Plunge Pontificates

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Pearl Harbor Attack Re-Evaluated

Interesting article on the attack on Pearl Harbor and why it was a complete and total strategic failure. Of course, we have all heard how Admiral Yamamoto said he was afraid that attacking Pearl Harbor would waken a sleeping tiger, but historian Dr. Gerhard Weinberg takes it much further.

...the Japanese strike was a "strategic and tactical disaster for Japan, though Japan did not recognize this." Because Pearl Harbor was so shallow, the ships that were hit simply settled into the soft harbor bottom, and "were for the most part raised; by the end of December, two of the battleships that Yamamoto had imagined sunk were on their way to the west coast for repairs. All but the Arizona were returned to service."

In addition, since the attack was on a Sunday, most of the Navy personnel were ashore when the planes attacked and so escaped death or injury. When the ships were repaired, they could sail with almost full crews.

The attack was a strategic Japanese failure for four important reasons:

1. Any naval war in the mid-20th century would be an aircraft carrier war; all American aircraft carriers were at sea when Japan attacked, and none of them was even scratched.

2. Ringing Pearl Harbor were petroleum and gas tanks by the score, since petroleum is the life-blood of any fleet. Not one tank was so much as punctured, let alone destroyed.

3. Repair facilities were all around the fleet anchorages to fix any problems a ship would have; not one repair shop was hit.

4. A key component of any navy is the attack submarine. American subs were berthed within yards of the battleship anchorages, yet not one was hit during the air raids.

Thus, for all its shock value, for all the anger vented at this sneak attack, Pearl Harbor was a strategic failure. Within hours, fleet vessels were topping off their tanks and heading out to sea. Damaged vessels were sailed to the fleet repair facilities for patch-up, then sailed to arms storage for ammunition and supplies; they were at sea within hours or days.

The fleet submarines, untouched and eager for revenge, loaded up on food and ammunition and torpedoes and were at sea, hunting Japanese vessels, within days of the attack.

The huge, world-shaping effect of the Japanese attack: In an instant, the American public was galvanized into white hot fury and was ready, even eager, to go to war. This was the sleeping tiger that Yamamoto feared -- it was huge and united and bent on revenge.
Interesting stuff with things I had never considered before. I love history and especially learning something new about a subject I thought I understood quite well already.