Page 26 - Phonebox Magazine December 2016
P. 26

Pearl Harbor
December 1941
By Michael Totton
ecember 7th 1941, a date that will live in infamy, stated President Franklin D Roosevelt at the Capitol Building in Washington, as he proclaimed to the Congress requesting that a state of war should now exist between the United
States and the Empire of Japan after the attack on the US Navy 75 years ago.
Why did the Japanese attack the US? Tensions had been growing for most of the 1930s especially after the Japanese attacked and over run Manchuria and especially after they invaded China in 1937. Japan was short of natural resources and saw mainland China as the best source for these materials. The Nanking massacre in 1937, where it was estimated the Japanese killed over a quarter of a million Chinese in an orgy of rape and murder. By this time the US had put in place sanctions against Japan which included aircraft and spares, technical equipment, but not oil, as Japan was seriously dependant on this commodity to keep its industry going. The US only included oil after the Japanese took over Indo-China from France after its defeat to Germany in June 1940. The Japanese recognised that the only source of oil now open to them was in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
Negotiations between Japan and the US continued through 1941. The US wanted the evacuation of all Japanese troops from China and Indo-China. Japan wanted the sanctions lifted and assistance to China stopped. The government of Prince Konoye, a moderate, fell and the military took control and war plans were drawn up. The major part of the planning was carried out by the Japanese Navy led by Admiral Yamamoto, a very intelligent and capable seaman. The Japanese Navy had carefully studied the Royal Navy’s attack on the Italian Fleet at Taranto in November 1940 when Sword sh aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm sinking a number of battleships.
In early 1941 the US moved its main battle  eet from San Diego in southern California to Pearl Harbor, a move that was contentious for its provocative nature and its lack of defence capabilities.
Japanese planners understood that it needed to destroy the major part of the US Fleet especially before the 1940 Vinson-Walsh Act came into being. This Act established the increase in US Naval by 70% and included the building of 18 aircraft carriers, 7 battleships, 6 battlecruisers, 27 cruisers, 115 destroyers and 43 submarines. Plus $250 million for facilities and plant. Added to this was 15,000 aircraft. After an hour’s debate the Act was passed unanimously. The US navy requested $4 billion worth of ships and received £8.55 billion worth! A total of 257 ships to be built over a six year period!
The Japanese hoped to neutralise the US Navy and then could move to take the Dutch East Indies and Malaya.
The plan was to destroy major elements of the US Navy therefore rendering it impossible to interfere with the Japanese Navy in its operations and to undermine US morale and push them to sue for peace. The diplomatic plan was for the Japanese Ambassador in Washington to deliver the declaration of war thirty minutes before the attack.
The Japanese Navy had certain distinct advantages beside surprise. It was highly trained and equipped, its Zero  ghter was one of the best in the world at that time and its Lancer torpedo was state of the art. The main force which included six carriers and over 750 planes, left Japan on the 26th November amid a strict wireless blackout.
The  rst wave of 354 planes was to attack the battleships and carriers. The second waves, consisting of 171 planes was to attack the military
bases on Ford Island and at Wheeler Field. A third wave was to attack facilities and dry docks. By this time the declaration of war should have been presented to the US government but incompetence at the Japanese embassy caused delay and it was only delivered after the attack.
The US military knew about the message but analysis incorrectly stated that Japan was to cease negotiating over the Chinese question.
The approaching waves of Japanese plans were detected by a radar station but reports were ignored and the planes  ew on unmolested. At 7.45am the  rst wave attacked sending in its slow torpedo bomber to destroy the battleships, which were all lined up in two neat rows! The dive bombers attacked the air elds at Hickam and Wheeler Field. The attack continued for ninety minutes.
The USS Arizona’s forward magazine exploded killing over a thousand men and is today a Nation War Grave and memorial. USS Nevada managed to get under way but was caught and had to beach itself to prevent it blocking the entrance to the harbour. The USS West Virginia and California were also hit by torpedoes. The USS Oklahoma was hit by four torpedoes and capsized while the USS Maryland sustained only light damage.
Over 85% of the US military planes were destroyed, including some by friendly  re. Twenty nine Japanese planes were shot down with the loss of 55 personnel.
US losses reached two and half thousand.
The third wave of the Japanese attack did not take place. These were to attack facilities including fuel tanks, maintenance sheds and dry docks. This was to have serious consequences for the Japanese. Fortunately for the Americans, their aircraft carriers were at sea on exercise and they were to play an important part in the recovery of the US navy over the next seven months.
Why had Japan attacked the US? Its military government felt itself blocked in by the US in its expansionist policy and believing that Nazi Germany (its ally) was winning the war in Europe, based its strategy on the US concentrating on Europe, leaving Japan to consolidate its Paci c empire. But in December the Germany military machine had reached its peak and by not defeating the Russian armies in 1941 was doomed to defeat. By the second quarter of 1942 the Japanese empire had expanded through Malaya and Burma to the gates of India, controlled the oil  elds of the Dutch East Indies and were at the borders of Australia. Its sinking of the only two battleships of the Royal Navy in the Far East meant it controlled not only the Indian Ocean but also the Paci c. The US Navy had retreated to its west coast leaving just the damaged Pearl Harbour as its forward base.
But the attack on Pearl Harbor had awakened a sleeping giant and a giant with a thirst for revenge. Its industrial capacity was enormous and would soon turn the tide of war.
The events of 7th of December 1941 turned a European war into a World War.
26 Phonebox Magazine | December 2016

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