!}

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