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Taranto: The American Connection

Discussion in 'Naval War in the Mediterrean, Malta & Crete' started by Okie55, Jun 27, 2013.

  1. Okie55

    Okie55 New Member

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    New to the site, saw some Taranto posts. An American naval officer - Lt Commander John N. Opie, III, USN - was aboard HMS Illustrious for the entire cruise. He reported back to Washington, giving great details of the attack, but underplayed the most important lesson: that fleets in the 1940's were safer at sea than at anchor in a port. Also, timing worked against Opie. His report didn't get to Washington until mid-January, 1941. He returned to the US in April. Stark, the CNO, was very hot to learn about Taranto in November of 1940, but no one seems to have remembered that we had a man out there! By April, US Navy leadership was more worried about the Atlantic: transferring ships from Pearl Harbor to east coast ports. Opie's request to go to Hawaii and share "lessons learned" with "the boys out there" was denied. There's more in my book, check it out at www.tarantobook.com.
     
  2. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member Patron  

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    This is one of those interesting side stories of the conflict that crop up time to time, and one I have never come across before. The Pearl Harbor attack seems to be a magnet for these kind of stories, much like 9/11 is to our generation. The down side is that sometimes these factoids become the basis for some kind of smoking gun on how Pearl Harbor could have been prevented if only somebody of authority connected the dots.

    Please understand I am not saying this is what you are trying to put across, it is what it is, an interesting little story.

    The reason I say this is because of several factors.

    I suspect Admiral Stark got a fair understanding of events from other sources, though I imagine he would have read Opie's report with interest. This was a major victory for Britain at a time when they were few and far between and no doubt the RN Adimiralty was not too shy in sharing this with USN to prove that they were in it to win.

    In truth there were far better and more compelling pieces of the puzzle that pointed to possibility that Pearl Harbor was vunerable to some form of airstrike by Japanese Carrier aviation. Japan's penchant for surprize suckerpunch's and the dissappearence of most of Japan's Carriers in the week prior to December 7th are far more compelling. The USN had wargamed it themselves, so it was hardly a novel concept.

    All of this was going against the common human failing of the belief "it could never happen here".
     
  3. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Much the same happened with Claire Chennault's early reports from China on the Japanese A6M Zero. They were, for the most part, ignored or disbelieved because of the biased belief that the Japanese were "inferior" and were incapable of producing an aircraft with the A6M's capabilities. Just like the reports on Taranto, only a select few American naval officers to the reports to heart.

    Even if Opie's reports had been believed, the entire "house of cards" still would have collapsed because of the belief that the Japanese warships could not reach that far due to their relative disuse of underway refueling - which, until recently, had been limited to it's small warships. As it was, the Japanese still had to cram fuel barrels into every nook and cranny aboard the carriers Akagi, Hiryu, and Shoho, as well as, the supporting heavy cruisers Tone ans Chikuma.
     
  4. Okie55

    Okie55 New Member

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    This is a "what might have been" story, and not a "what would have happened" story. We cannot say that if X occurred, then Y and Z must have followed. So, with that qualification, here are two points that tease the imagination. First, Opie was a classmate at Annapolis with Ed Layton, Kimmel's intelligence officer. Had Opie gone to Hawaii, he certainly would have spent time with Layton, even though they were not close friends and had no duty together over their careers. Would Layton, after hearing the details of how the British pulled off the Taranto attack, have reacted differently to the "disappearance" of the Japanese carriers? Second, Opie observed Royal Navy RDF (RADAR, to the USN) in use aboard HMS Illustrious. Ten times in a two day stretch, Italian search or attack planes were detected by RDF, fighters scrambled, and the bogeys chased off or shot down. Now, Radar on Oahu in 1941 belonged to the army, but if Opie had gone out there, and told Kimmel and his officers about what the Royal Navy had done in the Mediterranean with RDF, what would they have done? These questions can be asked, but cannot be answered.
     
  5. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    One problem, the radar station and intel center were under army control and Kimmel did not think it was his business to discuss with his counter part General Short what the army was doing to defend the harbor. I wonder how long it would have taken for relevant info to get to Kimmel. The navy was well aware of Taranto, but because the water at Pearl was quite shallow and therefore not suitable for normal torpedo use, the navy was not concerned about an attack from torpedo's. To compound matters it was actually admiral Bloch who was responsible for naval defense of the harbor and so Kimmel actually had no real say in what happened in defending his ships while in harbor.
     
  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Point #1 - Layton & Opie: It is unlikely that anything would come of such a meeting that was not already known to Layton. He states quite clearly, and many times, in his book "And I was There", that he was well aware of the possibility of an Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor and the damage such a strike could do. However, he was provided with no material from Washington that caused him to uprate an air attack on PH from a possibility to a probability. Opie's information would not have changed that one iota.

    Point #2 - Opie, Kimmel, and Radar: Kimmel did not need Opie for that. Kimmel himself should have told Short that the Navy was not holding up it's end of the Joint Defense agreement by not flying long-range PBY patrols and that the Army's Radar sets were the only long distance warning that Oahu would have in case of air attack. Regretfully Kimmel chose not to inform Short of the Navy's failure, amongst many other things.
     
  7. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    To me that is the failure of Kimmel, that he allowed a bad situation to exist. The Navy had practiced an air attack on Pearl and to allow Short to ignore such a possibility was the biggest failure
     
  8. Okie55

    Okie55 New Member

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    Maybe Layton would have stopped waiting for "material from Washington." Maybe Kimmel would have asked Stark to beef up Naval radar, or told Bloch to do so. Kimmel testified at the Congressional Investigation that he did not believe torpedoes would run in the shallow water of Pearl Harbor. He may have changed that belief if he had heard from Opie about the British method for reducing the initial dive of air-launched torpedoes. Or maybe not! A big part of the Pearl Harbor disaster derived from American underestimation of the Japanese. We cannot say that things would have been different if Opie went to Hawaii. But maybe they would not have been the same.
     
  9. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Blimey us Brits never learned our own lessons at the time so why should anyone else be expected to.

    These things happen...If they did not...war would be easy and we'd win em all in first few weeks.
     
    belasar likes this.

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