Today marks 75 years since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that brought the United States into World War II. That makes it a good time to reflect on that attack. And the best way to do that may be through some contemporary analysis reported in the 1985 book Reflections on Pearl Harbor by William H. Ewing, now out of print.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was appointed as Commander of the Pacific Fleet in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack. The story I have read is that President Franklin Roosevelt reached him while he was attending a concert on the day of the attack, and appointed him that day to his new post.
Transportation, in particular, was not as rapid then as it is now. It apparently took more than two weeks for Admiral Nimitz to arrive at his new post. What happened very shortly after his arrival is described in an excerpt from Reflections On Pearl Harbor by William H. Ewing, reported online in 2011.
When Nimitz landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941, there was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat--you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war. On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.I have read elsewhere that the Japanese chose to attack on a Sunday morning to insure the maximum number of capital ships would be in port and at anchor (see Mistake number one above) and that preparedness in their other attack locations would be similarly degraded. This may suggest the "double-edged sword" nature of so many decisions. It may also relate to the Pearl Harbor attack being a late addition (approved by Emperor Hirohita on November 5) as part of the broader attack that opened World War II's Pacific War.
Afterwards, someone asked him, ‘Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?’ Admiral Nimitz's reply shocked everyone: ‘The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America.
Mistake number one: The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk, we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.
Mistake number two: When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.
Mistake number three: Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is on top of the ground in storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply.
That's why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make, or God was taking care of America.
There was also what might be called Mistake number four: Either through a failure of intelligence or the Japanese need to proceed with their overall attack as planned regardless of inopportune circumstances at a single location (especially that of a late addition to the plan), all the US aircraft carriers were at sea at the time of the attack. Thus the carriers, which had to be the number one target of Admiral Yamamoto's attack plan, were preserved and able to successfully prosecute the Pacific War. After all, the Japanese attack demonstrated (if a demonstration was needed) the effectiveness of aircraft carriers.
All this provides a different window on the Pearl Harbor attack, and should be food for thought on today's 75th anniversary of that attack.