Friday 6 December 2013


THE   DAY  THE  UNITED  STATES  SLEPT: The Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour.  (Part 1)

This article is Part 1 of a series of 2 articles (which are very extensive) which I am writing for you about this incredible time in history. Part 1 which is in my blog today deals with the reason why the Japanese chose to attack Pearl Harbour and their plans on how to bring it about. Part 2 which will be in my blog on Monday will describe the attack itself and will tell you about how the American authorities failed to take the necessary precautions when there was obvious evidence available to them that an attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese was imminent.

The Japanese navy invaded Pearl Harbour at 7:53 in the morning of December 7,  1941. President Roosevelt said to Congress the next day that December 7th, 1941 would be a day of infamy. He was wrong. The Japanese didn’t purposely attack Pearl Harbour without first declaring war. They were about to inform the American authorities that an attack was about to begin.  The Americans meanwhile had broken the Japanese secret code called Purple and the Americans hadn’t by then decoded the message to the Japanese ambassador until after the attack had begun. It was the intention of the Japanese government to have its ambassador inform the Americans that a state of war existed between the two countries but he didn’t get the message until after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. That was not intended because the Japanese fleet that carried the aircraft were under a radio silence order so the Japanese government couldn’t tell them to wait until the Americans were informed by the Japanese ambassador that a state of war between Japan and the United States had been declared by the Japanese. 

Prelude to the Attack on Pearl Harbour

Five years before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, they had attacked Mongolia in 1937 which is part of northern China. It was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945. In the year of 1940, with the fall of France to the Germans, Japan attacked Northern French Indochina (the countries of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia). By 194o, the Japanese also had their eyes on Malaya (now called Malaysia), the Netherlands East Asia (now called Indonesia) and the Philippines (then governed by the United States). The main reason for these attacks that took place in December 1941 was that Japan was running out of its supplies of oil and rubber since oil and rubber cannot be grown in Japan.                             

The events in Europe with the German armies conquering almost all of it inevitably angered many Americans. However, the call to arms was not being shouted in American streets and subsequently Congress along with the thinking of a great many Americans also wanted no part of the war that was going on in Europe. Roosevelt did however help the British by sending them small warships to help them protect the British Isles from a naval attack by the Germans. He also sent the, foodstuffs etc.

Meanwhile the Japanese had a long list of grievances against the Americans; the main one being that the US had recognized the regime of Chang Kai-shek, the National Chinese leader of China.  And if that wasn’t enough, the Japanese demanded that the Americans, the British and the Dutch leave the southeast countries because the Japanese claimed that those countries belonged to the Asians only. Actually even when they were making those demands, the Japanese had their own eyes on those countries and later in the early part of the Pacific War; they actually seized the rest of those countries for themselves.                                 
The Japanese also had another bone to pick with the Americans. The US had an immigration policy that barred Japanese-born people who were living in the U.S. from being anywhere near U.S. shores and they objected to the policy of  refusing the granting of American citizenship to Japanese people who were living in and even born in the U.S. In my opinion, those issues were valid sources of complaints.       

From the time Commodore Mathew Perry had opened Japan to the modern world in the previous century, the U.S. and Japan enjoyed a unique history of friendship and mutually profitable trade. However, by 1940, those two attributes to good relationships between those two countries had more or less come to an end.  

To begin with, the U.S. placed an embargo on high-grade aviation fuel and high-grade scrap iron and steel. Those were two commodities that the Japanese were running out of. At this particular time in history, the United States was the main provider of aviation fuel, iron and steel and oil to Japan. The U.S. was also selling millions of tons of iron to the Japanese who were then using it for the building of their tanks and ships. However, the embargo didn’t include the oil that the U.S. was also sending to Japan.

This embargo nevertheless infuriated the Japanese leaders. If they couldn’t get any more of the American aviation fuel and iron, the Japanese planes would be grounded and the manufacturing of tanks, large guns and ships would soon come to an end. They demanded that the Americans stop their embargo of those commodities or else. As everyone knows, you don’t say ‘or else’ to Americans.

The Americans don’t look kindly on Japan making demands upon them because even by 1940, the United States was probably the most powerful nation in the world and threats by the people on the Japanese islands (145,925 square miles—377,944 square kilometres) which is smaller than Texas didn’t scare the Americans one bit. However, the U.S. government was willing to make two concessions. They would stop the embargo if the Japanese would withdraw from northern China and cease their plans to expand into the countries in South Asia.

To the then war-like Japanese warlords, such concessions would be a sign of defeat. The Japanese warlords weren’t going to kow tow (bow) to such demands of the Americans. This is when they decided that they would attack the United States.

From the Japanese point of view as seen nowadays, attacking Pearl Harbour was the best decision Japan ever made. If they hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbour, the Americans wouldn’t have fought back and later conquer Japan and then under the auspices of General MacArthur, Japan’s first American governor of Japan, pulled themselves out of the feudal era and modernized themselves which they certainly are to this day. But I am digressing so I will return you back to 1940.

To negotiate Japan’s differences with the United States, Japan selected a very able diplomat to go to Washington. He was Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura. In April 1932, a Chinese terrorist threw a bomb in the direction of a group of dignitaries in which he was one of them and as a result of the explosion, he lost his right eye and from then on because of injuries to one of his legs, he limped when he walked.  What really made him stand out among his fellow countrymen was the fact that he was six feet in height which made him much taller than the vast majority of the people of Japan. 

He had been called out of retirement at age 64 and was willing to act as Japan’s negotiator with the U.S.  Years earlier when he was a Japanese naval attaché in Washington and he met and befriended the American Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who was none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt who was now in 1940, the president of the United States.

Until the last moment, Japan’s fire-eating expansionists tried to block Nomura’s appointment because they knew that he really wanted to seek peace with the Americans. During the late summer and fall of 1940, he refused to accept the appointment but finally at the urging of the Japanese Foreign Minister, he accepted the post. However, he cautioned Prime Minister Konoye and the War Minster Hideki Tojo that he didn’t really expect any real success in the task given to him. Certainly his role given to him was not an enviable one.

If the Americans believed that Nomura would be able to bring about an agreement between Japan and the U.S. that would satisfy both countries, it was a height of folly for the Americans to really believe that the Japanese would back down and forego any ambitions of expansion beyond their own borders.

Japan’s plans of attacking Pearl Harbour

Notwithstanding the sending of Nomura to Washington, the Japanese had no intention whatsoever of abandoning their plans to expand their dominion over all of South Asia and China. As far as the warlords in Tokyo were concerned, Nomura was merely a plug in the dam that would stop the raging waters of the United States from engulfing Japan. Unfortunately for this decent man, he didn’t know that he was merely being used as a ploy by the Japanese warlords to keep the Americans at bay.

When Admiral Kosiro Oikawa became the Japanese navy minister in 1940, he believed firmly in Japan’s destiny and its doctrine of southern expansion. He spoke of the invasion of China as a sacred campaign. He preferred the diplomatic route if it would get the American embargo lifted but if that failed, then Japan would have to go to war with the Americans. Although the United States government was in its isolationist mode, he misjudged the American people because he didn’t believe that they would go to war with Japan if Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour.  His belief was the height of folly.  

There was only one man he could think of that could make an attack on Pearl Harbour a success. It was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto who was the Commander in Chief of Japan’s Combined Fleet. He was only five feet, three inches in height (even short by Japanese standards) but like Napoleon who was also short in stature, he had Napoleon’s same ability to command forces and win battles. However unlike Napoleon, he probably more than any other man in Japan more earnestly wanted to avoid war with the United States or any other country for that matter.

He had prepared the emperor’s navy for every possible contingency but having lived in the U.S. in the mid-1920s when he was a naval attaché in Washington; he knew that the United States would be a powerful foe. He was aware of the American’s mass production abilities that could replace planes, long-range guns, tanks and even ships faster that the Japanese could. He also knew that the U.S. had vast natural resources and the Americans outstripped Japan with its technology and science.  He was also aware that once Japan attacked the U.S., the vital oil shipments from the U.S. would cease immediately. He sincerely wanted ambassador-at-large, Nomura to succeed in his endeavor to bring about a peaceful solution between the U.S. and Japan.

Unfortunately, the tide of pro-Axis feeling in Japan could not be stemmed after Japan signed an agreement with Germany to be part of the tripartite of Germany, Italy and Japan. The prospect of a German-Italian-Japanese alliance distressed him considerably especially since he distrusted the machinations of Hitler.

In late September 1940, he conferred with Prince Konoye who was the premier of Japan. He said to the premier, “If I am told to fight regardless of the consequences, I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third year.” Of course, he was absolutely right in that prognosis of what would be in store for Japan. He was also convinced that the Japanese/American relations wouldn’t get any better. He warned others that the United States was not a hollow giant that would fall at the first blow and break into little pieces. He got that right.

He realized that if Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and continued onto the west coast of the United States, the Japanese army would have to fight its way across many mountains, deserts and vast plains before it reached Washington and that concept in his opinion would be a hopeless one. Unfortunately, his wise opinion fell on deaf ears.

Alas, the warlords had committed themselves to a course that left Yamamoto with no other option but to side with them. In his mind, he was cognizant of the fact that Japan had a mountainous terrain with volcanic soil that barely supported a population that increased by leaps and bounds each year. He also realized that Japan had to expand and if that meant expanding into Southern Asia and China, so be it. He was convinced however that if Japan attacked the Southern Asian countries, Japan would invariably be at war with the United States. Since Japan’s warlords were steadfast in their intention to invade the countries in Southern Asia, Yamamoto had to plan an attack on the U.S. naval fleet in the Pacific, more specifically Pearl Harbour because he knew that if the American naval fleet in Pearl Harbour wasn`t destroyed, once Japanese naval forces began heading southward towards Southern Asia, the Americans would be coming up behind them. He would be trapped between two fires. On the one hand, he would be fighting the Americans and on the other hand, he would be fighting the Dutch, the Chinese, the British and perhaps even the Soviets.

He also knew that to keep the western part of the Pacific open to Japanese ships, he would have to keep the American’s Pacific fleet at bay and the only way to do that would be to destroy them at Pearl Harbour where the bulk of the fleet was stationed. That part of his task would really be easy if the planes of his aircraft carriers arrived at Pearl Harbour undetected. 

Other Japanese admirals were confident that they could destroy the entire American’s Pacific naval fleet. They had collective visions of the powerful U.S. fleet steaming westward towards the Japanese fleet of submarines, battleships and aircraft carriers that would slug it out with the Americans and whittle down the American forces. They envisioned one American ship after another limping forlornly back home while the majority of them would sink with their bows upward as dying salutes to the might of the Japanese navy.  Those forlorn visions are not unlike those of a man facing a firing squad and believing that his executioners are only going to fire blanks at him.

Yamamoto had planned for a naval task force made up primarily of three aircraft carriers accompanied by cruisers and destroyers. He decided that the attack on Pearl Harbour would be sometime in December 1941. He was convinced that he could sink the United States main Pacific naval fleet with all his planes flying off his aircraft carriers so that the morale of the U.S. and its navy would also sink to the extent that it wouldn’t recover. What he should have known and didn’t consider was the spirit of the American people. Instead of sinking in despair, they would rise up in anger—which they did of course. 

He needed a man who could study Yamamoto’s plan of the air invasion against the ships at Pearl Harbour and give his opinion as to whether or not the plan was feasible. The man he had in mind was Rear Admiral Takijiro Onishi. Strangely enough, this admiral advanced in rank despite the fact that he flunked his entrance examination to the Japanese Naval Staff College. What he had going for him was his diligent application to his work and his sheer driving power. He believed that nothing was impossible and that belief would drive him forward with great determination to solve a problem. That was the kind of man that Yamamoto needed to study his plan for the invasion of Pearl Harbour and give him a candid opinion of his plan.

Before making his assessment of the plan, he arranged for a forty-year-old pilot who was an expert on aerial torpedo warfare to report to his office in Kanoya which is on the eastern side of Kagoshima Bay in the southern part of the Island of Kyushu which is part of the Japanese mainland. He was Commander Kosei Maeda. Onishi asked him point blank after he showed him a map of Pearl Harbour and at the same time pointed to Ford Island where the American battleships were moored. He asked, “If the warships of the U.S. navy are moored around Ford Island, could a successful torpedo attack be launched against them?”

After serious consideration of the problem, Maeda replied, “A torpedo attack against U.S. warships from a technical stand point alone; would be virtually impossible because the water at that base is too shallow.” That made a lot of sense because after the torpedoes were dropped from the planes, they would submerge too deeply and explode prematurely once they hit the sea bottom.

Admiral Onishi had second thoughts about using dive bombers. He feared that using them would be disastrous to the pilots since they would be subjected to withering fire from the ships as they closed in and their bombs were much lighter than those carried by the high altitude bombers and for this reason, they wouldn`t crash through the decks of the ships. He said that using the dive bombers would be a needless cost to the Japanese navy both in planes and pilots. 

It was then that their conversation turned to other forms of attack such as bombing the ships. Maeda had stressed the advantages of high-altitude bombing that could result in the bombs piercing the thick iron-armoured decks of the warships. Onishi didn’t tell Maeda that Admiral Yamamoto had already approved such bombings.

Onishi knew that for such an attack to be successful, it had to ride on the wings of Japan’s naval air arm. For this reason, he summoned Commander Minoru Genda to report to him. There was a close personal and professional bond between the two men since they first met in 1935 so he knew that he had chosen the right man for the task he was going to give him.

Genda was one of the world's first naval officers to realize the potential of massing aircraft carriers to project air power. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in his drive for a single air service, American general Mitchell proclaimed that airplanes could sink battleships and he proved it in 1921. And despite that great revelation, he was dismissed from the Army.

The Pearl Harbor attack plan which was ultimately utilized by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was essentially the work of Commander Genda, with important contributions by others. He also recommended Mitsuo Fuchida, his classmate at the Japanese Naval Academy, to lead the Pearl Harbor attack. Fuchida was a Japanese captain in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and a bomber aviator in the Japanese navy before and during World War II. He is perhaps best known as the airman who was to lead the first air wave attacks on Pearl Harbor. Working under the overall fleet commander, Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo, Fuchida was to be responsible for the coordination of the entire aerial attack on Pearl Harbour.

Would you believe this? After the war ended, Fuchida became a Christian evangelist and traveled through the United States and Europe to tell his story. He settled permanently in the United States but never became a U.S. citizen. He died on May 30th 1976—and by coincidence, it was the same day my Japanese-born wife was accepted as a permanent resident in Canada. Three years later, she became a Canadian Citizen.

Yamamoto was facing a real problem. He knew that he couldn’t bring his task force too close to Hawaii otherwise it would be spotted. He decided that he would bring it up to approximately 500 to 600 miles north of the Island of Oahu where Pearl Harbour is situated. But that would mean that his planes might very well run out of fuel before they returned safely to their carriers.  He seriously considered not recovering the planes on board the carriers and letting them crash-land into the sea where hopefully the pilots could be rescued by his smaller ships.

Admiral Genda shot down that concept because he felt (and rightly so) a one-way attack represented a form of defeatism that was entirely alien to his nature. I should point out however that later in the war, the Japanese had volunteer pilots who were kamikaze pilots who went on one-way only flights and deliberately dove their planes loaded with bombs directly into the American ships. Genda also knew that a one-way attack would have a bad psychological effect on the pilots who might choose to make only one run against the American ships so that they would need enough fuel to return to their carriers. This meant that he would have to move his task force closer but in doing that, he would risked his task force being spotted by the American planes that were doing surveillance patrols around the Island of Oahu. 

It was then that Genda said that the main target should be the American carriers. He didn’t know at that time that the American carriers would no longer be in Pearl Harbour on the day of the attack but would instead be 200 miles out to sea.

In late February 1941, Genda met with Premier Kenoye with a 9-point plan.  It was as follows;

1.     The attack must catch the Americans completely by surprise.

2.    The main attack should be against the American carriers.

3.    Another attack should be against land-based planes on Oahu.

4.    Every Japanese carrier should be involved in the attack.

5.    The attack against the ships should involve all kinds of bombing—torpedo, dive and high altitude.

6.    Fighter planes should play an active part in the attack.

7.    The attack should be made in daylight, preferably right after sunrise.

8.    Refueling at sea will be necessary.

9.    All planning must be done in complete secrecy.

Genda didn’t think that battleships would be necessary. He was right on that point because if they were going to sink the American battleships in Pearl harbour; using the Japanese battleships would serve no useful purpose in the attack. Besides, the addition of the battleships would only magnify the fuel problem that Japan was already experiencing.

He then suggested that after the attack, the Japanese should follow up with the landing of Japanese troops. I am sure that could work to their advantage. It is true that as history was to later show, the Americans were caught with their pants down. There were simply not enough armed personnel in Hawaii on December 1941 to fend off such an attack. Most of the navy personnel were on board the ships in Pearl Harbour and by  December 1941, the air arm of the Hawaiian Department had been built up to a total strength of only 754 officers and 6,706 enlisted men. Personnel who were concentrated on the island of Oahu were assigned to bomber units at Hickam Field with pursuit (fighter) units at Wheeler Field. If the planes at these two fields and those on Ford Island were destroyed, there wouldn’t be any real defence to Oahu since the American carriers with their aircraft were still out to sea 200 miles away.

And we now know that even when the air attack was actually underway, the American carriers didn’t move in closer to Oahu and if the Japanese had troop ships closer to the island than the American carriers were, they might get there sooner than the American carriers would and if that was so, there would be nothing that the carriers could do to save the island from the troop invasion. Further, the Japanese would then bring in their battleships so that they could plaster the airfields and any on-shore gun batteries. If they had successfully invaded Hawaii, the Americans would then have no defence to the west coast of the United States. Further, no naval ships could leave the west coast of the United States and go to the aid of Oahu because unknown to the Americans, there were eight Japanese submarines between Seattle to the north and San Diego to the south waiting to sink any naval and troop ships heading towards Hawaii.

As it turned out, the plan to bring about a troop invasion didn’t come to fruition; fortunately for the United States.

The plans to attack Pearl Harbour were not as secret in Japan as the Japanese leaders had hoped despite the fact than many of the documents were classified as secret. A considerable number of people in Japan knew that there would be a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. They included the pilots who would be bombing and torpedoing the American ships, members of the army and naval ministries, and senior officers who would be involved with the South Asian operation.

However, a rumor about the attack somehow reached the ears of Ricardo Rivera-Schreiber who was then Peru’s minister to Tokyo. He then told his friend, Edward Crocker who was the first secretary of the United States embassy in Tokyo who in turn, told Ambassador Joseph Grew. He sent a coded message on January 27, 1941 to the State Department in Washington. In his message he said in part;

“My Peruvian colleague told a member of my staff that he had heard from many sources including a Japanese source that the Japanese military forces planned, in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour using all their military facilities.”

This was the first inkling that the American authorities in Washington knew that a possible attack on Pearl Harbour was planned by the Japanese. I will deal with how the authorities in Washington dealt with this alarming information in Part 2 of this series.

On August 25th 1941, Commander Fuchida was informed that he was to board the Akagi, one of the Japanese carriers and take charge of the entire training of the First Air Fleet’s airmen and later he was to command them as their group leader.

Meanwhile, Commander Genda appointed Lieutenant Shidehara Murata as the leader of the torpedo pilots who would fly their planes into Pearl Harbour. Genda also selected Lieutenant Commander Takeshige Egusa to train the pilots of the dive bombers on how to perfect dive bombing. At this particular time, neither he nor Murata knew that their final destination would be Pearl Harbour.   

The Japanese navy didn’t need to improve the quality of their fighter planes (called Zeros). The Zero was the pride and joy of the naval air arm. It could fly at speeds of 300 miles (482 kilometres) an hour and could maneuver like a swallow. With its two machineguns in its wings along with two 20-millimetre cannons, it was a deadly plane to fight against.

On September 4, 1941, the Japanese Cabinet met to consider war plans prepared by the Imperial General Headquarters, and they decided that:

“Our Empire, for the purpose of self-defense and self-preservation, will complete preparations for war [and is] resolved to go to war with the United States, Great Britain, and the French if necessary. Our Empire will concurrently take all possible diplomatic measures vis-à-vis the United States and Great Britain, and thereby endeavor to obtain our objectives. In the event that there is no prospect of our demands being met by the first ten days of October through the diplomatic negotiations mentioned above, we will immediately decide to commence hostilities against the United States, Great Britain and the French.” unquote

On September 5th, Premier Konoye submitted to Emperor Hirohito (a man whom the Japanese thought of as a god) a draft of the decision reached earlier by the liaison conference with respect to the planned attack on Pearl Harbour. The emperor was not pleased at all with the draft. He preferred a diplomatic solution rather than an armed solution.

The first part of Hirohito's reign took place against a background of financial crisis and increasing military power within the government, through both legal and extralegal means. The Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy had held veto power over the formation of cabinets since 1900, and between 1921 and 1944 there were no fewer than 64 incidents of political violence during his reign.

On September 27, 1940, ostensibly under Hirohito's leadership, Japan formed the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, thereby forming the Axis Powers. Before that, in July 1939, the Emperor quarreled with his brother, Prince Chichibu, who was visiting him three times a week to support the treaty, and he also reprimanded the army minister Seishirō Itagaki for cooperating with the others who were in favour of the Pact. But after the success of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) in Europe, the Emperor consented to the alliance with Germany and Italy.

General Sugiyama who was the Japanese Army Chief of Staff in 1941 attended the second meeting with the emperor and Hirohito asked him how long he thought the hostilities with the United States would last in case Japan went to war with the U.S. The general replied, “I estimate that operations in the South Pacific can be disposes of in about three months.” He miscalculated by four years.

The premier met with the U.S. ambassador (Grew) and expressed with confidence that he believed that the divergences between their two nations could be reconciled between Japan and the United States. Grew knew of course that Konoye was responsible in part with the worst acts of banditry on the part of Japanese soldiers which have been recorded in international history. One only has to recall in their minds the slaughter of between 250,000 and 300,000 Chinese in Nanking at the hands of Japanese soldiers in 1937 while he was the premier of Japan.  That being as it is, I hardly think that Grew had that much faith in Konoye’s integrity. Further, Grew knew he was betting on a dark horse when talking with Konoye.  Even if the Japanese premier were to meet with President Roosevelt and the two men drafted up a mutual agreement that would satisfy both countries; after Konoye returned to Japan, the army generals would tear it up. 

Konoye knew this as did other leaders in Japan (other than the emperor) because they all danced to the Army’s tune, and if they didn’t, they would be replaced. I am sure Grew knew this also.

Meanwhile in Washington, Nomura hadn’t abandoned hope. He sincerely hoped that Japan and the United States would come to agreeable terms, thusly avoiding an outright war between their two countries.

However, sometime in September 1941, when key staff officers in the Japanese First Air Fleet gathered in Admiral Jinichi Kusuka’s cabin on board the Akagi, he said to them, “In case of war with the United States, Admiral Yamamoto plans to attack Pearl Harbour.” 

Kusuka turned his attention to the refueling problem which was vital to the mission. This problem ranked number two on his priority list, second only to utmost secrecy. Admiral Genda on the other had devoted most of his time studying various routes to the Hawaiian Islands which are as far south as Mexico City which in turn heading westward is only 250 miles north of the northern part of the Philippines.  It would be a long trip there and back to Japan.

In the latter part of September, Commander Genda informed Commander Fuchida that if war comes between Japan and the United States, Admiral Yamamoto plans to attack Pearl Harbour. After the astonishment left Fuchida’s face, Genda then told him that he (Fuchida) will be the flight leader of the first attack force.  

The two men then boarded the Akagi for an important meeting with Admiral Kusaka and Vice Admiral Nagumo and a sprinkling of the latter’s staff.

Kusaka briefed Fuchida on Yamamoto’s plan. Genda then began a discussion on the torpedo plan. He explained that the American battleships were moored in double rows beside Ford Island only 500 meters from the harbour’s shore.  I know you are wondering how he knew this. I will explain this in the second article of this series.  It will blow your mind.

So far, Japan had no torpedoes that did not sink into the mud at a greater depth than forty-foot waters (which was the average depth at Pearl Harbour) however Japanese technicians were working on a solution. Later suitable fins were placed on the ends of the torpedoes which could then run in shallow water without hitting the sea bed.

Fuchida next turned his attention to horizontal bombing from a high altitude. He knew that high altitude bombing wasn’t an exact science so he would have to train the pilots and their bombardiers how to zero in on the targets from a height of 5000 feet (16,404 meters) as they flew over them. He would have them practice bombing targets until they could do it proficiently.

On October 2nd, the captains and their air officers of the six aircraft carriers that were to be used for the attack along with several admirals met on Admiral Nagumo’s temporary flagship, the Kaga to attend a conference to discuss the attack.

For those who were unaware of the pending attack against Pearl Harbour, he told them of the planned attack. It was then that many of them learned of the planned mission.

By then, Fuchida had trained the pilots of the dive bombers to start their dives at 13,123 feet (4000 metres) and release their bombs at 1,476 feet (450 metres) Conventional bomb releasing equipment needed revisions for the bombs to be released properly.

On the same day of the conference that was being held on board the Kaga, there was a meeting held in Washington between the Secretary of State, Hull and the Japanese ambassador-at-large, Nomura. Hull gave Nomura an oral statement in reply to Japan’s proposals.

As soon as Tokyo translated the American reply, a conference was held with Konoye, the premier, Tojo, the minister of the army, and several admirals and their senior staff. They agreed with the U.S. with respect to the principles enunciated but didn’t believe that the Americans would agree to have a meeting with both heads of state. Admiral Nagano cut through the fog of indecisions and said, “There is no longer time for discussions. We want quick action.”

The Army high command held a meeting four days later and concluded that there was no hope of a conciliatory settlement between the U.S. and Japan regarding the stationing and withdrawal of Japanese forces from China and part of Southeast Asia and for this reason, war with the U.S. was inevitable.  However, they agreed that if the Japanese Foreign office thought that there was hope that an agreement with the Americans might be reached by October 15th, then Japan would delay the attack on Pearl Harbour. The chances of an agreement being reached between those two nations was slim at best. The Americans were simply not going to bend an inch from their original demands.

Hull met with Stimson, the American Secretary of War that same day. Simpson told Hull that in his opinion, no promises by the Japanese on words alone would be worth anything. He probably had Adolf Hitler in mind when he arrived at that conclusion because Hitler made similar promises and broke them every time he made them. Simpson said that he opposed the proposal that the Japanese premier meet with the president of the United States without first the settling of the issues between the two nations.

As anyone knowledgeable of these events as they unfolded, would have arrive at the conclusion that war between Japan and the United States was inevitable as there simply wasn’t going to be a meeting of the minds. Admittedly, the Americans were asking a lot from Japan but Japan was wrong in their drive to expand their territory. A compromise might have been met but unfortunately, Japan wasn’t in a position to solve their food problem since they couldn’t trade goods with the Americans such as food to Japan and Japanese products to the U.S. if the two countries were at odds with one another.

A meeting was held in the premier’s home on October 12th with Foreign Minister Toyoda, War Minister Tojo, Navy Minister Oikawa and the President of the Cabinet Planning Board, Suzuki. They had come to discuss the critical issue of peace or war with the United States. Toyoda knew that the situation in Japan was fast approaching a real deep crisis and it was absolutely necessary that the premier meet with the president as soon as possible if any adjustment in the relationship between the two nations was to be accomplished.

On October 16th, Premier Konoye resigned and Tojo became the new premier of Japan. The next day, the emperor summoned Tojo to the palace and ordered him to form a cabinet. It was from then on that everything went downhill for both Japan and the United States with Tojo at the Japanese helm. Tojo was not the stuff of which dictators or great leaders are made. He didn’t have any of Churchill’s magnificence, Roosevelt’s political acumen, Hitler’s evil genius,
Tojo picked Admiral Shigeraro Shimada to be the new minister of the Navy. He was devout, drank very little, didn’t smoke, and most importantly, he treated his subordinates with kindness and consideration.  He even spent his Sunday mornings visiting families of loved ones who died while in the service of Japan.

Thus at a time when Japan needed a strong navy minister as never before, Tojo had replaced a rather pliant minister with even a less pliant minister to stand up to Tojo.

Yamamoto had previously decided that in addition to the Sixth Fleet mission to attack Pearl Harbour; several submarines would sail ahead of the fleet to act as scouts. However Admiral Naguimo was concerned that some careless submarine skipper would inadvertently foul up the operation by letting the American defenders spot his sub before the aerial attack began. As it turned out, that actually occurred just before the attack began.

At that meeting, he said, “As long as I am the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Pearl Harbour will be attacked. Hence, there would be no more bickering, no more protests against the project and he would hear no more complaints from anyone. The project was definitely on as far as he was concerned.

As soon as President Roosevelt heard that Kjonoye’s government had fallen and that Tojo was the new premier, he called a meeting with Hull, Stimson, General Marshall, Admiral Stark and Harry Hopkins whom he often conferred with for advice. They feared that the new Japanese cabinet would be anti-American and be difficult to deal with. They also agreed that if war did come, they didn’t want history to show that it was the Americans who fired the first shot.

Admiral Richmond Turner was one of the American’s navy’s outstanding pre-war planners who nevertheless foolishly believed that there wouldn’t be a war between Japan and the United States and of Great Britain and the Netherlands that had colonies in South Asia for at least a month. Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations ordered Admiral Hart, Commander of the U.S. Asiatic fleet based at Manila, Philippines (with a copy to Admiral Kimmel, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet) to route all trans-Pacific U.S. flag shipping to and from Far Eastern areas plus Shanghai, China and  India’s east coast through the Torres Straits (body of water which lies between Australia and the Melanesian island of New Guinea). He also instructed Admiral Hart to take precautions for the safety of the airfields at Midway and Wake Island. Admiral Kimmel acted promptly on Admiral Stark’s directives by alerting six submarines to depart for Japan on short notice and he also directed two submarines at Midway to make patrols at a 10-mile radius and two submarines at Wake Island to make patrols at a 15-mile radius. He also stepped up security measures in the operating areas outside Pearl Harbour.

Within a few days, Kimmel had his naval forces on the alert to spot any Japanese ships, submarines or aircraft which might venture into central Pacific. He also passed on an order that his forces were not to shoot any Japanese ship, submarine or aircraft on sight since he was aware that both the U.S. War and Naval Departments were taking every precaution to avoid offending Japan’s supersensitive feelings.

Stimson replied with a resounding “NO!” when Hull asked him on October 28th if he favoured a declaration of War on Japan. He was quite right to reply in that manner as there was no real evidence at that time that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbour, the Philippines, Midway or Wake Island.

Meanwhile Washington kept its rhetorical eye open to the explosive possibilities of war in the Pacific so orders were given that all army, navy transport troop, ammunition and other military cargo ships were to be accompanied by American warships between Honolulu and Manila,

It was clearly evident in the minds of the American government and armed forces by the end of October that there was a great possibility that there would be a war between the United States and Japan. I don’t believe that the American general public was aware of the impending war. I had just turned nine years old then and I certainly didn’t hear anything on the radio about the possibility of a war between the U.S. and Japan. In fact when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour five weeks later, every one of us in Canada and everywhere else was shocked and surprised. I believe that applied to the general population of Japan also. The potential of an attack by Japanese armed forces against Pearl Harbour and against the colonies of Great Britain and the Netherlands was kept fairly secret everywhere by the governments and armed forces of both the United States and Japan 

San-tzu, wrote the classic The Art of War in 500 AD and in it he said; “All warfare is based on deception. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.”  The United States had left the door ajar and now the Japanese were going to thrust a foot over the threshold.

Two Japanese agents had earlier sailed on the 583-foot (178 metre) Japanese ocean liner Tatuta Maru (Maru in Japanese means ‘merchant vessel’ and is included in the full name of all Japanese merchant vessels) from Yokohama (which is in Tokyo Bay and is 17 miles east of Tokyo) to Honolulu to hand over a sum of money to be given to a Japanese agent in Honolulu with instructions that he was to prepare radio transmitters and to reserve a channel that could be used for communication purposes only by Japanese operators. The liner then sailed for San Francisco to pick up Japanese citizens who wanted to return to Japan. It didn’t reach San Francisco and had to turn back because of the December 7th  invasion on Pearl Harbour. Later it was used as a Japanese troop ship and on February 8th 1943 while sailing in the Philippine Sea, it was torpedoed and sunk by an American submarine. As many as 1,400 Japanese soldiers on board were drowned. 

Meanwhile, there was a Japanese spy in Honolulu. He was part of the Japanese consulate in Hawaii. He had unfettered access to almost anywhere on the Island of Oahu. His name was Takeo Yoshikawa. He originally served in the Japanese navy on board ships but because of a stomach ailment, he was permitted to leave the navy.  He began a new career in Naval Intelligence, and was assigned to Navy Headquarters in Tokyo. He became an expert in the U.S. Navy, perusing through every source he could possibly get his hands on. While on intelligence duty he intercepted a shortwave radio message in plain English that 17 troop transports were en route to England, having cleared the port of Freetown. He passed this information to the German Embassy, and many of the ships were destroyed as a result. Yoshikawa subsequently received a personal letter of thanks from Adolf Hitler. In 1940 he became a junior diplomat after passing the Foreign Ministry English examinations.

Because of his expertise on the U.S. Navy, Yoshikawa was sent to Hawaii under the cover of being a vice-consul named Tadashi Morimura. He rented a second story apartment that overlooked Pearl Harbor and would often wander around the island of Oahu taking notes on Fleet movements, and security measures. He rented small planes at John Rodgers Airport and flew around observing U.S. installations as well as diving under water in the harbor using a hollow reed as a breathing device. He also gathered information by taking the Navy's own harbor tugboat and he would also listen to local gossip.

Although he had no knowledge of the planned attack on Pearl Harbor, Yoshikawa assumed that the intelligence would help prepare for such an eventuality and therefore he worked tirelessly to that end. His reports were transmitted by the Japanese Consulate in the Japanese PURPLE code to the Foreign Ministry, which passed them on to the Navy. Although the code had been broken by American code breakers and messages to and from Tokyo were intercepted and decrypted, communications between Tokyo and the consulate were considered low-priority because they contained so many messages that were entirely commercial in nature. However, one such message addressed to Kita (but actually sent to Yoshikawa) and sent on September 24 1941 should have received more attention by the Americans. It divided Pearl Harbor into five distinct zones and requested that the location and number of warships be indicated on a ‘plot’ (grid) of the harbor. However due to delays caused by staff shortages and other priorities the message was not decrypted and distributed until mid-October, but then it was dismissed as having little consequence. But it was the reports that he sent twice a week that enabled Admiral Yamamoto to finalize his plan for the attack.

On November 15th, an array of generals and admirals had gathered in the headquarters’ room in the Imperial Palace to meet with the emperor. After listening to the war plans given to him by the generals and admirals, he had a fair idea as how the attacks in Southern Asia would be conducted but there doesn’t appear to any record of a report presented to him with respect to the attack against Pearl Harbour. I couldn’t find any evidence that he even asked them about an attack against Pearl Harbour.

No one in Washington was spoiling for a fight with Japan. General Marshal and Admiral Stark sent a joint message to Roosevelt stating that at the present time, the United States Fleet in the Pacific was inferior to the Japanese Fleet and for this reason; it couldn’t undertake an unlimited strategic offensive with the Japanese in the Pacific. 

A major problem originally faced the Japanese. Only seven ships of the task force could sail to Oahu and back to Japan without refueling. They were the three carriers, two battleships and two heavy cruisers because that were not built as long-range ships or mastered the technique of refueling at sea.  The carriers nevertheless had to be fully fueled at all times because if the wind wasn’t strong, the carriers would have to speed through the water to get enough wind speed to lift the planes off the decks of the carriers. Part of the problem was solved by adding more fuel containers in vacant spaces within the large ships. The destroyers could be refueled each day three at a time with one astern of the tanker and one on each side of the tanker.

The Japanese intended to use midget two-man subs and park them just beyond the main buoy that was outside Pearl Harbour and then slip into the harbour at night and be ready to fire their torpedoes while the aircraft were bombing the ships.


On November 16th, the Japanese Second Squadron slipped out of the large base at Yokosuka which is the eleventh most populous city in Greater Tokyo. Ironically the United States has a large naval base there now. The destination of the Japanese submarines was Pearl Harbour. They were to approach Oahu from the north and then they would deploy seven regular submarines between Oahu and Kauai and between Oahu and Molokai for the purpose of torpedoing any American ships in those areas after the main attack on Pearl Harbour begins. Another sub that was originally in the South Pacific was to sail to a point midway between Hawaii and San Diego for the sole purpose of sinking any crippled ship that is sailing from Hawaii to San Diego for repairs after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Meanwhile during 17th  and 18th of November, the aircraft carriers, Zuikaku and Shokau with their four-destroyer escort slipped away from the narrowing of the sea at Beppu that separates the southernmost Island of Kyushu from the middle Island of Honshu. Their first destination would be at Hitokappu Bay which is located at the Kurile Islands north of Japan. The Akagi was originally at Saeki Bay near Hiroshima on the Island of Honshu and it too headed towards Hitokappu Bay which was to be the main staging point for the invasion of Pearl Harbour.

On November 26, 1941, a Japanese task force (the Striking Force) of six aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, Hiryū, Shōkaku, and Zuikaku) departed northern Japan en route to a position northwest of Hawaii. On board the carriers there were 408 aircraft of which 360 were for the two attack waves, 48 on defensive combat air patrol including nine fighters from the first wave. Since there was to be no signals to and from Japan, the Japanese government, the emperor and everyone on board the carriers and other ships heading towards Hawaii were committed to attacking Pearl Harbour. There was to be no turning back from that objective.


Keep in mind that the Japanese attack actually was on Sunday December 7th but this year, Sunday is the 8th. Part 2 in which I will describe the attack and the bumbling of American military senior officers and others when failing to warn Pearl Harbour of the impending attack will be in my blog on Monday December 9th.



No comments: