Showing posts with label Tora Tora Tora. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tora Tora Tora. Show all posts

Dec 7, 2012


"Class, can anyone tell us what happened on this day in 1941. Yes, Sarah?"

'The Japanese kamikazes bombed General MacArthur."

"And can you tell us why?"

"Because we wouldn't sell them any oil or steel because they were yellow people."

Very good, Sarah. Now, pay strict attention class. I have the decorating assignments here for the homecoming dance..." 

Dec 7, 2011

Climb Mount Niitaka

...and the sneak raid was on.

Travis McGee: "With every passing year it will seem more quaint, the little tin airplanes attacking the sleeping giants."

There's not much we can do about the Japanese attack seeming quaint to the uninformed young,  but we can try to make sure they remember it happened.

Feb 16, 2010

The Olympics

Many challenges face this great nation. Among them is the urgent need to recruit curlers as cute as the Japanese girls.

That is all I have to say about the Olympics today.

Dec 7, 2008

Tora Tora Tora

It is more than a middling-grade movie. Tora means Tiger. Said thrice on the morning of December 7, 67 years ago today, it was the signal that the sneak attack was successful.

Some 2,400 Americans died, some ashore, some entombed in a battle fleet all but destroyed in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. 

Three and one-half years later the final retribution was administered.


Why all  this which, readily conceded, comes from routinely available secondary sources and which,  again admittedly,  cherry picks among the countless  available facts? Because a few weeks ago,  browsing through some old Jeff Cooper writings, I found, from 1993:

"Pearl Harbor Day slipped by without much notice. I daresay a huge number of our population has never heard of Pearl Harbor...".

And I hate it when that happens.

None of it should be forgotten. Not the occasional heroism. Not the chance that hallowed names in American history -- Roosevelt, Marshall, Hull, Stimson, and others -- should be de-hallowed to the extent of their incompetence in the final months of 1941.

And a fair mind might conclude that while the pilloried Admiral Kimmel and General Short did not operate brilliantly, to say the least, their professional sins pale in comparison to those from whom they took their orders. 

A Last Saturday of Peace

PEARL HARBOR -- Fleet intelligence chief Ed layton has only one  pleasant interlude today, his ride in a gig to visit Admiral Pye aboard the battleship California. He hands Pye  the morning dispatch which repeats that Japanese agression in southeast Asia could come at any moment.  A number of intercepted but still coded messages to and from the Japanese consulate in Honolulu are forwarded to Washington for decrypting, translation, and action -- most of which are accomplished sometime after the Honolulu sunrise tomorrow.

WASHINGTON -- Exhaustion has set in at every level of  naval communications and intelligence. Only civilian specialist  Dorothy  Edgers stayed through the early weekend afternoon to translate what has come to be called the "lights message." Somehow, it just seemed significant to her.   She left the translation  with her boss, Lieutenant Commander Alwin D. Kramer, who found the wording imperfect and the punctuation in need of titivating. It is still on his desk Monday morning, Dec. 8. The message details the light system (including bonfires) Japanese spies on Oahu will use to signal attacking aircraft of the status of ships at their moorings and anchorages in Pearl Harbor. 

At the White House, Roosevelt finally agrees to follow through on his scheme to send a personal message to Emperor Hirohito, a piece of prose blending conciliation and veiled threat. He figures Hirohito will  respond by Monday evening, whereupon, if necessary,  a pure threat can be sent to the Imperial Palace.

Across the capital after sundown, almost to a man the power elite disperses to balls and dinner parties, as Wellington danced  before Waterloo. Kramer, with a decoded intercept of the  14-part message from Premier Tojo to his Washington envoys is successful in tracking down  some of the nation's leaders. Some of them eventually join the President in a late-night council.  Or perhaps there was no White House meeting. Some say yes. Some say no. Nothing of the sort is recorded in the official White House records. In any case, no one picks up a  phone to call Hawaii, to tell Kimmel and Short that America has received something like a declaration of war.

KIDO BUTAI -- Admiral Nagumo, now steaming due south,  eases water rationing for his fleet of carriers and escorts. His sea and  sky fighters take the final showers they desire to enter battle in purity.  The word from the Honolulu embassy is good: The battleships are in Pearl, as expected. Aerial reconaissence confirms that nothing worth bombing is in the port of Lahaina. The ultimate   announcement is made to all ships via the flag signals representing Admiral Togo's message to his 1904 fleet before its victory over the Russians in the Tsushima Strait: "The fate of our nation depends on this battle -- all hands will exert themselves to their utmost." The maintenence crews joined the cheers, then began fueling the planes.


Dec 3, 2008

Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1941

In the  office of Admiral Husband Kimmel, Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, the intelligence reports and charts mocked the assembled brass. There was still that matter of the Japanese Aircraft carriers. 

"What! You don't know where the carriers are?" demanded Kimmel.

Commander Ed Layton, intelligence boss, said "No."  Intense radio monitoring yielded no trace of the carriers' call signs.

Kimmel asked Layton to just guess where they might be. "Maybe in the home waters, Admiral, but we really just don't know." 

"You mean to say  they could be rounding Diamond Head right now and you wouldn't know it?" 

Layton later admitted how lame his answer was: "I hope they would have been spotted before now."


In Washington, Roosevelt needed a casus belli to move Congress to  give him the war he wanted, or the one he knew he would have to fight sooner or later.   He put his speech writers to work. They were to explain why America should fight even if Japan (remember that southern assault force in the South China Sea)  attacked only British possessions in south Asia -- Malaya, Singapore,  Bruma.

And he dreamed up, or accepted from someone else, a clever little ploy. Charter three small craft. Put American naval officers aboard, crew them with mostly Filipinos, fly the Stars and Stripes, and dangle them in front of the Japanese southern attack fleet. He called it a "defensive information patrol." Admiral Thomas Hart called it bait -- the hopelesss frog on a bass fisherman's hook. But like a good officer, he obeyed his commander-in-chief. 

The Kido Butai, steaming as before, approached the  International Date Line.  Admiral Nagumo looked with satisfaction on a precise list of American men of war moored or at anchor in Pearl Harbor as of November 28. To an aide he said: "I pray that the American fleet remains thus on X-day." 

Dec 1, 2008

I dunno, whadda YOU think?

Monday, Dec. 1, 1941 and the band played on.  Spike Jones. 

Washington, D.C. --  Captain Arthur McCollum, head of the Far East desk for the Office of Naval Intelligence  took the results of his grueling three-day analysis of Japanese intentions to the admirals.  The Japanese are going to war, he told them. Yep, they agreed, but we pretty much knew that already.

And here in an existential moment  Captain McCollum put his career on the line with a question captains  just don't ask admirals:  "Have we told the fleet?"  They frowned and  said yep again, of course we have.

In an odd and ultimately useless  way, they had. All Pacific Ocean brass was alert to the possibility of attack on the Philippines, and the Dutch/Brit colonies  of south  Oceania and southeast Asia. And Kimmel in Hawaii had certainly been advised that the Nips were not playing nice and maybe more materiel would need to be taken from him to reinforce MacArthur in Manilla.

Admiral Stark took the McCollum report and the  admirals' views to the Oval Office where Roosevelt was sitting grumpy at having his Thanksgiving vacation cut short. He listened to his top sailor.  He said "It's all in the lap of the gods."  He called Treasury Secretary  Henry Morgenthau and told him to borrow another $1.5  billion because things "might be worse next week."

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Tojo's cabinet assembled in the Imperial Palace before Divine Emperor Hirohito. They met as a support group, confirming to one another that they had done everything possible for peace, that the November 30 deadline for ending negotiations was certainly fair, that it had passed, and that, therefore, it was just that  they declare carrier divisions 1 and 2 had passed the moral point of no return. 

In Pearl a lot of that good Navy coffee was being drunk around the clock as java-drugged officers and enlisted specialists continued to wonder where those damned carriers were. Kimmel wondered too, and tomorrow, on that subject,  he would embarrass Ed layton, the intelligence office he liked and respected. 

Kido Butai commander Nagumo was feeling better as those lost divisions steamed further eastward.  The  seas had calmed, permitting refueling. The final word from Tokyo was in hand. There would be no recall. His aide, Fujita wrote: "The radio signal for the beginning of hostilities has been received. Hawaii intelligence has begun to arrive, and now  everything is going as hoped for."

Across the world, in besieged London, sat Winston Churchill, increasingly satisfied that American food and arms would  soon be joined  by American blood in the war against Germany -- thanks to Tokyo. How much he knew of actual Japanese tactical intentions is, to this day, debated by serious men.


Nov 29, 2008

The Last Peaceful Weekend

Official Washington at the Limo Level was quieter on Saturday, Nov. 29, 1941. The President was away after a meeting with Hull, Stimson, Admiral Harold R. Stark, and Army Chief George C. Marshall. The Friday conference was to float his idea of a note to Emperor Hirohito, urging  conciliation. War Secretary Stimson  opposed it. He wanted to strike at the Japanese fleet in the South China Sea. The others preferred an ultimatum saying America would fight if the southern fleet passed a certain line.

 In Toland's words, " Roosevelt didn't feel like arguing. He agreed.  He was impatient to take his sinus problem to Warm Springs...". 

It was a vacationy time in the Capitol. Marshall had just returned from Florida and was trying  to get back up to speed on what had been  happening with  this Japan thing.

Not so at Station Hypo,  Admiral's Kimmel's   code-breaking shop at Pearl Harbor where fleet intelligence officer Ed Layton and  chief cryptanalyst Joe Rochefort were hustling  to answer a pertinent question from scanty evidence. They  knew where a few of the Jap carriers were. Where were the others?"  Layton and Rochefort spent the weekend in the office.

Around 43 degrees north,  Admiral Nagumo nodded appreciatively at seeing the meteorologists' early  weekend reports. Odds suggested better weather  for midweek when his Kido Butai would arrive at its final refueling station.


Nov 27, 2008

Don't Worry. Be Happy

The biggest  player  we never heard of in the Pearl Harbor fiasco was Stanley Hornbeck, Rhodes Scholar,  author, diplomat of note, and expert in all things oriental. He'd worked his way to the top of  the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy and had the ear of Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He told his boss the Sons of Heaven were bluffing. America had scads of time to prepare for Pacific war.  The silly goose even put it to paper in a memo to Hull  on Nov. 26:

"Were it a matter of placing bets, the undersigned would give odds of five to one that the Japan and the United States will not be at "war" on or before March 1 (a date more than 90 days from now..)."

In his autobiography he alibied with psychobabble,  hard to parse but apparently  basically claiming he misquoted himself.  Regardless, his memo may have given Hull  the excuse he wanted to go into full-Rambo diplomatic mode, even as the high chiefs of the Army and Navy were pleading: "Stall. We're not ready."

And so far, no one had thought to tell Admiral Kimmel and General Stark much about just how hairy things were getting.  Besides, that Japanese invasion fleet  --the one we knew about -- was a long way from Hawaii, south of Formosa and still chasing the Southern Cross.  Military Intelligence knew that was good news for the Ford Island moorings.

Twelve thousand miles away the choppy North Pacific Ocean aggravated the saki hangovers of the Emperor's airmen. Kido Butai was underway, the Kuriles just below the horizon astern, the sunny tropical target some 3,000 miles beyond the bow. Fleet course east by southeast.  Ten days to glory.