Seventy-eight years ago, the Japanese attacked U.S. bases on the island of Oahu. It was one of the biggest military disasters in U.S. history and occurred despite the fact that President Roosevelt and his closest advisors knew the attack was coming, just not when and where.
Could the Japanese been stopped? No. Once the Japanese striking force left the home islands, we had no way of locating them until they came within range of long range patrol planes operating out of Wake, Midway or Hawaii. The Japanese carefully planned the route they took to arrive northwest of Oahu undetected.
In the 1920s and 1930s, most of the naval leaders of World War II participated in war games at the Naval War College where scenarios for the start and prosecution of a war with Japan were ‘gamed.’ Plus, beginning with Fleet Problem V (1925) and in Fleet Problems XIII (1932), VVI (1935), VXVIII (1937), XIX (1938) and XXI (1940), the Navy simulated attacks on Hawaii. These showed a strong force of aircraft carriers could easily conduct a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
What could or should have been done on the days leading up to December 7th to mitigate the damage. Let’s start with Admiral Kimmel’s rationale to keep the battleships in port was that they were easier to protect. Had they been at sea and engaged the Japanese, Admiral Nimitz said most would have been sunk. Instead, six (California, Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia), of the nine battleships damaged on December 7th, 1941 returned to service. Only Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma were beyond repair.
On December 7th, only three of the Navy’s seven carriers were in the Pacific – Lexington just delivered planes to Midway; Enterprise ditto Wake Island; and Saratoga which was in San Diego. The rest – Hornet, Ranger, Yorktown and Wasp – were in the Atlantic.
Would it have helped if Kimmel ordered his ships to maintain a higher state of readiness? Maybe. It may have enabled us to shoot down more Japanese airplanes.
Where I fault both Kimmel and Short was their failure to disburse the airplanes to the airfields fields and use the assets they had to protect Hawaii.
General Short, who was a not a pilot nor a combat veteran, was more concerned about sabotage even though there was no credible intelligence that the American citizens of Japanese descent living on the island were planning to turn traitor. Hence, his aircraft were lined up in neat rows so the Japanese pilots could use them for gunnery practice.
General Short, why no combat air patrol despite written orders issued on February 7th, 1941 to do so? By the fall of 1941, based on direction from the White House, you knew the Japanese were coming.
The attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized the nation to fight. The Germans did us a favor by declaring war on us on December 11th, four days after the Japanese attack. Until they did, Roosevelt had a declared war in the Pacific and an undeclared war against Germany in which our servicemen were being killed. The German declaration made it easy for Roosevelt to make the battle against Germany that had already begun in the Atlantic official.