Posts Tagged ‘Pearl Harbor’

Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2016

A lot has been written on how we missed out on predicting Pearl Harbor as the location of the initial Japanese attack. It strikes me now that one reason was that Pearl was not that important of a target in the overall Japanese war effort.

Consider the warning message of 24 November:

CHANCES OF FAVORABLE OUTCOME OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH JAPAN VERY DOUBTFUL.  
THIS SITUATION COUPLED WITH STATEMENTS OF JAPANESE GOVERNMENT AND  
MOVEMENTS THEIR NAVAL AND MILITARY FORCES INDICATE IN OUR OPINION THAT  
*A SURPRISE AGGRESSIVE MOVEMENT IN ANY DIRECTION INCLUDING ATTACK ON  
PHILIPPINES OR GUAM IS A POSSIBILITY*. CHIEF OF STAFF HAS SEEN THIS  
DESPATCH CONCURS AND REQUESTS ACTION ADEES TO INFORM SENIOR ARMY  
OFFICERS THEIR AREAS. UTMOST SECRECY NECESSARY IN ORDER NOT TO  
COMPLICATE AN ALREADY TENSE SITUATION OR PRECIPITATE JAPANESE ACTION.  
GUAM WILL BE INFORMED SEPARATELY.

And the followup “war warning” of 27 November (which went to the commander of the Asiatic Fleet, and others):

THIS DESPATCH IS TO BE CONSIDERED A WAR WARNING*. NEGOTIATIONS WITH  
JAPAN LOOKING TOWARD STABILIZATION OF CONDITIONS IN THE PACIFIC *HAVE  
CEASED* AND AN AGGRESSIVE MOVE BY JAPAN IS EXPECTED WITHIN THE NEXT FEW  
DAYS. THE NUMBER AND EQUIPMENT OF JAPANESE TROOPS AND THE ORGANIZATION  
OF NAVAL TASK FORCES INDICATES AN AMPHIBIOUS EXPEDITION AGAINST EITHER  
THE PHILIPPINES THAI OR KRA PENINSULA OR POSSIBLY BORNEO. *EXECUTE AN  
APPROPRIATE DEFENSIVE DEPLOYMENT PREPARATORY TO CARRYING OUT THE TASKS  
ASSIGNED IN WPL46*. INFORM DISTRICT AND ARMY AUTHORITIES. A SIMILAR  
WARNING IS BEING SENT BY WAR DEPARTMENT. SPENAVO [Special Naval 
Observer, U.S. officer assigned to the RN] INFORM BRITISH. CONTINENTAL 
DISTRICTS GUAM SAMOA DIRECTED TAKE APPROPRIATE MEASURES AGAINST SABOTAGE.

Not only didn’t it mention Hawaii, but the further away from the Far East it looked, the less it talked about naval action. Guam and Samoa and the Continental districts of the US were alerted against sabotage. Even with Magic, information gleaned from Japanese diplomatic codes, our warnings were aimed at the Far East.

In part, this is because the Japanese were aiming their main thrust south — Borneo, Malay Peninsula, Indonesia. We were tracking a major surface fleet headed that way, dozens of ships with thousands of troops, enroute to invade Malaya. They had hundreds of land-based aircraft at airfields in newly-occupied Cochinchina. This wasn’t just a main thrust, it was the whole reason for the war.

Pearl Harbor, from a force deployment perspective, was almost a side show. It was a head-fake, a bump-and-run. Yes, they felt that success at Pearl was vital to giving Japanese forces freedom of action at the start of the war, but it was like depending on a key block to make sure a large, complex play can run*.

*Hey, I’m doing the best I can — I don’t even like football.

Advertisements

WWII in the Pacific

December 7, 2015

Herewith, in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, a list of every US aircraft carrier lost in the Pacific War, from the USS Langley (CV-1), the first aircraft carrier ever built, to the USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95), which served for only 277 days.

The world's first aircraft carrier

America’s first aircraft carrier, and the first one lost in combat

In addition, here’s a YouTube animated map showing the ebb and flow of the Pacific War from December 7th, 1941 to September 2d, 1945.

High water mark. The day the Marines landed on Guadalcanal

High water mark. The day the Marines landed on Guadalcanal

Interesting to note that it was over a year after the landings on Guadalcanal before the front lines appreciably changed.

Postcard from Pearl Harbor

December 14, 2014

Written 73 years and four days ago. Note that the censors were a little slow. Not very informative, but I guess they couldn’t say more.

Front Side

Back when "penny postcard" meant something.

Back when “penny postcard” meant something.

Back Side

No mention of any incidents involving the Imperial Japanese Navy

No mention of any incidents involving
the Imperial Japanese Navy

My brother just found this in a box of old papers.

 

Pearl Harbor War Warning

November 29, 2014

On Thursday, November 27th, 1941, a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Chief of Naval Operations sent this message to CINCPACFleet at Pearl Harbor:

“Consider this dispatch a war warning. The negotiations with Japan in an effort to stabilize conditions in the Pacific have ended. Japan Is Expected to Make an Aggressive Move Within the next Few Days. An Amphibious Expedition Against Either the Philippines, or Kra Peninsula or Possibly Borneo Is Indicated by the Number and Equipment of Japanese Troops and the Organization of Their Naval Forces. You Will Execute a Defensive Deployment in Preparation for Carrying out the Tasks Assigned in Wpl 46. Guam, Samoa and the Continental Districts have been directed to take appropriate measures against sabotage. A Similar Warning Is Being Sent by the War Department. Inform Naval District and Army Authorities. British to be informed.”

This would seem to be about as direct as it gets. It’s what the Indications and Warning community would consider a true warning — the leaders have been warned, and they know they have been warned. On the other hand, the Army commander at Pearl got a wishy-washy-waffling kind of a warning from the War Department:

“Negotiations with the Japanese appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot, be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not, be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to hostile Japanese action. You are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary, but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat, not to alarm the civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Should hostilities occur, you will carry out the tasks assigned in Rainbow Five so far as they pertain to Japan. Limit the dissemination of this highly secret information to minimum essential officers.”

Neither one was directly warned of the possibility of an attack on Pearl Harbor (all locations mentioned were in the Western Pacific or Asian littoral), and each took their own measures to prepare. General Short believed that the biggest threat to his forces (mostly, the Army Aviation units) was from 5th columnists among the second and third generation Japanese, almost all of them American citizens by birth. (Those are the ones who today say things like “The Jap planes came in over that ridgeline there”.)  That being the case, he had the aircraft brought to central locations, where they could be guarded, and drained of fuel, so they would be harder for a saboteur to ignite. The result was a massed target that couldn’t respond to an air attack in time. Interestingly, the only mention of possible sabotage was in the Navy message.

I think the underlying cause of the failure of commanders up and down the chain was the lack of a war mentality. We hadn’t been in on the start of a major declared war since the Civil War, and that uncoiled with a lethargic 18th Century slowness. The Great War was one we saw start elsewhere and slowly girded our loins to fight. Even after Pearl Harbor, our commanders might have been combative, but they were not really combat-minded. Witness all the lessons we had to learn during the early days of the Guadalcanal campaign, when we lost one night surface action after another. If you can’t conceive of what a war might be like, you can’t properly prepare for it, no matter how strong the warning.

Requiem for a Marine

January 1, 2012

Stephen Shervais
14 August 1916 – 29 December, 2011

Stephen Shervais was born in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, on 14 August 1916, to Frank Shervais and Anna Novobilski. He grew up on a potato farm in rural Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and hitchhiked into Philadelphia to join the US Marine Corps in 1934. After training at Parris Island MCRD his first delpoyment was to Haiti during the Caco Wars. In May of 1940, his unit, the 3rd Defense Battalion, was deployed to the Pacific to build up the defenses at Midway Island. Completing that mission, it returned to Hawaii in October, 1941, and was there at the time of the 7 December attack. He was one of the people who shot the locks off the armory doors, a courts-martial offense, so they could deploy their antiaircraft weapons during the attack. In May of 1941 his 37mm battery was attached to the 4th Defense Battalion and returned to Midway Island, in time to repel Japanese air attacks during the Battle of Midway.

Lieutenant Shervais

His unit then moved to New Zealand, which was the staging area for the Guadalcanal campaign. He took part in the amphibious assault on Guadalcanal, and was there for the heaviest fighting of that campaign, until his unit was rotated back the United States in 1943. He was commissioned as a 2dLt, and was returned to the Pacific war as part of the force occupying Peleliu Island. After WWII, he served at Camp Lejune, North Carolina, and as Inspector/Instructor of the Marine Reserve unit in New Castle, PA. He was deployed to Korea near the end of the Korean war, followed by postings to Camp Pendleton, CA, Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Training Center (where he was the Commander of the 4th Light Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion), and finally Point Arguello Naval Missile Station, where he was Commandant of the Marine Barracks and head of security for the missile base (now known as Vandenberg AFB South). He retired in 1961 as a Major, with 27 years of active service. Not bad for a depression-era kid with no college. (more…)

Pearl Harbor Part 3

December 7, 2011

Indications And Warning (I&W) is an obscure corner of an otherwise esoteric Intelligence discipline. It specifically deals with predicting a country’s intention to go to war through observations of their preparations. It was born of the Intelligence failures of the first half of the last century — Pearl Harbor and Korea (and the Chinese intervention there). It grew of age in the second half, watching the Soviet Union and North Korea. It was then subject to a major identity crisis when the Warsaw Pact collapsed, and the problem became one of predicting the terrorist actions of non-state organizations. Most of that is fodder for a different post.

I want to wrap up my Pearl Harbor coverage by looking at the I&W aspects of the problem. (more…)

Pearl Harbor Part 2

December 6, 2011

Earlier, we talked about the Japanese decision to go to war. Actually, it was a chain of totally logical decisions (aren’t they always?):

Phase 1
1. Japan has the capability to be a major world power, but in order to be a major world power, Japan must acquire overseas colonies

2. Korea and China stand in the same relation to Japan that Africa does to Europe, so that’s where the empire building should occur

Result: Japan starts a land war in Asia September, 1931. (more…)

Pearl Harbor Part 1

December 5, 2011

Iguchi Takeo was the young son of a Japanese embassy functionary, living in Washington, DC, at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He went on to a distinguished career of his own in the Japanese Foreign Office, serving as ambassador to several countries and teaching at universities both in Japan and the US. As a serving diplomat, Iguchi had access to the Foreign Office files concerning the days prior to Pearl Harbor, and he writes a very interesting book on the topic, titled Demystifying Pearl Harbor. This essay is based on much that is in the book, plus many of my own speculations and opinions. It’s not really a review.

As is well-known, the Japanese embassy delivered their diplomatic note breaking off negotiations well after the attack had started. The traditional explanation was that the embassy did not get the last part of the message translated in time, due to lax administrative procedures. Iguchi is not a disinterested observer, nevertheless, his new evaluation makes a compelling argument that the delay occurred on the Tokyo end, and that it was deliberate.

The general impression one gets from popular US culture on the subject is that the Japanese got up one morning and decided to conquer Asia, and what better way than to attack Hawaii? What comes out in this book is a clash of cultures between the US and Japan, and of priorities between the Japanese military and the Japanese Foreign Office (JFO). The US was woefully wrong in its estimate of Japanese reactions to US actions, while the Japanese military was manipulative and duplicitous, and the JFO was spineless. (more…)