Pearl Harbor in Flames

War itself generally makes little sense to me, but the attack on Pearl Harbor has always sparked our wonder. There were 3,500 Americans killed or wounded on the attack of December 7, 1941. I wanted to know what led up to the attack and if we had any warnings. I set out to do some research.

During September, 1940 the U.S. placed an embargo on Japan by prohibiting exports of steel, scrap iron, and aviation fuel to Japan, due to Japan's takeover of northern French Indochina. In April of 1941 the Japanese signed a neutrality treaty with the Soviet Union offering to help prevent an attack from that direction if they were to go to war with Britain or the U.S. while taking control of more of Southeast Asia.

Japan occupied southern Indochina from June 1941 through the end of July that same year. Two days later, the U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands froze Japanese assets. This prevented Japan from buying oil, which would, in time, cripple its army and make its navy and air force completely useless.

Toward the end of 1941. With the Soviets seemingly on the verge of defeat by the Axis powers, Japan seized the opportunity to try to take the oil resources of Southeast Asia. The U.S. wanted to stop Japanese expansion but the American people were not willing to go to war to stop it.  The U.S. demanded that Japan withdraw from China and Indochina, but would have settled for a token withdrawal and a promise not to take more territory.

Prior to December 1941, Japan pursued two simultaneous courses: 1) try to get the oil embargo lifted on terms that would still let them take the territory they wanted and 2) to prepare for war. General Tojo Hideki became Japan's premier in October of 194 and set a date of November 29, 1941 as the last acceptable date that Japan would reach a settlement without an act of war.

The Japanese military was asked to devise a war plan. They proposed to sweep into Burma, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Philippines, in addition to establishing a defensive perimeter in the central and southwest Pacific. They expected the U.S. to declare war but not to be willing to fight long or hard enough to win. Their greatest concern was that the U.S. Pacific Fleet, based in Pearl Harbor could foil their plans. As insurance, the Japanese navy undertook to cripple the Pacific Fleet by a surprise air attack. 

The Japanese military was asked to devise a war plan. They proposed to sweep into Burma, Malaya, the East Indies, and the Philippines, in addition to establishing a defensive perimeter in the central and southwest Pacific. They expected the U.S. to declare war but not to be willing to fight long or hard enough to win. Their greatest concern was that the U.S. Pacific Fleet, based in Pearl Harbor could foil their plans. As insurance, the Japanese navy undertook to cripple the Pacific Fleet by a surprise air attack

WARNINGS: The U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and knew an attack was imminent. A warning had been sent from Washington, but it arrived too late.

Early warning radar was new technology.  Japanese planes were spotted by radar before the attack, but they were assumed to be a flight of American B-17s due in from the West Coast. 

 

According to the Navy, torpedo planes attacked “Battleship Row” at about 0800 on 7 December, seen from a Japanese aircraft. Ships are, from lower left to right: Nevada (BB-36) with flag raised at stern; Arizona (BB-39) with Vestal (AR-4) outboard; Tennessee (BB-43) with West Virginia (BB-48) outboard; Maryland (BB-46) with Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard; Neosho (AO-23) and California (BB-44).

The West Virginia, Oklahoma and California have already been torpedoed, as marked by ripples and spreading oil, and the first two are listing to port. Torpedo drop splashes and running tracks are visible at left and center.
White smoke in the distance is from Hickam Field. Gray smoke in the center middle distance is from the torpedoed USS Helena (CL-50), at the Navy Yard’s 1010 dock. Japanese writing in lower right states that the image was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.

In two waves of terror lasting over two long hours, the Japanese killed or wounded over 3,500 Americans and sank or badly damaged 18 ships - including all 8 battleships of the Pacific Fleet - and over 350 destroyed or damaged aircraft.  At least 1,177 lives were lost when the Battleship U.S.S. Arizona exploded and subsequently sank.

However, they did not sink any of our Pacific aircraft carriers and they left most of the fuel that was needed to win the war in the Pacific. In the same stroke, the Japanese navy scored a brilliant success—and assured their ultimate defeat.

The Japanese attack brought the U.S. into the war on December 8—and brought it in the war determined to fight to the finish.




Japanese forces getting ready for attack


Attack on Pearl Harbor


View from the Navy Yard


USS Arizona just after it has been bombed


Memorial Service for men killed during the Japanese attack on the NAS Kaneohe


There are many lessons that can be learned from Pearl Harbor. One that I think would have made it much harder would have been to not bunch up our ships, making them an easier target to hit. (My personal observation).

Some of the military observations I have read are as follows:


1. Diversify your intelligence sources - Had the U.S. intelligence gained some information about the Japanese target as the British and the Peruvian Minister somehow did, U.S. analysts might have been inspired that the Japanese concern with Pearl Harbor indicated its intention of a surprise attack on the island.

2. Avoid the mirror image - Consult with outside sources to avoid the "everybody thinks like us mind set."

3. Make Objective Estimates on Capabilities - Analysts should know that estimating capabilities is incredibly difficult and the estimation changes time after time. Also they should know that people tend to overestimate themselves and underestimate others due to complexity and lack of information. Therefore, continuously questioning and rechecking their estimation is essential to approach more realistic evaluations.


4. Be Open Minded - The U.S. intelligence analysts as well as policymakers stuck to the assumption that the Japanese would invade Southeast Asia. Indeed, they were so adherent that they could not imagine Pearl Harbor
was the real target. This failure originated from a lack of imagination.
Intelligence work should be done through group thinking combined with individual thinking to generate more creative and fresh ideas.

5. Overcome Sectionalism - In the Pearl Harbor case, the Army and the Navy could have established a joint team for detecting Japanese intentions while the rest of the officers in each department concentrated on their original businesses. This special operation could have been organized by Admiral Kimmel or General Short—the leaders of the Hawaiian theater.

6. Disseminate Information without Leaking - By strengthening counterintelligence, the dilemma in a dissemination problem could be lessened.

7. Keep Sensitivity to Crisis Warnings - respond all warnings in accordance with level of alerts. This method requires decision makers to encourage the intelligence agencies to take the risk of false alarms, and politicians and the press not to accuse decision makers of engaging in extra countermeasures.

8. Make an open atmosphere within groups - The group mind set among the U.S. Pacific Fleet suppressed different opinions and creative ideas. Even though individual officers accurately analyze information, if a group atmosphere is too strict they may be discouraged to loudly voice their ideas

These ideas are just thrown out there as food for thought. Pearl Harbor was the first time we had been attacked on our own soil, and as we know from 9/11 it probably will not be our last.

May God Bless America and hold those whose lives were lost or injured forever.