Monday, 9 December 2013

THE DAY THE UNITED STATES SLEPT:                          
The invasion of Pearl Harbour (Part 2)                                      
In the previous article, (Part 1) I explained what motivated the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbour and I also explained how the Americans suspected that such an attack was imminent but what the Americans didn’t know was when the attack would begin and from what direction the Japanese would come from. In this article, aside from describing the attack, I will also include the dumb and costly mistakes made by those American officials who should have known better but failed in their duty because of their stupidity.                            

The first major hint that something was amiss was when a message from the Alaska Defence Command was sent to the headquarters of the 37th Infantry Regiment who was stationed in Dutch Harbour of the Aleutian Islands at 1:05 am on the morning of the 6th of December. The message read; NAVY REPORTS JAP SHIPS 270 MILES SOUTHEAST OF DUTCH HARBOUR.                             

That meant that the Japanese ships (two carriers) were at that moment roughly 2,400 miles (3,862 km) north of Hawaii and 2,600 miles (4,184 km) northeast of where they sailed from in Japan. That is a lot of oil the Japanese ships were burning just to go on a mere jaunt that far from Japan especially since the oil supplies of Japan were dwindling. The Japanese carriers were heading towards the Aleutian Islands that extends west of Alaska and not to Pearl Harbour where the American Pacific fleet was berthed.                                                             

There was a second and much larger Japanese fleet that was unseen by anyone that was streaming further south of the Aleutian Islands and heading southeast from the northern part of Japan towards Pearl Harbour That attack fleet had six carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, nine destroyers, and twenty submarines. And on the carriers were 408 aircraft that were intended to be used: 360 for the two attack waves and 48 on defensive combat air patrol. On December 6th, they were approximately 700 miles (1,126 km) north of the Island of Ohau, in which Pearl Harbour is located at the western part of the Island.                                                                                                 

I will give you a better idea of where the Hawaiian Islands are in the Pacific. They are as far south as Mexico City and 3,300 miles (5,310 km) west of the eastern shoreline of Mexico. It is also 3,600 miles (5,800 km) from where the Japanese fleet took off from one of the northern Japanese islands.                       
I can’t find any evidence that someone at the headquarters of the 37th Infantry Regiment contacted anyone outside of Dutch Harbour to issue a warning of the Japanese fleet sailing that far east of Japan. It would have been appropriate if the information that a Japanese fleet was steaming in the area of the Aleutian Islands was sent to Washington and even more importantly, to Pearl Harbour. It could have resulted in the American fleet in Pearl Harbour being put on the alert.                                                                                                                                      

The American Pacific Fleet, based in Pearl Harbor, possessed 9 battleships, 3 aircraft-carriers with 220 deck planes, 13 heavy and 8 light cruisers, 67 destroyers, and 27 submarines. Fortunately the carriers and many of the other ships were not just outside of Pearl Harbour during the Japanese attack.             

December 7, 1941, was a Sunday and like all Sundays, relaxation was the plan for the day. However, on that particular date, it was a day when the security of the United States was at its lowest. Considering the fact that the American armed forces were aware that such an attack was in all probability, imminent, one has to wonder why their guard was down on that fateful day. The American complacency rose out of the conviction that the American Navy could adequately defend Pearl Harbour and its ships if such a Japanese attack came. They forgot that old adage—He who is not prepared today will be less so tomorrow.                                                                                                                              
 At 6:00 a.m., 220 miles (354 km) north of Oahu, the Japanese launched the        first of two waves of planes to attack Pearl Harbor. The first group of planes      was made up of 183 planes consisting of 43 fighters, 49 high level bombers, 51    dive bombers and 40 torpedo bombers.                                                                        
   However those were later spotted by radar before they arrived at Oahu. At 7:02 a.m. a radar station on the north point of Oahu picked up a group of planes. The radar operators reported their sighting to Lieutenant Kermit A. Tyler, who presumed then they were the scheduled arrival of six B-17 bombers coming from California. That erroneous conclusion was that the American planes spotted on the radar screen were coming from the east when in fact; the Japanese planes spotted on the radar screen were coming from the north. Further, the radar operators had neglected to tell Tyler of the size of the group of planes spotted on their radar screen. If they had, he might have formed a different conclusion.                                                                                                          

If he had informed the navy, the American Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbour would have had an advanced warning of at least 53 minutes and that would have been enough time for the Army planes to lift off their airfields and the ships would be at the ready.                                                                                                                   
 Alas, since it was Sunday, many of the crew of the ships were still asleep. None of them were at their gun turrets. Further, none of the American pilots were in their planes ready to take off. The Japanese planes arrived at Pearl Harbour at 7:48 a.m.                                                                                                                               

As the first wave of Japanese planes approached Oahu, they were encountered and shot down by several U.S. aircraft that were already in the air.  At least one of these pilots radioed a somewhat incoherent warning. Other warnings from ships that were outside the harbor entrance were still being processed or awaiting confirmation when the attacking planes began bombing and strafing the ships in the harbour. However, it is not clear that any warnings by then would have had much effect even if they had been interpreted correctly.              
Simultaneously with Japanese Admiral Nagumo's fleet, the squadron of 27 submarines approached Hawaii from another direction—from south-east. Their task was to attack American ships heading to Pearl Harbor or trying to leave the attacked harbour. Five of them carried midget submarines, which had to sneak inside the base and do it before the air attack so that they could divert the attention of the defenders. Their mission, however, failed completely. One of the midget submarines was spotted from minesweeper Condor and sunk by depth charges from the destroyer Ward. Similar was the fate of the other midget submarines. Only one of them, which previously twice hit sandbars, eventually landed on a sand bank and her commander was captured.                 

At 6:54 the Ward transmitted a report about sinking a submarine, but the report did not reach Admiral Kimmel and Admiral Bloch until half an hour later; via the duty officer at the XIV Navy District. Kimmel was at that time at home. He immediately rushed to the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet, but it was already too late. While he was on his way, Commodore Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander of the Japanese air squadron to attack Pearl Harbor, was transmitting the coded signal: Tora! Tora! Tora! (Tiger! Tiger!  Tiger!)                                                                                                                                    

The air portion of the attack on Pearl Harbor began at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time (3:18 a.m. December 8 Japanese Standard Time. A total of 353 Japanese planes in two waves reached Oahu. Slow, vulnerable torpedo bombers led the first wave, exploiting the first moments of surprise to attack the most important ships present (the battleships), while dive bombers attacked U.S. air bases across Oahu, starting with Hickam Field, the largest, and Wheeler Field, the main U.S. Army Air Corps fighter base. The 171 planes in the second wave attacked the Air Corps' Bellows Field near Kaneohe on the windward side of the island, and Ford Island. The only aerial opposition came from a handful of P-36 Hawks, P-40 Warhawks and some SBD Dauntless dive bombers from the carrier USS Enterprise .                                                                                                    

Many men aboard U.S. ships awoke to the sounds of alarms, bombs exploding, and gunfire, thereby prompting bleary-eyed men to dress as they ran to General Quarters stations. The famous message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not drill.” was sent from the headquarters of Patrol Wing Two, the first senior Hawaiian command to respond. The defenders were very much unprepared. Ammunition lockers were locked, aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip in the open to deter sabotage, (that was a big mistake) guns unmanned (none of the Navy's 5"/38s, only a quarter of its machine guns, and only four of 31 Army batteries got in action)—another big mistake. Despite this low alert status, many American military personnel responded effectively during the battle. Ensign Joe Taussig, Jr., the only commissioned officer aboard USS Nevada, got the ship underway during the attack but lost a leg in the battle. The ship was beached in the harbor by the Senior Quartermaster. One of the destroyers, USS Aylwin, got underway with only four officers aboard, all ensigns, none with more than a year's sea duty. The ship operated at sea for 36 hours before her commanding officer managed to get on aboard. Captain Mervyn Bennion, commanding USS West Virginia, led his men until he was killed by fragments from a bomb which hit USS Tennessee, moored alongside.                                     

The second wave of Japanese planes consisted of 171 planes: 54 B5Ns, 81 D3As, and 36 A6Ms, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki. Four planes failed to launch because of technical difficulties.                                  

Of the American fatalities, nearly half of the total (1,177) was due to the explosion of the battleship Arizona's forward magazine after it was hit by a modified 16 inch (40 cm) shell. Almost all of their bodies were left inside the sunken ship as it was too hazardous to retrieve the bodies because of shards of steel projecting every which way.                                                                                     

Already damaged by a torpedo and on fire amidships, the battleship Nevada attempted to exit the harbor. She was targeted by many Japanese bombers as she got under way and sustained more hits from 250 pound (113 kg) bombs, which started further fires. The ship was deliberately beached by her captain to avoid blocking the harbor entrance. The battleship California was hit by two bombs and two torpedoes. The crew might have kept her afloat, but were ordered to abandon ship just as they were raising power for the pumps. Burning oil from Arizona and West Virginia drifted down on her, and probably made the situation look worse than it was. The battleship West Virginia was hit by seven torpedoes, the seventh tearing away her rudder. The battleship Oklahoma was hit by four torpedoes, the last two above her belt armor, which caused her to capsize. Many of her crew were trapped inside the capsized ship. The battleship Maryland was hit by two of the converted 40 cm shells with little serious damage.                                                                                           

Although the Japanese concentrated on battleships (the largest vessels present), they didn't ignore other targets. The light cruiser Helena was torpedoed, and the concussion from the blast capsized the neighboring minelayer Oglala. Two destroyers in dry dock, Cassin and Downes were destroyed when bombs penetrated their fuel bunkers. The leaking fuel caught fire; flooding the dry dock in an effort to fight fire made the burning oil rise, and both were burned out. Cassin slipped from her keel blocks and rolled against Downes. The light cruiser Raleigh was damaged by a torpedo. The light cruiser Honolulu was damaged but remained in service. The repair vessel Vestal, moored alongside Arizona, was heavily damaged and beached. The seaplane tender Curtiss was also damaged. The destroyer Shaw was badly damaged when two bombs penetrated her forward magazine.                                 

Strangely enough, the Japanese didn’t attempt to bomb the large number of large oil tanks nearby.                                                                                                        

Of the 402 American aircraft in Hawaii, 188 were destroyed and 159 damaged—155 of them on the ground. Almost none was actually ready to take off to defend the base. Eight Army Air Corps pilots managed to get airborne during the battle and six were credited with downing at least one Japanese aircraft during the attack. The reason why the Japanese were able to destroy so many of the aircraft on Ford Island in Pearl Harbour was the planes had been placed very close to one another so that guarding them against saboteurs would be easy. As it turned out, no saboteurs ever tried to destroy the planes.                

Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over, as 2,386 Americans died (of which between 48 and 68 were civilians, most killed by unexploded American anti-aircraft shells landing in civilian areas), a further 1,139 people were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships.

Fifty-five Japanese airmen and nine submariners were killed in the action, and one submariner was captured. Of Japan's 414 available planes, 29 were lost during the battle (nine in the first attack wave and 20 in the second attack), with another 74 damaged by antiaircraft fire from the ground.                              

Several Japanese junior officers, including Mitsuo Fuchida and Minoru Genda, the chief architect of the attack, urged Admiral Nagumo to carry out a third strike in order to destroy as much of Pearl Harbor's fuel and torpedo storage, maintenance, and dry dock facilities as possible. The captains of the other five carriers in the formation reported they were willing and ready to carry out a third strike. It is believed the destruction of these would have hampered the U.S. Pacific Fleet far more seriously than loss of its battleships. If they had been wiped out, serious American operations in the Pacific would have been postponed for more than a year according to American Admiral Chester Nimitz, who later was the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet  He said that it would have prolonged the war another two years. Admiral Nagumo however decided to withdraw his forces for several reasons:                                                   

American anti-aircraft performance had improved considerably during the second strike, and two thirds of Japan's losses were incurred during the second wave. Admiral Nagumo felt if he launched a third strike, he would be risking three quarters of his Combined Fleet's strength to wipe out the remaining targets (which included the facilities) while suffering higher aircraft losses.       

Unfortunately for him the location of the American carriers remained unknown. In addition, the admiral was concerned his force was now within range of American land-based bombers. He was also uncertain as to whether the Americans had enough surviving planes remaining on Hawaii to launch an attack against his carriers.                                                                                                 

A third wave would have required substantial preparation and turnaround time, and that would have meant returning planes that would have had to land on his carriers at night and this would result in the loss of more planes. Further, the weather had deteriorated notably since the first and second wave launching, and rough seas complicated takeoff and landing for a third wave attack. For these reasons, the Japanese fleet headed home.  Sparing the vital dockyards, maintenance shops, and oil depots meant the U.S. could respond relatively quickly to Japanese activities in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto (the main architect of the invasions) later regretted Admiral`s Nagumo`s decision to withdraw and categorically stated it had been a great mistake not to order a third strike.                                                                                                                          

Now I will explain to you the blunders made by the Americans that made this Japanese attack so successful.                                                                                          

Within less than a year, Admiral Kimmel devoted a big deal of efforts to the training of ship crews and fleet units, but neglected the issues of the fleet's and its base's security. It later came out chiefly from the fact that the security belonged to two other men: Lieutenant-General Walter Short, the army commander-in-chief in Hawaii, and Rear-Admiral Claude Bloch, the commandant of the XIV Navy District, namely the Hawaii archipelago. The triple chain of command in Hawaii was paralleled by the double chain of command in higher commands: American forces in Hawaii reported to the chief of staff of the Army, General George Marshall, and chief of staff of the Navy, Admiral Harold Stark. That dual line of command was bound to have a fatal impact on the assessment and co-ordination of the political and military events that unfolded.                                                                                                          

Ten days before the attack, Admiral Kimmel was ordered to make a defensive deployment of the Fleet. And yet, on the morning of the attack, the ships were sitting ducks at their berths—the men asleep in their bunks.                                    

At that time, there were viable threats in Hawaii of espionage and sabotage, but not actual attacks from the air. Thus the aircraft which were ordered to be disarmed, were moved out into the open and tightly packed, where they could be best guarded against saboteurs. The ships were similarly grouped in the harbor. It was the wrong interpretation of the order given to him. As it later was concluded, there were no saboteurs on the island even though there were a great many Japanese living on the island. And disarming the planes was a real blunder.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

A Japanese midget submarine was spotted at 3:42 a.m—four hours before the attack began. A destroyer, the USS Ward, was called in which failed to find that sub, but did find and sink a second sub at 6:37 a.m which was still more than an hour before the air strike. The Ward radioed in “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges on a submarine operating in defensive sea areas.”                                                                                                                                   

The Ward's report made it to the desk of the watch officer at 7:15. At 7:30, Kimmel and Rear Admiral Claude Bloch both received it separately by telephone. By the time the Japanese attacked, 25 minutes later, Kimmel and Bloch were still trying to determine the significance of the sub incident. Kimmel's opinion was that this was probably one more in a long line of false reports of submarines they'd been accustomed to receiving. Wrong again.         

Five minutes before the air strike, Kimmel ordered the destroyer USS Monaghan to go and verify the Ward's story. The Monaghan never made it before the attack. Kimmel's hunch was only conclusively proven wrong in 2002, when the midget submarine's wreck was discovered. That report should have put the Fleet on high alert but as it turned out, no such order was given.    

As I mentioned earlier, 53 minutes before the first bomb fell, radar operators at Opana Point detected the incoming Japanese aircraft. They alerted their superior, Lt. Kermit Tyler, who failed to make any report, but did however take his men away from their posts so that they could have their breakfast.                 

The Americans had broken the primary Japanese diplomatic code called Purple and made some progress breaking the military code JN-25, and had access to some Japanese intelligence which led them to believe that the Japanese intended to attack American forces. They knew this weeks before the attack.                                                                                                                                    

Eleven months before the attack, an American naval attaché in Tokyo was informed by a Peruvian attaché that he had heard from many sources, including a Japanese source that the Japanese intended to conduct a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour.  No one in Washington took the report seriously. Some of the American naval senior officers believed that it was unlikely that the Japanese would be so foolish as to attack Pearl Harbour.                                   

Various American agencies operated independently, decoding Japanese transmissions and then filing them away rather than sharing them. There was plenty of knowledge that hostility was building up on Japan’s part but no one had the experience in how to deal with it and no one had specific knowledge that an attack on Pearl Harbour was so imminent.                                                    

The American government in Washington knew that Japanese diplomats had been instructed to deliver a certain message to the U.S. government at 1 p.m. on December 7 and then destroy their cipher machine and secret documents, and from this, they deduced that something big was about to happen but they did not know where to expect the initial attack. It seems to me that the obvious place the Japanese would attack would be at Pearl Harbour since that was where most of the American Pacific fleet would be berthed or floating nearby.   

Admiral Stark, the Navy chief of operations in Washington recognized that the Japanese were planning to attack somewhere, but he told his subordinates it would be either the Philippines, Thailand, or possibly Borneo. Actually he was right because on December 7, the Japanese were already attacking the Philippines. Why did he not think it would Pearl Harbour? That would be Japan’s best choice because if the Japanese forces could wipe out the American’s Pacific fleet, they would not have to worry about the Americans coming up behind them while they were   further south.                                          
Prior  to the attack, Japan had a sleeper spy in the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu. For reasons beyond my understanding, no one stopped him from wandering into the navy yard to spy on the ships in Pearl Harbour.  He eventually managed to get the information as to what ships were still in the Harbour to Japan before the attack. What was most important in his messages was that most of the ships were in the Harbour during the weekends—hence the attack was on a Sunday.                                                                                              

During the attack, there were fixed and mobile gun batteries as means of defence but General Short foolishly left the ammunition stored several miles from the batteries and when the men finally got to the ammunition, it was boxed and subsequently, there was no ammunition for any of the batteries of guns on Oahu. Why? Because this bumbling fool didn’t think the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbour or anywhere else on the Island of Oahu. This man was so confident in his conclusion that the island was safe from attack from the Japanese; he actually ignored Washington’s order to undertake precautions such as making sure that the radar operation was functioning properly, a job he mishandled all through 1941. Not only did he fail in his mission in Hawaii, he didn’t fully understand it. His concern about saboteurs (which didn’t exist) on the island narrowed his vision to the extent that he stalked the mouse while the tiger flew through the window.  In fact, it was one of the mice that wandered into the navy yard to spy on the ships, something he failed to prevent from happening.                                                                                                                            

Rear Admiral Bloch who was the commandant of the 14th Naval District in Hawaii didn’t know if there was anyone on watch with the Aircraft Warning Service nor did he make any enquires about the AWS.  He also appointed a liaison officer with General Short. He was a young lieutenant who was willing but lacked the experience and the clout to effectively represent the navy.  Why a lieutenant? That was because he was the only man he could spare—or so the admiral said at a later hearing.                                                                                         

Both Admiral Bloch and General Short were against conducting surprise drills. They preferred to let the men know in advance when the next drill would be. That was rather stupid considering that on the 7th of December, the surprise came when many of the men were still asleep. Instead of running to their assigned stations, they took the time to get dressed and put on their boots. The Japanese planes were already flying towards them while they were getting dressed. By the time the men got to their stations and manned their guns, the bombs and torpedoes were already heading towards them.  When I served on a Canadian warship eleven years later, we always had one quarter of the men fully dressed and on duty.                                                                                                 

There was a Joint Air Agreement on March 21, 1941 in which included a plan to search for enemy planes when the drills were called. Bloch and Short decided that the search routines would only go in effect if there was an attack. Had the drill taken place just the day before the attack, they may very well have spotted the Japanese ships heading towards Oahu.                                                                  

The decision not to use anti-torpedo nets around the ships was ordered earlier by another admiral but Admiral Kimmel should have placed them around the ships when he arrived to take over considering the tension between the US and Japan and the constant talk about a Japanese attack.                                                

Admiral Kimmel didn’t notify General Short about what he had been told earlier—that Japanese embassies and consulates were ordered to destroy their secret codes. That was a clear sign that war was about to be declared by the Japanese.                                                                                                                               

Mistakes in Washington were many and varied. For example, President Roosevelt didn`t want to alarm the public so his instruction to that effect ended up watering down the Army`s warning to General Short which explains why his efforts to prepare for an attack was found wanting.                                     

General Marshal, the chief of the armed forces didn`t telephone General Short in Oahu on the morning of December 7th of his concern that an attack was imminent because he felt that would be construed by the Japanese as an American overt act involving an immediate act of war against Japan.                  

Admiral Stark, chief of Naval Operations of the American Navy more than once downgraded the danger even though there were official warnings of a possible attack on Pearl Harbour.                                                                                                  

The prime blunder was that the officials in Washington didn`t keep the army and navy in Hawaii up-to-date with the contents of messages being sent to Japanese consulates from Japan. Remember; the Americans had broken their secret code. This would have kept Admiral Kimmel and General Short apprised of the impending danger. This was an absolute necessity. I am convinced that if they knew what was being sent to the Japanese consulates from Japan, their attitudes towards preparedness would be much keener than they actually were.

Rear Admiral Richmond Turner who was the Chief of the War Plans Department of the Navy advised his superiors that he believed that the chances of Japan attacking Pearl Harbour was only 50-50 at best. This led to an attitude of ‘let’s wait and see’ that was pervasive in Washington.                            

A number of key officials in the Navy Department believed that Admiral Kimmel had actually sent his fleet out to sea. There was a plethora of assumptions based on too few known facts.                                                                  

Admiral Stark on the morning of December 7, prior to the attack, aware that an attack was imminent, should have contacted Admiral Kimmel by the scrambler phone (which he didn’t). As it turned out, the message was sent by a commercial telegram. When the message was telegraphed to Oahu and then delivered by hand to naval headquarters in Pearl Harbour, the officer who got the sealed message (get ready for it) didn’t open it like he was supposed to and instead he merely left it on his desk to continue doing his other duties. Had he opened it read the contents to Admiral Kimmel, the results of the Japanese attack may have been thwarted.                                                                                       

Navy Captain Gilven Slonim put these blunders in the right perspective when he said and I quote; “Possibilities and probabilities, capabilities and intentions become academic when one does not accept the credibility of his own estimates.”                                                                                                                           

The irony of these terrible series of mistakes is that if any one of those fools who blundered their way into history had done their job properly, it is highly conceivable that the Japanese attack may have been averted and if it still occurred, the damage might have been lessened considerably.                              

Emperor Galerius said it so succinctly when he addressed one of his Roman soldiers, “Allow me to offer my congratulations on the admirable skill you have shown in missing the mark. Not to have hit once in so many trials argues the most splendid talents for missing the target."                                                              

The American admirals and generals missed the target many times prior to and on that day in which President Roosevelt said on December 8 when addressing Congress—was a day of infamy.  His reference to infamy was directed to the Japanese but should have also been directed to those men under his command who were described, as Emperor Galerius said it so succinctly—the admiral’s and general’s  admirable skill they had shown in missing the mark.                         


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