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The attack on Pearl Harbor (called the Hawaii Operation or Operation Z by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, and the Battle of Pearl Harbor by some Americans) was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the morning of December 7, 1941. The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from influencing the war that the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia, against Britain and the Netherlands, as well as the U.S. in the Philippines. The base was attacked by 353 Japanese aircraft in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers.
Four U.S. Navy battleships were sunk (two of which were raised and returned to service later in the war) and the four other battleships present were damaged. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and one minelayer. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, 2,402 personnel were killed and 1,282 were wounded. The power station, shipyard, maintenance, and fuel and torpedo storage facilities, as well as the submarine piers and headquarters building (also home of the intelligence section) were not attacked. Japanese losses were light, with 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. One Japanese sailor was captured.
The attack came as a profound shock to the American people and led directly to the United States entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day (December 8) the United States declared war on Japan. Domestic support for isolationism, which had been strong, disappeared. Clandestine support of Britain (for example the Neutrality Patrol) was replaced by active alliance and full participation in the European Theater. Subsequent operations by the U.S., as well as the Axis alliance, prompted Germany and Italy to declare war on the U.S. on December 11, which was reciprocated by the U.S. the same day.
Despite numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action, the lack of any formal warning by Japan, particularly while negotiations were still apparently ongoing, led to President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaiming December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy".
Background to conflict
The attack on Pearl Harbor was intended to neutralize the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and hence protect Japan's advance into Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, where Japan sought access to natural resources such as oil and rubber. War between Japan and the United States had been a possibility each nation had been aware of (and developed contingency plans for) since the 1920s, though tensions did not begin to grow seriously until Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria. Over the next decade, Japan continued to expand into China, leading to all-out war in 1937. Japan spent considerable effort trying to isolate China and achieve sufficient resource independence to attain victory on the mainland; the "Southern Operation" was designed to assist these efforts.
In 1940, Japan invaded French Indochina in an effort to control supplies reaching China. The United States halted shipments of airplanes, parts, machine tools, and aviation gasoline, which was perceived by Japan as an unfriendly act.[nb 2] The U.S. did not stop oil exports to Japan at that time in part because prevailing sentiment in Washington was that such an action would be an extreme step, given Japanese dependence on U.S. oil, and likely to be considered a provocation by Japan.
Early in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the Pacific Fleet to Hawaii from its previous base in San Diego and ordered a military buildup in the Philippines in the hope of discouraging Japanese aggression in the Far East. Because the Japanese high command was (mistakenly) certain any attack on the British Southeast Asian colonies would bring the U.S. into the war, a devastating preventive strike appeared to be the only way to avoid U.S. naval interference. An invasion of the Philippines was also considered to be necessary by Japanese war planners. The U.S. War Plan Orange had envisioned defending the Philippines with a 40,000 man elite force. This was opposed by Douglas MacArthur, who felt that he would need a force ten times that size, and was never implemented. By 1941, U.S. planners anticipated abandonment of the Philippines at the outbreak of war and orders to that effect were given in late 1941 to Admiral Thomas Hart, commander of the Asiatic Fleet.
The U.S. ceased oil exports to Japan in July 1941, following Japanese expansion into French Indochina after the fall of France, in part because of new American restrictions on domestic oil consumption. This in turn caused the Japanese to proceed with plans to take the Dutch East Indies, an oil-rich territory.[nb 3]
Preliminary planning for an attack on Pearl Harbor to protect the move into the "Southern Resource Area" (the Japanese term for the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia generally) had begun very early in 1941 under the auspices of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, then commanding Japan's Combined Fleet. He won assent to formal planning and training for an attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff only after much contention with Naval Headquarters, including a threat to resign his command. Full-scale planning was underway by early spring 1941, primarily by Captain Minoru Genda. Japanese planning staff studied the 1940 British air attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto intensively. It was of great use to them when planning their attack on U.S. naval forces in Pearl Harbor.[nb 4][nb 5]
Over the next several months, pilots trained, equipment was adapted, and intelligence collected. Despite these preparations, the attack plan was not approved by Emperor Hirohito until November 5, after the third of four Imperial Conferences called to consider the matter. Final authorization was not given by the emperor until December 1, after a majority of Japanese leaders advised him the "Hull Note" would "destroy the fruits of the China incident, endanger Manchukuo and undermine Japanese control of Korea." Though by late 1941 many observers believed that hostilities between the U.S. and Japan were imminent, and U.S. Pacific bases and facilities had been placed on alert on multiple occasions, U.S. officials doubted Pearl Harbor would be the first target. They expected the Philippines to be attacked first, due to the threat air bases there, as well as the naval base at Manila, would pose to sea lanes, hence supplies to and from territory to the south, which were Japan's main objective. They also believed (wrongly) that Japan was not capable of mounting more than one major naval operation at a time.
The attack had several major aims. First, it intended to destroy important American fleet units, thereby preventing the Pacific Fleet from interfering with Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. Second, it was hoped to buy time for Japan to consolidate its position and increase its naval strength before shipbuilding authorized by the 1940 Vinson-Walsh Act erased any chance of victory. Finally, it was meant to deliver a severe blow to American morale, one which would discourage Americans from committing to a war extending into the western Pacific Ocean and Dutch East Indies. To maximize the effect on morale, battleships were chosen as the main targets, since they were the prestige ships of any navy at the time. The overall intention was to enable Japan to conquer Southeast Asia without interference.
Striking the Pacific Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor carried two distinct disadvantages: the targeted ships would be in very shallow water, so it would be relatively easy to salvage and possibly repair them; and most of the crews would survive the attack, since many would be on shore leave or would be rescued from the harbor. A further important disadvantage—this of timing, and known to the Japanese—was the absence from Pearl Harbor of all three of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga). Ironically, the IJN top command was so imbued with Admiral Mahan's "decisive battle" doctrine—especially that of destroying the maximum number of battleships—that, despite these concerns, Yamamoto decided to press ahead.
Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war also meant other targets in the harbor, especially the navy yard, oil tank farms, and submarine base, could safely be ignored, since—by their thinking—the war would be over before the influence of these facilities would be felt.
Approach and attack
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 to northwest of Hawaii, intending to launch its aircraft to attack Pearl Harbor. In all, 408 aircraft were intended to be used: 360 for the two attack waves, 48 on defensive combat air patrol (CAP), including nine fighters from the first wave.
The first wave was to be the primary attack, while the second wave was to finish whatever tasks remained. The first wave contained the bulk of the weapons to attack capital ships, mainly specially adapted Type 91 aerial torpedoes which were designed with an anti-roll mechanism and a rudder extension that let them operate in shallow water. The aircrews were ordered to select the highest value targets (battleships and aircraft carriers) or, if either were not present, any other high value ships (cruisers and destroyers). Dive bombers were to attack ground targets. Fighters were ordered to strafe and destroy as many parked aircraft as possible to ensure they did not get into the air to counterattack the bombers, especially in the first wave. When the fighters' fuel got low they were to refuel at the aircraft carriers and return to combat. Fighters were to serve CAP duties where needed, especially over US airfields.
Before the attack commenced, two reconnaissance aircraft launched from cruisers were sent to scout over Oahu and report on enemy fleet composition and location. Another four scout planes patrolled the area between the Japanese carrier force (the Kido Butai) and Niihau, in order to prevent the task force from being caught by a surprise counterattack.
Fleet submarines I-16, I-18, I-20, I-22, and I-24 each embarked a Type A midget submarine for transport to the waters off Oahu. The five I-boats left Kure Naval District on November 25, 1941, coming to 10 nm (19 km) off the mouth of Pearl Harbor and launched their charges, at about 01:00 December 7. At 03:42 Hawaiian Time, the minesweeper USS Condor spotted a midget submarine periscope southwest of the Pearl Harbor entrance buoy and alerted the destroyer USS Ward. The midget may have entered Pearl Harbor. However; Ward sank another midget submarine at 06:37[nb 6] in the first American shots fired in World War II. A midget on the north side of Ford Island missed the seaplane tender Curtiss with her first torpedo and missed the attacking destroyer Monaghan with her other one before being sunk by Monaghan at 08:43.
A third midget submarine grounded twice, once outside the harbor entrance and again on the east side of Oahu, where it was captured on December 8. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki swam ashore and was captured, becoming the first Japanese prisoner of war.[nb 7] A fourth had been damaged by a depth charge attack and was abandoned by its crew before it could fire its torpedoes. A United States Naval Institute analysis of photographs from the attack conducted in 1999 indicated a midget may have successfully fired a torpedo into USS West Virginia. Japanese forces received a radio message from a midget submarine at 00:41 December 8 claiming damage to one or more large war vessels inside Pearl Harbor. The submarine's final disposition has been unknown, but she did not return to her "mother" sub. On December 7, 2009 the Los Angeles Times reported that there is circumstantial evidence that three pieces of a submarine discovered three miles south of Pearl Harbor between 1994 and 2001 could be that of the missing submarine. The publication also reported that there is strong circumstantial evidence that the submarine fired two torpedoes at Battleship Row. The debris was dumped outside the harbor as part of an effort to conceal the West Loch Disaster, a 1944 ammunition explosion that destroyed six tank landing ships preparing for the secret invasion of Saipan.
Japanese declaration of war
The attack took place before any formal declaration of war was made by Japan, but this was not Admiral Yamamoto's intention. He originally stipulated that the attack should not commence until thirty minutes after Japan had informed the United States that peace negotiations were at an end. The Japanese tried to uphold the conventions of war while still achieving surprise, but the attack began before the notice could be delivered. Tokyo transmitted the 5,000-word notification (commonly called the "14-Part Message") in two blocks to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, but transcribing the message took too long for the Japanese Ambassador to deliver it in time. (In fact, U.S. code breakers had already deciphered and translated most of the message hours before he was scheduled to deliver it.) The final part of the "14-Part Message" is sometimes described as a declaration of war, but in fact it "neither declared war nor severed diplomatic relations". A declaration of war was printed on the front page of Japan's newspapers in the evening edition of December 8, but not delivered to the U.S. government until the day after the attack.
For decades, conventional wisdom held that Japan attacked without any official warning of a break in relations only because of accidents and bumbling that delayed the delivery of a document to Washington hinting at war. In 1999, however, Takeo Iguchi, a professor of law and international relations at the International Christian University in Tokyo, discovered documents that pointed to a vigorous debate inside the government over how, indeed whether, to notify Washington of Japan's intention to break off negotiations and start a war, including a December 7 entry in the war diary saying, "our deceptive diplomacy is steadily proceeding toward success." Of this, Iguchi said, "The diary shows that the army and navy did not want to give any proper declaration of war, or indeed prior notice even of the termination of negotiations ... [a]nd they clearly prevailed."