A WORLD WAR II SUMMARY: Page 1 · Page 2 · Page 3|
by James Burbeck
In Oahu, Hawaii, early on the morning of December 7, 1941, the War in the Pacific was already over an hour old. Nobody in Hawaii knew it yet, just like nobody yet knew that several flights of Japanese warplanes were already in the air and headed toward the island. The approaching Japanese aircraft were launched from Japan's six biggest and best aircraft carriers – part of a small task force that had brazenly steamed to within 200 miles of the American held Hawaiian Islands in order to execute a key part of the Imperial Japanese government's war plan.
The Pearl Harbor attack plan had two immediate goals; the destruction of American aircraft carriers known to frequent the area, and the sinking of as many other capital ships as possible, especially battleships. With these two tasks complete, the Japanese hoped to neutralize the American fleet's ability to project air and sea power in the Pacific Basin for at least six months. During that time they planned to occupy the East Asian and West Pacific regions with such firmness that the Allies would be forced to negotiate a settlement. In pursuit of these attack goals, Japanese naval officers created a detailed plan which took advantage of known factors such as the American Navy's habit of returning to its main anchorage at Pearl Harbor every weekend. Equally detailed alternate plans included options for attacking the American fleet's deep sea anchorage at Lahaina Roads, or hunting down U.S. fleet units in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands. This later plan was the worst case scenario for them, because it would require their carrier fleet to fight its way into the attack zone. They were however, prepared to do this if necessary and only if discovered before "X-Day" did they have any intention of withdrawing without a fight.
The core planning for the attack was conducted by Commanders Mitsuo Fuchida and Minoru Genda, both of whom belonged to Japan's elite of bright young naval aviators who were sure that the future of naval warfare would be decided by aviation. As in other navies of the time, these officers faced resistance by older leaders who disliked change, and who thought that battleships still represented the pinnacle of naval power. This was ultimately revealed in the final attack plans, which included both American aircraft carriers and battleships as primary targets. The plan envisioned passage of a six-carrier task force through the "vast empty sea" which lay between Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands. Once north of Hawaii, a scouting mission of two float planes was to be launched in order to ascertain the presence of American fleet units at Pearl Harbor, Lahaina Roads and in the waters immediately around Oahu. Their final reports were to be forwarded to the Japanese air fleet which by then would be nearing its final deployment point. Precise timing was required in order to guarantee that the attacking air fleet would know what vessels to expect and where to expect them. Fuchida actually hoped to be able to strike the US Fleet at the Lahaina anchorage, where deep water would prevent salvage of sunken ships. He and Genda had formulated detailed attack plans in case such an opportunity arose. However, because their targets would most likely be in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese high level bombers were slated to carry specially converted 16-inch naval shells capable of penetrating the armored deck of the heaviest American battleships. It was hoped that these heavy shells would detonate the powder magazines of their heavily armored targets, thereby causing such colossal damage as to make salvage impossible. Modifications were also made to the Japanese aerial torpedoes in order to allow their launching in very shallow waters. Nothing they could consider was left to chance. They were prepared for any eventuality. Such detailed preparations helped to counter...