Military history

CHAPTER 11

PEARL HARBOR

In 1940–41 the Roosevelt administration inched towards active participation in the European war and at the same time forced the British government and the Dutch government in exile, whose hopes for eventual victory now lay entirely with the USA, to join in a campaign of increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on Japan to abandon its war on China. Although the Japanese began their 1904–5 war with Russia by sinking the Russian Asian Fleet in harbour, the principal US naval base in the Pacific at Pearl Harbor was completely unprepared for the Japanese attack of 7 December 1941. As the attack was so politically advantageous to Roosevelt, suspicions about his complicity have never abated and as late as May 1999 the US Senate voted to annul the 1942 censure of the Hawaiian Fleet and Army Commanders because they were denied vital intelligence available in Washington. The truth is that the threat was incorrectly evaluated because of racialist underestimation of the Japanese (itself a crucial factor in creating the climate for war in Japan), and because of a generalised assumption that if the Japanese did attack, it would be southwards to seize the oilfields of the Dutch Fast Indies. This made it all the more inexcusable that the principal American deterrent, the heavy bombers based in the Philippines, were destroyed on the ground ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There could be no doubt, however, that the attack would provoke American rage, so there was a strong element of justified incredulity in the American reaction to the attacks. Germany and Italy did Roosevelt the further favour (so often ignored by historians) of declaring war on the United States four days later, but only Japanese Americans were interned. Until the Japanese carrier force was crushed at Midway in June 1942 Roosevelt's greatest problem was justifying a 'Europe First' policy to the American people. The Doolittle raid on Japan in April 1942 was a harbinger of the fate that awaited, Japan and a gesture to show that something was being done in the Pacific.

CHARLES BOHLEN

US diplomat

Roosevelt began to see during the Thirties the dangers that were looming in the world with the rise of Hitler and militaristic Japan, and he felt that the interests of the United States were directly connected with these developments. Our interests clearly lay on the side of the democracies against the totalitarian states but he was very conscious that the instinctive feeling of the American people was just against sending our boys abroad to fight on foreign battlefields. The best illustration of that was in 1937: he made a speech in Chicago in which he proposed rather a mild solution and the reaction he got from the political public was very short and very negative. So we had this problem all the way through the late Thirties and even the early Forties, up to the time of Pearl Harbor.

AMBASSADOR W AVERELL HARRIMAN

President Roosevelt's Special Envoy to Europe

I don't know anything about it until I went in March 1941, but Roosevelt, almost immediately after the attack on the Low Countries in May 1940, began to move. He was there for the deal, for the destroyers, and then he had a defence committee; we had a partial industrial mobilisation and then the extraordinary piece of legislation which was Lend-Lease, proposed in December 1940, became law in March 1941. Under that he was authorised to take action after Hitler's attack in the Low Countries. The President did everything he could to give aid to Britain, and my instructions were very simple and brief: they were to contact the British government and find out what we could do to help Britain short of war, and we began at once doing all sorts of things which were not really neutral under the literal interpretation. We were repairing British naval vessels in American ports and we escorted your convoys across the Atlantic as far as Iceland and we transferred two million tons of shipping. The battle for the Atlantic was raging when I first came over, about ten per cent of your ships were being sunk, and it didn't take much of a mathematician to figure out it was becoming increasingly difficult.

NORMAN CORWIN

American 'Poet Laureate of the radio'

It was a stroke of absolute imbecility for the Japanese to have bombed Pearl Harbor because that unified the United States. Many of the war measures such as steps to give aid to Britain when she was standing alone used to squeak by in Congress. Even programmes of armament, of military preparedness, got through Congress on very, very close votes – one-vote margins in a total of four hundred to five hundred votes – so that there was considerable division which represented a strong current of isolation. There was a strong anti-British feeling in certain parts of the country; it was felt that Britain was trying very hard to drag us into its war and that the war was none of our concern and that we could simply twiddle our thumbs and it would all go away. But this only furthered the isolationist attitude which Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and the rest of his colleagues, who voted down our participation in the League of Nations after World War One, had established during the days of Woodrow Wilson.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL ALBERT WEDERMEYER

Author of the US Army's strategic 'Victory Program', known as 'Germany First' The American people were repeatedly told by the President in fireside chats and in official announcements that the administration was doing everything within its power to avoid involvement in the war. This could be interpreted as deceit, but subsequent to the war and as information has become available to me concerning the policies and actions of President Roosevelt, I have decided that he may have known better than those who opposed our entry into the war where the best interests of the United States lay.

AMBASSADOR HARRIMAN

We did things entirely against the rules of neutrality such as repairing naval vessels in and convoying ships. They were very close to warlike acts on our part, but there was no indication that they provoked Hitler. Japan, I believe from the record, appears to have been provoked by Roosevelt's declaring embargo on the shipment of oil and scrap-iron – they resented that very much. Roosevelt indicated that as long as they were going south through Indochina into Indonesia, that we would not supply them. That seemed to have an influence on the Japanese decision to attack, but I don't know of any indication that our act provoked Hitler. Hitler accepted them and didn't seem to care to bring the United States into war, but suddenly at this moment he declared war. There was no agreement I understand between Hitler and the Japanese. Interesting psychological action on his part, which relieved Roosevelt of his difficulties.

JOHN McCLOY

US Assistant Secretary of War

It's difficult for me to say how close we were but I've no question that the trend was towards an intervention in the war and I'm inclined to think it would not have been far removed. It did take the Pearl Harbor incident to consolidate opinion and bring us into the war, but I feel there were steps that were developing, to be sure somewhat comparable to the steps that took place in World War One. I think with the moves that Mr Roosevelt was making – the Cash and Carry Programme, that he had agreed the protection of the convoys, the destroyer deal and one thing and another – which would be apt to produce an incident that would set war off. The trend of public opinion generally throughout the country was towards an intervention, I think. It was not only the aggressive attitude of Hitler that caused concern but his excess in the Jewish affair, and the general body of opinion was shocked.

CHARLES BOHLEN

I think the Neutrality Act was really a desire to prevent the United States being drawn into war, which the isolationists felt was none of our business. I think they were wrong and I think the American government thought they were wrong, but it was a very definite problem. Roosevelt saw the thing clearly and did what he could to help move public opinion along, but certainly without such an event as Pearl Harbor it was very doubtful that the opinion would have been moved to the point of taking positive action except under extreme provocation.

COMMANDER MINORU GENDA

Japanese naval airman, planner of Pearl Harbor attack

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto told Vice-Admiral Takijiro Onishi the idea of attacking Pearl Harbor and I was instructed by Vice-Admiral Onishi to make a study of it. This was not an official order because I was not under Vice-Admiral Onishi's command. I was Chief of Staff of an entirely different unit but we had close relations from before and so Admiral Onishi asked me, because of our special personal relationship, to make a study of attacking Pearl Harbor. It was felt that in case of war, if Japan were to fight in a conventional way there was little hope of winning. Therefore the idea was to strike against the US Pacific Fleet in the Hawaii area simultaneously with the start of the war. There were three difficult points in attacking Pearl Harbor. First was to keep it a secret, as if the Americans found out that the Japanese fleet was approaching Pearl Harbor they would be immediately counter-attacked. The second point was what course to take in the approach to Pearl Harbor; the possible routes included a southern route from Truk Island, a central route that passes the Midway Islands and a third to pass south of the Aleutian Islands. The point was which of these three to select; many things had to be considered – the weather, the size of the waves, the visibility. The third point concerned the attack, the actual attack itself: would it be possible to conduct a torpedo attack? This was a very big problem, because if this were not possible the raid could not succeed. We had to figure out how to make a torpedo attack in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor.

COMMANDER MITSUO FUCHIDA

Japanese naval airman, strike leader at Pearl Harbor

The most difficult problem was torpedo launching in shallow water. The lesson of the British in attacking the Italian Fleet at Taranto, 1 owe it very much the solution in the shallow-water launching.

COMMANDER GENDA

I am asked that question very often, whether we received any hints from the British Taranto operation. But we did not.

PRIVATE GEORGE ELLIOTT

Radar operator, Hawaii

It was shortly after seven in the morning that we picked up this large flight of planes and fellow radar operator Lockhart at that moment thought that the machine was out of kilter because of the large blip we were receiving from a hundred and thirty-nine miles out. After verifying the equipment and the information it was showing we decided it was a flight of planes coming in and we sent the information to Private MacDonald, who was the switchboard operator at the Information Centre, and of course it being after seven everybody had left because our problem – the malfunction Lockhart and Elliott were sent to resolve – had been over. MacDonald said that there was nobody there that could do anything about it and I left word to see if he could find somebody who would know what to do, and to call us back. A little later this Lieutenant Tyler called back and Lockhart answered the phone and in essence was told to forget it. I might add that at that particular time we were expecting a flight of our own B-17s from Marchfield, California, to reinforce Hawaii and whether this influenced his decision I don't know. They came in fully armed but with no ammunition on board and those that weren't shot down were forced out to sea where they ran out of gas.

LIEUTENANT KEN MURRAY

Staff Officer, Pacific Fleet Command

My first knowledge of the attack was when I was awakened by the sound of bombs dropping and the roaring of aircraft all around us. I ran out and saw immediately that they were Japanese planes and there was this fellow standing next to me who said, 'Boy, it certainly looks real, doesn't it?' And I said, 'I'm afraid it is,' and I went back in, dressed and went over to my office. I happened to be standing next to the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Kimmel, and we were glumly watching the havoc that was going on. Suddenly he reached up and tore off his four-star shoulder boards, which indicated his rank and title as Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, stepped into his adjacent office and when he came out, realising that he was going to lose his command, he had donned two-star Rear-Admiral shoulder boards.

GUNNER'S MATE TOM COMBS

Heavy cruiser USS New Orleans

We were taking power and steam from the dock since we were alongside for repairs and somebody in the confusion had cut our power and steam lines, so everything had to be operated on manual. We had only one battery that we could use, which was the port five-inch battery, so we started using it on the aircraft as they came in. The low-flying torpedo planes all came over the hill and down towards battleship row so we were able to get some pretty good shots at them even though we were in manual. We had to pass ammunition by hand, and we had a young chaplain on board, at the time he'd been aboard less than two months. His name was William Maguire and as far as a battle station was concerned he didn't have one; he was primarily concerned with crew morale. So he was marching up and down the gun-deck saying, 'Praise God and pass the ammunition.' This has been credited to song writers but Chaplain Maguire actually said it that day, a day of confusion and terror for most of us.

MARINE RICHARD FISKE

Battleship USS West Virginia

He had a real thick moustache and as he flew over he kind of smiled and looked at the ship and flew over towards the hangar over there and laid his bombs. The second group of aeroplanes peeled off and one came at us. They were torpedo bombers and one of them hit us and blew me over towards the other side of the ship. My battle station was up on the bridge with the captain so I went up there and as I looked around I saw the Arizona blow up and she just sort of rained sailors. I wasn't very scared at this particular time because I couldn't imagine that this was happening to us: it just wasn't real; it seemed like a nightmare. I didn't really comprehend the impact of it until afterwards when I swam ashore and then I realised, my God we're at war.

LIEUTENANT MURRAY

During the attack itself I had no sense of fear. It didn't appear it was real and they weren't shooting at me. I was not frightened until that night when the USS Enterprise planes came in and all hell broke loose when we let go with everything we had around here. Of course during the daytime you couldn't see the display, but at night with the tracers and the shells bursting, that was when I became frightened.

COMMANDER GENDA

If we had been able to locate any American carriers we would have sunk them all. There was no mistake about it: our biggest target was the aircraft carriers and the fact that we were not able to locate any carriers was most fortunate for the United States. I don't know how much confidence Admiral Nagumo had. I can say that he was very concerned, but that's because he was not from the Air Arm, he was a torpedo man, therefore he was an amateur as far as air operations were concerned. Admiral Nagumo is dead now; I don't know whether he is in hell or heaven, but it's not possible to go there and ask him.

AMBASSADOR HARRIMAN

I was in England in December and Churchill asked my daughter and myself to Chequers. It was my daughter's birthday, we were having dinner, it was entirely a family party. Every evening at nine o'clock the Prime Minister wanted to hear the BBC news. The butler brought in a small radio which Harry Hopkins*27 had given him and there was some rather unimportant news: the battle was not going very well in the Middle East, and other things of little importance. Suddenly there was a stop and the announcer said a dispatch had come in: the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor. And then he went on and said, 'The something band will play Thursday night at the Savoy Hotel.' And I was startled. Commander Thompson, the Naval Aide to the Prime Minister, said, 'Oh, no, Pearl River,' and I said, 'No, Pearl Harbor.' The Prime Minister had been rather quiet all evening and suddenly slammed the top of this little radio down and jumped to his feet. As he went towards the door John Martin, his Private Secretary, came into the room and said the Admiralty was on the wire. I went with him to the room and it was true. Churchill immediately called up Roosevelt on the telephone and got a description of what went on. Roosevelt said, 'Now we're in the same boat together,' and Churchill said, 'Yes, I will go to the House of Commons tomorrow and declare war on Japan.' President Roosevelt acted more slowly because Hitler was in his mind the main enemy and if he declared war on Japan the concentration of all our energies would have been against Japan, and the American people were naturally aroused. For some unexplained reason Hitler declared war on the United States, which relieved Roosevelt of all his difficulties and then he made up his mind that the defeat of Hitler was by far the most important to achieve first. He was the most dangerous of enemies, and Roosevelt was very skilful in keeping American public opinion directed towards Europe, although we did have a very major operation in Japan and a very successful operation after we recovered from the tremendous blow of the loss of a very substantial part of our navy at Pearl Harbor.

JOHN McCLOY

The morning after Pearl Harbor the nation was at war in a sense of great determination, 'Let's go, who do they think we are' sort of attitude, but it was a long way before we began to get really industrially organised to the point we later reached and there were a good many headaches and a good many bungles that we made during that period. An intense warlike attitude was developed very rapidly and it wasn't very long before we were really ticking in terms of munitions output. Early on, thanks I suppose to the shock that Pearl Harbor gave us, this was truly a nation at war immediately after that disaster took place. There was stepped up activity and there was a tension in the air that hadn't existed before, but generally speaking the methods and the manner of government of Mr Roosevelt didn't change greatly. I was always in the military side, the War Department, and there were many things the White House was interested in. Mr Roosevelt's tendency was to let the professionals handle the conduct of the war. On very broad matters of strategy of course he had views, but he was much less apt to interfere or to cast his influence on the generals and so I don't think there was a marked difference in the atmosphere or the general method of conducting business in the White House after Pearl Harbor.

GEORGE BALL

Associate General Counsel for the Lend-Lease programme

All doubts were resolved overnight not by Pearl Harbor so much as by the very curious and quite stupid decision of Hitler two or three days later to declare war on the United States. I can tell you that if Hitler had not made this decision, if he had simply done nothing, there would have been an enormous sentiment in many parts of the United States that the Pacific war was now our war and the European war was for the Europeans and we should concentrate all our efforts on the Japanese. Let me say that in those first two or three days it was a terrible anxiety for those of us who felt very keenly that what was happening in Europe was the affair of the United States as well as the Europeans and that we really had to intervene.

REAR-ADMIRAL LORD LOUIS MOUNTBATTEN

Chief of Combined Operations

Within a week of Pearl Harbor, Churchill went to see Roosevelt, to discuss future Allied plans. Subsequently General Marshall and later General Eisenhower came over to see the British Chiefs of Staff. They wished to get their troops ashore: they had this large army, they knew I was planning the invasion and they wanted to take part as soon as they possibly could. I tried to point out it would take time but they were very impatient and General Marshall kept saying, 'If you can't find room first, we shall end up by being drawn into the Pacific'

DR JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH

Deputy Head of the US Office of Price Administration

I was having a sleep Sunday afternoon and one was always tired in those days, hoping always to get over the fatigue of the day and the week. I was awakened by one of my colleagues saying the news has just come over the radio that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, and I got up and went to a meeting and I found that my superior, who was in charge of all the civilian operations of the War Office, was away so I was sent to the great meeting of the wartime leaders that convened in Washington on the night of Pearl Harbor. I remember my sense of mission going to that meeting – we had seen the war coming, it was today and here was the hour and here was I attending the meeting with the other great men who were in charge of the nation at this critical hour. All these phrases went through my mind. Then we got to the meeting and it was one hell of a disappointment because nobody could think of anything to say or do. Somebody invented a phrase – this is going to make raw materials east of Suez very scarce – and Donald Nelson, who was later put in charge of the war effort, he got somebody to come up with a great book of strategic raw materials and it seemed like a good idea to go over that and see what materials were threatened by the Japanese. Everybody was coming in during the course of this summons in sport jackets and some had tennis shoes on, and it became terribly evident that nobody had any real information as to where these strategic commodities came from and eventually the whole discussion boiled down on the question of kapok. It was clearly listed as a strategic material, it evidently came from that part of the world but nobody could think, for God's sake, what this stuff was used for. The whole evening left me with a sense of grave disappointment, and I have never expected since then that I would ever be hands-on with history.

PROFESSOR VANNEVAR BUSH

Chairman of the US National Defense Research Committee

In twenty-four hours, no problems were involved, the country turned around absolutely. Before that time this country was pretty divided and there was a pretty hot argument whether we needed to get into it, whether we should, whether our interests were really involved and so forth. After Pearl Harbor all opposition disappeared overnight. I think Roosevelt was convinced for a long time before Pearl Harbor that we needed to get in. He did everything he could, but he didn't have a united country behind him till Pearl Harbor – then he did.

JOHN McCLOY

Internment of the Japanese wasn't only War Secretary Stimson's decision. It was Mr Roosevelt's decision pressed to a large degree by Earl Warren, who later became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and who was then Governor of California, and West Coast Commander General John DeWitt, who felt that after Pearl Harbor, with tensions such as they were on the West Coast, that it would be very awkward indeed to permit the Japanese to remain as they were, not only because of the danger of sabotage or espionage, but because of the high state of feeling against the Japanese at that point. There was a very important element of protection in this and there was a good bit of legal argument at the time as to the justification for doing it, particularly in respect of American citizens. There was an old English law on this subject, which rather influenced some of the decisions, and the thought was that for their own protection and for the general good – as barn burnings had already taken place – they had better be picked up and put into a safer community. I have a feeling that we probably exaggerated the likelihood of riots or destruction. Very shortly after they were picked up and put into these camps, they relocated and out of it came the organisation of those Japanese units which served so well in the Western theatre that the sentiment of antagonism towards the local Japanese entirely disappeared.

ISAMU NOGUCHI

Japanese–American artist and landscape architect

In America there are so many people from different parts of the world and to hate people, as apparently war requires, involved the possibility of hating your own people, the question of who you were going to select to hate the most. In the First World War the Germans were hated thoroughly and there was a great deal of discrimination and harassment of the Germans. In the Second World War there were three nationalities, the Italians, the Germans and the Japanese, and so a Foreign Committee was formed of the United States Senate to investigate what should be done about the people of these nationalities in this country. They went to the West Coast among their investigations and made enquiries among the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese, supposedly. I went to some of their meetings and was very struck by the strong representation of the Germans and the Italians. The Japanese were a convenient sort of symbol of the enemy and for those of Japanese extraction in this country to be suddenly recognised as being something to do with the enemy made them terribly anxious and of course they were harassed because they were the most convenient scapegoat around.

JOHN McCLOY

There was no question there was hardship and I took part, as others did, in trying to get compensation for them for the losses they'd suffered and there was a substantial appropriation for their distress and the inconvenience they suffered. But there was no misery, no brutality. Administration of those camps were under the supervision of a man who was a very fine liberal, humanitarian individual and who was very sensitive to their needs.

EDISON UNO

Japanese–American teenager

Amazingly there was very little bitterness because in 1942 most Japanese–Americans felt it was an act of patriotism to cooperate with the government, therefore they did everything possible to minimise the bitterness or the hardship that we might run into. The authorities treated us with some kindness and consideration but more important was our cooperation with the United States government. We felt that it was an act of civil obedience and loyalty to prove to our country that our incarceration was truly a mistake, a mistake that some day they would admit had been done against their own citizens.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL JIMMY DOOLITTLE

USAAF pilot who led the raid on Japan that bears his name on 18 April 1942 The idea of taking off a land plane with the tail down was somewhat foreign to the Air Force types. It was a Navy technique we had to learn and during training one chap stalled off and crashed. He was not hurt. We had only one real worry and that would have been a dead calm. The carrier would have been able to make perhaps thirty knots; under those conditions taking off from the carrier deck would have been, at best, precarious. In the event there was a thirty-knot wind, the carrier was able to make twenty knots into this wind so we had an effective wind of fifty knots across the deck.

RICHARD TREGASKIS

War correspondent

The Doolittle raid was terribly important towards psychological effect. It was a big surprise to the Japanese – the last thing they expected was to have American bombers appearing over Tokyo, even if it was such a small force. Surprise is such a great weapon in any military operation, but I think the psychological effect was the main thing about it and of course you have to give those Doolittle flyers an awful lot of credit. They were almost suicidal in their net dedication because it was a very risky kind of thing.

MARQUIS KOICHI KIDO

Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal

I don't think any particular measures were taken but it was a great shock to the Japanese people when American planes had bombed Japanese soil.

TOSHIKAZU KASE

Principal Secretary to the Foreign Minister

When the Doolittle raid was conducted that produced a consternation because the military repeatedly assured the public that the Japanese sky was impenetrable. When this alleged impenetrability failed it naturally produced a reaction of discrediting the capability of the military command.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL DOOLITTLE

The actual damage done was minimal. We were sixteen aeroplanes each with one ton of bombs. In later stages of the war the Twentieth Air Force under LeMay was sending out five hundred aeroplanes, each of them with ten tons of bombs. However, it did have some advantages. We had had nothing but bad news at home so it was the first good news our folks got. It caused the Japanese to question their warlords who had informed them that Japan would never be attacked. Most important of all, it caused the retention of aircraft for the protection of the home islands that would have been much more effective had they been able to go south, where the fighting was going on.

MARQUIS KIDO

The Emperor had no alternative but to approve the execution of the captured Doolittle pilots because the Army had conducted a trial and decided on the execution. I can only guess that those who played a major role were executed and the others spared.

JOHN McCLOY

I think that generally public opinion had the feeling, as we say in baseball, that the big league was in Europe and in the United Kingdom, where the chief menace was, where the chief enemy had to be met and opposed, and there's where our chief energies were applied. There was some sentiment on the West Coast towards the other concept, the Pacific emphasis, but I think that was not too pronounced. Moreover I think that our military had this idea pretty far advanced in their thinking. There were elements in the Navy that were thinking in terms of Pacific war – most of their training had been taking place in the Pacific, the big naval bases had been moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific and it was natural that they should be thinking in terms of their effort in that part of the world – and, as well, General MacArthur was out there. But in spite of all that I think the general body of opinion supported Mr Roosevelt's feeling, which didn't mean that we should go to sleep in the Pacific. Relatively shortly after that we were involved there in the Battle of Midway, one the great battles of history.

REAR ADMIRAL LORD LOUIS MOUNTBATTEN

Roosevelt said, 'Only one thing, the battle of Midway's just taken place. The bounds of naval power begin to be redressed and I think we can do an operation based on Australia with the American marines, American aircraft carriers and so forth. Ask Winston if he can let me have a couple of British carriers and the destroyer screen to go with them.' I said I certainly would.

DR GALBRAITH

Nothing in Pearl Harbor caused the people to dislike Roosevelt or to love him more. One of his great enemies before Pearl Harbor was Thomas Girdler, who was head of the Republic Steel Corporation. He was the most venomous of Roosevelt's enemies. After Pearl Harbor, maybe even before, when there was need for steel expansion, he was one of the pragmatic types who came down, made his peace with the New Dealers and showed how Republic could expand its steel plant – at the public's expense, let me say. But I remember Tom Girdler saying, 'I'm prepared to do this and I'm prepared to do it where you won't get similar action from the stuffed shirts' – he meant the US Steel Corporation, which was much larger. But, he said, 'This doesn't mean I love you. This doesn't mean I've changed my mind about Franklin Roosevelt.'

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