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French Frigate Shoals

French Frigate Shoals is the largest atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is an open atoll made up of a substantial crescent-shaped coral reef surrounding many small, sandy islets. Its name pays homage to the French explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse, who almost lost two frigates while attempting to navigate the shoals in 1786. During the early months of World War II, the Japanese utilized French Frigate Shoals as a refueling and landing site for long-range seaplanes. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the proximity of the anchorage at French Frigate Shoals to the American naval base at Oahu facilitated numerous Japanese aerial surveillance flights over the U. S. fleet at anchor. This intelligence was used to deadly effect when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. The location of the secret Japanese anchorage was unknown to the Americans until early March 1942 when the FRUPAC (Fleet Radio Unit, Pacific) direction finder based at Oahu fixed several Japanese submarines in the area of the shoals. The reason for the nearby buildup was puzzling. Then on March 4, 1942, the second bombing of Pearl Harbor took place. Two enemy planes were picked up on radar heading to Pearl Harbor from the west. Navy patrol planes armed with torpedoes were dispatched to search for a suspected enemy seaplane carrier. Army fighters were scrambled to intercept the "bandits." However, a heavy cloud cover made it impossible for anyone to see anything aloft. The two enemy planes dropped bombs on the slopes of Mount Tantalus, destroying several algaroba trees. Records of the second bombing captured after the war revealed that the Japanese sent two long-range seaplanes from the Marshall Islands to French Frigate Shoals, where they refueled from three submarines. Two other submarines were stationed near Oahu; one served as a navigational beacon and the other as a weather observer and lifeguard. As part of their Midway invasion planning, the Japanese intended to use French Frigate Shoals as a base to scout American surface forces. However, the shoals were occupied by U. S. forces prior to the Battle of Midway, thus ending a prime source of intelligence for the Japanese.

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