A Day Not Forgotten, the Attack on Pearl Harbor

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A Day Not Forgotten, the Attack on Pearl Harbor

K. D.

HIST 102
Instructor Amy Ware
October 23, 2010

The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 remains a clear memory for both nations. Everything seemed to have played in favor of the Empire of Japan; from planning, to gathering the necessary resources, the silent 3,300 nautical mile journey of the task force and ultimately the attack itself. From a tactical standpoint the attack was one of the most ingenious naval operations in history. With the loss of four U.S. battleships, 180 Aircraft, and 2,400 sailors the attack can be chalked up as a “win” for Japan. But since the surprise attack was conducted without a formal declaration of war, it may have been one of the biggest mistakes ever made in world-war II.

Planning the attack on Pearl Harbor was done by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, in hopes to challenge Imperial Japans current naval doctrine of “Big Ships and Big Guns.” Much of imperial Japans naval concern was directed toward the construction of the Musashi, and the Yamato, two of the largest most powerful battleships ever built. Admiral Yamamoto, along with other high-ranking naval offices doubted the “Big Ships and Big Guns” mindset, but it was Yamamoto who opted for a different approach. He recognized the massive potential of aviation, more specifically naval aviation since the 1930s. The idea of an air raid on Hawaii came after his observance of naval air maneuvers, clearly demonstrating the superiority of air power over battleships. This may have possibly been the main reason why the Japanese decided to take on such an operation, to simply prove the value of the aircraft carrier.

With the aid of Rear Admiral Takijiro Onishi and Commander Minoru Genda, Yamamoto began to devise a plan of attack. The operation must be executed in a manner that takes the enemy by surprise, with the main targets being the aircraft carriers and land-based planes. All available Japanese aircraft carriers will be needed for the operation, with the primary method of attack being torpedo- and dive-bombing. Bomber support and strafing runs will be handled by the fighter planes, and the operation was to be conducted early morning.

Even the best laid plans have problems, and the raid was no exception. One such problem would be the allocation of resources for both an attack on Hawaii and the operations in the Philippines which have already begun to take place. Other than the small number of aircraft carriers that the Japanese fleet maintained, another problem would be the large amounts of oil needed to support both operations.

The attack itself had a number of obstacles, one of which would be the issue of maintaining secrecy. An operation such as this raid the element of surprise is paramount; very few people were given details of the operation. Second would be the route traveled by the task force, because plotting a course through the rough waters of the northern pacific during the winter is not an easy task. Ultimately the task force would start from Etorohu; heading 42 degrees north/ 147 degrees west, which would eventually put the task force north of Hawaii. Lastly was the issue of releasing torpedoes in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. Modifications were made to the torpedoes allowing them to be used in the harbor.

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was selected as the task force commander for the operation. The task force itself consisted of 30 ships, 6 of which were aircraft carriers, with a full complement of 430 planes to conduct the air raid. During the voyage the fleet was kept under strict radio silence, and was limited to receiving transmissions. Transmitting messages from the fleet would run the risk of exposing the position of the fleet by the U.S. At this point all the preparations were obviously complete, and the attack on Pearl Harbor was imminent.

With all the planning being done by Admiral Yamamoto and the Japanese...
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