Japan's Admiral Nagumo has been criticized for not launching a "third strike" at Pearl Harbor, specifically to destroy the dry docks, fuel stores, repair facilities and other key infrastructure. The argument in favor of third strike is that it would have set back the American pacific war effort by a year or more, say until mid to late 1943. Weighed against this was the likelihood of heavier bomber losses that would be inflicted by now fully-alerted American defenses, and the chance that the "missing" American carriers would unexpectedly return and sink one or more Japanese carriers either outside Pearl Harbor, or on their way home (and low on fuel).

Sources like this American naval history argue that without the humongous (and totally unexpected) American victory at Midway, and the early shift in the balance of naval power, the American Pacific offensive would not have started until year after it did; that is summer/fall 1943, instead of the summer of 1942 (at Guadalcanal). That is, only the unforeseeable success at Midway made the Pearl Harbor infrastructure the critical time factor for the resurgence in American pacific activity. Presumably, the Japanese thought much the same thing.

If one were working on the assumption the Pearl Harbor infrastructure was NOT the critical time-determining factor, how would that affect the calculations about whether or not to launch a "third strike?"

1 Answer 1


Short Answer:

1/ Events six months after Pearl Harbour strike were too uncertain to be considered

2/ The American offensive from the base of Pearl Harbour did not start in summer 1942 at Guadalcanal, but at the Marshall islands in 1943

Long Answer

I think there are a few misconceptions in the question that should be clarified:

First, the third strike at Pearl Harbourcould have targeted drydocks and other infrastructures, but it could not have been hard enough to destroy them massively. Japanese bombers involved were "only" small one, because they were carrier-based, and the amount of explosives carried was relatively small because of that.

Second, the plan to attack Midway had not been elaborate at the time of Pearl Harbour: as a consequence, the Japanese did not imagine that there would be such a gap in the center Pacific at fall 1942.

Third, after the battle of Midway, the Americans started to consider offensive but they did not launch the offensive: the battle of Guadalcanal began only as a preemptive attack in the Solomons archipelago, and not as a big push. The Japanese reaction transformed it in a big battle. Neither did the Americans thought about an offensive in the Center Pacific before 1943.

So overall, the consideration that a "Midway-type" defeat happened or not did not influence the Japanese at Pearl Harbour: this was too far in the future, and they were more concerned about the need for their carriers to remain to lead the attack in the South-West Pacific.

  • OK, I forgot an important consideration. A hypothetical Japanese "third strike" against Pearl Harbor would likely have caused only "partial," not "full" damage to the infrastructure.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 18, 2021 at 20:19
  • Actually even partial damage could be important for later American consolidation Jun 18, 2021 at 20:38
  • 2
    Actually: crippling losses among the Japanese aircrew of a third wave, from an alerted and angry American defense, would have ended Japanese imperial ambitions almost as effectively as midway did. A bugaboo for the Japanese , right from the beginning of the war, was an inability to replace air crew as they had no infrastructure in place for large scale training - and no fuel available to provide training hours. Jun 18, 2021 at 20:56
  • How much importance did the infrastructure actually have? My impression is that the Pacific war was almost entirely based on mainland production.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 18, 2021 at 21:37
  • @jamesqf: I don't think Hawaii was noted for its "production." More like a "forward base," several time zones into the Pacific Ocean, for repair and resupply. It would likely make a difference whether this could take place in Hawaii or California.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 18, 2021 at 21:53

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