In this part we're going to look at the actual attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and how that shows that there was no grand conspiracy to bring the USA into World War II by provoking a Japanese attack, specifically an attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor.
Again, I rely on Hughes-Wilson's book, my own knowledge and the Internet, particularly the Wikipedia page.
Operation Z - the plan
The attack was launched from six aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy and involved some 405 aircraft (360 to be involved in the two attack waves). Its objective was to destroy fleet units of the US Navy's Pacific Fleet in order to prevent it from interfering with Japanese actions in the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese also hoped that the damage the Japanese inflicted would force the US to withdraw the Pacific Fleet, at least temporarily, to the west coast of America thereby leaving the Japanese dominant in the Pacific Ocean and with the freedom to act against European colonies.
The primary targets of the attack were the battleships of the Pacific Fleet. Naval thought at the time, particularly in the US and Japanese navies, was that battleships were still the main power in fleet engagements. Hence the US aircraft carriers were ignored, and were at sea anyway. Yamamoto hoped that by destroying or damaging the battleships of the Pacific Fleet he would cripple the fighting power of the US navy in the Pacific. Unfortunately for him, events would prove otherwise. After the sinkings of the British battleships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales it became obvious that aircraft carriers were vital in modern naval warfare, and this fact was forced upon the US Navy by necessity because of the damage done to the battleships of the Pacific Fleet.
The Japanese even hoped that the eventual decisive battle with the US Navy would be avoided altogether or fought on their terms because of the loss of the US battleships. We know now that most of the significant and decisive naval engagements in the Pacific were dominated by aircraft carriers - but before and for quite some time after the attack, no navy realised this.
Because the Japanese expected to fight a short decisive conflict, they ignored the infrastructure of the naval base because they thought the war would be over before they became effective. This meant that on the day the Naval Yard, the oil tank farm and the Submarine base would be left largely untouched.
On November 26, 1941, the Japanese strike force left Japan for a position to the north-east of Hawaii. From this point the plan was to launch two waves of aircraft. The first wave was to hit the primary targets (the battleships) and so consisted largely of aircraft equipped with torpedoes and armour piercing bombs for this purpose. The second wave was to finish up whatever remained. Aircrews were told to hit battleships and aircraft carriers as priorities, but cruisers and destroyers if these were either not available or already destroyed. Dive bombers were also present to attack targets on land, such as Hickam Field and Ford Island and the escorting fighters were ordered to strafe US fighters on the ground to prevent them taking off and attacking the Japanese bombers.
As well as the aircraft the Japanese used five midget submarines during the attack, their mission was to infiltrate the harbor and sink any capital ships they could.
The midget submarines were each launched from a larger fleet submarine just off the coast of Pearl Harbor at about 01:00 on the 7th. One of these was spotted at 03:42 by a US minesweeper (USS Condor), which reported the sighting to the destroyer USS Ward. Ward sank one midget submarine at approximately 06:37 and another was sunk by the USS Monaghan after it had failed to sink the USS Curtiss. A third submarine was captured on the 8th December after grounding on the east of O'ahu. A fourth was damaged by a depth charge attack and abandoned. The fate of the fifth is not known, although recent research suggests that a midget submarine may have fired a torpedo that hit the USS West Virginia.
The air portion of the attack began at 7:48 a.m Hawaiian time with an attack on the Naval Air Station at Kane'ohe. A total of 353 Japanese aircraft reached O'ahu and found the defenders completely unprepared. The torpedo bombers in the first wave attacked the battleships in the harbor and the bombers in the first and second waves primarily attacked airfields - in particular Hickam Field and Wheeler Field.
The Japanese attack achieved almost total surprise. Ammunition lockers were still sealed. At US airbases aircraft were parked wingtip to wingtip and out in the open. Anti-aircraft guns were not manned. Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over.
The US suffered 2,386 dead and 1,139 wounded. 18 ships (including 5 battleships) had been sunk or run aground to prevent them sinking. 188 US aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged. This from a total of 402 in Hawaii before the attack.
The Japanese lost 55 airman, 9 submariners (and 1 captured). 29 Japanese aircraft were destroyed and 74 damaged.
At first glance the attack on Pearl Harbor appears to be a stunning victory. However, in many respects it can also be argued to have been a failure. Tactically it was a win, strategically it was a disaster.
There had been a plan for a third wave but on the day of the attack this was abandoned - leaving the repair facilities, the oil tank farm and the submarine base undamaged. The focus on the battleships was based on an outdated view of naval warfare - and their loss forced the US to rely on its aircraft carriers, and these would eventually throw back the Japanese in the Pacific. The US Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers were not present at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack and so were undamaged - a significant failure on the part of the Japanese attack.
The battleships damaged or sunk were also older, slower vessels that couldn't keep up with aircraft carriers anyway, and so in the end they would be limited largely to shore bombardment roles and not fleet engagements, and most of those damaged were repaired.
The Japanese Admiral Hara Tadaichi best sums up the eventual effect of the Pearl Harbor attack:
We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war.It seems counter-intuitive given the stunning military success of the day itself, but in the Japanese victory of the 7th December were sown the seeds of the eventual Japanese defeat. The US Navy was forced to switch from battleships to submarines and aircraft carriers - the weapons that would win the Pacific War for the Allies. US forces became highly motivated by revenge. High value targets that would aid the US war effort were left undamaged. Check out the Wikipedia page on the results of the Pearl Harbor attack for a good summary.
Why were the US defenders so unprepared?
And here is where we return to the point of this series - were the defenders surprised because they had no idea the attack was coming, or were they surprised because their leaders had deliberately sacrificed them in order to bring the US into the war with Germany?
At first glance the conspiracy theorist's argument seems compelling - just look at the information that the various US military intelligence organisations knew and when (we've touched on some of this and will go into more detail next time) before the attack began. How can they not have known? Surely there must be something else going on here?
I'm sure you can guess what my answer is...
The reasons the defenders were unprepared are complex and go back to things I mentioned in the first post, as well as part 3.1 a couple of weeks ago.
Primarily it is worth bearing in mind when considering the conspiracy theory that Washington did try to warn the defenders of Pearl Harbor, and were it not for technical problems and the fact that 13 hours were lost whilst people slept the results of the attack could have been significantly different. Imagine a Pearl Harbor attack where all the US fighters destroyed on the ground were in the air waiting for the Japanese bombers, where all the anti-aircraft guns were manned and fully stocked with ammunition, where the capital ships were at sea instead of sitting at anchor. Just a couple of hours warning and this would have been the situation the Japanese faced.
Your conspiracy theorist has to ignore this simple fact in order to have an argument. Here, at the first hurdle, the conspiracy falls - the leaders did try and warn the defenders of Pearl Harbor but couldn't. It is that simple.
But knowing me you know I'm not going to leave it there, there's more to tell and there's plenty of blame to go around. That fact that Marshall did try to warn the island does not excuse the gross incompetence and negligence that precedes the build up to the attack.
It just proves that conspiracy theorists aren't interested in the facts. Ever. Remember that.
Hughes-Wilson divides the question of why the defenders were so unprepared into two different ones in order to answer it:
Reviewing the evidence, we must ask ourselves two questions. First, did the available intelligence up to 6 December 1941 identify Pearl Harbor as a definite target? Second, was Pearl Harbor prepared for trouble, and if not, why not? [p.72, Hughes-Wilson, Military Intelligence Blunders, 1999, Robinson]His answers are comprehensive. First, the overwhelming volume of intelligence information indicated Japanese intentions in South East Asia, not Pearl Harbor. It has to be emphasised again that to the Japanese high command, Pearl Harbor was a sideshow. Pearl Harbor was not the major objective of Japanese attacks in December 1941. The intelligence that the Allies was receiving shows this in volume if nothing else - indicators about a possible attack on Pearl Harbor were buried under the mountains of reports about other Japanese targets and intentions. This is the 'noise' that I mentioned in part 1 of this series. As Hughes-Wilson points out, it is easy for us to look back through all of that information now and see the indicators of the Pearl Harbor attack. That's because we know it happened though.
The fact remains that the Army and Navy commanders on Pearl Harbor were not given explicit warnings that Pearl Harbor would be a target for Japanese attacks, and when warned of impending hostilities with Japan they were actually told that the Japanese targets were in South East Asia (see part 3.1 of this series).
However, now we move to the second part of Hughes-Wilson's questions. When warned of impending hostilities with the only other significant regional power neither the Army or the Navy commander changed the alert status of their commands - soldiers, sailors and airman remained at basically peacetime alert levels right up until the bombs started falling.
As you'll see, and as Hughes-Wilson points out, the lack of preparedness on the ground on 7th December 1941 also pokes holes in the conspiracy theory. No matter whether Roosevelt deliberately deceived his commanders or Churchill withheld intelligence from the Americans, they cannot and did not have any control over the situation on the ground prior to the attack.
Firstly, there were two different commands on Hawaii, there was no joint command forum in which the Navy and the Army could coordinate the defence of the islands. The Navy under Admiral Kimmel was responsible for fleet operations in the Pacific, the fleet itself and the anchorage at Pearl Harbor. The Army, under Lieutenant-General Short was responsible for ground security on all the islands, defence against invasion and counter-sabotage. They were seperate commands acting independently. There was no intelligence liaison between the two - just as there was no liaison between Army and Navy intelligence in Washington DC.
It is hard for us now to understand this since joint operations has become the bedrock of modern military operations - but it meant that Hawaii was a divided command. Army and Navy would not know what each other's plans were in the case of attack, they wouldn't know just how much each service knew about Japanese plans and intentions, they wouldn't share what they knew with each other, they would be competing for resources, they would be competing for political influence. It would be like a football team where the defenders never spoke to the goalie and trained on different days in different places, and where at times the defenders even try to stop the goalie seeing what they can see about the opposition's forwards, whilst at the same time the goalie doesn't tell the defenders what he needs them to do and when.
Hughes-Wilson (p.79) cites a report that was given to Lieutenant-General Short in July 1941 when he took over command of the Army in Hawaii that highlighted several problems with his command:
- A dangerous lack of awareness of the possibility of a surprise enemy attack in the event of "an abrupt conflict with Japan".
- Complacency at all levels based on "the ingrained habits of peacetime".
- Lack of "aggressive attitude" and "unconcern for the future".
- "Inattention accorded in peacetime to intelligence functions".
- Failure to implement joint planning sufficiently with other services.
I tried to inform the Commanding General of everything I thought might be useful to him. I did not inform the Commanding General of my proposed plans ...Why the Admiral thought his plans for the defence of Hawaii weren't important to the General in command of the Army garrison of Hawaii is not explained. The subsequent inquiries into the Pearl Harbor attack also found that it was a deliberate policy of the Navy to withhold signals intelligence from the Army, and this included the final "Winds Code" message, the one that alerted the Japanese embassy in Washington that war was coming!
Yes, you read that right - the Navy withheld the final signal that said the Japanese were going to war from the Army (even though the Army was also trying to decipher it in Washington DC).
And what of the defences on the ground? Were they prepared? Well, no. In fact, as Hughes-Wilson records, the Executive Officer of the USS Indiana was more concerned with making sure the wives of his men didn't complain than with making sure the ship was properly crewed and alerted. The Army decided it didn't have enough specialists to man the new radars for more than three hours a day! Because of the shortage of men to guard the airfields, aircraft were lined up wingtip to wingtip on the airfields, presenting a perfect target for the Japanese pilots.
Even on the day of the attack some warning could have been given, but more mistakes were made. As the first wave of Japanese aircraft approached the radar station at Opana Point they were detected and the crew radioed a warning. However, an inexperienced officer at the new Intercept Centre presumed the radar return to be six B-17 bombers due to arrive that morning. The radar operators did not tell Lieutenant Tyler of the size of the radar return even though it was bigger than anything they had ever seen, and for security reasons he couldn't tell them of the incoming B-17s, whose approach vector was close to that of the Japanese attack waves.
Perhaps the most important reason for the unpreparedness of the defenders of Pearl Harbor is a psychological one however - everyone in the US had convinced themselves Pearl Harbor couldn't be attacked. The base was too far from Japan. It was too well guarded. The anchorage was too shallow for a torpedo attack. The hills around Pearl Harbor made aerial attacks too difficult. The Americans hadn't been paying attention however. In November 1940, at a place called Taranto, the Royal Navy had attacked the Italian fleet using Swordfish biplanes and modified torpedoes that ran shallow after being dropped into the water. Three Italian battleships and two heavy cruisers were sunk or disabled. And the British had done this at night. Did I mention they did it in outdated biplanes?
The Japanese looked at Taranto and saw that an attack on Pearl Harbor was possible. The Americans looked at it, shrugged their shoulders and missed the point. The US Navy didn't think it had anything to learn, and certainly not from the British.
What does all this mean for the conspiracy?
Basically, this all means the conspiracy simply flies in the face of the evidence. The conspiracy theorist is left with more questions to answer than those he thinks he solved:
How were the conspirators able to stop the radar operators telling Tyler about the size of their radar returns? How did they stop Tyler telling the operators about the B-17s?
How did the conspirators make Kimmel withhold information from Short and vice versa?
How did the conspirators force the commanders on the ground to keep their men on low alert status with no record of it surviving?
How did the conspirators stop the two services from liaising with no evidence of having done so surviving?
The alleged conspirators had little to no influence on the ground in Hawaii, yet it is largely the situation in Hawaii that ultimately allowed the Pearl Harbor attack to be so devastating. How does this fit into the conspiracy theory?
Finally, to sum up with something I touched on last time, why would Roosevelt let the attack happen as it did if he knew it was coming? Prevailing thought at the time was that battleships fought naval battles - why would he risk losing them and the war before the war was even started? Why not let the Japanese attack come and have the US forces waiting for them? Why would the conspirators not want to start the war with a decisive victory and still get the end result they wanted - a reason to enter the war? Neither Churchill nor Roosevelt were idiots - they would know that whatever the outcome of the battle, the US would be in the war - but a win in the Battle of Pearl Harbor would have given them a significant advantage politically and militarily.
Ultimately, the conspiracy theory relies on trying to show that two of the smartest men of the twentieth century were in fact duplicitous idiots who, whilst masterminding victory in the most destructive war ever fought, could only bumble through a disastrous conspiracy to get the US to enter the war.
And I haven't even asked the conspiracy theorist how the conspirators got Hitler to declare war on the US yet.
Until next week!