Home » History » Was the attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 really a surprise?

Was the attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 really a surprise?

“How secret is secret in a country where years of censorship have trained an inquisitive, alert population in the discreet whisper and the fine art of putting two and two together? And how secret is secret when one’s ideas are no longer exclusively one’s own? ” (At Dawn We Slept, Prange 30) The tragic attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 has many events connected to it that lead people to believe that it was no surprise to the United States government.

“The attack marked the entrance of Japan into World War II on the side of Germany and Italy, and the entrance of the United States on the allied side. Microsoft Encyclopedia) President Roosevelt set up investigations to find out whether or not there was any warning of the attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened. One report found that the navy and army commanders of the Hawaiian area, Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, and Major General Walter C. Short, were guilty of “dereliction of duty and errors of judgement. ” (Microsoft Encyclopedia) The reports showed that the commanders had received warnings weeks prior to the attack and just overlooked them.

A member of the operations section also reported that the ideas of an attack on Pearl Harbor came up very often. These stories could all be very possible, but there is also the possibility that the President only used them to cover up the fact that he himself knew about the attack. (Schlesinger 247) “FDR blinded the commanders at Pearl Harbor and set them up. ” (Willey 10) The Americans were decoding large amounts of Japanese military telegrams.

“We now know that they contained important details concerning the existence, organization, objective, and even the whereabouts of the Pearl Harbor Strike Force. (Willey 37) The United States was able to read Japan’s diplomatic traffic at consular and ambassadorial levels alike, with little delay and almost as if it were an open book. The US code word for the resulting intelligence was “Magic. ” The Americans had also made great progress in penetrating Japan’s military codes and ciphers by 1941 (code word “Ultra,” also used by the British for military signals intelligence, which they exchanged with the Americans. ) Sometimes information from one source filled out, clarified, or confirmed interceptions from another.

It is hardly surprising that for some people the question has become, not “Did we know? but “How could we not have known? ” But is that fair? ” (Van der Vat 94) “Since the early 1920’s America had been eavesdropping on Japanese government communications. Roosevelt’s military leaders called it a “spledid arrangement”” (Stinnett 60) Now if that is true and the United States knew all about what the Japanese were doing then why wouldn’t they have known about the attack on Pearl Harbor? And not only that, but why would the President of the United States not want to warn his own country of an attack that would harm his nation and kill thousands?

Even though Roosevelt tried to deny it, the radio taps America had on Japan were flawless. “Altogether it was an exceptional effort of extraordinary scope of achievement, and for years it had kept American officials aware of every intention and activity of the Japanese government. ” (Stinnett 60) Roosevelt is not the only one to blame, even though he was the President, and knew about the attack, and did not fulfill his duties at President to protect the country.

“The army was responsible for the inshore air patrol and the installation of a radar net, and the Navy for inshore ship patrols and distant reconnaissance. Wohlstetter 5) “On December 7 the Army Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) consisted of an information center at Fort Shafter on Oahu, which had just been built, and several mobile radars mounted on trucks and located at Kawailoa, Kahuku Point, Kaaawa, Koko Head, the rear of Fort Shafter, and perhaps Waianae. These radars were operated by motor generator sets that broke down under frequent use, and they were effective only for high altitudes at ranges between 30 and 130 miles. They could now detect low-altitude flights nor those within 30 miles of the radar.

There was also one totally blank sector of 20 degrees north of Molokai which was discovered after December 7, when the sets were finally calibrated. ” (Wohlstetter 8) “On Oahu, communication between the radar operations and the information center was by commercial telephone; from the outlying island communication was by radio and was unsatisfactory. ” (Wohlstetter 9) So when the attack happened even if it was detected soon enough, which it wasn’t because they weren’t patrolling at the time, there wouldn’t have been a fast enough way to alert everyone on the island since it was set up so poorly.

As it turned out, the radar station was operation on the morning of December 7, albeit only by radar operators who were being trained and who picked up signals of the approaching Japanese planes some one hundred miles away from their designated target. At approximately the same time, however, a flight of Army B-17 bombers was suposed to be arriving from the West Coast. ” (Clausen and Lee 72) Therefore when the radar operators got the signals they figured that they were friendly, they never expected for them to be attacking Japanese fighter planes.

They did not have professionals in the stations, and the people they had in them had been trying but didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. Also the stations were not open twenty-four hours a day, they were only open during designated times. If the commanders were doing their jobs to the best of their ability they would have known that the Japanese were coming. And they wouldn’t have needed the government to tell them. Now with all of that being said it doesn’t say at all that what the government did was right.

The government definitely knew that the Japanese were coming and the fact that they did not tell their own people what was going on is like stabbing their country in the back. “On December 1, an Imperial Conference was held in Tokyo. The next day the task force moving across the northern Pacific received this message: “X day will be 8 December. ” December 8, Japanese time, was Sunday, December 7, at Pearl Harbor. ” (Baker 296) “On Saturday morning, December 6, 1941, one of the translators at Op-20-G, the Security Intelligence Section of U. S. Naval Communications, in Washington, D. C. , began skimming through a pile of intercepted Japanese messages in the consular code.

She came across one sent three days earlier from Consul General Kita in Honolulu to Tokyo, transmitting a scheme of signals regarding the movement and exact position of warships and carriers in Pearl Harbor. ” (Toland 3) “Despite the long series of warnings from Washington and the general knowledge about the deteriorating relations between Japan and the United States, no further defensive measures were taken at Pearl Harbor. Baker 297) “For the information that came in from the outlying radar stations was useless unless it was evaluated. There was no way to do this, however.

The radar equipment could not distinguish friend from foe. And as yet neither the Navy, or the bomber command, nor the local civil defense organization had assigned a liaison officer to the Information Center. ” (Dec. 7, 1941, Prange 80) The people stationed at Pearl Harbor had no way of knowing that someone was approaching them to attack. If they had a signal of approaching ships or planes they could not tell whether the approaching ship or plane was friend or foe. A secret “war warning” had been received from Washington—Japan was expected to hit “the Philippines, Thai, or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo”—and the carrier Enterprise was ferrying a squadron of Marine fighters to reinforce Wake Island. Battleships would slow the task force’s speed from 30-17 knots.

Yet they were too vulnerable to maneuver alone without carrier protection. The only other carrier, the Lexington, was off ferrying planes to the Midway, so the battleships stayed at Pearl Harbor, where it was safe. (Lord 3-4) Little did they know Pearl Harbor was not the safe place for the battleships to stay. “On December 2, 1941 Admiral H. E. Kimmel’s intelligence officer, Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton, informed him that there had been no Japanese radio communications regarding the whereabouts of the Imperial Navy’s Carrier Divisions One and Two. Kimmel smiled and said, jokingly, “You don’t know where they are? Do you mean to say that they could be rounding Diamond Head and you wouldn’t know it? ” Layton answered abjectly, “I hope they would be sighted by now sir. ” (Arroyo 19)

Amazingly enough the joke that Admiral Kimmel made was coming true as they spoke the Japanese were rounding Diamond Head preparing to attack, and they had no idea what would take place only five days later. “But no one in Hawaii seriously considered an attack on Pearl Harbor; the Japs weren’t that stupid. Marshall and Stark agreed. So did their staffs. ” (Toland 8) “As the “day of wrath” drew nearer, increasingly the isolationists in Congress appeared to oppose Roosevelt himself rather than just his foreign policy. Nobody is worrying about Japan coming over here and attacking us,” asserted Representative William P. Lambertson of Kansas on December 4, 1941. “No man is getting more fun out of dictatorship than Franklin Roosevelt. He shows from way back that he likes war. ”” (Pearl Harbor the Verdict of History, Prange 19)

On the morning of December 7, the nets were opened to allow a navy cargo ship, the USS Antares, to enter the harbor; as the attack began, a Japanese midget sub managed to sneak through. (Arroyo 21) “As the first wave of (Japanese) planes neared Barber’s Point on Oahu, Lieutenant Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, chosen to lead the first wave of the attack, radioed back to the carriers: “Tora! Tora! Tora! ” (“Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! ”) The now famous code words meant the Japanese had caught the U. S. fleet completely by surprise. Incredibly, the signal was heard on Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship, the Nagato, at anchor in Japan’s Inland Sea. ”

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