Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor Day

"Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."  It was with these words that President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.  I believe that the entry of the United States into World War II was inevitable and that the attack on Pearl Harbor hastened that entry.
 Pearl Harbor was attacked on the morning of December 7th, 1941 with 353 Japanese planes that were launched from six aircraft carriers.  The surprise was almost completely on the Japanese side despite the rumblings that they were up to something.  Shortly before the attack, the United States had broken the Japanese diplomatic code so they knew that they were up to something but they weren't sure what.  It would be another couple of months before the Americans would break the Japanese Naval Code.  Had this occurred sooner, the entire plan would have been laid before the American's eyes.

The planes that the Japanese used would look similar to the ones shown above.  Despite the rumblings that something was going on, the Americans thought that Pearl Harbor would be safe from attack.  First of all, it was too far to the east and they didn't think the Japanese would risk their Navy that far from their homeland.  Second, it was a fairly shallow harbor, so they didn't think they had to worry about aerial torpedoes.

For the first part, the Japanese maintained complete radio silence the moment they left Japan.  Again, the Americans knew something was up because if I recall correctly, the Americans were aware the Japanese fleet had sortied.  However, it was 1941 and it wasn't exactly easy to pick up something that size in the Pacific Ocean.  Also if I remember correctly, the Japanese were able to follow a weather front almost entirely to Pearl Harbor.

For the second part, the Japanese were able to modify their torpedoes so that they didn't dive as deeply as other aerial torpedoes.  Despite that, there were still some that were stuck in the mud of the harbor.  After some analysis, it was discovered that they just put some lighter fins on the torpedoes.
 The surprise was almost complete.  The Japanese were pretty much able to catch the Americans completely off guard.  The first wave of planes hit Pearl Harbor at 7:55A.M. local time.  The timing was deliberate because if things had gone according to plans in Washington D.C., the Japanese would have declared war about a half hour before the first bombs hit.  However, the normal secretary wasn't available and the Japanese Ambassador had to type the declaration himself.   This lead to some pretty serious delays.

The Japanese were able to damage all eight battleships in the harbor and sank four of them.  Of these battleships, six of them would be repaired and later used in the war.  One battleship, the USS Nevada was able to get underway but her Captain later beached her because he didn't want her sinking in the main channel and bottling up the harbor for future use.  The USS Arizona was destroyed completely as a Japanese bomb was able to hit her magazine.  She is now memorialized in the spot where she sank. 

To this end, the Japanese lost 29 planes and some midget submarines.  It was a complete tactical victory but some may argue was a strategic defeat because Japan could not sustain a war with the United States.  They had hoped that the damage would be complete enough that they could establish a fortress in the Pacific and force the Americans to sue for peace.  There were some in the Japanese military and government that did not follow this view and they knew their days were numbered...but like good soldiers, they carried out the orders.
 Despite the complete surprise, the Americans did have some warning.  There was a radar site on Oahu that picked up the Japanese planes but due to the newness of radar, it was thought that it was a flight of B-17's that was continuing on to the Phillippines (where the Americans were almost certain of an attack).  The USS Ward was able to detect and sink a midget sub that was lurking in the channel  but reports of that didn't get to the command until much later.  Not that there would have been much time to prepare defenses.
 Because the high command feared sabotage more than an actual attack, many of the American aircraft were packed on the fields tightly so that they could be easily guarded.  As a result, only a handful of American fighters were able to get up to meet the Japanese.  One of the US pilots, Kenneth Taylor was able to shoot down 4 Japanese planes.  He took off from one of the air fields on the outskirts of Honolulu.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel and General Short who were the commanders of Pearl Harbor were relieved of their command.    They did not have complete information and could not possibly have prepared a decent defense of Pearl Harbor.  But like many other things in life, we needed scapegoats.   Shortly after we declared war on Japan, Hitler declared war on us.

On the Japanese side, Yamamoto had planned this attack so that we would have received a declaration of war before the first bombs hit Pearl Harbor.  That didn't happen and he realized that we would be very upset.  I don't think he was happy about those circumstances nor do I think he really wanted to go to war with the United States.  He basically guaranteed about a six month run and he was pretty close to being correct.

Many people believe that the President allowed Pearl Harbor to get attacked.  I for one do not believe this for a minute.  One of the biggest supporting arguments for the conspiracy is that the American aircraft carriers.  Despite what we learned later in the war, carriers were still a new tool.  Battleships were still the primary Naval weapon and I do not think anyone would sacrifice those just to get in the war.  Besides, Roosevelt's main beef was with the Germans, so a fight with Japan would not help that cause.  In fact, if Germany had not declared war on the United States, he would have been hard pressed to declare war on them.  Another thing that people point to is that we had intercepts of the Japanese radio traffic.  Well intercepts are nice if you can read them.  As I said above, we didn't break the Naval code until a couple months later and even then there were still issues.

This was meant to be more or less a history of the event.  I work for a Japanese company and I hope that we have move along since this fateful day.  I consider Japan to be one of our better allies these days and I have a great deal of respect for them. 

1 comment:

Pater said...

I think there were hurts on both sides and hard as it may seem to do, I agree that we should move on.