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Was Pearl Harbor really a surprise?

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by MarcoBiscotti, Jul 3, 2005.

  1. MarcoBiscotti

    MarcoBiscotti Well-Known Member

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    I was watching the History channel the other day and they were talking about this American who led the Flying Tigers.

    It seems FDR approved to give resources to China in the form of planes and training to fight Japan, and this guy talked FDR into it months before Pearl Harbor.

    That, and I've heard we had an economic embargo against Japan around the same time.

    Was the US pinching the baby behind their parent's backs?
     
  2. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Well-Known Member

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    The actual attack was something of a suprise (some conspiracy theories say we even knew about that), but I believe the plan was always to engage Imperial Japan before the end of WW2, so Pearl Harbor, or a pre-emptive strike against Japan would have happened anyway.
     
  3. Greg Morse

    Greg Morse Well-Known Member

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    Pretty much what Garrett said. We didn't think the Japanese had the capablities to launch a carrier strike that far from their homeland, so inasmuch we were caught with our pants down. Regarding China, we were doing similar things with the Brits against the Germans. Imperial Japan was not the nice quirky country that produces badly translated instructions and Hello Kitty it is now, so we pretty much were goading them into a confrontation, just didn't expect it to be so close to home.
     
  4. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Well-Known Member

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    The US was the OPEC of the time, and we had embargoed petroleum (and also scrap metal) to show our displeasure about the war in China. The Japanese considered their dwindling petroleum stocks and decided to strike first before their oil reserves gave out. With the US and UK navies out of the way, they could take oil-rich Indonesia.

    Hitler invaded Russia in part to protect his oil supplies from Romania and also to get the Russian oil from Baku. So we could consider WWII to have been a war about oil.
     
  5. JamesED

    JamesED Well-Known Member

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    I don't think you can say that. Oil was a big part of strategies, but the war wasn't started in either theater just to get more oil. Oil was needed to make war.
     
  6. todd s

    todd s Well-Known Member

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    I had once read that the Japanese envoys in Washington were supposed to have told US officials that we were at war right before the attack...But, they were delayed.

    I don't know how much truth their is to this.
     
  7. Greg Morse

    Greg Morse Well-Known Member

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    Absolutely true. The Japanese were supposed to deliver a declaration of war just before the attack, but they were delayed. I can't remember the reason and I'm too lazy to google it right now, but it might have been translation difficulties. If I remember correctly, the declaration was delivered something like an hour after the first wave.
     
  8. Kevin T

    Kevin T Well-Known Member

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    no, i figured that movie was gonna suck. oh wait, wrong discussion. muh bad.

    kevin t
     
  9. Craig

    Craig Well-Known Member

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    The Japanese in the Washington embassy worked throughout the night and into the morning decoding and typing up a very long message from Japan (13 or 16 pages?). I don't think the message explicitly said that a state of war existed between the U.S. and Japan, just that Japan was breaking off relations with the U.S.

    Due to the top secret nature of the message the normal typists in the embassy couldn't be used to transcribe the message, so one of the upper level diplomats who couldn't type, had to try to type up the message as it was being decoded, and had to start over at least once. U.S. intelligence had intercepted the message and had it decoded and typed up long before the Japanese (it was in the Japanese diplomatic code which the U.S. could read).

    Edwin T. Layton's book "And I Was There: Breaking The Secrets - Midway and Pearl Harbor" provides a really excellent look at the U.S. intelligence community and gives a behind the scenes picture of most everthing that went on from before the start of the war through Midway as far as the U.S. intelligence efforts in relation to Japan. If anyone is interested in WWII and the war with Japan it's a must read.
     
  10. andrew markworthy

    andrew markworthy Well-Known Member

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    Er, yes and no. Imperial Japan at the time of WWII was evil - so bad was their treatment of Brit and Commonwealth prisoners of war that I can think of a high proportion of Brits aged 70+ who still will resist buying Japanese products if they can (and they are not redneck bigots). However, if you go back to Word War I, when Japan was on the side of the Allies, their behaviour was totally different. German prisoners of war (mainly from naval battles) were treated utterly fairly and if they behaved sensibly, were allowed to visit towns near their prison camps, where they were treated more as guests on an enforced stay than as 'the enemy'. The Germans reciprocated with concerts and plays for the locals, and by all accounts a good time was had by all. So much did some of the prisoners enjoy their time in Japan that they stayed in the country after the war (this explains why parts of Japan have bierkellers). Indeed, the League of Nations praised Japan for its humanitarian treatment of prisoners.
    What happened is that after WWI, a nasty military junta assumed power and forced the Emperor to do their bidding. In a culture raised on unequestioning obedience and belief in group before the individual, the inevitable happened. Anyone who thinks 'it couldn't happen here' would be well advised to look at the history of Japan between the two world wars.
     
  11. Greg Morse

    Greg Morse Well-Known Member

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    You're right, I should have qualified it as Imperial Japan after militant nationalism and Bushido were merged in the 20's. Was just trying to be glib. [​IMG]

    When you consider 1 in 3 allied POWs died in Japanese captivity (and let's not get started on Bataan or the Sino-Burmese railroad), probably the only worse thing to be was a member of the German sixth army (Stalingrad).
     
  12. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Well-Known Member

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    You need to take another look at Mein Kampf. [​IMG] Invading and conquering Russia for resources of all kinds and lebesnraum, "living space", was Hitler's primary purpose in fighting the war he planned for the mid-to-late 1940s. He wasn't especially keen on fighting the West at all, although he expected in the long run that Germany would have to. He certainly wanted to humiliate and punish France. But he didn't want to fight the British under any circumstances, and was hoping for an alliance.

    Hitler never envisioned the fight as a two-front war. His original plan was to neutralize the west diplomatically (as he had at Munich) while he carried on his war in the East. He never expected Fance and England to honor their guarantee to Poland for the excellent reason that they were not in any military position to aid Poland (as they might have aided the Chezchs when they needed the help.) The only country in a position to offer direct military aid to Poland was the Soviet Union - a country the Poles didn't trust (for excellent reason as history showed) and with whom Hitler had in any case come to terms. He assumed that once Poland was his France and England would back down as they had so many times in the past. He was briefly panicked when the formal declarations of war were made, because he had virtually stripped Germany of troops in the west in order to make the most decisive thrust into Poland.

    But Hitler quickly regained his nerves because he understood the French in a way he never quite understood the British or came close to understanding the Americans. Although the French could have driven straight to Berlin and overthrown the Nazi state with ease, Hitler knew that they would never leave their Maginot bunkers, and he was right. Thus after mopping up Poland he could regroup and then launch another one-front war for an even quicker knock-out blow against France.

    Hitler was thus in possession through conquest or alliance of most of continental Europe in the months before the invasion of Russia. The United States was hostile, but still officially neutral, and as usual Hitler misunderstood American politics, Roosevelt and the American character. Britain was barely hanging on. Hitler still had the romantic idea that he could join the British fleet to the German Army and forge an unshakable Master Race coalition. (Let's remember that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes all came from "Nordic" and often "Germanic" lands, originally. Even the Norman conquerors who overthrew the Saxon monarchy were more Viking - "Norman" is a cognate of "Norseman" - than French in culture.) So Hitler (a) didn't want to crush England at the time and (b) didn't have the physical means and (c) didn't think it would be necessary in the long run.

    In any case, despite pinpricks like commando raids at various places in Europe and some skirmishing in the African colonies, Hitler really wasn't fighting a war on any fronts after the fall of France in the spring of 1940. As far as he was concerned he had dealt with an unexpected threat in the form of the 1939 declarations of war and secured his rear by defeating France and neutralizing England. Now he could continue with the great project to which the invasion of Poland had only been a prelude - the long-planned invasion of the Soviet Union. This was not an act of desperation and not a response to a sudden need for oil. (Hitler had had access to the Ploesti oil fields in Chezchoslovakia for years, and had every hope of taking those of the middle east once Britain was out of the war.)

    Hitler had convinced himself that the only reason Britain was hanging on was the hope that Russia would enter the war on their side. Hitler was sure that he could topple the Soviet Union in a single lightning campaign. ("One only has to kick in the door and the whole rotten edifice will come crashing down.") Britain had always depended on land allies in Europe along with its sea supremacy to defeat its enemies in the past. He believed that once Russia was off the table, Britain would have no choice but to accept a negotiated peace. Again, he never anticipated a two-front war, much less dove into one out of desperation to secure oil.

    Re: The Pearl Harbor "conspiracy" theorists:

    Like most such "theorists" they sieze on a few isolated anomalies, mistakes in testimony or reporting and imperfections in official reports to assemble elaborate intellectual constructs - which seem internally consistent, but which collapse either under the weight of their own contradictions or because they fail the comnmon sense test. They also make the mistake of anayzing the thoughts, motives and decisions of people involved in the light of events that would happen later, and of which the individuals had no knowledge at the time.

    1. Had the U.S. been planning for war against Japan for years? It depends on what you mean by "planning"?

    Military organizations develop contingency plans all the time precisely so they won't be surprised by events and forced to improvise from scratch. In looking at the military horizon in the 1920s, a time when the U.S. had acquired additional Pacific possessions after WWI and continued to develop its missionary ties to China, the Navy correctly concluded that the most serious potential threat to U.S., allied and neutral interests would be the superb Japanese Navy. Japan was becoming increasingly acquisitive and its conquest of Manchuria (and long undeclared border war with the Soviet Union) were making its aggressive military more influential. So the Navy and Marines fought a series of war games involving the hypothetical opponent "Orange" to develop strategy and tactics that could be used to push a conquering force back across the Pacific in the, oh, general direction of Japan.

    Were these "plans to fight a war"? Not in intention. But they were certainly plans for "how to fight a war" if you happened to end up having to do so. The British and the Soviets did similar planning, and so - Heaven knows - did the Germans and Japanese. In September of 1939 the British and French went to war according to a well-established war plan that had been sitting in the files for years. If the Germans had acted as that plan expected, it probably would have worked. In early 1942 the U.S. was unable to fight the war it got according to its "Orange" plan, because Pearl Harbor had sunk the battelships the plan depended on. But after mid-1942, when the refloated and new battleships had been refloated, and when doctrine was rewritten around the aircraft carrier, the island hopping campaign that pushed the Japanese back across the Pacific largely conformed with the "Orange" plans developed a decade earlier.


    2. What was FDR's position in late 1941?

    He was concerned about both German and Japanese fascism and imperialism - but he considered Hitler by far the worst and most immediate threat. Although the U.S. remained officially neutral - because the American people were not ready to enter the war and it would have been political suicide for FDR to push them too far - it was already offering "all aid short of war" to the Allies and secretly doing much more.

    Joint staff meetings with the British (supposed to be secret, but leaked to a Chicago newspaper) were already underway - and the policy was settled - "Germany first." FDR knew that we'd have to fight Japan eventually, but, again, he saw Germany as the primary threat. The Rainbow 5 plan that emerged from these talks (a play on the fact that it combined earlier color-coded contingency plans) called for a holding action in the Pacific against Japanese expansion, and an all-out effort to destroy the Nazis in Europe. Once Europe was eliminated, Japan could be dealth with. (Especially if the Soviet Union could be brought in against Japan to threaten Manchria, China and the home islands, while the U.S. and British fleet dealt with Japan's overseas possessions, crippled its tradde and finally drove on the home islands from the sea.)

    With hindsight, we see "WWII" as the struggle against Japan and Germany (with Italy thrown in as a comic-opera bit player.) At the time "WWII" was undersood as a resumption of WWI - where despite all the fighting elsewhere, the vital theater was always Europe, and the main players European. Even though Germany and Japan were theoretically allies, their alliance was purely defensive. Germany was committed to come to Japan's aid if it were attacked, but not if it did the attacking. (And vice versa. Japan used this escape clause to justify its refusal to open a second front against the Russians after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and even after Pearl Harbor - which led to the odd circumstance of Japan and the Soviet Union being at peace with one another, despite being members of warring alliances, until after the fall of Germany.) Few people at the time would have seen our going to war with Japan as "getting us into WWII". Opinions differed then, just as people today argue about whether or not the war in Iraq is part of the larger War on Terror. (
     
  13. Henry Gale

    Henry Gale Well-Known Member

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    This is why I was kicking through the sand in Chu Lai 40 years ago, so we could discuss ancient conflicts in the HTF on the Fourth of July. [​IMG]
    Thanks to all who keep this mellow.
     
  14. BrianW

    BrianW Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, Joe. That was a fascinating read.
     
  15. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Well-Known Member

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    Here's a page from the CBC Archives where there were similar events during WWII involving German prisoners held in Canadian P.O.W. camps. Some P.O.W.s wanted so much to stay in Canada that they tried to escape the camps so they wouldn't be shipped back to Germany at the end of the war.

    http://archives.cbc.ca/IDD-1-71-1642..._camps_Canada/
     
  16. andrew markworthy

    andrew markworthy Well-Known Member

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    The army leaders of any country worth its salt spend their whole time planning for wars - including fighting their closest allies. E.g. during the 1930s both the USA and the UK had plans for what to do if they had to go to war against each other (it wasn't that they didn't trust each other, but basically, both sides were worried about what sould happen if government rule broke down during the Depression years and a communist government took over). The calculations, as far as I can recall. would be that the USA would win (not v. surprising), but the Brit navy would practically have destroyed the American navy in the process.
     
  17. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Well-Known Member

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    Quite. In military intelligence it is capabilities, not intentions, that count. As for the England/U.K. thing - I generally do use U.K., and wasn't aware that I hadn't done so in post above. I suppose it is the subject matter. Nobody (at least on this side of the Atlantic) used "U.K." in the 1940s. It would feel somehow anachronisitic to do so in a discussion of WWII. Maybe it's the influence of Winston's prose after all these years. [​IMG]

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  18. Greg Morse

    Greg Morse Well-Known Member

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    No doubt, but from that statement it's interesting that the British were just as myopic as the US about the use of air power in the 30's. Amazing that Japan was the only nation that took Billy Mitchell's lessons and ran with them.

    btw, slightly off topic, but I always found this battleship comparison fascinating. http://www.combinedfleet.com/baddest.htm
     
  19. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Well-Known Member

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    Well, a little less amazing when you realize that it wasn't, quite. [​IMG]

    There were plenty of people in both the U.S. and Royal Navies who took airpower as an offensive weapon very seriously indeed. ("Bull" Halsey learned to fly in his 50s so that he could qualify as a carrir commander.)

    And it was the British raid on the Italian fleet at Taranto by torpedo planes launched from HMS Illustrious (November 1940) that suggested the Pearl Harbor operation to Yamamoto in the first place. The Japanese did pioneer the technique of concentrating airpower in carrier fleets and task forces, something never conceived of by Billy Mitchell. But the new fleet carriers that were already on the drawing board and which would be produced in large numbers by the U.S. were superb offensive weapons by design, not by accident.

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  20. Greg Morse

    Greg Morse Well-Known Member

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    I'll disagree with you here. Of course there were individuals within the military who believed in the future of air power, but as measures of national policy the belief was in battleships slugging it out. You can see this in the design of ships into the 30's. The Hood (yes I realize Hood is older) and Bismarck both had massive belts of armor (for the time) along the waist, but much weaker top armor. Why? They expected low trajectory shells from fairly close range, not high trajectory shells or bombs. I will concede that ship designs in the late 30's started to account for plunging fire and bombs, but my opinion is it's more from a realization of improved fire control than an aerial threat.

    My point was not that people didn't realize planes could sink ships, but that aircraft carriers could operate independently across long distances and conduct offensives. The Japanese seized upon this, whereas the Americans had to send their B-25's one way only. I don't think Taranto really counts in this regard as well.

    Mitchell did hypothesize an aerial and seaborn attack against Hawaii and Phillipines in 1924.

    His words following

    Attack will be launched as follows:

    Bombardment, attack to be made on Ford Island (Hawaii) at 7:30 A.M..... Attack to be made on Clark Field at 10:40 A.M.
     

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