Air Raid Pearl Harbor

By James Stear, Ph.D.
January 2015

At 0758 local time on the morning of December 7, 1941, the message AIR RAID PEARL HARBOR THIS IS NOT DRILL was frantically hammered out by the radiomen of Patrol Wing Two, inauspiciously located on Ford Island, in the front row of what was to become a two-hour tragedy of confusion, chaos and death for many US servicemen. Some scant minutes earlier, the first bombs had begun to fall from the planes of the Kido Butai onto US warships and installations, as that elite carrier force of the Imperial Japanese Navy loitered some 230 miles north of the island of Oahu.

Over the next 120 minutes, one US battleship would be blown up, one capsized, three more sunk in shallows or beached, and the remaining three injured to varying degrees but afloat or in dock. Nine smaller warships plus a target vessel would also be added to the toll of sunk or damaged. Nearly 200 US aircraft would be destroyed on the ground, and almost that many severely damaged. American lives lost would total near 2,400, as compared to the 55 airmen and 9 submariners who had died carrying out the Emperor’s will, albeit with Prime Minister Tojo Hideki’s strong encouragement.

The shock and humiliation of this event would punctuate the United States’ official entry into the Second World War, and the American thirst for revenge following this surprise attack would not be slaked until Imperial Japan lay prostrate less than four years later, with Tokyo and many other Japanese cities burnt to ashes, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki incinerated in the fires of the new and terrible atomic age.

Over seventy years later, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Date Which Will Live In Infamy continues to capture the imagination of many around the globe, with the event dissected in scholarly treatises or serving as a grim backdrop for many fictional works.

Sudden tragedy, loss of innocence, battle won but war lost, conspiracy, coming of age of a superpower, setting sun, all of these topics feature in the drama and what followed.  Obviously, such a pivotal event attracts the attention of many wargame designers, seeking to reproduce the attack itself, or incorporate it as part of a larger simulation.  Avalanche Press is not immune in this regard, and the event features prominently in the Second World War at Sea: Midway game, as well as the revised Third Reich system adjunct, Great Pacific War, with previous Daily Content articles by David Lippman, Pat Collins and Chris Cafiero addressing the history and/or game variations. Which brings us to the lesson of the day: Making the Day of Infamy more infamous for the Americans.

Stepping back into cardboard, and focusing on the attack itself within the context of the SWWAS: Midway scenarios, many a Japanese player will note it is almost impossible to administer the same devastating blows to the American aircraft on the ground at the outset of Operational Scenario 5 (Pearl Harbor) as did Nagumo and Fuchida. After the attack on Turn 1, it is not uncommon to find American planes boiling off their airfields and seaplane bases in search of vengeance, often with unhappy (and potentially quite ahistorical) results for the Kido Butai. Without a scenario modification, the IJN player should probably skip attacking the airfields (as noted the odds of scoring historical damage to aircraft under 13.5-13.51 are pretty slim), focus on the ships, and then run for home starting Turn 2 before the hornets come out to sting.

To rectify this problem, try the following optional rules for this scenario, to reconcile the need for the Japanese player to allocate attacks on both the ships in Pearl Harbor and the airbases on Oahu, within the restrictions of the aircraft steps available.

Additional Special Rules
Lined Up For Destruction: Grounded American aircraft were for the most part not dispersed on the morning of December 7, and were instead conveniently arranged for the Japanese wing tip to wing tip. For the first turn only, Japanese A6M2 and D3A1 that are assigned ground attack missions against the airfields of Pearl Harbor and Oahu score damage against grounded (in hanger or ready boxes) American aircraft as follows:

• A6M2 attack grounded aircraft using their air-to-air value. They receive a +1 modifier for having a circled air-to-air value and another +1 for attacking a stationary target. Each hit destroys one enemy step. Roll for damage against the airfield separately, using their ground attack value (each fourth hit reduces the airbase’s capacity by one).

• D3A1 attack grounded aircraft using their naval attack value. Use the land bombing modifiers; each hit destroys one step. Each fourth hit scored by this attack also reduces the airbase’s capacity by one.

Low Readiness:  Few American planes were ready to bound into the air after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Those that did would face jumpy AA gunners when returning to base. In the air readiness phase of Turn 1, roll one die for each American aircraft counter at Pearl Harbor or Oahu that is still on the ground (any fighters that engaged the Turn 1 strikes and survived may remain on CAP). On a result of 5 or 6, the aircraft is placed in the ready box of the air field (and may be assigned Turn 2 missions), otherwise it is placed in the hanger box. In the air readiness phase of Turn 2, roll again for each aircraft that started the turn in the hanger box; on a result of 5 or 6, that aircraft is placed in the ready box (and may be assigned Turn 3 missions). Finally, for the first six turns, when American aircraft return from missions to Pearl Harbor or Oahu, roll one die for each counter; on a result of 6 one step is eliminated.  Note: Ignore the Low Readiness rule if the Axis Game Variation result was 1.

Remember Pearl Harbor! Or carry out the Emperor’s Will! Order SWWAS: Midway today!