McWilliams’ book follows his earlier “A Return to Glory: The Untold Story of Honor, Dishonor, and Triumph at the United States Military Academy" and a major work about the war in Korea “On Hallowed Ground: The Last Battle for Pork Chop Hill.”
After introductory praise by former top United Sates Army, Air Force and Marine general officers and an award winning Australian author, a forward by a retired admiral, brief explanations of military terms and a preview, the epic story of Sunday in Hell begins.
The new book does indeed tell the minute-by-minute story of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but its scope is far broader than the few hours of the actual attack. McWilliams’ lays out the historical context of the war’s preceding decade from America’s isolationism and the rise of the Axis powers - Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and militarist Japan - through the Spanish Civil War and Japan’s undeclared war in China.
McWilliams covers Japanese submarines and their Kido Butai Carrier Striking Force slipping out of their homeland berths in late November 1941 en route to Hawaii and culminating in the ferocious attacks on the U.S. Pacific Fleet peacefully lying at anchor at Pearl. McWilliams details the suffering and struggles of the seamen attempting to save themselves and their stricken warships as the battle unfolds and battleships USS ARIZONA (BB-39), OKLAHOMA (BB-37) and CALIFORNIA (BB-44), target ship UTAH AG-16 (ex-BB-31) and other smaller ships are sunk, and battleships NEVADA (BB-36), PENNSYLVANIA (BB-38), TENNESSEE (BB-43), MARYLAND (BB-46) and WEST VIRGINIA (BB-48) and others are damaged.
The book tells of the devastating Japanese air attacks on Kaneohe Naval Air Station, Bellows and Wheeler Army Fields, Ewa Marine Corps Field. During the two waves of air attacks, 2,335 American servicemen are killed, most on ARIZONA, and 68 civilians. Thousands are wounded.
Our SENSUIKAN! readers may recognize accounts of several IJN submarines. For example, I-26's sinking of America's first merchant loss, SS CYNTHIA OLSON, on 7 Dec '41 and the same submarine's sinking almost a year later of light AA cruiser USS JUNEAU (CL-52) off Guadalcanal. McWilliams also details the sinking of submarine I-70 N of Molokai, Hawaii by a USN SBD dive bomber, grounding of midget submarine HA-19 off Bellows Field and the capture of her CO, Ensign Sakamaki, the first Japanese made a POW in WW2.
McWilliams continues with tales of the aftermath of the attack. The American forces search for the enemy, the Governor of Hawaii’s declaration of martial law and the search for survivors among the carnage in the harbor. He also touches on the evacuation of military dependents and non-essential civilians and much more, including interesting anecdotes and related side-stories.
The sweeping scope of the book includes Japan's attacks on Hong Kong, Malaya, the Netherland East Indies and Rabaul and the details of the Kido Butai's raid on Port Darwin. He concludes with accounts of the internment of Japanese-Americans in the continental United States, the fall of Corregidor, LtCol Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid and the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway.
Sander Kingsepp, my long-time colleague and coauthor, said of the book: “I am still mighty awestruck after first opening it. Before reading "Sunday in Hell," I somehow had the impression that the Pearl Harbor attack had been covered from every possible angle. I could not have been more wrong. … I have never seen such diligent use of Japanese records that I have been working with earlier. McWilliams has managed to solve a number of mysteries that we have been puzzled about. I have savored every page. Being an editor myself, I must confess that I cannot even imagine the entire amount of work behind the book.”
This 999-page book contains an introduction, 14 chapters, source notes, bibliography, maps, charts and rare photographs. Our sole criticism is the lack of an index.
We highly recommend this outstanding book. It supplements other fine works on Pearl Harbor such as Gordon Prange's “At Dawn We Slept” , Walter Lord's “Day of Infamy” , H. P. Willmott's “Pearl Harbor ,” and Alan Zimm’s “Pearl Harbor.”