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Was the Pearl Harbor attack flawed ?

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

  1. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Can't have been all that flawed:

    [​IMG]
     
  2. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Close to four thousand U.S. casualties and well over two thousand dead at the cost of sixty-four Japanese dead is a pretty resounding success. Victories don't get very much more lopsided than that. The battle of Cannae was less of a victory for Hannibal. Hannibal took Rome about 7-1 at Cannae in what is perhaps the most classic encirclement in the history of war, but he ended up ground into a stalemate and ultimately lost on his second campaign because . . . Rome could build a bigger army. I can't find good casualty figures, but I believe Philippine Sea was quite similar. We suffered from twice to three times as many casualties as the Japanese at PH. They probably suffered more than we did at PH, but I don't think they had five thousand dead, ergo it's no more lopsided, despite being our most famously lopsided victory of the war. Agincourt was only slightly more of a victory for England. King Henry beat the pudding out of the French with perhaps the single greatest tank trap of all time taking them nearly 100-1. Youch. But England ultimately lost a few generations later because . . . France could build a bigger army. While PH isn't the single most stunning tactical victory of all time it's quite surprising in terms of raw numbers. For each Japanese soldier that died in the battle there were 40 American dead. You simply can't find battles with those kinds of results called a "defeat" or even a "mistake" in any other war. It was a mistake, but it was a gloriously successful one. And successes like that don't happen without training, coordination, skill, and typically at least a little luck.
     
  3. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    If you calculate the ratio in terms of material lost it's even worse. Cannae would look almost like a tie in comparison.
     
  4. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    SymphonicPoet, the measure of a whuppin' is not the ratio of casualties; it is how long the whuppee stays whupped. Six months (right at what Yamamoto predicted) is not very long.

    DaveBj
     
  5. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I admit that I haven't read as much as others about Pearl Harbor, but I think belasar is correct. It's hard to imagine PH being anything but a stunning victory for the Japanese. However, the leadership of Japan severely misunderstood the US psychology. They thought that the US would give up after one defeat. Instead, it galvanized the public thinking about Japan.Tactically, the Japanese won at PH. Strategically, they lost the war because of that success. Instead of giving up, the American navy and marines saw the defeat as a reason to upgrade the build-up of men and materiel. I think Yamamoto was aware of the industrial capacity of America, and hoped that the defeat at PH would be enough to bring the US to the bargaining table. While the Japanese were wedded to the concept of the "decisive battle", the US did not buy in. Rather, the US saw PH as a slap in the face and served as a wake-up call.
     
  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    It wasn't just Yamamoto that was aware of the US industrial potential, the entire Japanese military was aware of it. The US Navy was taking great strides to rearm itself, with several expansion acts passed between the years 1936-1941. All of which were a matter of public record. This is why Japan attacked when she did. At this point, Japan was at her strongest, and the United States was at it's weakest with regards to naval strength. Had Japan waited a year or three, the US Navy would only become that much more powerful. Sure the Japanese would be adding their super battleships and a few carriers, but the Americans were going to have a far greater quantity of new fast battleships, and a great many aircraft carriers. This was matter was compunded by the American led oil embargo, which effectively cut of the IJN's fuel supply.

    Well, the Americans too bought into the "decisive battle" concept to decide the war in the Pacific. However, all the American plans went out the window with the destruction of their Battle Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Thus, with their battleships resting in the mud of Pearl Harbor, they were forced to greatly readjust their naval strategy, which would now focus on the aircraft carrier and the submarine. So one could probably say that the seeds of a successful American conclusion of the War in the Pacific were sown in the ashes of Pearl Harbor.
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I'd like to see some more on that. My impression is that the USN didn't plan on winning the war in a single battle. That's pretty much what the Japanese planned. Now both sides did consider actions in and around the Philippines as pivotal but the Japanese were thinking of a replay of Tushima. A lot of the USN's plans had been thrown out prior to the start of the war as well. They had realized that it would be 6 months or more before they could move in any mass to support/relieve the Phillipines.
     
  8. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    As far as I am aware, the Japanese naval leadership believed in the concept that they would win the Pacific war by engaging in one battle that would destroy the American navy, and at the same time, the will of the American people. Yamamoto bought into this, while missing several opportunities to engage in such a battle. The US Navy, I think, never followed this concept. They were fluid enough to change tactics when situations changed (albeit reluctantly).
     
  9. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    AFAIK the Japanese planning was for a repeat of Tsushima against the "rebuilt" fleet, with Pearl Harbor playing the same role as the battles around Port Arthur. But 1941/42 differs a lot from 1904/05, the US strategy of abandoning the Philippines to their fate removed the land element that could force the USN to battle on the Japanese terms and the intelligence failures finally gave the USN the ability to choose the battleground which made the plan totally unviable.

    With the exception of Midway, where Yamato, the two Nagatos and the four Hiei could have engaged what was available at the time, the IJN apparently didn't really try for the big fight until 1944, but by then they were just too weak.
    The conversion of two ships to battleship/carriers is pretty misterious in this context, the IJN could not afford removing those two ships from the battleline if it wanted any chance of a decisive success, and loading them with enough avgas to make them effective air platforms would make them a liability rather than an asset in a surface action despite the remaining 14" guns.

    I think that once they lost the initiative after Midway they never managed to come up with an effective/realistic "plan B", quite possibly because there really was no strategy that could have worked by then. An all out effort at Guadalcanal would possibly have been a better option that the repeated half hearted attempts, the choice between abandoning the marines and facing the whole of the IJN would have been a tough one, but it without the attempts to keep the US forces off balance the Japanese may have lost the island before they could really concentrate.
     
  10. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    Part of the damage is not so much how much affect it would have on long term operations, but the fact that 40 torpedos were available and only 1 ship was lost and 4 others damaged. As I stated too many torpedos were used against the Oklahoma and West Virgina, why not use them against the other BB's and cruisers? I believe it was 9 against the Oklahoma, 4 could have been used against the other ships, the Wee vee had 7, 2 or 3 could have been used elsewhere.
     
  11. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I just finished reading the Osprey account of the naval battles at Guadalcanal, and I agree with TOS. There were several opportunities for the IJN to engage the US fleet that were missed. The US would have been hard pressed to match the IJN if it was not so timid or poorly led.
     
  12. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Well, I for one would not say that the IJN was timid, but that they were parsimonious - especially after Midway. They could not afford to risk their ships in the way that the Americans could. For instance, take Mikawa's action at Savo Island - He lacked any intelligence that would have notified him that the American carriers had retreated, as far as he knew, they were still lurking about, and he could not risk his heavy cruisers staying in the area once daylight came. He knew the risks that his heavy cruisers would face given overwhelming American air superiority, for he had seen it first hand at Midway, and he also knew that there were no Japanese heavy cruisers on the ways to replace any he may lose if his cruisers were caught by American aircraft at daybreak.

    Still, they were unwilling to risk their heavy battleships in the restricted waters around Guadalcanal, where they could fall easy prey to any American forces nearby. The Americans suffered from this also, until desperation forced their hand, and the South Dakota and Washington were sent in. Then, there is also the question of the status of Japanese fuel supplies at the time, and if they had the supplies on hand that would mount allow them to mount another large naval offensive.(IIRC, combinedfleet.com has some material on this). Then you have to look at the quite slow Japanese reaction to the American landings on Guadalcanal, for it took them some time to realize the threat for what it was, and even then, they still fed their forces into action piecemeal. This can likely be attributed to the fact that the Japanese remained wedded to their doctrine of a "Decisive Battle", and, at least in their eyes, it did not look like it would be fought in the waters around Guadalcanal.
     
  13. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    How do you figure? There were four exposed battleships. The Japanese hit all of them. They all sank. Oklahoma and West Virginia sank quickly and as an obvious result of torpedo damage. California (two torpedoes) sank slowly enough that the dive bombers managed to drop on her. The near miss at the bow certainly contributed to her loss, but without the torpedo damage I don't see her sinking. Nevada was only hit by one torpedo, but that might have something to do with her position in the line. If you dropped at the center of the line you were bound to hit something. It was actually possible to miss at the extreme ends. Further, not only did the battleships absorb eighteen torpedoes, they also sank Utah (2), and damaged Helena (3), and Raleigh (1). Further, the cruisers were hit so hard it's amazing they survived the ordeal. (Particularly Helena, which lost the entire bow forward of the no. 2 turret.) And that's not even counting Oglala's loss to the damage she suffered from one of the hits on Helena. In short, they spread the torpedoes out, though they did concentrate on the big kids. I just don't see where I can criticize the Japanese performance. That's a heck of a hit ratio in a shallow, crowded, confused harbor that was gradually filling with the smoke of hits, fires, and AA by the time the last planes dropped. I'm sure some of the misses can be explained by experimental torpedo mechanisms not quite working as advertised. Another few might be accounted for by losses, as the torpedo attack took a few, as I recall. All in all that's a splendid performance. No one complains about the equally lopsided target selection by Enterprise dive bombers at Midway: 30 or so on Kaga and 3 on Akagi. (Possibly because they got the job done anyway, much like the Japanese at Pearl.)
     
  14. DaveBj

    DaveBj Member

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    I still maintain that damaging a ship so that it settles to the bottom of a bathtub shouldn't count as "sinking." All but two of the ships damaged in the attack were returned to action, some within months.

    DaveBj
     
  15. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    One element of the attack that was fortunately flawed were the 800 kilo AP bombs. They had not been properly designed and tested and were prone to breaking up on impact. Ten hits were scored on four battleships. Considering that six were duds or low order detonations after break-up and that 23% of a battleship’s target area were magazine spaces, the Navy was ‘lucky’ that a second battleship didn’t blow up.

    A second flaw was the already mentioned over concentration of the torpedo bombers on two BB. Geography influenced this. TB could make an attack run on VW and Oklahoma down the channel from the submarine base. In order to attack the others, they would have had to cross over the sub bases basin and that would have subjected them to rapid changes in thermal lift. Up, down, up and down again. Considering they had to fly very low to prevent the torps from hitting the shallow bottom, it is understandable they rejected the difficult approach.

    The third flaw was general over concentration on battleships. Some of the torpedo bombers could and should have attacked cruisers and tenders anchored in the bay. The dive bombers should never have dropped a single bomb on Nevada or any other battleships for that matter. 550lb bombs could not possibly cause more than superficial damage to battleships but they could have done a great deal of damage to cruisers, several of which were crammed into to two docks together with half a dozen destroyers.

    Given that the Japanese knew exactly where to find what kind of ship, New Orleans, San Francisco, Honolulu and St. Louis were lucky not to be smothered with 250 kilo bombs.
     
  16. SymphonicPoet

    SymphonicPoet Member

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    Near misses with 250k bombs could and did open up seams on battleships contributing to flooding, and sinking. But in general I would agree with your statement that they were to some extent wasted on the wagons and would have been much more fruitful if applied in greater numbers to the clusters of smaller ships.

    As to over-concentration on the Battleships I just don't see it. The battleships (and carriers) were the primary targets. Some degree of concentration on them seems quite reasonable to me. They certainly did not concentrate on the BBs to the point of neglecting other targets. In fact, half of the ships damaged or sunk that day were not BBs. They bombed and torpedoed cruisers (Helena, Raleigh, Honolulu), destroyers (Cassin, Downes, Shaw), and even auxiliaries (Vestal, Curtiss, and Utah). Further, they attacked aircraft, destroying nearly half of those present and damaging virtually all of the rest.

    The battleships returned to action in months were those that were not sunk. Of those sunk the soonest returned required just less than a year and the other two required more than two. All three were rebuilt so completely and with so much time and care they were virtually new ships when they emerged from the yards. California was out of action until January of 1944. West Virginia didn't even begin rebuilding until mid 1943. Oklahoma, and Arizona were total losses. (Had she not sunk in a storm Oklahoma was bound for scrapping.) Even Nevada, which was only barely sunk, would not emerge from the yards until October of 1942.

    I tend to regard a ship as "sunk" when they no longer have enough buoyancy to remain above water, no matter what depth they settle to. Ships that retain that buoyancy but find themselves in contact with the bottom anyway are usually termed "grounded" and the damage from grounding is most generally less. (Though grounding incidents have a funny way of turning into sinkings in the open ocean.) Having looked at the pictures, I assure you, those ships were "sunk." No commercial ship thus damaged would be returned to service, save possibly Nevada. Few warships of any nation with less of an industrial surplus would have been. I strongly suspect the manpower invested in raising them and rebuilding them equaled or exceeded the cost of a comparable new ship, but since the harbor needed to be cleared anyway it was probably worth the investment.

    Imagine for a moment what that attack would have done at any other anchorage. I suspect it would not have been pretty.
     
  17. Markus Becker

    Markus Becker Member

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    Utah was mistaken for a battleship, meaning attacking her made sense. Vestal was hit because she was alongside a BB.

    Downes and Cassin are what I'm talking about. They were in the same dock as a BB and collateral damage, albeit the right kind of collateral damage. If the dive bombers had ignored for example Nevada and hit the docked cruisers, more of that 'collateral' damage would have been inflicted.
     
  18. Dave55

    Dave55 Member

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    There were two big oilers there too. The Ramapo and the Neosho. Wouldn't they be considered 'Force Multipliers" ?

    I don't think either one of them was touched and they were around 500 feet long.
     
  19. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    I don't think any self respecting torpecker pilot is going to attack an oiler when he has a chance at a battleship.
     
  20. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Ship identification was a problem on both sides. Mistakes were common, so I'm not sure the pilots knew what they were attacking.
     

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