See Burl on “Killer Subs of Pearl Harbor” tonight!


View from Japanese plane as attack begins. But some attackers saw Battleship Row from beneath the surface of the Harbor itself ...

I don’t know what you’ll be doing at 8 p.m. tonight, but I plan to tune in to PBS to see “Killer Subs of Pearl Harbor.” Burl says he will be “one of the third-tier talking heads” on this installment of “NOVA.” The premise? According to Time Warner Cable’s listing, “Japanese midget submarine may have played a role in the sinking of the USS Arizona.”

Y’all know Burl Burlingame — he’s a regular here on the blog. You may even know that he’s a journalist out in Hawaii, and that he and I graduated from Radford High School together in 1971. What you may not know is that Burl is a military historian who is particularly respected for his knowledge of Japanese mini-subs.

So tune in, turn on and all that stuff. And be sure to check out NOVA’s Web material on the subject, which Burl helped put together.

And if you can’t wait — or if you won’t be able to tune in tonight — listen to Burl in this podcast from NOVA’s Web site.

7 thoughts on “See Burl on “Killer Subs of Pearl Harbor” tonight!

  1. Burl Burlingame

    I think the podcast is cobbled together from scraps of the video interviews. I generally come across as King Of The Nerds. Sigh. The camera doesn’t lie.

    Parks Stephenson is the guy behind this, and he jumps to some mighty conclusions. I see my job as buzzkill.

    I’ve done a dozen or so of these TV docs, but this one has way more in terms of supplementary material. The PBS Web site really has good content that isn’t in the show. The producers got so excited by recent developments in mini-sub tech that Parks and I passed on that they’re thinking of another show. The Sri Lanka Tamil Tigers subs look funny, but their construction isn’t funny at all. There is almost no defense against these things. I hope Al Queda isn’t tuned in.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    I thought Killer Subs of Hawaii involved pineapple on a ham sandwich. Really…

    Go Burl!

    Didn’t Parks Stephenson used to be one of the Hardy Boys–nope, that was Parker Stevenson…and wasn;t he married to Kirstie Alley?

  3. Brad Warthen

    I watched the show, and enjoyed it — but it was kind of inconclusive.

    Just to clarify in my mind, do YOU believe that:
    — that wreckage was indeed the 5th midget sub from the Pearl Harbor attack (this was the one point that it seemed to me was most firmly established, although the theory that it was hauled out there with wreckage from an LST accident in the West Loch seemed kind of fishy to me)
    — the sub HAD entered the Harbor and made it to Ford Island and Battleship Row
    — that it did fire its torpedoes at actual targets
    — that it contributed to the sinking of one or more battleships

    I was a little bothered by some of the hokey hype in the narration. At one point, the announcer seemed to be acting like it was being revealed for the first time that midget subs were present, when that’s been an established fact ever since 1941. (Back in the early 60s, I read a book for kids called “We Were There At Pearl Harbor,” and as I recall a midget sub played a role in it.)

    But fortunately, we had Burl there to keep us grounded…

  4. Burl Burlingame

    Parks is a naval engineer with a fixation about shipwrecks. He’s an expert on Titanic, for example, and has advised James Cameron.

    That said … and I haven’t seen the show yet … I think Parks’ theory is interesting, but not probable. The provenance of what we call the “three-part midget” is completely unknown, but it matches what we know about Dec. 7 midgets, but it has also been clearly disassembled and dumped. We do know that midgets were brought to Hawaii from Guadalcanal, and I’ve always felt this was one of them.

    Nearly 20 years ago I used a beta-test version of the then-new PhotoShop program to examine Pearl Harbor images and there appeared what looked like a midget shooting torps at battleship Row. I was led to this by an analysis of torp damage to Oklahoma. The Park Service picked up on this research and turned it over to photogrammetry experts from the CIA, who validated my finding. But that submarine has disappeared, and might be the one that Parks is going on about.

    There are people who still dispute that finding, and that’s good, because rigorous debate energizes Occam’s Razor.

    Is the three-part midget the one that fired at Battleship Row? If so, how did it get from there, disassembled and dumped in the LST wreckage site? That’s the crux of the show as it was explained to me. I was there to provide technical and historic background, and Parks fully credits my research for getting him going on the subject.

    BTW, Brad, the very first wire photo released to the public of the Pearl Harbor attack was of a midget submarine captured at Bellows Beach.

  5. bud

    Last night I finally got around to watching this show. Nice job Burl. I thought they made a pretty convincing case for the fifth midget sub contributing to the sinking of an American ship. But which one? Probably not the Arizona.

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