A Day Not Forgotten, the Attack on Pearl Harbor Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:24:05
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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 fleet, there were also events taking place in Washington. On October 16 of the same year news reached Washington reporting the fall of the Konoye Government, resulting in the appointment of General Tojo as Prime Minister of Japan. This set off alarms in D.C. because of the fact that General Tojo is a militarist, and fears of his cabinet would be bent on war. But the Japanese maintained diplomatic negotiations with the goal of achieving an agreement to restore oil supplies. On the American end of the negotiations, Presidents Roosevelt was more concerned with Japan ending its tripartite pact.

Kichisaburo Momura was the ambassador of Japan in charge of facilitating requests between Tokyo and Washington. He was in charge of delivering the 14 part message from Tokyo that ultimately relays the declaration of war on the U.S., just hours before the attack would commence. The delivery of the final portion of the message came about one hour after the attack had begun, thus making it a violation of international law.

The first wave of 183 Japanese planes initiates the attack at 0600 hours and was concentrated on Hickam airfield and the flying boat ramps on Ford Island, with the torpedo bombers en route to battle ship row. The first wave lasts until 0945 with 4 battleships sunk, 8 badly damaged, 200 U.S. aircraft destroyed and multiple smaller ships lost. A secondary attack is launched as well, with the total casualty count tallying in roughly 2,400 U.S. personal killed, and 1,200 wounded. A nation-wide broadcast of the Sneak Attack hits the airwaves, rallying the nation behind President Roosevelt into the war. This was the exact opposite result that Admiral Yamamoto had hoped this raid would have on the American fighting spirit. What was thought to be the most brilliant naval operations in history has also become the biggest mistake of World War II.

¦with the un-bounding determination of our people we will gain the inevitable victory. So help us God. These were the last words of president Roosevelt addressing the Japanese attack before the chamber in which he stood erupted with cheer. Although, some of the reactions made by the American people were not so level headed; such as the boycotting of Japanese shops and goods, the nation as a whole was geared toward the war effort, American wanted payback.

The war in the Pacific was slow to get going because Europe was made a priority. This would mean the forces already committed to the Pacific were without the possibility of reinforcement. The Japanese onslaught came fast and it looked as if it wasnt slowing down. Position after allied position, was taken by the empire and the outlook of the pacific war looked grim but not for too long.

An admiral by the name of Ernest J. King soon devised a raiding strategy after his careful assessment of previous Japanese operations. The strategy consisted of raids on unsuspecting Japanese positions which were to be conducted by carrier groups. The objective of this strategy was to force the Japanese to reinforce these exposed positions; thus spreading their defenses too thin and unable to counter an actual advance. The carriers that were involved with operation were the U.S.S. Saratoga, Lexington and Enterprise. The raids at first inflicted mild damage, but the carrier group was soon bolstered by the addition of the U.S.S. Yorktown. A raid was conducted on the enemy positions at Lae and Salamana destroying several Japanese transports. Doolittles raid was one that resulted from Admiral Kings strategy, forcing the Japanese high command on their heels.

The pivotal naval battle of Midway was also a hard fought victory on the road to winning the war in the Pacific. The Midway atoll was located between the Hawaiian Islands and was a vital strategic position for both countries. It was essentially the doorway to both the Japanese Empire and the U.S. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the overall commander of the Pacific theater, planned a scissor type strategy to defend Midway from an impending Japanese attack. This strategy was to be executed in a way where it would place the Japanese carrier group between land-based air attacks and the two U.S. carrier groups.

The position of the Japanese fleet was hard to locate until Lieutenant-Commander Wade McClusky spotted an enemy destroyer following it back to the main force. Coincidently the strike group that was launched from the other carrier fleet located the Japanese fleet at the same time approaching from the east. The clash at Midway resulted in a one-sided victory for the U.S. destroying four Japanese carriers, one heavy cruiser, 275 planes, and 3,500 Japanese personnel.

As the Allied forces closed in on the Japanese Empire, land based operations became more and more frequent. Although there were plenty more Naval engagements that took place, the taking of land-based positions were the deciding factor. One important land operation was the taking of Guadalcanal giving way many lessons learned. At the unfortunate cost of countless lives, it showed the U.S. the difficulty of supporting a fighting force on an enemy shore and the many logistic risks when taking on an amphibious assault. It also made military commanders aware of the hardships of fighting in dense jungle terrain and the threat of disease and sickness.

One by one enemy positions fell to the Allies and the Japanese Empire slowly dwindled. And the closer that the Allies got to their homeland the Japanese fought harder. But their fervor was not enough to beat back onslaught of the Allied forces. With every inch gained, every battle won, and every life lost Allied resolve grew hundreds of times stronger. If it werent for the day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the outcome probably wouldve been different. But the damage was done, and the mistake of awaking the fighting spirit of the American people marked the beginning of the end of the Japanese Empire.

References

http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/pearl.htm

http://worldwar2history.info/Pearl-Harbor/

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