Was the attack on the American forces at Pearl Harbor totally unexpected?
Commanders across the pacific had been warned for weeks of an impending Japanese attack. Specifically Admiral Kimmel and General Short in command at Hawaii's navy and army forces respectively, had responded to these warnings and taken steps to safeguard their commands from the Japanese attack. The US Military across the Pacific had been placed on high alert numerous times prior to Dec 7th. All false alarms. It was common knowledge written in bold letters in most of the major U.S. newspapers that a Japanese attack was imminent a week before Pearl Harbor. That was ultimately as much as US intelligence ever knew. An attack was about to occur but even US intelligence didn't know where, when(date) or what form the attack would take; thus all the fore warnings ultimately were not actionable. Specifically the actions taken by the commanders in Hawaii in response to the warnings played into the hands of the Japanese, seemingly(1).
As for the British double agent's report in the original question. He was asked by Japanese to report on US Navy Ship movements around Pearl Harbor and from this he concluded Hawaii was the target of the impending attack. Only the FBI had already cracked a much larger spy cell (Tachibana Case) involving Japanese navy personnel and civilians in June of 1941 who were reporting on US Navy movements from San Diego to Seattle. A single agent and his opinion would not have eclipsed all the other information US Intelligence was receiving, at least not without 20/20 hind site.
As for Tokyo / Washington D.C embassy dispatch sent in the clear which the FBI reportedly intercepted, I don't find that creditable. Operation Magic was a very successful intelligence operation operating for years reading every encrypted Japanese dispatch. It's existence was so secret that not even the FBI director J Edgar Hoover was aware of it.
Why would the Japanese send the time and location of their attack in the clear to their Embassy when over many months they didn't send such information in any of their encoded dispatches? Not even on the day of the Attack in what they considered their 14 part declaration of war. Why would the embassy even be alerted? The Japanese diplomats already knew all they needed to know to play their part.
(1) Seemingly: see Question #2 and conclusion.
A Japanese attack in the Pacific was very much expected. It was common knowledge among Naval Officers, enlisted, and civilians. Where in the Pacific and what form the attack might take was lesser known and the subject of much debate. The Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, the Panama Canal, even the west coast of the United States were all possible targets. Was the attack going to take the shape of an amphibious landing, saboteurs attacking American installations, domestic revolt among the nations minority populations encouraged by Japans military, or would it be attacking American ships at sea? All of these were deemed at least as likely as an aerial attack launched from aircraft carriers against Pearl Harbor.
Yes the United States Navy had broken the Japanese diplomatic code and were reading the diplomatic dispatches. These dispatches didn't yeild a straight declaration of war with a date, location and description the attack would take. Rather they contained indicators that Japan was preparing for an attack, like orders for the Japanese consulates to burn all diplomatic papers. The Operation was called Operation Magic and it wasn't nearly as helpful as some believe. Operation Magic informed us on Nov 5th 1941 that Nov 25th, 1941 was Japan's deadline for the decision on war. What does that mean? Every Commander in the Pacific was alerted. Then Japan changed their deadline to Nov 29th and again alerts were sent. Only those alerts predicted the war would begin on Sunday Nov 30th, 1941 and turned out to be wrong. No hint on where or how the Japanese were going to attack.
Source 1: 43 "Remember Pearl Harbor",
Source 2: The "Magic" background of Pearl Harbor
cable intercepted from Tokyo to Japanese Embassy in Washington DC read:
"THIS TIME WE MEAN IT, THAT THE DEADLINE[Nov 29th] CANNOT BE CHANGED! AFTER THAT THINGS ARE AUTOMATICALLY GOING TO HAPPEN."
All the pacific military commanders received some warning on Nov 27 to expect a hostile move by Japan.
Although Pearl Harbor specifically had been identified several times prior to Dec 7th 1941 by intelligence agencies the information was never actionable. The accurate date of the attack, the location of the attack and the form the attack would take were not part of any Intelligence report prior to the telegram from Pearl Harbor to Washington DC saying an attack was under way. The problem was the same Intelligence reports which claimed Hawaii as a possible target also warning of attacks across the Pacific. In response to these warmings US forces in the Pacific had been put on high alert several times in the weeks leading up to Pearl Harbor, and the War Dept had even issued a formal warning of impending War. The United States navy issued a classified report Dec 4th, 1941 which even warned of African American revolt on behalf of Japan. That the report also lists Pearl Harbor as a likely target for imminent Japanese attack doesn't accurately represent the value of such reports which really were warning of attack everywhere, and had the effect of warning of attack nowhere except with 20/20 hind site.
Bottom line anybody who read the Sunday newspaper in the weeks leading up to Pearl Harbor knew almost as much as the folks reading the Japanese diplomatic dispatches. War was imminent. where, when exactly (date) or what form the attack was going to take was a mystery.
The evidence of US fore knowledge of the impending Japanese attack includes:
- Increasing Japanese aggression
- An American naval vessel the USS Panay in China on the Yangtze River, was targeted and sunk by imperial Japanese Forces Dec 12, 1937.
- Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Sept 27th, 1940
- June 1941, A Japanese intelligence operation in the U.S. was uncovered. It was a sensational case which demonstrated to the public Japan's interest in keeping track of US Naval assets on the west coast of the U.S. Tachibana Case
- Japanese Military build ups in French Indochina, were occurring in late Nov and early Dec 1941 which the President expressed concern to Japan.
- The battle of Taranto Nov 12 1940, Britain destroy half of the Italian Navy's capital ships in a single evening attack, from the air, launched from a British aircraft carrier in the Med.
On Dec 6th 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent a personal appeal to the Japanese Emperor for peace. - FDR Library
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson's diary entry for November 25, 1941. The U.S. Secretary of war details discussion which occurred at a "War Cabinet Meeting" at the White House with President Roosevelt, himself, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, and Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark. The Quote is:
There the President, instead of bringing up the Victory Parade [which, in Stimson's words, was "an office nickname for the General Staff strategic plan of national action in case of war in Europe"', brought up entirely the relations with the Japanese. He brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps (as soon as) next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the Question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot with out allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition. source
- Numerous war warnings had been sent by the US Military to commandeers across the Pacific in the weeks leading up to Pearl Harbor warning of impending attacks.
- Dec 4th, Roosevelt received a classified report from the Naval Dept saying war with Japan was imminent and naming Hawaii as a target.
- Naval Inteligence officers reading the communications between Japan's embassy in Tokyo and Washington DC told FDR Japan would attack and Hawaii was the target only they projected the date of the attack Sunday Nov 30th, 1941.
. If (It was expected), why did no one alert defense forces to protect Pearl Harbor?
None of the sources predicting attack were particular helpful to the commanders in the Pacific much less Hawaii. One report saying Pearl Harbor would be attacked on Dec 7th 1941 would have been of some use, but many reports sent out across the pacific predicting imminent attack everywhere which were continuously wrong became mind numbing. It can be argued non specific warnings of attack on Pearl Harbor had the opposite effect on preparedness. How do you prepare for an attack given you don't know what form that attack will take? Admiral Kimmel the commander in charge of the Pacific Fleet, as well as General Short his Army counterpart, neither of whom had any knowledge of Operation Magic, took counter measures in response to the warnings to protect their assets which in hind site helped the Japanese attackers.
43 "Remember Pearl Harbor"
Admiral Kimmel considered, but rejected the idea of taking his fleet out of Pearl Harbor. In open water, he felt the ships would be too vulnerable. His 4 carriers were not available to provide air cover. (3 were bringing warplanes to other Pacific Islands, 1 was back in San Diego for repairs). Kimmel believed his ships were safer in Hawaii's protected harbor watched over by several hundred US Army warplanes stationed at Hawaii bases.
43 "Remember Pearl Harbor"
US Army General Short responded to the war warnings by moving to protect his air planes from sabotage rather than air attack. He moved all his airplanes to the center of fields where they were bunched wing tip to wing tip. This way they could be more easily protected from Japanese infiltration and saboteurs. This made the army air corps planes easier targets for the Japanese pilots in the Dec 7th air attack, but General Short given the vagueness of the warnings he recieved, considered Hawaii's large Japanese population the greater threat.
Again neither commander knew Washington had broken the Japanese diplomatic codes, but in truth even if they had access to the Japanese dispatches in real time they wouldn't have had more information than that which they acted upon. Both commanders had received numerous warnings of impending attack. Both commanders took steps to safeguard their commands which ultimately assisted the Japanese attacks rather than their intended purpose. The magic diplomatic dispatches never contained the smoking gun which would have given Kimmel and Short actionable information beyond attack was imminent but god knows where.
The final part of a 14 part diplomatic Message between Tokyo and and their embassy in Washington DC was decoded just prior to Pearl Harbor. During the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, Japan's Prime Minister Tojo would point to this dispatch as his formal declaration of war and blame the Embassy personnel who delivered it for it's tartiness. Only it didn't mention War, nor did it mention Pearl Harbor, much less air attack from Carriers. Operation Magic never produced actionable information on an impending attack on Pearl Harbor. Nearly everything Operation Magic had Sunday 8am Dec 7th 1941, could have been read in the newspaper on Sunday Nov 30th, 1941 in any city in the country. War was imminent.
If you really want to blow your mind it can be argued that if the American Pacific Fleet had put out to sea, the Pearl Harbor raid would have been much more successful for Japan. Bombing the US Navy's ships primarily it's battleships monopolized the attention of the Japanese pilots. It can be argued the real targets of the Pearl Harbor raid should have been:
- the ship yards vital to maintain and repair ships
- the fuel reserves several million barrels worth which would allow ships and airplanes to operate extended from US coast thoughout the coming Pacific War.
- the submarine base which would contribute to the crippling of the Japanese economy in WWII
- the Navy HQ building which not only contained most of the US commanders for the coming Pacific war but also the cryptology department which greatly contributed to the winning/shortenning of the war.
In the Pearl Harbor raid all of these important targets were left un-molested while the Japanese concentrated on the US Navy Ships; Specifically the battleships. Considering, of the twenty-one ships that were damaged or lost in the Pearl Harbor attack, all but three were repaired and returned to service. USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and the older Battleship USS Utah were the only ships sunk at pearl harbor which were not returned to action.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
- Arizona (RADM Kidd's flagship of Battleship Division One): hit by four armor-piercing bombs, exploded; total loss. 1,177 dead.
- Oklahoma: hit by five torpedoes, capsized; total loss. 429 dead.
- West Virginia: hit by two bombs, seven torpedoes, sunk; returned to service July 1944. 106 dead.
- California: hit by two bombs, two torpedoes, sunk; returned to service January 1944. 100 dead.
- Nevada: hit by six bombs, one torpedo, beached; returned to service October 1942. 60 dead.
- Pennsylvania (ADM Kimmel's flagship of the United States Pacific Fleet): in drydock with Cassin and Downes, hit by one bomb and debris from USS Cassin; remained in service. 9 dead.
- Tennessee: hit by two bombs; returned to service February 1942. 5 dead.
- Maryland: hit by two bombs; returned to service February 1942. 4 dead (including floatplane pilot shot down).
- Utah: hit by two torpedoes, capsized; total loss. 64 dead
It can be argued that if the Japanese pilots weren't pre-occupied with bombing US battleships they might have chosen some of the more valuable targets all of which would play a more significant role than battleships in the coming Pacific War.
The Japanese confidence in their ability to achieve a short, victorious war meant that they neglected Pearl Harbor's navy repair yards, oil tank farms, submarine base, and old headquarters building. All of these targets were omitted from Genda's list, yet they proved more important than any battleship to the American war efforts in the Pacific. The survival of the repair shops and fuel depots allowed Pearl Harbor to maintain logistical support to the U.S. Navy's operations, such as the Doolittle Raid and the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway. It was submarines that immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy's heavy ships and brought Japan's economy to a virtual standstill by crippling the transportation of oil and raw materials: by the end of 1942, import of raw materials was cut to half of what it had been, "to a disastrous ten million tons", while oil import "was almost completely stopped".[nb 20] Lastly, the basement of the Old Administration Building was the home of the cryptanalytic unit which contributed significantly to the Midway ambush and the Submarine Force's success.
@ed.hank additionally how the USN silo'd their various intelligence groups (hawaii, cavite, etc.) prevented the sharing of information between each other which prevented a full picture from being developed.
That Japan was going to attack in the Pacific was common knowledge in late Nov - Dec 1941. Anybody who could afford a newspaper in any city in the country knew as much as US Intelligence. No US intelligence agency accurately predicted the location of the attack or the form that attack would take in a meaningful actionalbe way. Even the Diplomatic Intercepts from Operation Magic didn't yield such information, beyond war was imminent. Of the final 14 part communication Japanese officials would claim was their formal declaration of War at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, which Magic intercepted from Tokyo to their DC embassy, Hawaii wasn't mentioned nor was war. The most damning statement it contained was that it was "impossible to reach an agreement through further negotiations.".
Given that if every American in Nov of 1941 was given access to the most classified US Magic Intercepts, they arguable wouldn't have had better information than if they just read the Sunday paper regularly.
David Thornley It's not on topic for this question, but Alan Zimm, "Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions", pp. 308-321 are about why attacking the shore facilities would have been mostly futile, doing minimal permanent damage. The Japanese aircraft available were much better suited for tactical than strategic attacks. –
Even a bomb from a tactical aircraft could ignite 4.5 million barrels of aviation fuel.
Pearl Harbor Historical Org
Gordon Prange, (General Douglas MacArthur's chief Historian, twice NY Times best selling author, and tenured professor of history) one of the most renowned Pearl Harbor historians, wrote damningly: “By failing to exploit the shock, bewilderment, and confusion on Oahu, by failing to take full advantage of its savage attack against Kimmel’s ships, by failing to pulverize the Pearl Harbor base, by failing to destroy Oahu’s vast fuel stores, and by failing to seek out and sink America’s carriers, Japan committed its first and probably its greatest strategical error of the entire Pacific conflict.”
Admiral Yamamoto was critical of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo failure to lanch the third wave against Pearl Harbor which was meant to attack the fuel farms and dry docks as well as other strategic targets meant to maximize the successes of the first two waves, and make the Pacific base useless to US forces for the coming war. Naguma was a controversial choice to lead the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had disagreed with the attack and argued against it. Naguma had lost only 29 aircraft in the first two waves but decided to push away from the table and not risk any further aircraft. It was probable Japan's largest mistake of the war.
@JMS Pearl Harbor attack planners couldn't know about the results of the Battle of Midway. Destruction of half the oil tank farm would have required repair and resupply, both of which were feasible. I am aware of what Nimitz said, and I think he was dead wrong on that. FWIW, Zimm suggests that Nimitz would have been far more effective when solving a problem than when idly thinking about it. –
Oddly enough Admiral Yamamoto who was the originator of Pearl Harbor predicted Midway almost to the day. Yamamoto spoke English fluently had graduated from Harvard and was Naval Attache in Washington D.C. Yamamoto believed Pearl Harbor would only ever by Japan six month, given America's industrial power. Almost to the day he was right.
When asked by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe in mid-1941 about the outcome of a possible war with the United States, Yamamoto made a well-known and prophetic statement: If ordered to fight, "I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years." His prediction would be vindicated as Japan easily conquered territories and islands for the first six months of the war until it suffered a shattering defeat at the Battle of Midway on June 4–7, 1942, which ultimately tilted the balance of power in the Pacific towards the US
@JMS Destruction of half the oil tank farm would have required repair and resupply, both of which were feasible.
Yes of coarse but it would have taken years. Hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. As I previously stated.
I am aware of what Nimitz said, and I think he was dead wrong on that. FWIW, Zimm suggests that Nimitz would have been far more effective when solving a problem than when idly thinking about it. –
David, I think Nimitz and Yamamoto are two of the greatest most respected Admirals in the history of Naval Warfare. Certainly of WWII. Yamamoto was Japan's greatest Navel strategist and Nimitz the man who defeated him. To my mind their statements speak for themselves. I'm going to re-read and revisit your other suggestions and see what I can add to my answer to make it stronger. Thank you for taking the time and favoring me with your thoughts. Early on I thought you had good points and that didn't come across in my earlier responses enough.. I was especially interested in your objections on the third wave. Reading up on that I found a lot of sources which support you and now I even question whether a third wave was part of initial attack plan or something necessitated by the first two waves.
right now I have to get back to work, so I'll get on that after the face.