On December 10, 1941, right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a B-17 bomber from Clark Air Base in the Philippines made a surprise attack on the Japanese naval fleet. According to Saburo Sakai’s testimony, he was guarding the fleet in the sky and saw three ripples out of sudden.
It was the first American attack on the Japanese fleet in the Pacific Ocean. The pilot of the bomber was Captain Colin Kelly. The Mitsubishi A6M Zero formation was guarding the fleet but Captain Kelly approached at a higher altitude to avoid their detection. Sakai could not believe his eyes, witnessing a bomber singly jumping in to attack without any guard.
Then a chase between Kelly’s bomber and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero formation began. Sakai claimed that he shot down the bomber but some did not believe him. However, the air battle must have been not much different from his testimony.
An intense air battle unfolded between 10 Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft and one bomber. Both sides had never had actual fight experience so they were terrible at maneuver, tactic, and shooting. The B-17 back then did not have a rear gun emplacement, which was critical. Captain Kelly twisted the bomber and maneuvered it in a defense mode to avoid attacks from Japanese aircraft and attack them with a machine gun. However, he was attacked in the rear side due to the lack of a rear machine gun.
Captain Kelly was shot when he got close to the base. He maintained the bomber horizontally to allow other members to escape with parachutes. When his co-pilot escaped lastly, the bomber exploded and he died.
Captain Kelly became an American hero. Based on sheer performance, it was a meaningless and reckless attack. However, there are factors in a war that cannot be measured only by number. His sacrifice moved everybody and instilled bravery and a fighting spirit in soldiers. There is no war that can be won without it.