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Was the Pearl Harbor attack flawed ?

Discussion in 'Pearl Harbor' started by steverodgers801, Dec 7, 2013.

  1. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    In a book by Zinn, Attack on Pearl Harbor, flaws in the execution of the attack.
    No coverage by the fighters, resulting in the loss of planes from the few fighters that did get airborne and of which none were shot down.
    No AA suppression resulting in the loss of planes and rerouting of others.
    Over concentration on BB's, resulting in no deliberate attacks on the CA and DD's in harbor.
    No control over the torpedo attack resulting in overconcentration on two.
    The flare problem was a result of a last minute adjustment of the plan and allowed a mistake that lead to quick response of AA which lead to problems with torpedo attacks.
    An example one destroyer was credited with shooting down 4 TB's. Say it was said that the flares would be launched only if there was no surprise, the torpedo planes could have launched their attacks with out flack interference. But since the DBs got their strikes in first, ships got warning allowing the quick response of ready AA.
    One of the biggest flaws was almost half of the torpedo's were launched at just 2 ships, another 4 or so were launched at the Utah. Six torpedo's could have been launched at each of the 4 open BB's and the rest used on the CA's in harbor. The DB's that were to hit the carriers could have been used to hit the CA's and DD's reducing flack and damaging ships that were used.
    Fighters should have been used to cover the airfields to prevent any fighters from taking off. Instead fighters were attacking civilian cars, civilian planes and other less important targets.
     
  2. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    Any time there is a complex military operation like this one, there will be errors in planning and execution. You bring up some good points, and I'm looking forward to a good discussion, or at least a link to an old discussion.

    In my own notes on this operation, I guesstimate its tactical success at 50%, mainly for the failure to hit the fuel storage depots, for the failure to hit the submarine base, and for the failure to actually destroy the capital ships based there (If you're going to sink a ship, you need to do that in something deeper than a bathtub. Only two ships [the Oklahoma and the Arizona) were actually destroyed; all the others were back in service before the end of the war.)

    Strategically, I believe that the attack was a complete failure. For one thing, the planners erred in miscalculating the impact of the attack on the American psyche (this may have been the biggest error of all). Also, Adm. Nagumo, in Stephen King's words (from the Gunslinger/Black Tower series), "forgot the face of his father," meaning that he forgot his mission, which was to erase America's ability to project power into the western Pacific, when he declined to launch another attack to look for the Midway and the Lexington, which were en route from Midway back to Hawai'i.

    DaveBj
     
  3. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Its discussed in the book and in this forum, the tanks were not a easy target, each berm would have had to been hit since they were designed to hold 150% capacity of the tank. The tanks actually could be easily replaced and there was actually a secret storage farm built. Despite the claims of Fuchida, at no time during the planning was it intended for the attack to hit the storage and repair facilities. Yamato only wanted the BB's and did not care about anything else.
     
  4. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    Small side-track -- I met Fuchida in the '70s. He came to the Misawa Air Base chapel and gave the testimony of his conversion to Christianity. He also talked about the 12/7/41 raid, but gave no big revelations.

    Edit: No wonder I couldn't find it in the Amazon store; it's Zimm, not Zinn. $10.59 for Kindle; I just bought it.

    DaveBj
     
  5. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Sorry. Fuchida actually has been caught in a few lies. Apparently he did not argue for a third attack on Pearl, the planes were not on deck ready to take off when the carriers were hit at Midway
     
  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    If the war is supposed to be over by April-May, 1942, then the failure to hit the naval yard is mostly negated, the same goes for the submarine base. The Japanese were banking on a short war where neither of these would have a chance to come into play. However, had the Japanese been planning on a long war, their targeting plans would likely have been different. Also, Zimm makes a strong case for the Americans to use a rotating number of commercial oil tankers for use as a "floating" oil farm, again negating the destruction of the Pearl's oil farms. Further along those lines, regular oil tanks can be thrown up rather quickly, and the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility was already well under construction - it is quite possible that the Americans could have put a "rush" on the job and finished the first two tanks earlier than their original September/October 1942, completion date.



    underestimating the psychological effect on an enemy is a most common occurrence, as usually, one bases the effect by one's own standard. For example, most Americans believed that Japan would not attack the United States because Japan would not start a war it could not win and that the only outcome would be the utter destruction of Japan, and certainly Japan would not commit an act which was tantamount to national suicide. It is also doubtful that Nagumo "forgot the face of his father." After all, Nagumo had struck a crippling blow against the US Pacific Fleet, for it would not conduct "offensive" operations for some time. And he did this all without losing any of his carriers, when Japan expected to lose two or three.

    The problem is that Japan is in what is essentially a "no win" situation. Japan can't bow to American demands, so she must fight. Yet, if she fights a protracted war, she is guaranteed to lose. So she must fight a short war, however, there is no strategy that reasonably assures such an outcome, so Japan must accept, what is at best, a "one in a million chance" of success. What is the old saying, if your falling off a cliff, you might as well flap your arms and try to fly, as you have got nothing left to lose.
     
  7. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    More than a few, but, IIRC, his motives have always remained in question. He had already been mostly discredited in Japan, but Gordon Prange turned Fuchida's word into the "Gospel truth" here in the West, where it remained so for a long time.

    Still, whatever his motives, I am very envious of DaveBj for having met Fuchida in person.
     
  8. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Sorry Steve, but you will have no luck with this one. The destroyer you are using as an example is the USS Bagley, she claimed 5 torpedo bombers and later in the action two other aircraft. However, according to her own action report, the attacking dive bombers were mistaken for US aircraft, and it was not until the Akagi's B5N2 Kates had flown by an attacked the battleships, specifically the torpedoing of the USS Oklahoma, that the Bagley sounded General Quarters.

    http://www.history.navy.mil/docs/wwii/pearl/ph24.htm

    The Akagi's Kates blew right by Bagley and the other ships with nary a shot being fired at them. However, the Kaga's Kates, IIRC, coming up shortly thereafter and along the same route were badley shot up and lost five of their number. Several nearby ships claimed these kills, so it would appear that most, if not all of the Bagley's kills were "shared" as opposed to being solely her kills.


    I will admit that it has been quite some time since I read Zimm's book, I have to go find where it is buried and look into the timing of the Kate attacks from the Akagi and Kaga.
     
  9. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Midway and Yamato ???? Nagumo would have needed a time machine to hit USS Midway as she was only operational in 1945 the second US carrier in the area was USS Enterprise, and Yamato should of course be Yamamoto.

    Did all Japanese planes have radios and were they trained for centralized attack coordination ? IIRC in the Solomons campaign they often gave up the radios to reduce weight so it's likely that radio coordination was not central to Japanese tactics.

    IMO PH was a huge tactical victory for the Japanese, but simply not enough to be decisive, it's psychological effects were wrongly evaluated the Japanese leadership knew they could not win an attrition was against the USA, so the strategy was to have favourable attrition to induce war weariness before being overwhelmed by numbers.
    Looking at the tactical plan it was as good as it could be, some details could have been improved given 20/20 hindsight but hitting the fuel depots and the subs only made sense if looking at a long war, and they were gambling for a short one, once they realized the carriers were missing the risk of a counterattack was high.
    They Japanese had some hard choices to make, they didn't have the resources to hit everything that was there, the A6M2 could either strafe the airfields or provide top cover and basically contribute nothing to the damage on the ground, given that their 20mm cannons werte likely to be a lot more effective than the 7.7mm MGs of the other planes the choice was a reasonable one.

    Another often ignored consideration is how much avgas and aircraft ordinance did the Japanese carriers carry? I remember reading the number of aircraft torpedoes on Shokaku was barely sufficient for a couple full strikes and it's likely that for PH the number was reduced to make place for the special anti battleship bombs carried by part of the Kate. Also how much fuel did the Fleet have ? not having enough left for a high speed withdrawal could be fatal.

    Given the political and strategic situation a possible better plan would have been to avoid directly attacking US territories leaving FDR with the onus of the DOW but an attack on the Netherland East Indies without previously neutralizing the Philippines was an operational impossibility, so they really had no choice given the impossible situation FDR had put them in, without access to the NEI resources they were dead and to get there they had to take the Philippines and attack the USA.
     
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  10. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    TiredOldSoldier, I can't get the "quote" function to work.

    The erroneous reference to a carrier named Midway in my post above is a result of my failure to proofread. I should have said Enterprise, of course.

    As to the "Yamato" quote, the errors there belong to steverodgers, who actually wrote the line that you quoted, and to you, for attributing it to me.

    DaveBj
     
  11. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    I think Steve meant the Admiral, not the ship or nation.
     
  12. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Oops, Japan had radios, but they were very unreliable. The point of the fighters is that they were not covering the fields or the bombers, but off on what ever mission they wanted.
     
  13. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Sorry about that, I'm still struggling on how to get "multiquote" to work so I did a "cut and paste" of your quote and forgot to change the author. I only noted them as two obvious typos like that in one thread is rather unusual for this forum, and spoil otherwise good posts to my "nitpicker mentality" :XD: .
     
  14. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    "Nitpicker mentality" -- looks like you and I share something other than an interest in WWII :D

    D
     
  15. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    From what I've read the Japanese had a considerable number of Zero's assigned to escort the bombers and fly cover over Oahu. That some of the few US fighters that got in the air were succesful is hardly surprising given how wide rangeing the attack was.

    If you look at the targeting I think you will find that there was a signficant number of planes assinged to AA supression. Most of it however was assigned to the grand based AA which due to ammo supply problems didn't do a great deal in any case. Trying to surpressing the AA on the fleet would likely have lead to even heavier losses of aircraft.

    The BB's were the strategic target. The whole strategy was to convince the US that the war was lost before it even started. Wasting time hitting targests that were not part of this strategy wouldn't have made sense.

    Against a fleet with ready AA torpedo bombers were very vulnerable. They had to make the attacks quickly which means that "control" would have been a significant problem.

    At least some of the fighters that got in the air were from remote satelight fields. The fighters hit the main fields and supressed AA in the area then were allowed free hunting. Those very same tactics or very similar ones worked very well for the US in Europe.

    All said I've not been impressed by what I've heard of this book.
     
  16. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I disagree. His mission was:
    1) to have a profound impact on US moral
    2) delay and weaken the US counter attack across the Pacific. The IJN still invisioned a "Decisive" battle vs the US battleline as being a factor in winning the war.
     
  17. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    I'm halfway through the first chapter, and I have to say that I hope his research is better than his writing. So far I've stumbled across three significant errors, any one of which would have cost a full letter grade in Freshman Comp :-(

    DaveBj
     
  18. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    I have not read the book in question, but have read several others (Prange, Morrison, et all) that either were a discrete study of the attack or covered it as part of the overall war.

    As to the "tactical" element, yes there were some mistakes made, but considering the wealth of targets and the unknown nature of the defenses (level of alert, being spotted), overall they did close to as perfect as could be expected considering the losses they took, which were negligible. The US Pacific Fleet was staggered and forced to completely rethink their strategy (which in hindsight was a net benefit), while the Kido Butai was intact and free to act for up to a year before parity with the USN in tonnage baring something stupid. (like Coral Sea & Midway)

    Strategically it was a double mistake.

    As noted above sinking ships in shallow water in a major naval base for a heavily industrial power, has severe drawbacks unless you can impart Arizona level damage. It would be far better to inflict less catastrophic, yet fatal damage, in deep water where the ships and crew face total or near total loss. If Japan had foregone a surprise strike at Pearl Harbor for a Midway trap using the entire Kido Butai they might have achieved the same result without incurring the second strategic mistake in my opinion.

    It could be done by having a apparent attempt to secure Midway take place somewhere around December 10th to 15th 1941, with the Kido Butai in a "ambush" position to engage the two to three Carriers and battleline that would/should come out to protect the outpost.

    The downside is now the IJN is offering battle on more equal terms and must accept some losses, but then again they expected to lose one third of their large CV's at Pearl anyway. There is also the possibility that the US could refuse battle or that storms might prevent one from occurring, but in either case the US would take a moral hit in failing to defend a base so close to Hawaii with her fleet intact.

    The second mistake is far graver since it was a major violation of their overall strategic intent, namely to induce the US to conclude prosecuting the war to Japanese defeat was not worth the cost. The attack as it happened could not engender a greater desire to take the war to Hirohito's doorstep than any other conceivable act. Even it the DoW had been given on time, it is doubtful the American public would have had a sufficiently lower desire to see unconditional surrender.

    It is hard to conceive that Yamamoto, who served in the US, could conclude that America in 1941 would be a rehash of Czarist Russia in 1905.
     
  19. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    I do think his premise that the Japanese could have inflicted far more damage on ships is a fair one. Many of the flaws in Japanese thinking came back at Midway and elsewhere.
     
  20. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Would it have had any material impact had the inflicted more damage on ships present, or even ships anticipated? If only on ships present they might have bagged a few additional cruisers. Even assuming they'd sunk every ship larger than a destroyer in the harbor and they'd all been completely obliterated in a magazine explosion I don't think that would have really changed events much. That would add to the tally three battleships, six modern cruisers, and two older scout cruisers. While this is a serious blow, it's not really enough to cripple the U.S. Navy for terribly long. In fact, it only amounts to a 22% reduction in the cruiser force. While significant, this is hardly enough to make or break a prolonged war. Even the additional battleships don't really amount to that much. The BatFor was down for the count in any event, as fully half the battle line was either temporarily or permanently removed from action as a direct result of the attack. (Even ignoring the fact that the two North Carolinas were suffering serious teething problems and Colorado was undergoing overhaul.)

    Let's assume, for a moment, that incredible Japanese munition frugality even allows them to disable all the destroyers in the harbor and all both Lex and Enterprise get tagged on the way back. That's about a fifteen percent reduction in destroyers and over thirty in carriers. (Ignoring Long Island and her ilk.) As terrible as all this sounds, the only practical effect is that Atlantic Fleet force levels will be drastically reduced in favor of reinforcing PacFlt. (Or rebuilding, rather.) LantFlt will end up more or less stripped of carriers and she'll suffer significant force reductions in destroyers and cruisers. Such a move would surely delay Operation Torch, but PacFlt would be back up and running, and more or less precisely where it was before the attack, as quickly as the reinforcements could transit the canal.

    What all this means is that the only real effect the Pearl Harbor attack could possibly have on the U.S. was psychological. The U.S. simply had too many assets dispersed too far for it to achieve much directly. Now as an act of strategic-psychological warfare it was not so successful, but you can hardly blame that on the forces on the scene. They did everything Japan could have hoped and more. (I believe better than Japan's most favorable estimates of the likely results.) I simply can't see any way in which the attack was anything but a brilliant tactical success . . . and a dismal strategic/psychological failure precisely because of that.
     

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