(Thanks to reader Marcus Ranum)
September 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm
There might eventually have been “boots on the ground” if the Battle of Midway had gone the other way. Or if the 3 aircraft carriers assigned to the Pacific fleet had been in port that day.
Ah, but that was different.
Japan had, over the previous decade, invaded and conquered sovereign nations in other areas of the Pacific. Totally different!
The Pacific ocean is, after all, much bigger than either the Mediterranean or the Arabian Sea. Totally different. Neither one of those bodies of water even contains the letter “P” in their name!
September 9, 2013 at 6:54 pm
But this was merely an example of the Master Race(TM) attempting to civilise you. You ungrateful wretches.
September 9, 2013 at 9:23 pm
Seriously. This point needs to be more widely made. An act of war is an act of war.
Something like the proposed strikes on Syria would be legitimate as a matter of law and possibly-though-I-still-doubt-it pragmatically useful were the UN Security Council to authorize them, but absent such authorization they are an act of aggressive war. The fact that we don’t like the fact that Russia has a veto doesn’t change the fact that they do have that veto.
bad Jim says
September 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm
Actually, it was accompanied by formal declarations of war by Japan and Germany.
September 9, 2013 at 11:33 pm
A limited attack implies that more force was available to be used and that restraint was shown by the attacker.
None of that was true of the Pearl harbor attack. There were considerations limiting the force used. These include:
1) Forces committed elsewhere. The Pearl Harbor attack was just one in a series of coordinated attacks.
2) A need to limit the size of the force to avoid notice and maintain surprise. US forces had limited but regular submarine and air patrols going out. If the Japanese fleet had been spotted the outcome might have been very different.
(Some speculation has been made that if spotted earlier an obsolete battle plan, plan ORANGE, may have been used. The plan called for the US fleet to meet the enemy well out at sea, to form up a WWI battle line of battleships and to have done with it in an exchange of long range gunnery. Picture the battle of Jutland v2.0. Aircraft were to be relegated to secondary roles. If the US had been stupid enough to follow that plan all of the battleships and most cruisers would have been lost. Any aircraft carriers used would be too close to the line to escape being destroyed. ORANGE failed to conceive of carrier aircraft as offensive weapons and enemy carriers as important targets. Of course, well out to sea, in deep water, any ships sunk would be irrecoverable. Perhaps it was better that surprise was achieved by the Japanese. History is often twisted like that.)
3) The size of the strike was further limited by the requirement that the Japanese carriers remain a considerable distance from the target. This limited the number of waves and the load each aircraft could carry.
4) The amount of time allocated to the attack was limited by the need to avoid any counterstrike. The Japanese didn’t know where our carriers or submarines were. Either of them showing up at the wrong time could have shortened the war.
None of these influences were internal to the Japanese command. All the constraints were imposed from outside. The Japanese hit Pearl Harbor with everything they thought they could safely get away with using. They hit it as hard and as thoroughly as they knew how given the resources to available. Their plan, outside their desire to catch one or more carriers in port, was carried out. Pretty much everything that was targeted was hit.
In hindsight, and with a modern understanding of what was important in WW2, and an appreciation of logistics it is clear that the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor was a failure on many levels. Most everybody with a passing acquaintance with history understand that the Japanese missed sinking any of our carriers. Less understood is that the Pacific ocean is huge and, in this case, the critical resource was oil. Fleets without oil are stationary targets and a waste of resources. The Japanese made no effort to destroy the tank farms on Oahu and didn’t even try to sink any of the very few fleet tankers available. Without oil the US fleet in the Pacific, including the carriers, would have been useless. They would have set mostly idle or , most likely, retreated 2500 miles to the west coast of the US. It would have set back the American war effort for years.
As it was the Japanese sank a few largely unimportant battleships and secondaries. Most of the damage was made good in months because the repair facilities had been left untouched. Without Pearl Harbor it would have been a nightmare to get troops and supplies to Australia. Without logistical legs the US doesn’t hold Guadalcanal, Rabaul is fortified, the New Guinea campaign fails because of Japanese air superiority, the Japanese invade Australia and force terms that keeps it out of the war …
The Japanese won the battle but crippled their larger effort to win the war. The failure was not because they only used a limited strike. They used what they had and destroyed all they aimed at. The failure was one of imagination and a failure to see how important the fuel stores at Pearl Harbor were in the larger battle for the Pacific.
For lack of a nail …
Lassi Hippeläinen says
September 10, 2013 at 3:58 am
That may be your definition of a limited strike, but others might disagree. A hit-and-run attack is limited in the sense that it is planned to be short and not lead to occupation. In modern political parlance that is limited enough.
And about fuel – at that time most ships ran on coal (I’m no expert on US Navy). Oil was needed only for airplanes and cars. The importance of oil became apparent only when airplanes became the main strike weapon. That happened when the island hopping strategy made air strikes independent of carriers.
September 10, 2013 at 8:06 am
Not true. All coal burning battleships had either been converted to oil (e.g. USS Texas) or, in the case of the British Navy, junked as a part of the Washington Navel Treaty. None of the Japanese or German battleships ran on coal either.
September 10, 2013 at 8:14 am
A good point relative to the failure to destroy the oil storage facilities. However, it must be remembered that the primary target for the Japanese strike force was the aircraft carriers; it was a lucky occurrence that none of them were in port on Dec. 7, 1941. I would also point out that the absence of the carriers has led to numerous conspiracy theories, namely that the Roosevelt Administration was aware of the approaching Japanese fleet and failed to warn the commanders at Pearl Harbor, later making Short and Kimmel the scapegoats. The oil could have been made good in fairly short order, the carriers not so much.
September 10, 2013 at 8:19 am
Also a good point about plan Orange, a textbook example of hidebound naval high commanders re-fighting the previous war. They failed to understand that the greatly increased range of aircraft (100 miles) made the range of the Navy’s guns (15 miles at maximum range) obsolete.
September 10, 2013 at 9:32 am
The idea of the Japanese making a major invasion of Hawaii I find to be an unlikely scenario. The Japanese had neither the resources nor the logistical support needed for such a sustained effort. As it was, the territory they did conquer strained their logistics almost to the limit.
In their original plan, Wake Island was the farthest west they planned to take. This was modified some months later when they decided they could stretch far enough to take Midway to use as a base to harass Hawaii.
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